California State Policy Platform: Why Now?
In California’s food system, appearances are deceiving. Despite being the produce basket for the country, many family farmers are going out of business and others are seeing their farms being paved over by relentless sprawl. Despite the enormous wealth of many of our residents, there remains entrenched poverty and hunger in rural and urban areas. Despite Californians’ reputation for health consciousness, there is a growing epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. Despite the incredible diversity of foods available throughout the year, many urban communities remain without supermarkets, and Californians are increasingly concerned about the safety of the food they feed their families.

These issues are complex and systemic in nature. Support for public and private efforts to reduce hunger, prevent diet-related disease, and support family farmers cannot be achieved without changes in public policy. The California Food and Justice Coalition has formulated a series of policy recommendations that comprise the beginning steps to strengthening community food security in the state, especially for the most vulnerable-seniors, mothers, and children. The recommendations described in this “Food and Justice” policy platform are wide-reaching in scope, yet achievable in the context of the state’s political and economic climate. This platform suggests structures for improved state leadership and coordination on food security issues and provides three sets of public policy recommendations to:
  • Secure access to healthy foods;
  • Support community-based food security projects; and
  • Strengthen public health and local agriculture through farm-to-school programs.
These policy areas emerged from two years of analysis and dialogue, participated in by more than 120 food, farm, health, and justice organizations and capped by a two-day summit that founded the California Food and Justice Coalition.

Coordination of State Action on Food Security
Recommendation A: Establish a California Food Policy Council

Despite its importance as a basic human need on par with water, housing, and transportation, no American state has a department of food security. Instead, policies and programs affecting food and agriculture are embedded within virtually every agency. To address this oversight, various North American cities, counties, and states have created food policy councils. These councils draw upon the expertise of public and private stakeholders such as supermarket executives, emergency food providers, farmers, public health experts, and community based organizations, to play a coordinating role for food policy within a state, county, or municipal jurisdiction. Through their advisory capacity to the legislature or executive branch, councils can make recommendations that provide for a more coordinated use of state resources toward a common goal of promoting community food security. They also can help to increase the visibility of issues in food and agriculture among the media and policymakers by dint of their official status. A California Food Policy Council could develop innovative food policy recommendations and help the State’s multiple agencies with food-related programs and policies coordinate actions to advance food security.

Estimated cost: $500,000 for administration

Recommendation B: Form Legislative Caucus on Food Issues

In recent years many California Assemblypersons and State Senators have proposed or supported bills to improve aspects of California’s food systems. These legislators-and the State-could benefit from a forum where they share ideas and discuss priorities for legislative initiatives around food issues. Like-minded members of the legislature (from both chambers and all parties) should form a Food Caucus or some similar food policy grouping to advance and coordinate work on food issues.

Estimated cost: Minimal resources needed for administration

Proposal #1: Access to Healthy Foods

Healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are key to the prevention of such diseases as diabetes and obesity, which are found in higher than average rates among California’s low income population. The lack of access to these foods, as is common among low-income communities throughout the state, can create an additional barrier to leading a healthy life. Poor food access is due in large measure to the lack of supermarkets in the state’s poorer neighborhoods, and the lack of available transportation resources-either private automobile ownership or transit lines designed with food shopping in mind. The following policies develop and strengthen community-based programs that can improve fresh food access while simultaneously supporting in-state markets for California grown products.

Recommendation A: Study of fresh food access throughout California

The state shall promote community food assessments as a means of determining residents’ access to fresh food. The state shall provide community-based organizations with information and technical assistance on food assessments and will seek to leverage funding to support assessments in low and moderate-income communities throughout the state. Within one year, the responsible agency shall summarize the findings of existing community food assessments in a report to the Legislature and Governor. This report will focus on such issues as:
  • Evaluation of access to food-both in terms of the number and types of places to obtain food (supermarkets, corner stores, food banks, farmers’ markets, etc) and the transportation options available to reach those locations.
  • Evaluation of the quality, price, and cultural appropriateness of the food available.
  • Evaluation of community perceptions/attitudes/needs around food access.
  • Recommendations on strategies to increase access for residents living in limited access areas.
Why a Food Access Study: Food access studies need to be conducted in a more thorough and systematic fashion to assess the need for further action in this arena. Periodic assessments conducted in urban areas throughout the state have discovered disparities in residents’ ability to access fresh healthy food. A state-wide summary of community food assessments can tie together local information, build a knowledge base of the extent of the problem of inadequate food access, create a baseline of information against which to measure future initiatives, and propose solutions for legislative and community action.

Estimated cost: $200,000

Recommendation B: Seed Grants for Farmers’ Market, Farm Stands, and CSAs

The state shall provide seed grants and support grants to farmers’ markets, farm stands, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs that reach low and middle - income communities.

