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First Regional Food Summit Addresses Key Issues




SACRAMENTO - 100 leaders in the local food system recently convened this month for the region's first State of the Regional Food System: Local Innovations Food Summit held by the Food System Collaborative (FSC). The organization's food charter-outlining a vision for a secure, equitable, accessible, healthful, sustainable and local food system-was the focus of the address.

 This was made actionable as Assemblymember Roger Dickinson presented the group with a resolution recognizing the FSC's work in establishing their food charter, urging others to join him.

 "By supporting this food charter, we're supporting green jobs, economic growth and sustainable agriculture," said Assemblymember Dickinson. "The state of our food system grows stronger every day through the collective efforts of dedicated community groups. The Food System Collaborative is committed to helping the food movement build meaningful collaboration and to working on policy reform together," said Valley Vision CEO, Bill Mueller after accepting Assemblymember Dickinson's resolution.

 Remarks in support of a sustainable food system were also presented by Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, who said one of her number one strategic objectives is to ensure access to healthy, safe, California-grown food for every Californian.

 Ross praised the state for being home to the most community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets and certified organic farmland in the nation. She also repeated the theme of the day: a call to collective action at the regional and local level. "There is no statewide solution," she said. "It's about what's locally appropriate based on local resources and leadership."

 The Food System Collaborative, which hosted the Summit, is a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholder groups in the 6-county Capital Region created to inform and influence policy initiatives relevant to the regional food system including food security and food access, land use planning, local food purchasing plans, and rural economic development. FSC is a project of Valley Vision through funding from The California Endowment.

 The inaugural Food Summit was organized as a celebration of the region's unparalleled agricultural assets, but more importantly to serve as a platform for action. In this way, the Summit invited local food system leaders to share resources and identify barriers to further growth. As part of its commitment to addressing policy, the FSC gathered attendees' feedback and plans to hold future meetings to create actionable systems change.

 "We're thrilled by today's turnout, and want to reiterate our promise to the organizations who showed up. We intend to expand work on our food charter, define a long-term policy agenda and begin tackling some of the barriers that prevent innovation," said Amber Stott, executive director of California Food Literacy Center and steering committee member of the FSC.

 In a region where only two percent of the food grown locally is consumed locally, Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller pointed to innovations in economic development to help boost financial solvency in the region, including Next Economy, a collaborative economic development agenda aimed to grow jobs and investment across targeted business clusters.

Crop production and food manufacturing account for 30 percent of the region's annual export activity, supporting 37,000 jobs and $3.5 billion of output. Based on data projections, employment is already anticipated to grow by 1% and output is expected to increase by 24% between 2010 and 2020. Focused efforts across the region, like those of FSC and Next Economy, will shape a future that has the potential to far exceed these projections.

 In a community where over 17 percent of the residents are food insecure, Mueller celebrated The California Endowment's work on the Building Healthy Communities project, which targets funding to South Sacramento programs in a regional effort to decrease childhood obesity and improve the overall health of this at-risk neighborhood. The Endowment funds projects including Soil Born Farm's Harvest Sacramento program, which gleans neglected backyard fruit trees for the benefit of the whole neighborhood, specifically targeting the hungry.

 Building the next generation of farmers is emerging as one of the cluster's most important challenges. In the last 25 years, California has lost 616,000 acres of farmland. Meanwhile, there is only one farmer under the age of 35 for every eight farmers over the age of 65. Mueller commended the Center for Land-based Learning's California Farm Academy for reversing these trends, saving farm land and the business of agriculture for future generations. Their program trains new farmers, equipping them with skills, mentoring, and improved access to farmland upon graduation.

 Mueller also touted an innovation that has lasted the test of time: community supported agriculture, or CSA's. CSA's are an existing example of a 1990's innovation that invites community investors to support the viability of a farm, a concept that continues to be replicated to the advantage of our local economy. Only a few CSA programs existed in the Central Valley in the early 90s compared to more than 70 today.

 Capay Valley runs the successful Farm Fresh to You home delivery CSA program that has been in existence since 1992 and continues to be at the forefront of agricultural best practice.  In 2010, Capay Valley bought 18,000 square feet of cold storage space in West Sacramento, where they pack and deliver fresh, organic produce to residents throughout Northern California. What started as a family business now employs more than 250 people. 

Those wishing to become involved with the FSC's work can sign up for email alerts about future meetings at: http://www.foodsystemcollaborative.org/. For more information about the FSC, visit http://www.valleyvision.org/work/priorities/food.html.