Food as a basic necessity has been highlighted through numerous programs and actions here in the Valley. These include the great ongoing work of Redwood Empire Food Bank, the local Meals on Wheels program, the monumental work of the folks at F.I.S.H. in the Springs, shopping and meal service by Vintage House, and the impressive daily meals served at the Springs Hall by Sonoma Overnight Support, and the grassroots Food For All/Comida Para Todos distributions.
Ariel and Kiegan gleaning early girls at Oak Hill Farm
In gleaning and organizing farm-fresh produce for distribution, we are continually faced with the question, How can we be more resilient and self-sufficient in our local food systems?
The terms “resilient” and “sustainable” are bandied about quite a bit these days. Both definitions vary depending on the context and the source. The definition of resilient is “something able to withstand or recover from difficult conditions.” Webster defines sustainable as “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” In applying these terms to a local food system, it alludes to one that can withstand stresses, but that can be continued at current rates indefinitely.
Ariel and Seth delivering gleaned produce to the SOS kitchen at the Springs Hall
Our recent troubles, to put it lightly, have indeed tested these principles. The pandemic led to local food shortages, which are ongoing in certain areas, with empty grocery shelves and long lines at the food pantries and distributions. Restaurants closed or were limited to take out, stressing an entire segment of our economy. Local farmers and food producers were faced with limited access to the consumers, with the loss of restaurant business, health mandates at markets, the reduction of our Tuesday Night Market, and loss of the Springs Farmers Market.
Some bright spots have emerged. Folks have weathered the limited social interactions at the Friday Farmers Market and have been fairly steady in their support. The grow-your-own movement ballooned with folks spending much of their newfound time at home on Victory Gardens. The Sonoma Garden Park has been confirmed as an important local resource for food production and education. The folks at FEED Sonoma have put together a weekly CSA box from area farms. And local farms have supplied excess produce from loss of business to the essential food distribution community.
Hints of resiliency lie in these evolutions.
During recent gleanings at Paul’s Produce, we were amazed at the abundance in the fields, and sought to quantify how many folks could be fed from these 12+/- acres. Paul’s own estimate was about 50 people per acre, making this one property a producer for up to 600 people. Mind you we are talking about vegetable produce, let alone all the grains, eggs, dairy, meat, and other foods that make up our meals. Expounding on these numbers, we would need to increase our current producing lands 20-30x to be self-sufficient in produce alone, or up to about 800 acres. If we set a modest, resiliency-lite goal of feeding 10% of the Valley population, we would need nearly triple our current food producing lands (and farming businesses) to supply just a portion of our population.
This seems an admirable goal if we truly seek to become sustainable and resilient in the Sonoma Valley.
Seth Dolinsky is the Executive Director of the Springs Hall, which works to support “Healthy Farms, Healthy Food, Healthy Community” for all of Sonoma Valley. The Hall’s current program “Growing in the Springs” seeks to address this mission in the Springs Community. Springshall.com.