Why Market Seed Grants: Certified farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSA programs offer many Californians direct access to healthy fruits and vegetables. However, few of these markets operate in low-income neighborhoods. Because of economic constraints, markets in lower income communities often require a subsidy for start-up costs and for on-going promotion and management. Seed grants to organizations prepared to start farmers’ markets, farms stands, and CSAs in these neighborhoods, and support grants to existing markets and programs can help ensure that all Californians’ can access the fresh, healthy produce.

Estimated Cost: $1.5 million over three years

Recommendation C: Increased Funding for Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs

The State shall provide funds to match available federal funds for the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) so as to expand the reach of both programs by 50 percent. The State shall also simplify procedures for those farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture farms that wish to accept vouchers.

Why Strengthen FMNP at Farmers’ Markets: The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs are win-win programs, putting money into the pockets of small farmers while providing the state’s most vulnerable populations with nutritious produce. In addition, they have been found to be effective as nutrition education programs, as studies have shown an increase in consumption of produce by participants. Despite these important benefits, these programs are woefully underfunded. The WIC FMNP currently provides around 360,000 California recipients with one booklet worth $10 per eligible participant per year to be used only during the months of May through November. Similarly, the SFMNP currently only provides one coupon booklet worth $30 per participant per year. Markets located in low-income areas rely on these programs, so their current limitations restrict these markets’ sustainability.

Estimated Cost: $1.8 million

PROPOSAL #2: Community-based Food Security Projects

In a food secure society, all residents have access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food at all times. Community-based groups have developed innovative programs and projects that build food security in their neighborhoods and regions. These projects deserve increased public support.

Recommendation A: Policy Statement Supporting Community Food Security

The Governor’s Office shall issue a policy statement expressing California’s commitment to Community Food Security. Key points in the State’s commitment shall include:
  • Support for access to fresh foods for all persons and culturally appropriate nutrition education;
  • Support for local and sustainable food production, linkages between small farmers and consumers, and urban agriculture;
  • Recognition of food security as an economic development and social justice issue.
Why State Commitment to Community Food Security: Community food security is an internationally recognized concept. A State commitment to community food security will encourage California agencies and policymakers to take a comprehensive, community-based approach to food and nutrition issues.

Estimated Cost: None

Recommendation B: Increased Funding for California Nutrition Network’s Community Food Security and Nutrition Education Grants

The State shall assist the California Nutrition Network’s Community Food Security and Nutrition Education grant program in expanding grants by at least 25 percent over current levels. The additional funds can come from a combination of state money, federal funds leveraged through state outlays, and private funds that the state assists the Nutrition Network in raising.

Why Food Security Grants: The California Nutrition Network funds a variety of community-based projects that advance food security through such strategies as creating community gardens, developing connections between school food service and local farmers, needs assessments, and promoting participation in federal food assistance programs. It is among the few sources of funding for such a comprehensive range of approaches to food security in the state. Dedicated state funding will allow the Network to support more projects than the ten to fifteen it is currently able to assist.

Estimated Cost: $175,000.

Proposal #3: Healthy Farms, Healthy Students

In and out of California, a growing movement has emerged to improve the quality of school meals by sourcing foods from local farmers. These win-win programs have also had the additional benefits of increasing income for family farmers, while educating students about farming and the source of their food. Numerous administrative and financial barriers exist to making these farm-to-school connections however. Given the potential of these programs for health promotion and economic development, the state should take a larger role in removing these barriers and creating incentives. Public K-12 schools and colleges should be encouraged to serve fresh, locally produced foods that are certified organic or sustainably produced using least-toxic means wherever possible and grown on family farms for school meal programs. (Throughout these proposals, a family farm is defined as one in which an individual farmer, family, or group of individuals is directly involved in ownership, management, marketing, and day-to-day labor. The term local refers to food produced within 150 miles of a purchasing institution; or, if a given food item is not produced within a 150 mile radius, to food produced within the State of California.)

Recommendation A: Policy Statement Encouraging Schools to Buy from Local Family Farmers

The California Department of Education and the California Department of Food and Agriculture shall issue a policy statement that explicitly encourages school districts to purchase products produced by local, family farmers. CDE should also conduct an audit of its bidding and contracting regulations for schools to determine any barriers- or possible avenues for encouragement- to schools in buying from local farmers.

Why A Policy Statement: For schools to purchase from local farmers they may need to go outside their typical procurement channels. A joint policy statement from the California Department of Education and the California Department of Food and Agriculture would give the green light to school food service directors to take the steps necessary to buy food from local, family owned farms that is certified organic or is sustainably produced using least-toxic means whenever possible.

Estimated Cost: none

Recommendation B: Seed Grants to Develop Farm-to-School Food Projects

California shall establish multi-year (three years) seed grants for schools within the state to buy food from local, family farmers that is certified organic or is sustainably produced using least-toxic means whenever possible. US Senate Bill S. 995 provides a model for such a program.

