CDFA Secretary Karen Ross to Keynote Orange County, CA Future of Urban Food Systems Conference

California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross will Keynote 'Future of Urban Food Systems Conference' on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of CDFA.

California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross will Keynote ‘Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’ on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of CDFA.

Organizers of the email hidden; JavaScript is required today announced Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, as the opening keynote speaker for the two-day event.

Presented by Seedstock in partnership with the Orange County Food Access Coalition, the conference is scheduled for November 10-11 at California State University, Fullerton, and is designed to foster the growth of a sustainable local food and agriculture system that benefits the community, environment and economy within Orange County and serve as a template for communities across the country.

Secretary Ross is passionate about improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious, California-grown agricultural products, and fostering the reconnection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food. As a leader in supporting the development of strong local and regional food systems in California, she will discuss food access and security in the state, the economic and community development potential of urban agriculture, and the path forward to create a more equitable and sustainable food system in Orange County and the region.

Secretary Ross was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture on January 12, 2011, by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. Secretary Ross has deep leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California. Prior to joining CDFA, Secretary Ross was chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a position she accepted in 2009. Prior to that appointment, she served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996-2009, and as Vice-President of the Agricultural Council of California from 1989-1996. Before moving to California, Secretary Ross served as Director of Government Relations for the Nebraska Rural Electric Association and as Field Representative for U.S. Senator Edward Zorinsky.

Secretary Ross has strengthened partnerships across government, academia and the non-profit sector in the drive to maintain and improve environmental stewardship and to develop adaptation strategies for the specific impacts of climate change. She has initiated programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship practices through water conservation, energy efficiency, nutrient management and ecosystem services.

Secretary Ross grew up as a 4-H kid on a farm in western Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry, own 800 acres of the family farm where her younger brother, a fourth-generation farmer, grows dryland wheat, feed grains and cattle. The Secretary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a graduate of the Nebraska Ag Leadership Program. She has served on numerous boards and committees in California agriculture and with various academic institutions.

The multi-day Grow Local OC conference will address an array of topics, including: the community and economic development opportunities in urban food systems; Improving Health Outcomes by tackling food access challenges; Innovation in Urban Agriculture and Local Food Production; and, creating new farming enterprises and food businesses.

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If you are interested in participating as a conference speaker, please send your request to: participant [at] seedstock [dot] com

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From Foster Care to Purveyors of Farm to Table Fare

Monkey Business Cafe, a social enterprise in Fullerton, serves up healthy helpings of farm-to-table fare foraged and prepared with the assistance of its young staff of eager teenage boys and young adults on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system.

Monkey Business Cafe, a social enterprise in Fullerton, serves up healthy helpings of farm-to-table fare. Photo Courtesy of Monkey Business Cafe.

Monkey Business Cafe, a social enterprise in Fullerton, serves up healthy helpings of farm-to-table fare foraged and prepared with the assistance of its young staff of eager teenage boys and young adults on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system. New patrons arrive daily often drawn by the effusive praise heaped upon its culinary offerings on page after page of glowing Yelp reviews; and they leave sated and happy in the knowledge that they’re helping to support a good cause.

Monkey Business Cafe began when Cari Hart-Bunevith, executive director of Hart Community Homes (HCH), realized that she could do even more to help the teenage boys in foster care at the two state-licensed residential treatment homes that she runs for boys ages 13-18 in Orange, CA . Read more

DTSA Farmers’ Market’s Spring Return Offers Community More Local Food and Increased Access

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers' Market has returned. Photo courtesty DTSA Farmers' Market.

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market has returned. Photo courtesty DTSA Farmers’ Market.

The Downtown Santa Ana Certified Famers’ Market (DTSA Farmers’ Market) is back in action this spring working to provide local residents and restaurants with farm fresh food as well as improve access to healthy produce for the underserved in the community.

Although the DTSA Farmers’ Market did not operate this past winter, its absence allowed the market’s managers to make some much-needed changes and improvements to the it’s physical structure and seller roster.

“Our winter closure was due to some shake-ups with vendors combined with timing issues with the season,” Sonora Ortiz, market manager of the DTSA Farmers’ Market, says. “It afforded us an opportunity to make some changes the community had been asking for, but we couldn’t address [these] while being open every week.”

While one of the Market’s goals is to get food to its Santa Ana customers, it’s also dedicated to promoting awareness, and making sure the public knows good food is available. “Our goal is doing our best to make healthy and ethical food accessible through any and all means possible—education, awareness, Market Match, EBT, WIC, etc.,” Ortiz says. Ortiz adds that this is the Market’s second year participating in Market Match. “We are excited to have just kicked off the grant’s second year by increasing our match amount to $15.”

