October 28, 2007

One step at a time

Almost 15 months ago, members of an organization called the Growers’ Collaborative began delivering source identified fruits grown by small and midsize, new and beginning, immigrant farmers for use on Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California hospital inpatient meal trays. As I have mentioned before in the prior email distribution format, we serve about 6000 meals per day. Many of these meals feature these fresh fruits that are sustainably grown -- not simply organic -- but grown with respect for the farmers, farm workers, and the earth. With the support of Kaiser Permanente as the beginning, and continuing, institutional customer, I am excited to tell you that GC is now delivering to some campuses in the UC system, a major software company, other hospitals, schools, and just beginning to work with Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Southern California. The rapid growth is taxing the capabilities of the infrastructure. The Sacramento section of GC recently couldn’t fit all the orders into its one panel truck. When you consider the vast network of cold storage facilities, major trucking companies, and sophisticated distribution system monitoring for food from the big growers, you realize how far we also have to go as a society to help small and midsize farmers remain viable. I am pragmatic enough to realize that there aren’t enough small family farmers to feed all 300 million Americans all year. But, at present, only about 1% of the food consumed in this country passes the “good food” test about which I have written in the past. “Good food” is food that’s healthy for people who eat it, healthy for people who grow it, is good for the planet, and is affordable. There’s room for more.

I have the privilege this year, and next, to be one of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Society Policy fellows. Working with an agricultural economist, well-known writers, and other experts in food system policy, brings a broader perspective than what I have had in the past. The overarching goal of this program, which has brought together a new group of fellows each year for the last five years, is to create and support ways to make 10% of the food consumed in this country “good food” by 2016. We have a long way to go. Many in the group are experts in trying to influence national policy like the farm bill. Personally, I am trying to do what I can to get as many institutional purchasers as possible to include food from this unique service -- there are no other distributors out there in California who can offer this "good food," and be able to tell a purchaser exactly who grew it, where it was grown, and how it was grown.

Next time you go to a big grocery store, see how easy it is to find out who grew your food. Of course, I still shop at grocery stores as well, but I just try to maximize the use of local farmers markets, and other outlets, for source-identified food. In an increasingly impersonal world, it’s a little something you can do to maintain even some element of connection. And just maybe we can encourage more and more big purchasers to give this fledging system a chance. Just maybe we can reach the 10% goal.