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Nevada County Food Policy Council releases Food System Assessment

Submitted by Miriam Limov
Sierra Harvest’s 2020 Farm Biz graduating class.
Photo courtesy of Lyndly Martin

The global food pipeline is in serious jeopardy due to the consolidation and monopolization of our agriculture systems. The Guardian recently reported that 1% of farms operate 70% of the world’s farmland, based on several research papers compiled by the International Land Coalition.

Big isn’t always better. During the pandemic, our community, like many others, has experienced supply disruptions from this long pipeline. And it was even hard to get seeds for people to grow their own food. A new term has evolved to describe the need for “Whole-sum” food which is nutritious, safe, humanely acquired, and contributes positively to our environment and our local economy.

Hosted by Sierra Harvest, the local Food Policy Council was formed five years ago to address the problem of food system security that has appeared on the local radar and has just published a Nevada County Food Systems Assessment. Council members, consultants and agriculture experts assessed and documented the local food supply and distribution system. And then they created a list of actions that are needed and have the most leverage to secure food, especially by supporting local agriculture and food systems. They also created a resource guide with organizations, businesses and programs already supporting local Whole-sum food.

While the area’s vibrant growers’ markets may appear to demonstrate a vigorous food system, the fact is that local farms received very little from the food pocketbook. While Nevada County food purchases are estimated at over $800 million, only about $16 million is produced by local farms, with about half of those dollars going for beef, much of which leaves the county.

Nevada County has favorable climate and abundant land and water to expand its agriculture. If Nevada County residents could increase our consumption of local food to 20% of current purchases, that would bring well over $160 million to the community. But this would take lots of commitment. The county needs more land in production, greater sales of food and food products or compost instead of food waste, and widespread education on the value of growing and consuming local food.

The Council has a three-point approach. First is informing the community of the baseline and goals via the Food System Assessment Report. The second is to move consumers to a target where 20% of food purchased (or consumed) will be from local sources, ideally by 2025. The third is to support a series of food system actions that build capacity and sales.

One such action will be for the community to join the “Every Bite Counts Program” to track food purchases in one of the Whole-sum food categories in an effort to verify and encourage everyone to increase their nutritious food. Everyone can make a difference and participate in this program whether a restaurant, grocery store, organization, caterer, individual or a family. “Every Bite Counts” participants can track purchases from the categories of their choice (local, regional, fair trade, humane and organic) and Sierra Harvest will support their efforts. At the end of the year, as a community we can celebrate our collective efforts of increased health along with strengthening our local food system.

Recognition of the importance of whole-sum food values has led dozens of organizations and several dozen individuals to contribute to the assessment report. These contributors, and more, are sought to propel us forward to a food system that diminishes the role of the global food pipeline and replaces it with a local system that delivers a healthy and secure future for everyone while driving the local economy.


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