HSU Unveils Recommendations for Del Norte Food System

Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal Lands should further localize their farm-to-market sector with Community Supported Agriculture networks, according to a detailed analysis by the non-profit California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University.

Authored by CCRP Director Connie Stewart and Community Food Systems Analyst Danielle Stubblefield, the 98-page Community Food Assessment says localization steps should include on-site farm sales, linking farmers to large-volume buyers such as schools and hospitals, direct marketing from farmer to consumer and capitalizing further on the principles of Community Supported Agriculture originated in Japan and Switzerland in the 1960s. They were adopted in the U.S. in the 1980s.

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CSA members pay a subscription fee at the starting of the growing season and receive a specified number of shares in return. They can be redeemed not only for produce, but also for meat, grain and dairy products.

Ocean Air Farms, a CSA model that hosts four farmers’ markets a week, two in Crescent City and two in Brookings, Oregon, is one of the only regional operations producing an array of fresh fruits and vegetables for direct markets. Last year, Ocean Air offered market membership to 25 people, up from 15 the year before.

Community Supported Agriculture capitalizes farmers in advance to meet their planting and growing costs. Consumers benefit from farm-fresh products, often at prices even lower than at farm stands or farmers’ markets.

The CCRP’s Community Food Assessment is part of the Building Healthy Communities initiative of the California Endowment. “This assessment is an important tool for many stakeholders, including consumers, farmers, retailers, organizations and policymakers,” Stubblefield said. “In particular, it provides baseline information for the newly-formed Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Land’s Community Food Council, as it begins to work toward food system improvements.”

The need is great. Most of Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal Lands have been designated by the federal government as “food deserts.” They are defined as rural communities and urban neighborhoods without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

The area’s poverty rates are high, adding to food woes. Single mothers in Del Norte County faced a staggering 40.8% poverty rate in 2009 as the nation’s Great Recession worsened, nearly double California’s rate of 24.4%.

“Relocalizing” the agricultural sector can boost a community’s economy, the CCRP’s analysis says. In one instance, in Maine, shifting consumer purchases to locally grown products increased Maine farmers’ income a full five percent.

A related study based on the central Puget Sound region around Seattle showed that if residents patronized locally-owned farmers’ markets and restaurants, they could shift as much as 20% of food dollars into local coffers and add an extra $1 billion to the region’s economy.

The CCRP report also recommends the expansion of programs that shore up availability for low-income consumers. Success stories include CalFresh (Food Stamps), a new farmers’ market program named Market Match and community and school gardens.

A model Oregon program named ‘That’s My Farmer’ enables low-income customers in Eugene to sign up for a weekly farm share at a reduced price. Costs are offset by a community fundraiser.
The CCRP report also recommends:

  • Research financed with rural development funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pinpoint which markets would be of most benefit to Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands consumers.
  • Additional boosts from government food assistance dollars. Research shows that every five dollars in new CalFresh benefits generates as much as nine dollars of economic activity.
  • New models of community-supported fisheries to increase fresh fish sales. “The coastal and Klamath River fisheries are a robust source of food production.”
  • The use of new sources of financial assistance to help small local grocers provide fresh, healthy foods via “healthy store conversions.” Pem-Mey Fuel Mart in Klamath is making changes so that consumers have more healthy choices. Small local grocers should be considered community assets in the same way as schools and post offices are, the study says.
  • Recycling commercial food waste. Crescent City’s Rumiano cheese manufacturing company has a new whey protein concentrate plant that enables the company to produce an 80% protein supplement that is sold to other manufacturers as a bulk ingredient.
  • Fostering more advocates for local agriculture and building relationships between consumers and farmers through public engagement
  • Spreading local food system knowledge, self-reliance and peer-based education. In the town of Orleans, in neighboring Humboldt County, once-a-month workshops begun in 2011 address methods of self-reliance such as home canning, mushroom hunting and goat butchering.

“Hands-on and peer-based lessons could be coordinated throughout the Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands, as many community members have knowledge to share with one another,” according to the CCRP food profile.

Although the region enjoys important strengths in its food system—exceptional growth in direct farmer-to-consumer sales and strong potential in food waste diversion—the new assessment warns that extreme weather and climate change, in the form of more frequent droughts, pose a long-term threat to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

In the words of the report, “This could lead to increased risk of fires in the area’s forests, increase the need to irrigate crops and possibly raise river temperatures that deteriorate salmon habitat.
Overall, climate change poses a long-term threat to the area’s food supply—to local food production, to food imports and to the routes that trucks must take to deliver such foods.”