Western SARE From the Field Profile
Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability
The San Joaquin Valley of California is one of the most productive and diverse agricultural areas in the country. However, Daniel O’Connell of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT), along with local producers, gathered data that identified challenges in building a healthier regional food system. These challenges, similar those many other regions face, included lack of infrastructure to provide for adequate distribution channels, minimal awareness by consumers about where and how to access product in the region, land use decisions on the urban-rural edge that impacted farmers with pressures that drove up land and production costs, and the Valley’s disconnect from broader, statewide food systems thought, policy changes and economic benefits from localized trends like value-added processing. The area experiences high rates of health problems and nutritional deficiencies, and a primary concern of the group was how to promote the economic viability of small- and medium-scale farmers by connecting them with the substantial community of food insecure residents throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
SRT, in the Western SARE-funded project SW10-801, A San Joaquin Valley Quilt: Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability, brought together approximately 50 farmers and food system advocates to participate in a series of producer meetings and to engage in the creation of a strategic plan and action steps through the use of a cadre of five regional producers as “ambassadors” in conjunction with expert consultants. One objective was to “develop a strategy to move forward, addressing the issues that are constraining progress and providing a roadmap of actions that will create a more sustainable food system in the San Joaquin Valley.” The project led to a strategic implementation plan that would invigorate producer involvement in their foodshed and local food movements. In addition, action steps were developed from the project’s data collection, literature review and producer feedback, which created a basis for continued engagement of participants, expansion of the coalition and leveraging additional funds to realize identified priorities.
One of the action steps prioritized by the participants was creation of a community or regional food system assessment. This assessment will be needed as the potential for developing an aggregation and distribution center comes under consideration. The project team states that “such an assessment often involves participatory, action research that builds potential implementing coalitions while examining the economic feasibility and infrastructure that currently is available to address the systemic problems in the food system.”
The specific actionable items that were recommended include:
• Form a Food Policy Council
• Conduct a Regional Food Assessment
• Develop a Marketing and Strategic Plan
• Build an Aggregation and Distribution Center
• Articulate a Development Strategy
A copy of the project’sStrategic Implementation Plan andSummary of Proceedings, Collected Data and Conclusionscan be downloaded from the final report entry in the SARE project database.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) SW10-801, A San Joaquin Valley Quilt: Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability.
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