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This is where you’ll find links to all sorts of additional resources relating to hunger, food security, nutrition, school and community gardens, growing your own food, sustainable agriculture, and much more.

Local Food System Initiatives & Programs

iGROW Sonoma seeks to improve the health of Sonoma County residents by increasing access to healthy food. iGROW is aimed at:

  • Encouraging people in all parts of the county to grow their own fruit and vegetables
  • Inspiring people to create neighborhood garden groups and new community gardens
  • Connecting experienced gardeners to beginning growers
  • Strengthening our communities by sharing food and life skills
  • Helping people find local sources of healthy food

Community Alliance with Family Farmers: The Community Alliance with Family Farmers is building a movement of rural and urban people to foster family-scale agriculture that cares for the land, sustains local economies and promotes social justice.

Food Matters is bringing together community members and organizations to promote stable food systems and access to healthy, regionally produced food for all.

Roots of Change: ROC is a collaborative of diverse leaders and institutions unified in common pursuit of achieving a sustainable food system in California by 2030.

Hunger & Food Insecurity – Local

Redwood Empire Food Bank: The REFB’s mission is to end hunger in our community. Founded in 1987, the REFB is Sonoma County’s largest hunger-relief organization, acquiring food and distributing it through a network of charitable agencies, including its own food assistance programs. The REFB also provides food to Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties through five smaller food banks. In addition, the REFB advocates for effective legislation that will provide long-term solutions to hunger in our community

COTS Emergency Food Programs: COTS provides free hot meals daily and grocery boxes weekly to individuals and families in Petaluma. Click here for more information about times and locations.

Petaluma People’s Services Center: PPSC delivers hot meals to homebound Petaluma seniors and offers other senior meal services at Lucchesi Senior Center. Click here for more information about times and locations.

United Church of Christ Saturday Pantry: UCC operates a free food pantry on Saturday mornings. Click here for more information about times and locations.

Interfaith Pantry: Collaboratively operated by Elim Lutheran Church, Hillside Church of the Nazarene, Petaluma Valley Baptist Church and Adobe Christian Center, the Interfaith Pantry provides free grocery bags of food every Tuesday evening. Click here for more information about times and locations.

Hunger & Food Insecurity – National

Community Food Security Coalition:Â CFSC is dedicated to building strong, sustainable, local and regional food systems that ensure access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food to all people at all times. The Coalition has 325 organizational members in 41 states, 4 Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia, consisting of social and economic justice, environmental, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, community development, labor, anti-poverty, anti-hunger, and other groups.

Center on Hunger and Poverty: A research center within the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, focusing on domestic hunger, health and nutritional consequences and policy; hunger and food insecurity prevalence at the national, state, and local levels; child nutrition and food stamp programs; development of nutrition education materials specifically designed for low-income families with children; and, program design and evaluation for innovative community initiatives in the hunger/nutrition field.

World Hunger Year (WHY) is a leading advocate for innovative, community-based solutions to hunger and poverty. WHY challenges society to confront these problems by advancing models that create self-reliance, economic justice, and equal access to nutritious and affordable food.

Just Food is a non-profit working to develop a just and sustainable food system in the New York City region by fostering new marketing and food-growing opportunities that address the needs of regional, rural family farms, NYC community gardeners and communities.

Our Food System

Why is a local food system so important for Petaluma? There are many reasons. The very short answer is:

Our current food system is national and international in scale, which means that most of the food that makes it to our plates has traveled many, many miles to get here (between 1,500 and 2,000 miles, on average). What’s good about this is that many of us (those who can afford it) have unprecedented food choices available to us all year long, regardless of what’s currently in season in our part of the world. What’s not so good about this is that there is an awful lot of fossil fuel (oil) involved in shipping all this food via truck, train, ship and plane, along with environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and more.

For a longer answer, let’s look at some of the…

Hidden Costs of Our Current Food System

If you ask many young people who have grown up in urban environments where food comes from, many would answer “The supermarket shelf.” Unfortunately, they might not be joking. As a society, we are disconnected from the experience of growing food. We also have little idea about the complex chain of events involved in getting food to the supermarket shelf, and the effects of those events upon our lives both now, and in the future.

