By Shawn Harrison, Founder & Co-Director
In September 2010 Soil Born Farms, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, Alchemist CDC, Ubuntu Green, Fresh Producers, Sacramento Employment and Training Agency, Asian Resources, Pesticide Watch, Neighborworks and Sacramento City Unified School District received funding to improve access to healthy food in South Sacramento. This collaborative effort grew out of over two years of intensive community planning as part of the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative which selected 14 communities around the state to partner with and fund over a 10 year period. Project partners committed to a diverse array of food access activities including home and community garden builds, a farmers market, farm stands, mobile emergency food distributions, fruit gleaning, limited resource farmer outreach, corner store conversions, breakfast and school lunch programs, school garden program development and strategic planning for a food aggregation hub.
Over the last three years this collective work has gained steam and partners have made significant progress toward each of the five major project outcomes including increased capacity to supply healthy foods, increased access to healthy foods, increased knowledge about cooking and preference for eating healthy foods, development of a sustainable food system and increased engagement opportunities for youth. Below are some of our most significant accomplishments.
- The distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables in South Sacramento increased annually from 215,456 pounds in year one, to 340,640 pounds in year two, and 445,212 pounds in year three. This represents a 107% percent increase in produce from year one to year three.
- Asian Resources Inc. and Soil Born Farms staff conducted outreach, training and one-on-one technical assistance to 138 limited resource growers in the Sacramento area.
- Alchemist CDC partnered with three local corner store owners to offer fresh produce in their markets.
- Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) reached 83,812 clients via six South Sacramento mobile market sites, distributing 798,000 pounds of fresh produce. Over 86,000 pounds of this produce was fruit picked from urban trees.
- Ubuntu Green installed 94 garden boxes at 69 locations in neighborhoods throughout the targeted community.
- Soil Born Farms coordinated 130 harvest events, engaged 1,984 adult and youth volunteers, and gleaned 146,091 pounds of fruit from urban trees.
- The project assembled a coalition of 19 organizations engaged in food access work within South Sacramento.
- Sacramento City Unified School District’s Healthy Foods Task Force helped create an updated cafeteria plan and established “Go Green. Eat Fresh” salad bars in every elementary, middle, and high school in the District, prompting a large increase in the procurement of local produce from growers in the region.
- Project partners supported local and regional food policy developments including: legalization of chickens in the city, permitting community gardens in all zones, local food purchasing guidelines, requirements of stores to offer fresh produce, and permitting farm stands in city limits.
- Project partners engaged over 774 youth in harvesting events, community garden builds, and other food access related activities.
Collectively, these types of food access activities in South Sacramento have begun to build excitement among residents and most importantly, are leading to positive shifts in healthy behaviors. For instance, 75 percent of mobile market customers reported that they were “more willing” to eat new types of fresh fruits and vegetables and 100% of survey respondents felt more engaged in their community as a result of project activities. Similarly, garden program results showed that 100% of participants “eat more fresh fruits and vegetables” and “make healthier food choices” after receiving a garden.
These activities highlight changes in South Sacramento, but much has also changed throughout our region since Soil Born Farms began its work over fourteen years ago. The other day I stumbled across the first open letter that we wrote to the community. Our little urban farm on Hurley Way had been running for two years and we had decided it was time to take our work to the next level. In the letter we invited people to join us at the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop to discuss our plan to create Sacramento’s first community urban farm and education center. In April of 2003 more than 25 people showed up at that first meeting to hear about our story and vision for an Edible City. The energy and enthusiasm for our food vision was palpable that night and it has grown one hundred fold over the last ten years as we have worked daily with our friends, neighbors and partners to create the fertile ground necessary for a food renaissance in Sacramento. I truly believe that amazing things are in store for our community with regard to food and health over the next ten years. Come join us in making this change.