The Market also is highly active in the community through its work with local organizations.

“We work closely with Slow Food OC, the OC chapter of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, and OC Food Access Coalition (Christina Hall is on our Advisory Committee),” Ortiz says. “We also are connected with the urban agriculture movement in Santa Ana and do what we can to support their efforts, including helping them sell at the Market or to local restaurants.”

“We get a lot of community support and input (for which we are very grateful),” Ortiz says. “All of us behind the Market are a part of the Santa Ana community in our own rights, so this is just an extension of that.”

The Santa Ana Market also works to improve the local food system.

“We work with local growers, local food artisans (particularly with East End Kitchens to get community members who want to sell their food at the Market and grow their businesses), and are building a market-wide compost program with our friends at the Heritage Museum of OC to decrease our food waste while helping community agriculture projects.”

Ortiz explains that one of the Market’s main challenges has been outreach, and promoting its day and time change.

“As much as we are thrilled to shift to Sundays as folks have wanted, it’s been difficult to get the word out about Sunday after having been open on Thursdays for so long,” Ortiz explains.

Although the time change is causing issues now, Ortiz is confident that the Market will continue to grow in the years to come.

“In five years, we hope the Market will continue to thrive and meet the community’s wants and needs while inspiring more local production, and supporting more education and healthy lifestyle choices,” Ortiz adds.

The Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tustin Unified Incorporates Program to Feed Fresh, Healthy California Food to Orange County Kids

Tustin Unified School District Nutrition Services Director Jim Kamuran rolls out the food for Tustin Unified’s first "California Thursday" meal. Photo courtesy of Kim Pham, Chefs’ Toys Restaurant Equipment and Supply Store

Tustin Unified School District Nutrition Services Manager Jim Kamuran rolls out the food for Tustin Unified’s first “California Thursday” meal. Photo courtesy of Kim Pham, Chefs’ Toys Restaurant Equipment and Supply Store

On March 17, Tustin Unified School District Nutrition Services kitchens kicked off its participation in the “California Thursdays” program, a collaboration between the Center for Ecoliteracy and participating school districts to serve healthy, freshly prepared school meals featuring California-grown foods. The program, which was first developed and piloted in the Oakland Unified School District during the 2013-2014 school year, asks participating districts to commit to serving one meal a week of fresh, California-grown food.

Tustin Unified School District is the first school district in Orange County to participate in the “California Thursdays” program, which now includes 58 school districts across the state that serve over 283 million meals a year to 1.75 million students. Seedstock recently spoke with Jim Kamuran, Manager of Nutrition Services for Tustin Unified School District, to find out how the district got involved with the program, the results thus far and what the future looks like for local food in Tustin’s schools.

Read more

OC Orange Grower Sees Potential for Orchards on Terraces and Slopes of Subdivisions

Don Neff is president of Neff Ranch, which manages orchards on two different agricultural properties in Orange County. (photo courtesy Don Neff/Neff Ranch)

Don Neff is president of Neff Ranch, which manages orchards on two different agricultural properties in Orange County. (photo courtesy Don Neff/Neff Ranch)

Surprisingly, despite decades of urban development and the paving over of countless groves and orchards in the name of new housing tracts, with a little work one can still buy oranges grown in the few remaining groves that dot Orange County.

The presence of Orange County oranges at a number of farmers market in the region is in no small part due to the efforts of Don Neff, President of Neff Ranch, one of the last remaining orange growers in the county. After relocating to Southern California from Washington, Neff, a homebuilder and developer, was presented in with the opportunity to manage the remaining orange orchard on the Yorba Linda, CA estate of Susanna Bixby Bryant.

The location of the estate’s 21-acre orchard in the Santa Ana River floodplain kept its 4,000 Valencia orange trees safe from being bulldozed for new housing. Read more

“Grow Local OC” Conference in Orange County, CA to Examine Future of Urban Food Systems

grow local oc conference future of urban food systems orange county(Orange County, CA) – Grow Local OC: The Future of Urban Food Systems, slated for Thursday and Friday, November 10-11, 2016, will explore innovative urban food system developments underway in Orange County and cities across the country that increase the supply of locally grown food in the marketplace, tackle food poverty and access challenges, improve health outcomes, and support entrepreneurship in urban and indoor farming.

