The farm-to-fork movement is wonderful. Wonderful for the environment, wonderful for our taste buds. It is wonderful for our health, and for building tourism.
The farm-to-fork movement also has the potential to significantly increase local farm and food production jobs; to enable our restaurants to develop a national reputation for their creative use of local produce and to encourage our 2 million residents to eat better tasting, healthier food, thus lowering health-care costs.
The farm-to-fork movement can have a dramatic impact on our region, but only if farmers, schools, business organ- izations, local government officials, supermarkets and, of course, we the public who eat the food work together effectively.
The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau is doing a fantastic job. Their events, their focus on chefs, their ability to get national press and their concern about hunger has been top-notch. Their efforts are already paying off by building an excitement about our cutting-edge restaurants. And at this year’s farm-to-fork event, 170,830 pounds of food were delivered to local food banks.
But farm-to-fork should be about more than chefs and restaurants. Most of our community’s meals are eaten at home and at schools, not at restaurants. We need to expand the focus to reducing hunger and creating jobs.
Let’s talk about hunger. In the local farm-to-fork counties, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba, the California Food Policy Institute reports that there are 87,129 individuals who qualify for CalFresh (food stamp) benefits but are not receiving them. This represents tens of millions of dollars annually of untapped federal benefits. This federal money could dramatically reduce hunger in our region. By improving the counties’ application process, doing more effective outreach and by adding a small number of county employees to handle input, we could bring this money into our region, to be spent on local produce at local stores and farmers markets.
We are also turning away millions of dollars of federal money that could be used for school breakfast, lunch and dinner programs. In the farm-to-fork counties, our school breakfast programs alone could be increased by $23 million, with additional funds available for school lunch and dinner programs.
In addition, the schools could significantly increase the amount of local food they purchase. In 2012, voters passed Measures Q and R, which authorized millions for school construction programs in the Sacramento Unified School District. This included $8 million for a centralized kitchen. This kitchen could dramatically increase the amount of local produce used to make the 45,000 meals produced daily for local students. It would lessen the reliance of the school districts on processed foods. Even though the money is there, the kitchen has not been yet been built.
Every day in the Sacramento region, there are 2 million forks put to use. Many of those forks are held by very little hands, or by hands belonging to someone who is struggling. For the farm-to-fork movement to succeed, we need to consider all of the forks.