CIRS Blog about Rural California
The poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region’s agriculture is a conundrum. Even though there has been a decrease in community-based access to healthy food, and a rise in chronic disease in the heartland of the state of California, and the nation, we are beginning to see people and agriculture coming together for the good of both.
The exciting change arising in the Central Valley, honoring our agricultural roots and reinventing our regional economy, has been led by the smart growth investments of Smart Valley Places, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. These buds of change are blossoming into a new triple-bottom-line Central Valley economy that honors the environment, equity and economics. Environmentalists, supporters of the organic movement, and advocates for social justice, are not the only ones talking the regional food system talk anymore. The Fresno Business Council, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and regional cities are choosing smart growth and healthy communities and realizing that the Central Valley, a place with the capacity to feed the nation, can also feed our region. Institutions (such as schools, hospitals and city and county governments) are looking at their ability to access healthier, affordable local food, and the ability for local purchasing to drive their economies home.
In the early 1970s, Geraldine Bardin chose to sell her family farm to an upstart community development corporation. She lit a spark that has provided nearly 40 years of educational and economic development impacts for farmworker families in the Salinas Valley. Over the years, cooperative development programs evolved into a small farm business incubator primarily serving farmworkers.
The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) is on a long-term trajectory to build upon its unique assets for community development. The model has been popular. Dozens of owner-operated organic farms have been launched and sustained. In recent years, organizations nationwide, inspired by the farm incubator, have called, visited, attended workshops, webinars and farm walks, to learn from ALBA’s work.
What ALBA discovered in this process, is that the more we helped others, the more the organization learned about itself. Inquiries from visitors and partners have informed our perspectives and strategies. In my work as development director, securing grants and contracts while helping develop ALBA’s economic engine, I’ve long operated by a core truism: the key to successful fundraising is to do good work. “Good work is rewarded,” stated Don Ralston, an early mentor, among a compelling collection of short essays on lessons learned by the Center for Rural Affairs. No doubt the greatest lessons at ALBA arise from working with and learning from aspiring and beginning farmers.
By Gail Feenstra*, David Visher*, and Shermain Hardesty**
A recent study by University of California researchers examines factors that influence the development of emerging distribution networks embedded in values-based supply chains. Included in the study are financial considerations, government regulations, industry business practices and entrepreneurial factors. The study looks at five values-based supply chains in the California produce industry to draw out insights, best practices and conclusions.