As we marched on Saturday to honor the legacy of farmworker leader Cesar Chavez, it was a stark reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go, as we work to build a truly sustainable food system that treats everyone with dignity.
The food system is a series of links from those who grow and harvest food to processors, distributors, servers and eaters. For Sacramento to fully assume its title of America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, the city and region need to dig deeper, and embrace the issues of fairness throughout that food chain.
Fairness and dignity extend beyond farmworkers to small- and mid-scale farmers, food service workers and to children. Many of the people that work day in and day out to harvest and prepare our food live on a knife’s edge, while those growing the food do barely better. Children and their families, especially the poor, lack access to healthy food, isolated by geography and social programs. By addressing the most vulnerable first, we can continue to create a system that benefits everyone.
Recent debates at the Sacramento City Council before it approved the urban agriculture ordinance highlight the need to refocus the community conversation. Policymakers, government agencies, foundations and community leaders need to identify ways to lift people out of poverty and give them a greater role in driving the future of food and farming.
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Several discussions within our region and about our food system deserve attention and are already in play. The emerging Sacramento Food Policy Council presents an important new place to unify around common solutions and begin building food democracy.
First, raising wages for farmworkers and restaurant workers can have significant impact for workers, with little cost to consumers.
Second, rebalancing ownership of the food system is critical – including increasing access to the land, as the urban ag ordinance just did, and creating more opportunities for small local farmers and retailers to enter the marketplace.
Third, we need to spur innovation in the food system in areas such as distributing food, establishing farm-to-school cafeterias in all of Sacramento County’s school districts and getting fresh produce into corner stores.
No doubt there are things beyond local and state control, given that federal regulations and national food programs legislate safety in food processing, pesticide use, dietary guidelines and feeding programs. Food system challenges and opportunities don’t exist in a vacuum. Housing, transportation and education have direct bearing on efforts to build a just and thriving food system. But food connects us all and offers a chance to advance shared solutions.
Celebrating for a day is not enough. If we commit ourselves to meeting the challenges faced by workers across the food chain, plus ensuring access to fresh, healthy foods for all, farm-to-fork can become farm-to-every-fork.
Brenda Ruiz of Slow Food Sacramento and Paul Towers of Pesticide Action Network are leaders of the new Sacramento Food Policy Council.