Guest Commentary: Empowering Families with Healthy Choices

Pictured Above: (left to right) Heather Lyon, West Sacramento Urban Farm program coordinator; Kyle Moeller program intern; Martha Guerrero mayor of West Sacramento. By: Dominic Carillo

Dear Davis Vanguard Readers:

I had the great pleasure of attending the grand opening of the Center for Land-Based Learning’s new Mobile West Sacramento Farmer’s Market last month. (See The Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the event.) While I enjoyed a number of terrific comments from various speakers, the Center’s Sara Bernal delivered a truly remarkable, inspiring speech that fired up all of the attendees. Sara’s insightful comments are deserving of a much wider audience than the 60 or so dignitaries and stakeholders who attended the West Sacramento event, so I offer them to you further below.

With gratitude,

Michael Bisch, Executive Director, Yolo Food Bank

Empowering Families with Health Choices

by Sara Bernal

Today’s youth are the first generation in American history slated to die at a younger age than their parents.

To provide a local perspective, 46.2% of children in the Broderick Bryte community are overweight, versus 33% for California. 21% of households are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Broderick, compared to 9% for Californians. In order for low-income households to meet the dietary recommendations indicated in the nutrition guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, families would need to allocate anywhere from 40-70% of their budget to healthy food options.

People are not suffering from diet related illnesses because they don’t understand what healthy eating is. First-generation immigrants living in United States have similar health outcomes as the highest income-earning Americans. One reason for that is not having grown up in the dysfunctional environment we’ve created in low-income neighborhoods. With second or third-generation folks we see families experiencing major declines in their health outcomes. These negative outcomes are direct results from investments and policies that were made, leading to neighborhoods where access to nutritious healthy food were far outweighed by easy access to calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods.

We can do better. We can make long-lasting changes by working together to empower families and residents, and by coming up with solutions that address local needs, using local resources and local knowledge. There are certain things in public policy that we have the ability to influence and those we don’t. Trying to control what goes on inside people’s heads is tough to influence, but we can influence how our communities are designed by prioritizing subsidies, empowering residents through meaningful employment, providing financial incentives, holistic guidelines, and applying public pressure.

The Mobile Farmers Market is an example of how collaboration, dedication, and a shared vision can lead to the beginning of new possibilities. This is the pilot year for the Mobile Farmers Market. We’re beginning to engage community members and involve them directly in the process of expanding and designing the market to meet their needs and wants. Ultimately, our hope is to get residents involved in the actual operation of the Mobile Market.

This Mobile Market is the first of its kind in the region and unique to other operations that exist across the country. We’re not only distributing fresh produce, but we are sourcing it from the community itself. We’re growing the produce only a few miles from where it’s being consumed. Unlike the 1,500-mile average distance of any given produce item on a supermarket shelf.

This approach has allowed us to grow items that are not easily found in this area such as Dundicut, the national pepper of Pakistan, Amaranth greens, and Indian Eggplant. A partnership with Cultural Roots Nursery has provided our farm site with culturally relevant crop varieties that will bring a sense of home to the robust South Asian immigrant community in West Sacramento.

All of this produce will be available to SNAP customers at a 50% discount using Market Match funds which were granted through Alchemist Community Development Corporation for up to a $20 match. This means SNAP shoppers can walk away with $40 worth of produce and only pay $20 using SNAP. Through a partnership with Yolo County Children’s Alliance, SNAP enrollment clinics are going to be scheduled in tandem to help folks eligible for SNAP get enrolled while visiting the Mobile Market.

For even greater access, free shelf stable pantry items will be available to residents through our partnership with Yolo Food Bank, totaling to about 25% of the Mobile Market’s food items. And, in addition to the produce, there are recipe cards available in full color, and in English and Spanish provided in partnership with Yolo County’s Health and Human Services Agency, thanks to the efforts of their dedicated staff, Rebecca Tryon.

Long-term ideas to support this project include working with The Health Education Council (a pivotal and essential partnership), to host community meetings where we can hear directly from residents. Plus, thanks to the incredible imagination and hard work of local teachers like Jennifer McAllister, we’ll have a shelf on the Mobile Market that’s dedicated to produce grown by students of the Culinary Arts and Farm to Fork Education program at Washington Unified School District. Additionally, there are future plans for these Farm-to-Fork students at Washington Unified to do cooking demonstrations alongside the Mobile Market. Led by the fearless Ms. Cheryle Sutton, these demos will provide students an opportunity to show off their skills while encouraging their neighbors to cook healthy meals.

