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Aimee Retzler: Nevada County’s commitment to fighting food injustice

Aimee Retzler
Other Voices

George Boardman’s presentation of “the reasons that poor people eat junk food” in his Feb. 4 column made me realize how lucky we are to live in a place where there is a myriad of assistance to break this cycle of injustice that comes from our industrialized food system.

Here are a few ways our community is doing just that:

First, Nevada County Social Services does an incredible job helping those who need food assistance get access to healthy, affordable foods through the Calfresh program. Nevada County Social Services and their partners help teach people how best to use this benefit, such as buying in bulk, shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, and preparing whole foods.

Second, Nevada County Public Health has been providing nutrition education to students for eight years through a nutrition education grant. Also, their partnership with Interfaith Food Ministry has led to a better awareness of how fresh food affects their clients’ health, resulting in increased purchases of fresh, whole foods and the opportunity for clients to attend cooking classes led by public health nutrition educators.

Third, the Nevada County Food Bank has been harvesting fresh food from their garden for eight years resulting in approximately 4,000 pounds of fresh food generated annually for their clients. Interfaith Food Ministry serve 8,000 families annually! They have partnered with us at Sierra Harvest to bring in local, organic food through the Gold Country Gleaning program, which uses volunteers to harvest donated produce from around the county that is given directly to those in need. That is free organic food being distributed to people who could have eaten junk food but now don’t have to.

Fourth, local farms are invested. For 22 years, Mountain Bounty Farm has offered financial assistance to low-income clients who enjoy a weekly box of fresh, organic produce that fits their budget. Last year this program served 35 families in Nevada County. Since 2017, Riverhill Farm’s supporters have donated over $16,000 to enable Riverhill to grow over 7,000 pounds of local food just for Interfaith Food Ministry clients. There are also dozens of other farms that donate their beautiful produce to people in need.

Fifth, ever heard of victory gardens? During World War II, labor and transportation shortages made it hard to harvest and move fruits and vegetables to market so people understood the need to be self-reliant. Growing food for themselves and their neighbors was the best way to eat on a tight budget. Today Peaceful Valley, Master Gardeners, A to Z and many other local businesses assist people regardless of income level with learning how to grow their own food. Growing your own food is by far the most efficient way to access healthy food.

Sixth, a shout-out to the supporters of Sierra Harvest who have provided more than 1,650 people with backyard gardens. As co-director of Sierra Harvest, I have seen how these volunteers and donors have enabled the Sierra Gardens program to bring seeds, starts, compost, cooking classes, gardening classes and a whole lot of troubleshooting and compassion to clients who want to learn the science and art of growing food. Eighty-three percent of families participating in the program are low income and this gives them other alternatives to eating junk food.

The Sustainable Food and Farm Conference that George mentioned is another fabulous resource for the community. This year I went to a workshop where local nutrition activist Shan Kendall taught us how to make fermented products. One hour and some kefir grains later, I put them in a mason jar at home, poured in some milk, left it on the counter for about 48 hours and voila — I had a natural, probiotic drink that was a fraction of the cost of buying it at the store.

Even better, anybody, regardless of income, can come to the conference simply by signing up to volunteer. I left the conference feeling proud to live in a place that puts such a high value on local, nutrient-dense foods being available to all.

Now, I don’t live in a dream world, and I know that obesity, chronic disease, mental illness and diabetes are on the rise across the nation. But I do see incredible depth in the variety of ways this community breaks the cycle of “poor people eating junk food.”

My listing above is certainly not comprehensive and I hope this column brings greater awareness to these critical and most challenging issues of our time in the spirit of serving those in need.

Aimee Retzler has been a resident of Nevada County since 2007.

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