In Fresno, Where You Live Next to a Farm

Posted by Rebecca Miller

I know you are all aware that Fresno is a big ag town, because, well, you live in Fresno. I remember the first time I drove through the Central Valley, hours 33-36 of a 2,500 mile roadtrip. It was dark and it smelled funny, and I simply couldn’t believe the expanse of agriculture in California. Little did I know that this funny-smelling expanse of flatness would become a key pillar of my life philosophy. Now, I  won’t pretend to be an expert on food systems, but I will pretend to be a semi-expert, given that I constantly eavesdrop on my desk-neighbor, who happens to be the Food Systems Development Manager at my rather large non-profit.

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The DFP (yeah, we’re on an acronym-name basis now) is really fantastic about promoting their events and vendors and businesses in Downtown. Every Wednesday, I hit up their “Vendor of the Week” at the Kern Market (and try to be on an acronym-name basis with them too, but I guess reading about a vendor doesn’t automatically make you friends). I love the farmers’ market! Probably because it makes me feel special. Why special? Well, farmers markets are only a small fraction of the food system. I feel special because I get to go to an incredible one every week, in an area where there were only 15 farmers’ markets in Fresno County in 2012 – only 15 farmers’ markets in the top food-producing county in the universe. Direct farm sales (i.e. farmers’ markets, CSA, and the like), and made up only 0.5% of all food sales in Fresno in 2007. IN FRESNO. WHERE YOU LIVE NEXT TO A FARM.

Not shocking enough for you? Okay, here’s another. If you are an average Joe, you spend $19.19 annually on fresh farm-to-fork fantasticness. You also spend $761.45 per year on greasy greastasticness at your favorite fast food joint. IN FRESNO. WHERE YOU LIVE NEXT TO A FARM.

Is it just me, or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

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Good news for my health insurance providers: I’m not crazy. There is something seriously wrong with the food system in our country. Most of our food, picked before it is ripe, is put onto trucks and sent to LA or Arizona or the Antarctic, processed, dyed, chemical-ized, put onto trucks and sent back to your corner superstore. Seems like a lot of transportation, a lot of extra costs and work and non-local jobs. Which is a tragedy because we are IN FRESNO. WHERE YOU LIVE NEXT TO A FARM.

But, we are working to fix it! We may not be the first (Seattle/Portland/SF pretty much have that covered), but I think we have the potential to be the best. Check this out:

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  • The Fresno Food System Alliance is working on several initiatives, one of which I was lucky enough to be a part of: Farm to School. Basically, we do all this fancy stuff to rearrange delivery and purchasing and health standards to make it possible for farmers to ship their strawberries or lettuce or cantaloupe directly to school kitchens. Wish I had had strawberries or lettuce or cantaloupe to go with my square plastic pizza-slice when I was unfortunate enough to have to eat in a cafeteria.
  • New farmers’ markets are popping up in communities every day! Say hi to the severely underappreciated AmeriCorps VISTA members working the Firebaugh and Clovis markets every week. Say hi to Parker at a Grizzlies game market on Fridays for some really awesome…duck eggs?!  Say hi to the amazing Fresno EOC Community Services staff, who will double your food stamp dollars, holla! Say hi to the vendors (but maybe don’t try to be their best friend on the first meeting…). And DEFINITELY eat lunch on Kern Street on Wednesdays, 10-2 (plug).
  • Fresno Food Expo. Need I say more?
  • USDA is really, really awesome. I  kinda just thought they checked in on cows every once in awhile, but they care about our community, for real. A recent grant allowed some dedicated organizations to connect small farmers with new markets, boosting the availability of fresh food, and boosting our economy.
  • Did you know the City has thrown around the idea of a public market? Watch out Seattle. Seriously.

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I can’t help but get super excited about everything that is changing. I know many people don’t see these things going on, but it is happening, I promise. And you, yes you, my dear reader, can help move it along. Start a downtown community garden. Check out some really cool food projects. Patronize your local farmers’ market (as in, shop there). Spread the word (you don’t have to be a foodie to do it). Our community at large is starting to own who we are, and it won’t be long before farm-to-fork fantasticness is the norm, because we are IN FRESNO. WHERE YOU LIVE NEXT TO A FARM.

Duh.

(Kudos to USDA ERS Food Environment Atlas for some awesome data.)

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