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My Dear Friends:

I want to thank all of you who took the time to participate in the CFJC Policy Priorities Survey we conducted over the past month.

As you know, CFJC is engaged in policy discussions at many levels. In addition to hosting our monthly Public Policy Calls, at the local level we conduct workshops in partnership with groups like the Environmental Affairs Board at UCSB, and the Hunger Action Coalition in San Diego. We partner with CalCAN and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network to conduct regional workshops around the state. And nationally, we work with the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition and D.C. based GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) collaboration, among others.

All of these efforts have the express objective of making sure the concerns of local California communities are heard, and to the best of our abilities, addressed.

We learn about those concerns via the activities listed above, but also by taking heed of the comments you provided in Policy Priority Surveys.

Here’s a sampling of what we learned from your most recent survey responses:

• 58% of respondents ranked healthy food access as one of their top food system priorities.

• 40% ranked food justice and local and regional food system infrastructure as their top priorities.

• Other priorities listed include rural agriculture, urban agriculture, land access, climate change, grassroots and community engagement in the policy process, farm and food worker rights, and small farm supports.

• The policies that respondents wanted most to advocate for are the 2012 Farm Bill, the Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act, and the CA Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act.

• Other policies cited included the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, Child Nutrition Act, Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act and Cottage Law.

• Most survey respondents think CFJC should use a full array of strategies to advocate for policies, with generating phone calls the least important or effective—except when encouraging members to call legislators and “jam the phone lines.”

We are still analyzing the data but so far the message seems to be clear and is consistent with what we hear in communities across the state:

CFJC members want to change the status quo.

We also heard from a number of people who want more information on the policy options we cited in the survey questions, and I think that is a good thing. Therefore, while a survey isn’t the place to lay out the details of policy options, we will continue to hold educational workshops and briefings and explore other methods to provide such information wherever possible.

Again, your direct responses and input to CFJC provides the basis for the work we will be undertaking in the coming year.

There is a lot going on in all of our lives, and what is happening in the country and world around us seems to have an inordinate amount of influence on how we experience our lives.

There is a presidential election, still in the primary caucus and election cycle, but could it get any more wild? Sadly, I fear the answer is, “yes.”

At CFJC and in households and communities around the state and around the country, the bottom line is being defined at kitchen tables. Households and families are deciding what is most important in spite of the cacophony of politicians seeking public office.

I am grateful to be part of the solution and not the uproar, working shoulder to shoulder with individuals and groups doing their best to fix what is wrong and not working with our food, social and economic systems.

Thank you for your commitment as well.

And yes, if you can, please consider making a contribution to help CFJC continue working on your behalf.

All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto
Executive Director
California Food and Justice Coalition

By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate

Yesterday evening forty individuals from the community and from various organizations and academic institutions filled up the multipurpose room at the West Oakland Public Library for a workshop and discussion on the Farm Bill, which is set for reauthorization in 2012. The event was co-hosted and facilitated by CFJC, the HOPE Collaborative, and the Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC), and included another co-facilitator from People’s Grocery. The workshop hoped to clarify some of the complex language of the 2008 Farm Bill, relate it to our daily lives, engage residents in discussion surrounding food access, quality, and nutrition, and bring people together to create solutions and positive changes in our food system.

After a round of introductions and an icebreaker, Jumoke from People’s Grocery engaged the group in a discussion on food access and food rights in order to frame the workshop. Right off the bat, people were fired up, speaking out about how food is critical for survival and for living a good, healthy life. For those reasons there was resounding consensus on healthy food as an unalienable, basic human right to life.

Sabrina (HOPE Collaborative) and I (CFJC) then facilitated a discussion on the history of the Farm Bill and an overview of its current structure. Attendees shared what knowledge they had on the structure of the Farm Bill, and Sabrina and I answered questions on specific titles, programs and funding.  The group was asked to create their “dream Farm Bill funding allocations” to certain titles, and group members voiced their support for titles such as Conservation, Nutrition, Crop Insurance, Credit, and their own created title: Urban Farming. Currently, around 78% of Farm Bill funding goes to Nutrition, the largest program being SNAP (previously known as food stamps), 8% to Commodities (subsidies for a handful of crops), 7% to Crop Insurance, 6% to Conservation, and 1% to all other titles.