Why Seed Grants: Many schools do not have the necessary equipment, facilities, or staffing to prepare and serve unprocessed foods purchased from local farmers. They will need financial assistance for capital expenses, labor, materials, consulting services, and produce. State funds can play an important role in helping schools overcome existing barriers so they can better meet their students’ nutritional needs.

Estimated Cost: $4 million over three years.

Recommendation C: Bonus Reimbursements

California shall provide Bonus Reimbursements for school meals made with local ingredients. School districts should receive an additional reimbursement tied to the purchase of foods produced by local, family farmers, that is certified organic or sustainably produced using least-toxic means whenever possible.

Why Bonus Reimbursements: Food produced out-of-state or overseas can be less expensive than that grown by local, family farmers. As a result, school food service directors can find locally grown foods that are certified organic or sustainably produced using least-toxic means prohibitive in cost. Many schools would require an additional reimbursement to be able to afford purchasing such products. Although this would be an initial cost born by the State, increasing the reimbursement rates serves a dual purpose. First, the increase will improve the quality of the school food, and as a direct result will increase participation in the National School Lunch Program. Second, once schools establish connections with local family farms, some of the logistical barriers will be eliminated, lowering the costs associated with procuring locally produced food.

Estimated Cost: The estimated cost for such a program is $4 million per year.

Recommendation D: Transportation and Logistics Study

The California Department of Food and Agriculture shall commission a study to evaluate the opportunities for reducing the logistical barriers for family farmers to sell their products to school food services. The study should identify barriers and identify possible solutions, including incentives for farmers to develop delivery systems to schools.

Why Transportation and Logistics Study: One of the primary barriers for farmers to sell to local school food services is getting their produce to the schools. Transportation can be a time consuming and costly endeavor, especially for urban schools not in the immediate vicinity of local farms. Various models have been employed in projects across the country. An analysis of the benefits and constraints of each model would be enormously helpful for new projects in the design process.

Estimated Cost: $200,000

i For example, the Connecticut Food Policy Council was created by an act of the Connecticut legislature in 1997. It works: “to promote the development of a food policy for the State of Connecticut and the coordination of state agencies that affect food security. Food Policy refers to government actions that influence the availability, affordability, quality and safety of our food supply. Food Policy addresses such concerns as: farmland preservation, urban agriculture, emergency food supply, transportation, markets for locally-grown food, food education, child nutrition and inner-city supermarkets.” Source: http://www.foodpc.state.ct.us/

ii The Southland Farmers’ Market Association estimates that a market’s first year’s expenses will total $34,400. $1.5 million will allow the state to give one time start-up grants to approximately 30 farmers markets over three years: with $500,000 in reserve to assist those markets (especially those in low income neighborhoods) that may require a reduced subsidy in their second year of operation.

iii Doubling the programs would allow additional low-income residents to take part and/or increasing the value of the coupons given to participants.

iv For the Federal Fiscal Year 2002, $1.9 million in federal funds and $800,000 in California’s matching funds was allocated for the WIC FMNP, for a total of $2.7 million in expenditures. Increasing this sum by half would require an additional $1.35 million. Currently, $900,000 in federal funds supports the SFMNP in California. The State should match this figure with $450,000 in state funds.

v The California Nutrition Network currently grants $700,000 each year towards community food security projects. A 25 percent increase would require an additional $175,000.

vi Or not produced in adequate quantities to meet an institution’s needs. For example, if a school district needs 50,000 heads of lettuce each year, and can only purchase 40,000 from framers within 150 miles, the additional 10,000 grown elsewhere in CA would still be considered local.

vii Such a statement would complement the policy adopted in the 2002 Federal Farm Bill, which stated: “In general the Secretary shall encourage institutions participating in the school lunch program under this Act and the school breakfast program established by section 4 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to purchase, in addition to other food purchases, locally produced foods for school meal programs, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.” (2002 Federal Farm Bill, Section 4303) California’s policy statement could read: “Given that introducing farm-fresh foods into the school cafeteria can improve the quality of school meals, educate school children about America’s family farmers and farm community, and support family farmers, school food service administrators are encouraged to purchase as much product as economically, seasonally, and logistically possible from local family farms.” (Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids: Evaluating the Barriers and Opportunities for Farm-To-School Programs. Andrea Misako Azuma and Andrew Fisher, pg. 51.)

viii The Federal Farm Bill included startup grants to defray the initial costs of buying locally, allocating $400,000 for each fiscal years 2003 through 2007 to not more than 200 institutions (Section 4303).

ix This figure would allow 40 schools to receive three year grants averaging $25,000 per year (a total of $3 million in grants), with the remaining $1 million paying for program design, promotion, and administration.

x Just under 2 million students in California schools qualify for free and reduced lunches through the national school lunch program. If the State provides an additional 10 cents reimbursement for 20 meals per year for each of these students, costs will total $10 million.