World Food Day a Reminder of Everyday Challenges With Food Access

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California Department of Food and AgricultureWorld Food Day logoby Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary

It is encouraging to see World Food Day observed today, a designation made possible by the inspiring work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The goal of this day is to reach a point in time when people are no longer going hungry. The world produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We must find solutions to the ongoing problem of food access.

At CDFA, we work in this area every day in a number of different programs. Our Certified Farmers’ Market program helps with access through the mere presence of farmers’ markets. As the number of markets statewide continues to grow, they make valued contributions to their communities with fresh, nutritious food directly from farms. The fact that many of them now accept CalFresh cards means that some of California’s neediest families are getting the access they need, and CDFA’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program helps provide these foods to needy senior citizens.

CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork improves food access from another angle – working with school districts to develop and solidify connections with local farmers, and then helping teachers provide nutrition education to their students. I was very pleased to see these efforts play a role in bringing a truly exceptional honor this week to a group of Contra Costa County students – they were invited to the White House garden to meet First Lady Michelle Obama and help harvest vegetables for the White House kitchen!

Another program that helps with food access and education is CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which provides USDA Farm Bill funds through a competitive grant process for a number of projects benefiting specialty crops. In 2014, California received nearly $20 million for grant distribution. Examples of food-access projects funded this year include programs in Chico and Sacramento seeking to improve access through community gardens for low-income residents and educational opportunities in both nutrition and urban production.

We work with the California State Board of Food and Agriculture to generate donations to our state’s food banks. We declare each December as Farm-to-Food Bank Month and ask our farmers and ranchers to make a donation or a pledge. Last year, they donated more than 127 million pounds of food. That’s great, and much appreciated! However, we still have some ground to cover to reach our goal of 200 million pounds by next year.

We want to thank our partners at California Grown for its commitment to the food bank effort with its “Snap a Selfie”  program. California Grown is donating a pound of food to California food banks for every #cagrown selfie that is posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook by end of this month. Participants are asked to take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California and then use #cagrown in their post.

In California, it’s believed that almost four-million people are food insecure, which means they could not afford enough food at least once in the previous year. In a state as bountiful as ours, we know we have the means to provide for these families. World Food Day is a reminder that we must do it.