On day one of the conference attendees will convene at the Titan Student Union at California State University, Fullerton for a series of panels and keynotes that will explore a variety of topics, including: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Urban Food Production; Expanding Local Food Access; Building a Regional Food System Infrastructure; The Confluence of Food System and Community Development; and more. Read more

From Jail Farm to Orange County Food Bank, Locally Grown Produce Reaches Those in Need

A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown at the James A. Musick Facility jail farm in Irvine, California. Produce grown at the farm helps feed the hungry by way of the Orange County Food Bank. (photo courtesy Orlando Chacon/James A. Musick Facility)

A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown at the James A. Musick Facility jail farm in Irvine, California. Produce grown at the farm helps feed the hungry by way of the Orange County Food Bank. (photo courtesy Orlando Chacon/James A. Musick Facility)

If not for Mark Lowry and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, “The Farm,” rather than providing inmates with meaningful work and the Orange County Food Bank with a weekly abundance of fresh produce, would be nothing more than the nickname for the James A. Musick Facility jail in Irvine, California.

It was at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department volunteer recognition event where Lowry, the director of the Orange County Food Bank, first learned of the jail farm’s history. From 1963 until its closure during the economic downturn of 2008-2009, the inmate operated farm had grown produce and maintained a livestock operation.

This sparked an idea in Lowry’s mind: revive the jail farm so that it could become a source of fresh and local produce for the Orange County Food Bank.

“So I called up Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and invited her to the food bank,” says Lowry.

During their conversation, he explained to Sheriff Hutchens that locally-produced fruits and vegetables are in high demand, and pitched his idea of reactivating the jail farm to her. Hutchens felt that this was the right thing to do. After she gave her approval, the next step was convincing the Orange County Board of Supervisors of the need for a farm at the James A. Musick Facility. The County Supervisors approved the request, and in 2012 the jail farm reopened.

“The Sheriff was the one who was decisive,” Lowry says. “She’s such a great partner.”

The farm is managed by Orlando Chacon, who is happy about its resurrection. He comes from a farming family in Chino and began working at the jail farm in 1995 after graduating from Cal Poly–Pomona. The farm employs five staff members and produces a wide array of fruits and vegetables including cantaloupe, watermelon, red onions, Romaine lettuce and green cabbage.

About 300 boxes of produce per week go from the jail farm to the Orange County Food Bank. Chacon would like to see this number grow.

“We’re trying to increase production each year,” he says.

The jail’s inmates perform the bulk of the farming duties including weeding, planting, harvesting, washing produce, repairing irrigation lines, trimming trees, and taking tree mulch to the compost pile. There’s also an inmate landscaping crew.

“We keep the inmates busy. They love it. They all see the benefits, and they know the food is going to the less fortunate,” Chacon says. “They enjoy it, and pay restitution to society. They would rather work on the farm than be incarcerated.”

Chacon and Lowry both hear from deputies working at the jail that it makes their jobs easier as well.

“Deputies are supportive of this,” says Lowry. “There’s more tension if the inmates are left confined.”

According to Chacon, the farm doesn’t just serve as a buffer between inmates and deputies, but as a literal buffer zone of land between the jail and the general public. Instead of seeing a jail where people serve time, the general public sees a farm that’s helping both prisoners and those who are in need.

Future goals include possible expansion of the jail farm and additional partnership opportunities.

“We continue to talk about other partnerships,” Lowry says. “I had a conversation with the Sheriff about possibly resuscitating the poultry operation.”

From his perspective, Lowry couldn’t be more pleased with the arrangement between Orange County Food Bank and the Musick jail farm.

“The Sheriff is such a great partner, with integrity and morality,” he says. “And the Food Bank has no financial relationship with the jail—that’s another great gift.”

At Homegrown Produce and Prepared Goods Exchange in Central Orange County, Everyone Must Swap

An array of items are available for swapping at the Central OC Food Swap in Santa Ana. (photo courtesy Sarah Whittenberg/Central OC Food Swap)

An array of items are available for swapping at the Central OC Food Swap in Santa Ana. (photo courtesy Sarah Whittenberg/Central OC Food Swap)

The main principle for an effective food swap? No looky-loos—everyone must participate.

“You can’t come and not swap,” says Sarah Whittenberg, who runs the Central OC Food Swap in Santa Ana, CA. “We want to make sure that everyone there is interested and engaged.”

At the Central OC Food Swap participants exchange homegrown local produce as well as canned and self-prepared goodies.