The overview of the Farm Bill’s structure then fed into a discussion, led by Jumoke, on how this behemoth legislation influences our health and the health of our communities. Participants guessed the prices of blueberry Poptarts (8 for $2) versus actual blueberries (6 oz of organic for $6) and discussed how policies in the Farm Bill create the environment for this incredible price difference between processed, grain- based foods and fresh produce. The group then talked about how these different foods affect our health, and spoke out about diabetes in their family and community, their concerns with genetically modified crops, and child malnutrition. From there, the health discussion flowed into a discussion on how the Farm Bill might impact the environment. I led the group through an illustrative history of how small family farms lost profitability to large factory farms over the past decades due to incentives in the Farm Bill to farm “fencerow to fencerow” and the overabundance of cheap corn, soy, and wheat animal feed promoting crammed livestock. Group members pointed out the problems with animal waste (E.coli), antibiotics, pesticides in our water, the vulnerability of monoculture farming to pests, and the loss of ecosystem services such as air and water purification previously provided by forests and other wild areas surrounding farms.

Sabrina transitioned the group into a “policy roadmap” exercise that helped highlight key players in reauthorization and clarify the drafting process for legislation, including how the public can give input. The group was passionate about having a stronger voice in the next Farm Bill, including wanting to “put it on the ballot” and vote directly, rather than the current system where our representatives draft the bill. Christina from CFJC then steered this passion into a discussion on the changes that they wanted to see and what they can do now, locally, to effect these changes. Participants wanted to see greater support for local and urban farming, job creation around food, increased popular education in communities and other community programs, especially focused on communities of color. Ideas for how to make these changes happen included increased participation and attention around local efforts to send the message of what works, a march on Washington D.C. to advocate for food justice, and youth messaging.

The workshop was a great start for opening the conversation in Oakland on the Farm Bill and food production, access, and justice among a diversity of people. It underscored the need for reform and fixing the systemic problems of our broken food system.

CFJC, HOPE, and OFPC will hold one more workshop in Oakland, at Tassafaronga Recreation Center in East Oakland on Wednesday August 31st from 5-7pm. Come join us if you’re interested in being part of the discussion! If you can’t make the East Oakland session, we still want to hear from you: What are your priorities for the Farm Bill? What changes do you want to see in our food system? What are your concerns with the Farm Bill, food quality, or food access?

CFJC will put on more of these Farm Bill workshops throughout the state, so if you would be interested in co-hosting one in the future, please contact us.

If you would like more information on this or future workshops, or to voice your concerns surrounding our food system, contact Lotta Chan at lchan@cafoodjustice.org.

By Porus Mistry, CFJC Intern

The recent growth in the use of mobile devices and computers has created an environment where social networking services thrive. Social networks provide a platform where everyone can share content with people who matter to them. From elementary school students to grandparents, people are able to find friends and organize their lives in an increasingly relevant and meaningful way.

Social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google +, are able to recognize people’s interests and suggest various companies, groups, or friends to connect with. These networks have the ability to target content, both organic and promotional in nature, based on each individual’s unique interests, as indicated in their profile and from past internet usage. This is why it is crucial for companies and organizations to become a part of this social trend and integrate themselves into all these various networks. It gives organizations such as CFJC the ability to directly reach their constituencies and educate them about their ongoing work.

The newest social network that is on the rise is Google +. As with many of Google’s products, this project has seen widespread adoption in the weeks after launch. Google+ is unique in that it gives users more control over filtering what content they want to share with others. Google+ organizes your social network using a “circles” concept. You create circles based on your real world connections such as “immediate family” or “skiing buddies” and you can select which circles have access to any content you choose to share. This can be very influential for CFJC because the concept for food related issues is very diverse. Google+ allows CFJC to target information to only their relevant circles.

Google+ also has the option to video chat with up to 10 individuals at one time using a feature known as Hangouts. I think that it would prove beneficial for organizations and companies if other individuals could watch the hangouts, even if they did not participate in the video chats. This would allow various policy makers or board members to hold a more public discussion allowing other individuals to participate. Currently at CFJC, we hold monthly Policy Calls via webinar comprised of various organizations and community members. Hangouts could be an interesting platform to conduct these meetings because it would permit more active participation.

