A group of area nonprofits are working with government to create a better food system in Santa Barbara County.
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and the Community Environmental Council spearheaded a new Food Action Plan formed more than two years in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation and the now closed Orfalea Foundation. They strive to work with government and other agencies to change how food is grown, prepared, delivered, consumed and disposed of throughout Santa Barbara County.
The plan aims to inform decision makers and those involved in the food industry on how to supply healthier food to more people, its authors said. The plan spurred collaboration between people who have never talked before, said Ron Gallo, Santa Barbara Foundation president and CEO.
“Step one is done, but the proof will be that we take these recommendations, broadcast them loudly and often, and enlist the will, passion and financial resources in solving these problems going forward,” he said at a May 24 press conference at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
While the plan serves as a foundation to food system reform, it will require sustainable funding from a number of sources to be successfully implemented.
Some of the plan’s initiatives are already in place. The Orfalea Foundation, which closed at the end of 2015, created the School Food Initiative. It revamped school kitchens, helped school staff learn to cook from scratch, taught students how to maintain gardens and prepare food, and worked with school administrators to integrate healthy food and activity into the curriculum. More than 50,000 students now have daily access to healthier food choices, according to the foundation.
Outside of supporting education and entrepreneurship, the plan’s goals include investing in food distribution infrastructure, creating self-sufficient food networks within communities, developing housing for food system workers, protecting ag land and reducing environmental impacts and food waste.
Santa Barbara County has a diverse and productive agricultural industry but its residents do not have equal access to its bounty.
More than half of county residents are overweight or obese, the plan found. Farm work is the largest and fastest growing occupation in the county (projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022), but the average farmworker makes less than $19,000 a year and faces significant challenges in terms of affordable housing, health care and food security for their own families, according to the report.
While Santa Barbara County’s ag industry ranks as the 12th most robust out of 58 in the state, it ranks in the bottom 14 in its residents’ food security, said Sigrid Wright of the Community Environmental Council.
“Over the next 25 years, population growth in the county is expected to increase by 100,000 people,” Wright said at the conference. “This means more pressure on our water supply, ag lands, open spaces, transportation corridors, waste processing facilities and even the climate.”
One of the hurdles for the South County is to overcome is its limited processing and packaging facilities, similar to Ventura County. Even though Santa Barbara’s estimated $11 million commercial fishing industry is one of the top producers in the state, most of the food has to be packaged and processed out of the area, Wright said.
“Santa Barbara has the top fisheries for 17 different species,” she told the Business Times. “Right now we have to send all that stuff out.”
Ventura County Credit Union opens foundation
The Ventura County Credit Union recently opened a new foundation that will focus its philanthropy on the underserved, environmental preservation and the region’s health.
The Foundation of Ventura County Credit Union will fund other nonprofits based in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
The credit union hopes it will fill some of the void left by the downsizing of the Ventura County Community Foundation, which closed its Center for Nonprofit Leadership in September.
“The foundation will serve as an extension of VCCU, streamlining and enhancing our charitable giving,” said Joe Schroeder, vice president of the foundation and CEO of VCCU, in a news release.
“We have a collective goal to raise $150,000 for our community by the end of 2016.” The foundation has already raised more than $20,000 from VCCU employees, volunteers and several longtime members.
VCCU has donated more than half a million dollars to local organizations and causes over the last five years.
The credit union recently expanded with its move to a new headquarters at 2575 Vista Del Mar Drive. The 73,000-square-foot former Affinity Group headquarters will house about 100 employees.
VCCU looks to open its eighth branch mid-year at The Collection in Oxnard, chief administrative officer Linda Rossi previously told the Business Times.
• Contact Alex Kacik at [email protected]