The affordable housing complexes operated by West Sacramento Housing Development Corporation have partnered with us to give this concept a try. Our good friends at Margaret McDowell, an affordable senior housing complex (serving 91 seniors from over 8 nationalities), will be another stop for our Mobile Market. It’s taken a village to turn this idea into a reality.

This year we’re focusing on meeting the community right where they live. It’ll give us an opportunity to engage directly with residents and begin designing resident ambassador programs where folks can get directly engaged with their local food system. Beginning with West Sacramento, did you know that the entire area north of the Barge Canal is designated a food desert by the USDA? This means that by definition residents do not have access to a supermarket within half a mile from their home. A supermarket is defined as a store with an annual profit of over two million dollars that sells everything from produce, meat, to dairy, and everything in between.

Seen from this view things may seem bleak. But with further research I’ve discovered that the Broderick Bryte community actually has 3.5 grocery stores within half a mile of every resident. A halal meat market, a Russian bakery, a Latinx grocery store and much more create a rich and vibrant landscape of specialty markets and ethic mom-and-pop shops. However, these shops don’t make the cut as they don’t offer the full array of goods required, and their profits are well under two million. These local markets carry an incredible selection of spices, grains, sauces, and imports from around the world. But what I did not find much of, was fresh produce. For most, the scale of ordering from distributors like Sysco is simply not possible. Nor are the cultural crops their customers desire easy to find.

Could Mobile Markets not only serve residents right where they live, but also act as a hyper local mini distributor to the wealth of mom-and-pop groceries that make this community the resilient, diverse place that it is? Can local farmers like We Grow Urban Farm and Three Sisters Gardens be an integral part of this solution? Can we imagine a future where small-scale regenerative farms within a city grow crops for distribution using a small-scale food hub like this Mobile Market, to be delivered to small-scale mom-and-pop grocers, serving culturally relevant fruits and vegetables for local residents?

I think we can all see it. It’s possible, but only if we all work together to make it happen. Healthy food is a human right, not a privilege! Together we can ensure that the next generation of youth live long, healthy and happy lives!

Sara Bernal is Program Manager for West Sacramento Urban Farm Program, Center for Land-Based Learning

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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3 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    This sure beats an ice cream truck.  Perhaps the mobile produce truck could be fitted with a tank turret and when it passes a roach coach or an ice cream truck, blow them to smithereens, thus reducing the availability of poor food choices.

  2. Alan Miller

    did you know that the entire area north of the Barge Canal is designated a food desert by the USDA? This means that by definition residents do not have access to a supermarket within half a mile from their home. A supermarket is defined as a store with an annual profit of over two million dollars that sells everything from produce, meat, to dairy, and everything in between.

    Seen from this view things may seem bleak. But with further research I’ve discovered that the Broderick Bryte community actually has 3.5 grocery stores within half a mile of every resident. A halal meat market, a Russian bakery, a Latinx grocery store and much more create a rich and vibrant landscape of specialty markets and ethic mom-and-pop shops.

    So how is it a ‘food desert’ ?

    However, these shops don’t make the cut as they don’t offer the full array of goods required, and their profits are well under two million.

    Each shop doesn’t, but together they do.  So ‘food desert’ is a BS term that means there are no corporate grocery stores.   Shall we look at the term ‘food insecure’ next ?

    These local markets carry an incredible selection of spices, grains, sauces, and imports from around the world. But what I did not find much of, was fresh produce.

    Then this mobile unit is a good thing.  I get a CSA box, but those are a bit costly.

    Nor are the cultural crops their customers desire easy to find.

    A missed opportunity?

  3. Ron Oertel

    I am not comfortable with the manner in which this organization ties itself to new developments, including The Cannery and especially – MRIC (now “DISC”).

    MRIC looks to adjacent farmland as a ‘living lab’ – Davis Enterprise

    This is the opposite of what they should be doing. If they want to engage in urban farming, there’s plenty of existing plots (e.g., in West Sacramento – where the need is greater, as noted in the article itself).

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