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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Yolo County food programs aim to educate community

Woodland-based Yolo Food Bank (YFB) works year-round to provide those in need with food. It serves Yolo County through a variety of programs such as Friday’s Table and the Kids Farmers Market. Fresh produce comprises a significant portion of the items offered, allowing families to cook at home.

Alongside YFB, the Yolo County Department of Agriculture is also reinforcing the importance of food through community projects.

According to Kevin Sanchez, executive director of Yolo Food Bank, a sea of canned goods is typically the first image conjured when the topic of food banks comes up, but that’s entirely wrong. Sanchez is working towards improving access to fresh produce and starting food education early in the school system.

Yolo Food Bank

A line forms at 4 a.m. every Friday outside YFB’s warehouse in Woodland, three hours before distribution begins. People file through, picking up one type of item at each station, and leave with about 25 pounds of food. This includes three to four loaves of bread, pick-ups from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and produce donated by regional farms such as Durst and Food Bank Farmers.

Cordellia “Corkey” Mapalo of YFB mentioned that on account of there being only three paid warehouse staff, “[YFB] relies heavily on volunteers.”

Sanchez agreed on the importance of volunteers and encourages UC Davis students to reach out.

He then gestured to the cars in the parking lot, which was full of year 2000+ models. Nothing about the composition of this parking lot gave any indication that it was a food bank.

“Look at these cars,” Sanchez said. “There is no category to put these people in.”

There is no “type” of person who goes to food banks, Sanchez explained. The only thing the people in line have in common is that they’ve reached a point in their life where they’re forced to prioritize and make decisions to keep or let go of things previously taken for granted.

In addition to giving out food at Friday’s Table, YFB runs a Kids Farmers Market at several Yolo County elementary schools. It is an afterschool activity where the school pays for the produce in advance, then students receive play money and “buy” 10 pounds of fresh food to take home. A gap in basic food knowledge sometimes makes itself apparent during these visits.

“Some things will give you goosebumps. When I would do outreach to schools, some kids didn’t know what a potato was, because they had been eating McDonald’s their whole lives,” Mapalo said.

With 19 percent of people in Yolo County living below the poverty line, fast food presents itself as a cheap way to pack in as many calories as possible. This leads not only to adverse health effects, such as obesity and Type II diabetes, but also contributes to a deficit of agricultural literacy within a community where farming is the principal industry.


Another group tackling this issue is helmed by John Young and Nicole Sturzenberger of the Yolo County Department of Agriculture. They are the administrators of the Farm-to-School Yolo Grant, and serve as mediators between farmers and schools.

“A lot of the difficulty … is mostly logistics, getting the people to connect and getting them to know that there is this market available for them…” Young said. “The farming world and the school food service world are completely separate; you need a relationship in order for that to happen.”

Sturzenberger added that the relationship is key, and that trust has to be built into the system.

Young went on to say that although the parties involved in school food service unanimously agree that fresh local produce needs to be on lunch plates, school food service administrators face a fiscal reality.

“When you’re dealing with the school cafeteria, that’s a separate business, they don’t get any money from the budget of the school district,” Young said. “They are on their own to make sure that they’re self-sufficient, so the bottom line becomes important.”

Reconciling local produce and a tight budget is an issue that Farm-to-School faced by starting small. Young and Sturzenberger started “Harvest of the Month,” a project where Yolo County schools feature a seasonal fruit or vegetable every month.

“Basically, farmers sit down with directors and tell them ‘This is what we’ll have in season, this is what we produce very well at the cheapest possible price,’ then the food service director will commit to buying part of the harvest of one fruit or vegetable every month,” Young said.

Community involvement

The ultimate goal is a return to seasonality in Yolo County, coupled with the collaboration of retailers, institutions and families. Local chain Dos Coyotes participated by offering asparagus quesadillas in April earlier this year. Young and Sturzenberger expressed a wish for other businesses to follow this example.

There is no other Farm-to-School grant program in California; it is unique to Yolo County. However, the office of the Agricultural Commissioner is currently in the process of writing a guidebook to help other counties follow suit.

Georgeanne Brennan, an award-winning author and Anne Evans, cofounder of the Davis Food Co-op, are working on the guidebook and contributing seasonal recipes for schools to make on an industrial scale.

“There is a history of being progressive … sometimes [there are] a lot of meetings, a lot of talking about what we should do, but Yolo  County puts that into play, we do it,” Young said. “We listen, we enact things. It’s not just talk.”

More information can be found at yolofoodbank.org/givetime.


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