Post-wildfire lessons learned and promoting community resilience

We at the Bounty are devastated to witness more communities being ravaged and up-ended due to wildfires. Although we are not actively involved in feeding people affected by these latest fires, we would like to share what we have learned and worked on through various collaborations within Sonoma County over the past few years. Some initiatives expanded research, collective knowledge base, and reinforced the resiliency of our local food system short term and other parts of this work will have more long-term impact and policy implications. We offer our learning to others facing similar circumstances we faced back in October, 2017.

Our organization takes a systems approach to analyzing how our local food system functions during crisis events for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and whole communities. That is to say, how access to healthy, affordable, locally sourced, culturally appropriate food gets disrupted when someone loses a job, cannot afford food, gets sick, experiences a house fire or a wildfire. Additionally, we consider how chronic food insecurity impacts people’s relationship to food and the ability of our community to function.

Mapping of Resources

A project that Petaluma Bounty was and continues to be part of is mapping food recovery resources for the benefit of the food insecure. This was a collaboration between CropMobster, Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition and UC Cooperative Extension. Please see information about the project here.

To see the mapping tool in action, please go here. CropMobster is actively working to connect resources with people in need and they are ready to support additional community hubs. Reach out to them through www.Cropmobster.com

Bounty was also involved in mapping local resources during the fires. This project was not completed. We are presently seeking more funding to continue this work: http://www.petalumabounty.org/blog/mapping-the-emergency-local-food-scene/

Produce Safety Post Wildfire:

Through a Citizens Science Research Project on Produce Safety After Wildfire, administered by UC Cooperative Extension of Sonoma County and Vanessa Raditz, we responded to concerned local food consumers queries about if their produce was contaminated. When we sought expert input and research, we realized there wasn’t much known. The results are still being analyzed and contextualized, but most indications point to there being minimal impact on the local produce.

Please visit the Sonoma County UCCE  website for the Preliminary Reports, updates, and documentation of the process. Ultimately, we’d like to share a toolkit with other communities so they can add to the data and shared knowledge of how wildfires impact produce safety.

Emergency Food Response Report- Findings and Recommendations

Another effort that Bounty has been deeply involved in was a county-wide convening of Emergency Food Response Network in February 2018. The intent of the convening was to improve efforts during future disasters and to minimize the number of community members who transition from short-term emergency food assistance to long term chronic food insecurity. More than 30 people involved in feeding the community during and after the October fires came together to connect, debrief, and think critically about how to things better in the future.

A small group of volunteers (including Bounty Director, Suzi Grady) coded, analyzed, organized, and published a Summary of Findings and Recommendations which can be found on the Sonoma County Food System Alliance website. 

A sample of the findings is below:

  • Develop an emergency food response assessment with a strategic plan that: ○ Identifies and expands capacity of existing governmental, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations to respond in times of disaster. Scenarios for what could happen in future emergencies provide a way of testing the capacity and 2 integration of disaster plans at a variety of levels.
    • Builds on existing community and neighborhood food security networks and relationships. There was a “spontaneous outpouring” of food and food-related help which is to be celebrated and integrated in disaster planning and built upon to reduce general food insecurity.
    • Leverages the strengths of our local farm and food-based businesses and helps to ensure their future sustainability. There was great generosity, but not without an impact on the economic sustainability of small scale farms and businesses. Taking steps such as establishing systems to track emergency food donations and to compensate farms and businesses appropriately would help ensure longer term health.
    • Bridges the noted gap between larger centralized operations and smaller scale, grassroots, or new/spontaneously organized grassroots emergency food efforts. While greater coordination is needed, participants also noted that there is benefit in seizing opportunities to help, even when it occasionally means “going rogue.” The challenge to emergency food response planners is balancing centralized efficiency with grassroots speed and effectiveness.
    • Creates an emergency communication plan/platform that is endorsed and sustained by the County Office of Emergency as well as community efforts. Two related themes emphasized in our data were coordination and communication. Prompt communication with all County residents is needed.
    • Provides a directory or inventory of existing emergency food response resources. Mapping and networking resources for safe storage and preparation of food such as cold storage, generators, commercial kitchens, transportation, etc. will also help identify where more are needed.
    • Prevents more people from slipping into long-term food insecurity. The fires disaster raised new awareness in some quarters about pre-disaster food insecurity. More data is needed on what has happened since October.
    • Identifies methods to strengthen the overall resiliency of our local food system. It is a shared responsibility to keep in mind the big picture and to promote goals which build on the best of Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage and neighborly culture.

There is so much more to learn and understand, but we also need to share the knowledge so others can take our lessons and expand upon our collective learning even faster. Petaluma Bounty’s work is grounded in how systems impact local stakeholders (consumers, farmers, distributors, and beyond) and what we can do to strengthen our local food system to better meet the needs of all stakeholders. Our vision is “To grow a thriving local food system where consumers make informed decisions; farmers make a decent living while prioritizing ecological stewardship of the land; and all people – regardless of income – have access to healthy food. We push beyond the immediate demands of hunger relief toward community food security (and hunger prevention) with programming that expands our community’s capacity to feed each other today and into the future.”

For more information on how we do our work, please click here.

In community,

Suzi and the Bounty Team

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