On a 3-acre patch of land along Lake Washington Boulevard in West Sacramento, farmer Fredric Blum, 29, spends most weekdays toiling over rows of broccoli, carrots, parsnips, kale and herbs.
To many passersby, the sight is an oddity amidst the surrounding industrial buildings. Blum’s farm was formerly a vacant lot – a lifeless fixture of the neighborhood where garbage collected and weeds flourished – until earlier this year, when the land was transformed to accommodate agricultural production.
In West Sacramento, farms are hard to come by and a majority of residents lack proximity to fresh produce. The city, by USDA standards, is considered a food desert, which Blum explained is any place where healthy eating – not to mention accessing fresh foods – is a major challenge.
“If fresh produce is not in walking distance or you don’t have a car, then you don’t have easy access to fresh produce,” he said. “It’s easier to get junk food at a corner store than it is to access fresh food.”
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The West Sacramento Urban Farm Program, operated by the nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, is working to alleviate the food desert crisis by supporting local production of food as well as its hyperlocal distribution, said Sara Bernal, program director.
The program works to convert unoccupied, often blighted lots throughout the city into farm incubation sites, or urban farms. A portion of the urban farmland – as well as valuable farming and irrigation resources – are provided for beginning farmers who seek to launch their own businesses.
“Much of the reason there isn’t enough fresh produce is because there aren’t many farms (in West Sacramento),” Bernal said. “For a beginning farmer, it’s really hard to get started. Access to land is really difficult and farming is just not a high profit-margin business.”
In 2014, the organization launched its first site in the Broderick neighborhood of West Sacramento. The program has since acquired four urban farm sites that yield up to 30,000 pounds of produce per month. The harvest is sold at community farm stands, markets and restaurants.
“A lot of people are really interested in the fact that their food is grown so close to where they live,” Blum said. “People really respond to that – it makes people feel connected to their food, which is huge in terms of eating healthy and being sustainable.”
West Sacramento Urban Farm is asking Book of Dreams readers to help fund a refrigerated aggregation facility that would reduce food spoilage, thus expanding the organization’s reach throughout surrounding food desert communities, such as Knights Landing.
The aggregation facility “will have a tremendous impact in opening up access to fresh food for new people that we haven’t been able reach before,” Bernal said. “It will change not only the farmers’ access to new markets, but the number of consumers who have access to healthier local food.”Book of Dreams 2015: How to donate
The aggregation facility will enable the organization to pursue the launch of a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program that would deliver boxes of local, fresh produce to West Sacramento families on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. They hope to expand their reach to low-income families by offering a portion of the CSA subscriptions at half-price to those enrolled in the state’s CalFresh program, Bernal said.
The organization aids low-income individuals by allowing them to purchase their produce with EBT benefits through CalFresh. A portion of each harvest is also donated to food banks in Sacramento and Yolo counties.
Bernal said planting urban farms has been a factor toward revitalizing neighborhoods and stimulating the city’s economy by promoting local trade and small businesses.
“The difference in having urban farms vs. vacant lots throughout this community has really been tremendously enriching,” she said. “Our urban farms have really become a focal point of West Sac.”
Funds to help purchase a refrigerated aggregation facility for the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program to help store fresh produce.
Book of Dreams Wishes
Here’s a list of wishes published so far in the series:
Dream: Funds are sought to help pay for items for Melissa Oliver’s wedding. Oliver’s father, Danny, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, was killed in the line of duty in October 2014.
Needed: Wedding dress, groom suit and cake
Dream: Next Move’s Family Shelter seeks funds to supply clothing to comfort homeless children.
Needed: Pajamas, socks and underwear
Dream: My Sister’s Café, a branch of the nonprofit My Sister’s House, needs work apparel for its workers.
Needed: New aprons and uniform T-shirts
Dream: Funding for blanket-making equipment for the Elk Grove-based Gramma’s Hugs Factory.
Needed: Three special sewing machines
Dream: Funds to purchase supplies for cognitive stimulation activities for adults with disabilities served by nonprofit Health for All.
Needed: Art and music supplies, including a karaoke machine
Dream: Funds for a Rifton Pacer Gait Trainer for United Cerebral Palsy of Sacramento and Northern California. The device helps people with disabilities gain more mobility.