Social networks are crucial to keeping CFJC connected with individuals outside the immediate organization. Since CFJC is already up to date with Facebook and Twitter, becoming a part of the Google+ network will be an important next step in expanding our social networking presence.

by Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate

As re-authorization of the Farm Bill is swiftly approaching, the contents of your dinner plate are beginning to take center stage in a national debate surrounding food sovereignty and national security.

A few congressional members, including Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), have argued that large government subsidies to crops are necessary to protect the national security of our country, because subsidies ensure domestic production and decrease dependency on food imported from other countries. This logical argument, however, falls apart when taking a closer look at our current food system.

The most highly subsidized commodities in the U.S. are corn, wheat, soy, cotton, rice, and sorghum, accounting for roughly $8.3 billion of paid subsidies in 2010 alone. But this is probably not what’s on your dinner plate each night. I for one had never even heard of sorghum, much less eaten it. The truth behind U.S. sorghum is that half of it gets directly exported, and another 12% gets turned into ethanol. Furthermore, only 12% of U.S. corn goes to food products, including the notorious high-fructose corn syrup; the rest goes to feed domestic animals to supply cheap meats high in saturated fats. None of this is to say that subsidies are inherently bad; the problem is the broken food system that these subsidies are a part of. These subsidies do not go to support healthy fruits and vegetables, and the U.S. has actually been increasing its imports of produce. Additionally, the bulk of these grain subsidies go to large, industrial farms pushing smaller family farms out of business. Among the subsidy recipients are Congresswomen Kristi Noem (partial owner of a ranch that received $3 million over 15 years) and Vicky Hartzler (whose farm received more than $774,000 over 15 years).

Meanwhile, tax payers are fronting the bill for these commodity subsidies to large, industrial grain farms, which in return produce nutritionally-deficient, high caloric foods at a low cost. This is why for one dollar you can get 600 calories of Doritos corn chips, but only about 50 calories of broccoli. The prevalence of unhealthy foods is leading to a national epidemic of obesity that costs the country in the way of decreased work productivity and an increasing number of sick days and worker compensation claims. According to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, lost worker productivity in the U.S. translates to an estimated loss of $73.1 billion per year. And in a report released last year by retired military leaders, many Americans are now “Too Fat to Fight” for their country. So what is a larger threat to national security: a loss of sorghum, corn, and cotton subsidies, or the loss of a productive, healthy American workforce and military?

Written by Victoria Endsley, CFJC Intern

It is indisputable that fruit and vegetables are good for us, but that doesn’t mean that they are priority foods in our diet any longer. As industrial farmers grow subsidized corn, wheat and soy and not fruit and vegetables, our diets have naturally shifted to consume more of these products. The appeal or importance of these crops is in the revenue they make worldwide, yet within the US, as their demand grew, small to mid-size farmers were bought out by corporations who stepped in to run our farmlands. The biggest blow-back of this system is the unforeseeable health problems these foods cause and the market for lobbies and special interests that have emerged to control food production.

Among the health problems created by a change in our diet, obesity or excessive weight gain is the most financially burdensome. According to a study developed by RTI International, Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, obesity-related diseases cost us $147 billion yearly. As obesity has proven to be directly connected to poverty issues, I believe that the federal government should be responsible for financing programs that provide healthy, affordable food options for these communities in addition to directly financing poverty-relief programs.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Nutrition Service are closely monitoring a program called the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) that will provide Hampden, Massachusetts residents enrolled in the SNAP program with a 30% discount for fruit and vegetable purchases. The program will begin the operations phase in November 2011, after over a year of planning, testing and training for the program. It will provide the individual with the opportunity to put their health first when they shop, because their money will go further buying fruits and vegetables than anything else.

I am really excited about this program because it is truly the first step in empowering individuals to take back control of their health. I think that it’s clear that education can only go so far, therefore financial incentives and structured programs are needed to pave the way for a better food system. Next, we must emphasize programs that encourage exercise!

For more information on the study, please visit: http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/07/27/us-obesity-cost-idUSTRE56Q36020090727.

For more information about the Healthy Incentives Pilot program, please visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/hip/default.htm.