Our local food system provides creative solutions to keep our community fed in the face of national supply chain shortages.
by Megan Kenney, North Coast Growers’ Association
The past two years have brought a lot of cracks in our national food system to light, but each time a new issue surfaced, Humboldt County’s food producers and advocates answered.
When meat shelves were left empty in grocery stores, Humboldt’s meat producers stepped up to offer more locally raised meat (Crazy River Ranch even imported pigs from the Midwest who were scheduled to be euthanized due to the mass closures of meat processing facilities). When local governments closed farmers’ markets across the state, North Coast Growers’ Association (NCGA) created the Harvest Box program – a multi-farm CSA style produce box program – to allow customers to safely access local produce. And when it became clear that food response was not included in existing local emergency plans, the Department of Health and Human Services started weekly food security calls, Food for People created an entirely new position to plan for emergency food distribution needs, and the Humboldt Food Policy Council created an Emergency Food System Committee to bring together food focused organizations with the newly formed COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster).
The list goes on – Tribes have reinforced their food response programming with a lens focused on food sovereignty; institutions like Cal Poly Humboldt and the Humboldt County Office of Education are redirecting their purchasing power to increase the amount of local food they offer their students; Humboldt organizations have teamed up with those from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Del Norte to form a Regional Food System Partnership that will allow the entire North Coast region to better respond to future emergencies; and so much more.
This focused and coordinated response has helped to temporarily shield Humboldt from some effects of the pandemic, but it has also highlighted gaps in our local food system. Namely, infrastructure for food is inadequate to meet our needs, both currently and as we hope to increase the amount of local food that is grown and raised in the future so we can rely less on imports from outside of the region. Food infrastructure includes a variety of aspects: storage space including freezer and refrigerated units, distribution networks like shared systems for deliveries or central locations from where wholesale orders can be picked up, and technologies like online ordering systems.
In response, local organizations across Humboldt and Del Norte counties have come together to create a regional food hub. The hub’s main focus will be connecting local farmers to large-scale buyers including stores, restaurants, and institutions while providing marketing and training opportunities for our local agricultural producers. This approach will ensure that the North Coast’s food system continues to grow to serve the needs of our expanding community by providing affordable, nutrient dense foods to residents living throughout the region and spanning all income levels.
We have all seen the prices on food shelves rise steadily over the past year, but most of this increase isn’t going into farmers’ pockets. Rather, it is being used to cover the increased costs of packaging and distributing food across the state and country. While the cost of some inputs our local farmers use are increasing, we haven’t experienced the same inflation at farmers’ markets as grocery stores are seeing. We’ve observed recently that produce prices at the local big-box retailers have been the same, if not more expensive, as comparable locally grown options at the farmers’ market. Plus our local farmers’ markets offer programs that help make our farmers’ food more affordable.
Each of NCGA’s farmers’ markets accepts CalFresh/EBT and offers a Market Match. Market Match will double up to the first $10 in EBT spending at the farmers’ market. EBT customers can visit any Market Info booth, ask the market manager to swipe their card for whatever amount they’d like to withdraw from their card, and will receive that many tokens to spend with vendors at the market plus up to $10 worth of additional tokens. Market Match tokens can be spent on fresh fruits and veggies as well as plant starts for your garden, and EBT tokens can also be spent on any other grocery item including meat, cheese, eggs, bread, hot sauce, honey, and more.
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Megan Kenney (she/her) is the Director of Cooperative Distribution for NCGA. In addition to managing farmers’ markets and coordinating the Harvest Box program (a multi-farm CSA style produce box), Megan works with other local organizations to improve Humboldt’s food infrastructure and improve our region’s food security.