The brainchild of Whittenberg, Central OC Food Swap started three years ago. She recalls her excitement in fall 2012 when she read about a food swap in Seattle.

“I thought this was the coolest thing ever because I had just started canning—I was up to my eyeballs in canned stuff,” Whittenberg says. “When I heard about the food swap, I thought ‘this is for me.’”

Wanting to establish a food swap in the heart of Orange County but unsure of next steps to take, she reached out to Gillian Poe of Slow Food Orange County and Christina Hall of the Orange County Food Access Coalition (OCFAC).

“They were as enthralled with the idea as I was,” she says.

So enthralled, in fact, that Central OC Food Swap hosts its events free of charge at the OCFAC offices in Santa Ana. Whittenberg views this as central to the food swap’s success.

“OCFAC support is key,” she says. “We are so indebted to them for hosting at their space. I feel like I’m not doing this alone.”

Central OC Food Swap hosts about eight events per year. Those who attend are subject to strict guidelines. Each participant must register in advance, and everyone must come with a homegrown or self-prepared food item. They swap a large array of items, including fruits, vegetables, jams, eggs, home-smoked bacon, home-butchered chickens, and more. Some people also bring homemade beauty products to swap.

Another key tenet is that money never changes hands. Because it’s a swap, not a retail store, there is no need for oversight from Orange County Food Protection Services. Nevertheless, food swaps would not thrive without safe products to exchange.

“Food safety is of utmost importance,” says Whittenberg. “I talk to everybody about food safety.”

Safeguards for food safety include signing waivers that recuse Central OC Food Swap of liability, education on best practices, and the provision of information about FDA guidelines.

“Every swap uses similar waivers,” Whittenberg says. “No one has gotten sick.”

Whittenberg uses her background in marketing to spread the word to Orange County residents who may not know much about food swaps. Her No. 1 marketing tool is Facebook, and she also uses Yelp. She utilizes Eventbrite to publicize events and for registration.

Central OC Food Swap’s marketing efforts are not limited to the digital sphere, however.

“A lot of it is connecting in person with people at farmers’ markets and building relationships,” she says. “The more I market, the better the turnout is.”

Whittenberg says one of the first food swaps started in 2010 in Brooklyn, which led to a proliferation of food swaps from 2010 to 2013. Then came a decline.

“They started dying off because they were one-man shows with no collaborators,” she says. “Trying to do it themselves did not work.”

Hence Whittenberg would like to see more food swaps in Orange County. She knows of two others: the HB Food Swap in Huntington Beach and the Borderline Food Swap N.O.C. in Buena Park.

“I want more food swaps,” she says. “The more there are the better it is for all of us—it builds on itself.”

As for the Central OC Food Swap, Whittenberg would like to see increased attendance at its events. She also wants to reenergize people in the community about food swaps.

“I think we will continue to grow,” she says.

Orange Home Grown Goes Beyond Farmers Market Roots to Spread Local Food & Ag Education in OC

“In Orange County, the local food system is not good at all—it’s behind the times,” says Megan Penn, co-founder and executive director of Orange Home Grown. Penn and the organization she leads are working hard to remedy that.

Change is happening, says Penn, who believes that “food is the essence of everything.”

Penn was raised in the City of Orange, but it was not until she went to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that her eyes were truly opened to the wonders of local and sustainable food and agriculture.

“There was a fabulous farmers’ market which was part of my college life,” she says.

Upon returning to the City of Orange, however, Penn noticed the lack of farmers’ markets and locally-produced food.

“My friends and neighbors felt the same way,” she says. Read more

To Tackle Food Insecurity, Orange County Coalition Takes Broad Approach to Increase Food Access

Orange County Food Access Coalition takes advantage of the county’s robust fruit harvest to help meet food equity challenges. (photo courtesy Christina Hall/Orange County Food Access Coalition)

Orange County Food Access Coalition takes advantage of the county’s robust fruit harvest to help meet food equity challenges. (photo courtesy Christina Hall/Orange County Food Access Coalition)

To many, Orange County is known for high-end shopping, affluent neighborhoods and, of course, Disneyland. But submerged beneath the county’s oft-glittery surface is the insidious problem of poverty.

According to U.S. Census statistics, median household income in Orange County is $75,998. However, 12.9 percent of county residents live in poverty (defined as annual income less than $12,331).

Poverty often leads to hunger.

“Orange County is a challenging place,” says Christina Hall, executive director of the Orange County Food Access Coalition. “It’s an expensive brand, but with high levels of poverty and food insecurity. We hide that very well.” Read more