The latest report on food access in Del Norte County found some positives but also noted that local residents need better access to fresh produce.
The Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University analyzed the local food system in “Community Food Assessment for Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal lands.”
The report is part of the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative in Del Norte.
“They did a really good job of finding everything going on in the county,” said Angela Glore, a member of the Community Food Council, which is working on food issues here.
Del Norte is considered a food “desert,” Glore said, meaning residents don’t have good access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Many people live in poverty, have limited transportation or live a half-hour or more from a full-scale grocery store, she said.
“How can we change that?” Glore said.
The Community Food Assessment provides an overview of Del Norte’s food system and how well it is serving the community. This provides baseline data for those working to improve the system.
“There is a growing interest in taking stock of food production resources and making sure fresh and healthy foods are more available to low-income consumers,” the report states. “To build a healthy and equitable food system it is equally important to know the needs and obstacles facing farmers as it is to know the ones facing neighbors who rely on food assistance.”
The report provides a snapshot of what the food system looks like now so the Community Food Council and Building Healthy Communities can measure progress in the future, Glore said.
The report found many positives in Del Norte: coastal and Klamath River fisheries, an abundance of community and school gardens where people can grow their own food, a high participation rate among those eligible for CalFresh (food stamps), and the Market Match program that allows CalFresh recipients to use their benefits to buy produce from the Crescent City Farmers Market.
Through the Market Match program, locals have bought $6,000 worth of fresh, local produce, the report stated.
The report shows that the county Department of Health and Human Services has made strides in reaching out to locals who are eligible for CalFresh, as evidencedby the high participation rate, Glore said. It brings a lot of money to the county that’s being used at the Farmers Markets and local grocery stores, she said.
Promotion and a $2,000 donation from Sutter Coast Hospital to the Market Match program helped increased the amount of CalFresh benefits being spent at the Farmers Market, Glore said. The first year, $1,561 was used and last year, $4,542.
“It was successful,” she said.
In addition, there’s a strong interest in making fresh, local food more accessible to Del Norters with Building Healthy Communities and the Community Food Council, the report stated.
However, Del Norte suffers from a lack of farms, food production and agricultural diversity, according to the report.
“Mainly dairy and cattle operations are represented at the large scale,” the report states. “Overall, the lack of participants in, and diversity of, the food-producing agricultural sector is a shortcoming in the food system.”
And there’s limited access to local fish and food, as most fish is shipped elsewhere. Farmers markets operate only part of the year and farms don’t sell food on-site, the report states.
Those living outside of Crescent City have limited access to fresh food in the small grocery stores in outlying areas.
“None of these grocers are able to offer the array of healthy foods that a full supermarket does,” the report states. “Fruits and vegetables are available on an inconsistent basis, leaving the selection limited many times throughout the year.”
The Center for Rural Policy made several suggestions to improve food acess in the report. They include:
• Expand the Market Match program to locals using other assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), to buy food at the Farmers Market.
• Research opportunities for fresh fish sales, such as a fish market or “Community Supported Fisheries,” which let people buy a share of fishermen’s harvest much like “Community Supported Agriculture,” such as the Ocean Air Farms program.
• Help smaller grocers offer more healthy and fresh food, which can otherwise be too expensive to provide.
• Foster more advocates for agriculture through events featuring local farms.
• Encourage food knowledge by holding workshops for locals to teach one another how to garden, preserve food or slaughter animals in the hopes that more people will share their goods at the farmers markets.
• Conduct more research in specific areas of potential growth in the local food system.
The Community Food Council will be looking at the recommendations at its next meeting, Glore said.