A member of Slow Food USA, Slow Food Orange County aids in the establishment of school and community gardens, fosters food-centered education and camaraderie, and highlights those who promote Slow Food principles. In keeping with the principles, Slow Food Orange County works toward the establishment of a food system that is fresh, seasonal and local; healthy and nutritious; fair to its producers; and accessible to everyone.
Gardening is one of Slow Food Orange County’s primary focus areas. So when steering committee chair Jeremy Samson moved to Anaheim a few years ago, he was surprised to by the city’s dearth of public gardens.
“In 2012 there were no community gardens in Anaheim,” says Samson, who grew up in Maine and is well-versed in Slow Food culture.
He moved to Anaheim after serving in the U.S. Navy, quickly joined the Master Gardeners of Orange County, and became involved in gardening and sustainability endeavors. Soon after joining Slow Food Orange County, he became chair of its School and Community Gardens program.
“Slow Food Orange County put out a call for new board members,” he says. “It relies on the skill sets of volunteers, and my skill set is school garden programs.”
Samson has put his talents to good use, as Slow Food Orange County has played a key role in numerous garden endeavors. These include the installation of a new drip irrigation system in a church garden, giving an heirloom seed grant and cooking demonstration to Tustin Memorial Academy students, providing volunteers to the Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center, and collaborating with The Ecology Center’s Grow Your Own! program to bolster the efforts of teachers developing school gardens.
Additionally, Slow Food Orange County is a participant in Slow Food USA’s National School Garden Program. This initiative is designed to help young people grow and cook good food, as well as partner with Slow Food chapters in helping them establish and maintain school garden programs.
Samson knows the importance of school gardens, and also believes that community gardens are essential for a strong Slow Food culture. Soon after arriving in Orange County, he became involved with a few of these gardens and quickly witnessed the impact they can make.
“I saw a rise of community that popped up around these gardens,” he says. “These gardens give a sense of place.”
Beyond community gardening efforts, Samson envisions Slow Food Orange County as building bridges between other organizations and people with the same philosophies regarding food and agriculture.
“We want to be viewed as a connector of other Orange County groups,” he says. “We partner and cross-promote. We create a wider community by connecting more people to each other.”
Samson also stresses food’s broad impact and the need for people to get involved.
“We all need to eat, so we need to be involved with food,” he says. “Our culture is built around food.”
Despite so many positives, Samson notes that difficulties do exist. Orange County, he feels, faces two challenges in shifting its overall culture toward local and sustainable food. These include land access and an entrenched existing culture.
“The main obstacle is land. It’s easy to get people excited about gardening, but in reality this is very difficult in some cases,” he says.
“Orange County has been out of touch with its agricultural roots for a couple of generations,” says Samson, referencing cultural obstacles. “We’ve been detached from those connections for quite some time. Trying to shift culture is an obstacle to overcome.”
Slow Food Orange County aims to address these roadblocks, but not through policy advocacy. This kind of work, according to Samson, is best left to groups like the Orange County Food Access Coalition. For now and in the foreseeable future, Slow Food Orange County will keep on doing what it does best: establishing school and community gardens, recognizing farms and restaurants that are supporting local food and farmers, and bringing together all those who appreciate and respect Slow Food principles.