It is commonly accepted that for most people, food is relatively inexpensive in the United States, including Petaluma. This is due in part to hidden costs with the current food system that don’t get counted within our current methods of accounting. Generally showing up outside the realm of agriculture, many of these hidden costs are already having significant affects on our country’s environmental health, economic stability and national security.1 To ignore these hidden costs is to risk far greater problems than the food insecurity of today. Recognizing and addressing these hidden costs, we begin to discover a network of previously uninvolved stakeholders who actually share a direct interest in transforming our food.

A short list of hidden costs of our food system includes:

  • Diminishing viability of small scale family farms due to shrinking profit margins to the grower. Roughly 18 cents of the retail dollar price of food goes to the farmer, with the rest going to the processors, distributors, resellers and other resellers. This forms a vicious cycle in which small scale farmers are less able to compete with the high-volume, large scale (and often subsidized) factory farm operations that can compete, and dominate, in a commodity market.
  • Increased risk of food shortage due to disease as a result of a diminishing variety of food crops worldwide — another consequence of increasing scale of agribusiness
  • The non sustainable dependence upon increased use of fossil fuel in the food system, and its corollary of greenhouse gas emissions, especially as the best farm land is converted to urban use (principal uses include agrochemical manufacture, water pumping, food processing, packaging, and transportation)
  • Loss of generative capacity of the soil/water system itself due to detrimental effects of industrial farming practices upon soil structure, microbial communities, and water quality
  • The epidemic of obesity and other human health problems result, in some measure, from the prevalence of highly processed, commodity food items that are high in calories, fat and carbohydrates (and often sugar and sodium). These foods are usually the most affordable type of food available to lower income families and individuals.

The issues noted above are largely unintended consequences of our current food system. The system in place was designed to get high volumes of food to markets all over the country (and the world), as cheaply and quickly as possible. Many of the unintended consequences are only recently gaining attention. Considerable effort, much of it based in northern California, has been given to resolving these problems, beginning in part with the movement toward sustainable agriculture since the mid-1970s. Overhauling our food system is needed not only to produce higher quality food, but to address many of the other issues which will, if unchecked, eclipse the problems of hunger and food insecurity.

Two examples underscore this point. First, a report from the Funders Agriculture Working Group addresses the value of widespread adoption of sustainable agricultural principles in California.2

Consumers in the United States have long benefited from inexpensive and abundant food, but the cumulative effects of conventional agricultural practices are increasingly apparent and serious. Conventional agriculture, with its intensive use of chemical inputs and soil-depleting cultivation practices, is contaminating the environment, destroying natural resources, threatening human health, and compromising ecosystems. The farm crisis of the 1980′s, when scores of family-owned operations were forced to close, continues to wreak havoc in rural communities today. Farmers are often the only players that are held to task for agriculture’s ill effects on the environment. We all, however, must take part in the solution.

A transition to sustainable agriculture and food systems is an important means toward mitigating the pervasive negative effects of conventional agriculture. A wide variety of sustainable growing practices are now in use in California — from biointensive integrated pest management to certified organic systems. A fully sustainable agriculture would build on these achievements and restore the natural resources on which all life depends; create economically viable farm communities; and produce nutritious food that is accessible to all.

–Funders Agriculture Working Group, Roots of Change: Agriculture, Ecology, and Health in California, 2001: 83 pp.

A second excerpt is provided from a report that considers the ecological cost of agriculture within a global perspective. At the time of the report, humanity’s total worldwide demand on nature was estimated to exceed the earth’s total biological capacity by 20 percent — with the food system alone requiring approximately half of the earth’s biocapacity.

After air and water, food is the most essential resource people require to sustain themselves. These resources are provided by the layer of interconnected life that covers our planet: the biosphere. Yet the way the food system providesfood often severely damages the health of the biosphere through soil and aquifer depletion, deforestation, aggressive use of agrochemicals, fishery collapses, and the loss of biodiversity in crops, livestock, and wild species.

