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Wednesday, March 20 , 2019, 11:20 am | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Plan Moves to Action as Group Aims to Transform Food System in Santa Barbara County

Collaborative effort aims to develop community food centers and analyze how the region's food moves from farm to table

The Food Action Plan includes goals to set up community food centers in high-need areas, said Foodbank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin. Click to view larger
The Food Action Plan includes goals to set up community food centers in high-need areas, said Foodbank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin.  (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Months after the release of the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan, small steps have been taken to make the document’s goals a reality.

In events held in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara last spring, several officials from nonprofit and government organizations gathered to herald completion of the county’s first Food Action Plan.

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The document assessed how food is grown, distributed, consumed and disposed of, with the goal of improving policies, programs and actions to direct how food moves from farm to plate. 

“Now is the time to put the action into the Food Action Plan,” said Erik Talkin, chief executive officer of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. “We, as an organization, the Foodbank, has been really focused on two of the six top line goals that came out of the plan and really are moving ahead on those.”

Foodbank officials are working with the Community Environmental Council and Santa Barbara Foundation to assess how to move the plan forward while including the broader community instead of just a couple of organizations.

“It’s important for us just to make it real and to also demonstrate to people that we can have successes that come out of this,” Talkin said, adding that once people see the successes the snowball effect will get others interested.

To achieve one goal in the plan, Foodbank will set up community food centers in areas of high need to encourage residents to support each other and to get educated about eating healthy food.

The first community food centers will be located on Santa Barbara’s westside and in Lompoc, with the second phase calling for centers in northwest Santa Maria and Isla Vista.

A second goal calls for creating nutrition advocates to provide peer-to-peer education to ensure people are food secure and food literate.

The Food Action Plan is a collaborative effort between several groups including the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which distributes food to local families. Click to view larger
The Food Action Plan is a collaborative effort between several groups including the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which distributes food to local families.  (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The program aims to connect nutrition advocates with people involved in the Foodbank’s other programs or a parent interested in nutrition. They will meet once a month, cook a meal together, learn about nutrition or another topic and pick a project to complete in the community.

“It’s really kind of a community building exercise where food is the first stage of that,” Talkin said. “And then they become skillful and are wanting to do some nutrition education or other types of education within their neighborhoods.” 

Now, the program has about 30 advocates, but hopes to expand throughout Santa Barbara County in the new year. 

Reaction to the plan has been favorable mixed with some skepticism, which Talkin said he understands because he had doubts before getting involved in the process.

“But I think we’ve built up a lot of excellent relationships through putting the plan together with groups of people that might not necessarily have been working together in the past,” he said. “And out of those new relationships will come a lot of the movement that we’ll see with ideas from the plan.”

Throughout the process, Talkin said the focus was to make the plan practical. 

“The ideas that come out should be doable and actionable and broadly agreeable,” he said, adding it should not be “pie in the sky”

The Food Action Plan also cited the large amount of food going to waste locally, leading the Foodbank to work with Westmont College students to create a mobile phone app. 

The Foodbank is working with people from the Community Environmental Council and Santa Barbara Foundation, including president and CEO Ron Gallo, on the Food Action Plan. Click to view larger
The Foodbank is working with people from the Community Environmental Council and Santa Barbara Foundation, including president and CEO Ron Gallo, on the Food Action Plan. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The goal is to connect people who want to donate food, those who can pick it up and recipient organizations, Talkin said. 

“That is one other major area of the Food Action Plan we will be engaged in,” Talkin said. 

Simple math shows why the Foodbank is focused on local food waste.

“Studies have shown that the amount of food going into landfills in Santa Barbara County is broadly equal to the amount of food that is needed to make sure everyone has enough to eat,” Talkin said. 

“The more that we can cut down on that figure then there is less need for food coming from the Foodbank.”

The coalition created to formulate the food action plan is among many ways local nonprofit organizations are employing innovative approaches for the 21st century, according to Ron Gallo, president and chief executive officer of Santa Barbara Foundation.

“We’re seeing for almost the first time people addressing issues of food distribution not just from traditional ways of gathering food and distributing food, but from trying to redesign the food distribution network,” Gallo said.

This effort involved uniting ranchers, growers, nonprofits and government — “people who often don’t come to the same table or stay at the same table,” Gallo said. 

The Food Action Plan includes 16 recommendations that go beyond the usual suggestion of just giving more money to fix a problem, Gallo said.

Instead, the plan’s ideas include new methods of composting soil and ways to incentivize growers to sell more locally, a key point since the county boasts a $2.8 billion agricultural economy yet imports 97 percent of its food and exports 98 percent of food grown locally, Gallo added.

“It seems like a fixable problem,” Gallo said. “A lot of the hunger that goes on in our county accrues to this inefficient distribution of locally grown food.”

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Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino speaks during the announcement of the Food Action Plan. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino speaks during the announcement of the Food Action Plan.  (Noozhawk file photo)

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