The goal: ‘to enhance individual health, economic well-being, community resiliency and ecological sustainability.’
The Mendocino County Food Action Plan, a comprehensive document authored by Ukiah resident Carole Brodsky, is the output of the Food Policy Council, an organization created and endorsed in 2011 by the Board of Supervisors at the behest of the county health department.
Quoting directly from the plan, it “is a comprehensive, integrated series of goals and actions designed to address the complex issues that face all of us as we assume increasing responsibility for creation, protection and enhancement of our local food systems. The aim of the plan is to enhance individual health, economic well being, community resiliency, and ecological sustainability ( ) and ( ) aims to educate, inspire, and empower Mendocino County to become a world leader in the sustainable food movement.”
County supervisor Dan Hamburg, a member of the policy council, in referencing the plan, says that 98 percent of our food comes from outside the county, and if consumers purchased only 15 percent of the food they need for home use directly from local farmers, this would produce $20 million of new farm income in Mendocino County.
He says, “This document entails an alternative vision for the county. I have been highly involved in the locavore and anti-GMO movements and believe we need to produce the food we eat locally instead of importing it in trucks from large warehouses in big cities.
“There are many in the country who are showing there are other ways to grow good food without basing their agriculture on petroleum. Some day we, too, are going to have to break that link.
“The farm bill, the primary agriculture and food policy tool of the federal government, is about subsidizing big corporations, and one of the things that has to happen is to allow small producers to be able to market their food locally without having to go through a lot of the unnecessary rigmarole.”
The Food Action Plan highlights the work of agricultural pioneers such as Stephen and Gloria Decater, the Magruder family and Doug Mosel, with the intention for these and other successful alternatives to be more fully integrated into the mainstream.
Projects implemented by local agencies, such as North Coast Opportunities, in establishing commercial kitchens, The Gardens Project’s Farm2Fork, and First Five’s Rethink Your Drink Campaign are cornerstones to creating innovation throughout the county.
Hamburg continues, “Monoculture is not going to be the way of the future for all kinds of reasons; health and economy are driving this. For the people who own the vineyards and the wineries, the way it is set up now, it is working well for them. Roederer Estate did a global search for where to grow their Pinot Noir and in 1982 found Anderson Valley to be a most accommodating environment with cheap labor, inexpensive land and easy water, making it cheaper to produce grapes here than in France.
“We have watched this happen; there used to be few vineyards: dry farming, old vines deep in the earth. Then UC Davis got into the picture with Mondavi- sponsored vineyards and they developed strains that were more suited to producing bigger grapes, greater yields: more volume equals more money. There were places 30 years ago where you couldn’t plant; now you can plant anywhere. New technology has allowed for a lucrative monoculture here in the county. At some point there’s going to be a glut.
“Facing drought conditions, we have to realize that a lot of our water sources are going towards an illegal intoxicant, marijuana, and a legal intoxicant, wine. I think there are positive things that come with being a wine growing region, but it makes more sense to grow food that sustains us as human beings.”
County Supervisor Carre Brown, with more than 22 years of working countywide with agriculture, sits on the policy council, as well.
She says, “Supervisor Valerie Brown from Sonoma County and I were approached by the director of USDA Rural Development and told there would be grant funding coming to this region if the two of us could organize a multi-county group to discuss a regional food systems network. We organized Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Lake and Sonoma counties into a region. That was why I was asked to be part of the Food Policy Council.”
Brown says this movement is about educating people and continuing to create positive changes in organizations that are focusing on school and community gardens, creating a food pantry in Lake County, developing seed sharing and training new farmers at the Grange Farm School in Willits.
“I see this as a very positive tool. We have a lot of low-income people in the county and reducing hunger and delivering healthy locally grown produce is a priority for an effective food system network. People need to be educated about the economic benefits of eating local foods.
“So much has already been done to implement this vision, and the food action plan can only help to further the direction in which we hope to go: to have healthy communities throughout the county.
“Hops yesterday; pears and prunes; today vineyards; tomorrow row crops. The hops and prunes are gone; we are losing pear acreage every year; and those vineyards may be tomorrow’s row crops. A farmer or rancher is going to be in a commodity, growing crops, so he or she can earn a living, maintaining good ag land in viable farming communities. The idea is as long as farmers can sustain agriculture on the land, conserve it in production, it keeps the developers away.
“My husband and I have a small farm, and we intend that our children keep it forever. I tell them that they can never build on those resource lands, that they must keep it for their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren who, one day, may need it to grow food of their own.”
Food Action Plan Committee members are: Patty Bruder, Miles Gordon, Clifford Paulin, Tarney Sheldon and Terry d’Selkie. The Food Action Plan (pdf) can be downloaded here.