The global food system has become such a dominant force shaping the surface of this planet and its ecosystems that we can no longer achieve sustainability without revamping the food system. At the same time sustainable food system provide great hope for building a sustainable future—a future in which all can lead satisfying lives within the means of the biosphere.

–Deumling, Wackernagel, and Monfreda, Eating Up the Earth: How Sustainable Food Systems Shrink our Ecological Footprint, ReDefining Progress, July 2003: 12 pp.

Transforming Petaluma’s Food System

As we’ve seen, the list of ailments related to our current food system is long. One of the challenges to addressing these ailments lies with adopting a frame of reference that is large enough to accommodate a transformative solution that addresses many of them simultaneously.

The frame of reference called for here is a system view that takes into account the long-range economic, social and environmental impacts of intended actions. This is fundamentally a “sustainability” perspective, and is critical to our ability to successfully address a complex challenge such as improving our regional food system.

One of the tools of systems thinking is lifecycle analysis. Lifecycle analysis attempts to identify and quantify the social, economic, and ecological impacts of significant activities, which standard accounting doesn’t recognize.

Under standard accounting practices, the social and environmental costs of many of our market systems are either not recognized, or appear later on accounts that are unlinked to the activity that caused them. As examples, birth defects among farmworker families is not only a costly tragedy for those families, it also increases our society’s overall long-term healthcare costs; poor learning among nutritionally deprived children not only results in diminished educational and career opportunities for the children, but also increases additional ongoing “social” costs associated with government and NGO assistance; groundwater contaminated by nitrates from intensive factory farming may require remediating or relocating an entire regional water supply. When such costs are anticipated in advance, the opportunity to avoid them by investing in a safe food system early on will become much more attractive than solving the larger problems later on.

Guided by a sustainability perspective, we may be able to design and implement solutions that, instead of spawning multiple unintended consequences, yield multiple benefits. For example, creating a new community garden can bring together neighbors who have never before spoken to each other to work together to improve a small piece of land in their neighborhood that, in turn, can: produce healthy, fresh, pesticide-free produce for pennies on the dollar compared to what it costs in the local supermarket; strengthen the social network of the neighborhood which reduces crime; provide important new self-reliance skills to people with limited means and education; create opportunities for cross-generational interaction and healthy pastimes (as seniors living in the nearby senior housing complex find themselves working alongside children and teenagers they may have never even seen before, yet who live on the same block). Community gardens can improve property values while helping to improve local air quality and decrease climate changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These are not imaginary benefits—these are well-documented outcomes associated with community gardens throughout the country, including Petaluma. Community Gardens are just one of many components of a healthy local food system, which we’ll explore in subsequent sections.

In Petaluma, we have many existing local efforts upon which to build. These include a healthy and growing network of organic family farms, perhaps the largest remaining concentration of relatively small, family-owned dairies in California, one of the nation’s leading local government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a constrained water supply that is stimulating new approaches to resource management, and widespread consumer interest in healthy lifestyles.

What is a healthy local food system?

  • Easy and affordable access to fresh, healthy food by everyone in the community, including low-income households;
  • Increased supply of healthy foods grown and processed in or near the community, via a network of community gardens, urban “farms”, Farm to School programs, food cooperatives, and other direct-to-consumer programs;
  • Educational programs aimed at increasing understanding of the importance of good nutrition, healthy shopping habits, and food preparation;
  • Improved access to emergency and supplemental food and related services via enhanced coordination of local providers and programs
  • Convening a food system council or taskforce to expand community awareness of the issues, support new projects or initiatives, and advocate for policy change that support a healthier food system

1 For a comprehensive overview of the social and ecological effects of industrial agriculture, see Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Andrew Kimbrell, Editor (Island Press, 2002).

2 Support provided by: Columbia Foundation, Fred Gellert Family Foundation; David B. Gold Foundation; Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation; Roy A. Hunt Foundation; Sandler Family Supporting Foundation; and True North Foundation.


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