How to Promote Sustainable Food Systems

To ensure a secure and nourishing future for generations to come, it is crucial to establish a sustainable food system.

A food system encompasses all of the activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, marketing, preparation, and consumption of foods. When we refer to a sustainable food system, we are referencing a system that can provide food and nutrition for all in a way that does not compromise future generation’s food system capacity. As complex as this concept may sound, it is equally as important to ensure future generations are left with adequate resources to sustain food for all individuals.

The SLO Food Bank recognizes the significance of this concept and actively contributes to fostering sustainability in the local food system.

Farmers Markets: Sustainable Shopping Practices

Shopping at farmers’ markets is a delightful experience and a sustainable practice.

A person buying vegetables at a market.Farmer’s markets largely reduce the amount of waste and pollution they create, partially due to the lack of mass transportation that occurs when products are sent to regular grocery stores. When you only have to transport your products downtown to sell them, versus transporting them across state lines, your carbon footprint has been greatly diminished.

To place this into perspective, food travels an average of 1,000 miles from the place of production to the point of sale. Additionally, many small farms that participate in these markets utilize organic or pesticide-free farming practices that minimize the amount of synthetic chemicals that have the potential to contaminate water sources and soil. By purchasing through these markets versus at commercial grocery stores when possible, you ensure farmers can make a living while utilizing these sustainable practices.

So, what is the SLO Food Bank’s role in community-wide accessibility to this sustainable practice? A large portion of the CalFresh and EBT outreach that the SLO Food Bank conducts is the promotion of EBT spending at Farmers’ Markets. Many markets throughout our county participate in the Market Match program. EBT money spent is DOUBLED at the Farmers Market, providing participants with twice the buying power for fresh fruits and vegetables. This both promotes access to fresh healthful foods and helps support local farmers in the area. In return, there is increased support for this sustainable food system.

Grocery Rescue Program

Food waste in a pile, including apples and peels.

Another effort towards food-system sustainability by SLO Food Bank is the grocery rescue program. This allows the SLO Food Bank and non-profit Agency Partners to retrieve near-date food items from local grocers to then disperse to families free of charge. This provides a two-tier benefit; it reduces food waste while simultaneously providing in-need populations with access to nutritious food.

To place into perspective the implications of this program, take a look at these US food system quick facts:

  1. About 30% of food in US grocery stores is ultimately thrown away as waste.
  2. US retail stores generate ~16 billion pounds of food waste annually.
  3. Food waste is responsible for 11% of global greenhouse emissions.

When we consider these factors, it is easy to see the importance of reducing waste at our local grocery stores.

GleanSLO: Harvesting and Reducing Food Waste at the Source

A second food rescue program at SLO Food Bank focuses its efforts on reducing food waste at the production level. This is accomplished by encouraging farmers to register their crops online if they produce too much product for them to harvest (as is commonly the case). Because it is not always economically feasible or viable for farmers to harvest all the crops they produce, this provides them with a tax-deductible option to clear their fields and reduce waste.

Once these crops have been registered online by farmers, or even individuals with backyard crops that have produced more than they can use, employees and volunteers of the SLO Food Bank schedule a time to go to the property and harvest the leftover fresh produce and redistribute it to community members in need.

This is yet another method of food system sustainability that can have multiple positive impacts through tax incentives for small farm owners, community members experiencing food insecurity, and reduction of the environmental impacts of food waste.

The Bottom Line

The SLO Food Bank plays a crucial role in promoting sustainability in the local food system through initiatives like farmers’ markets, the grocery rescue program, and GleanSLO. By supporting farmers’ markets, encouraging EBT spending, rescuing food from local grocers, and reducing food waste at the production level, the SLO Food Bank actively contributes to creating a more sustainable and resilient future. Together, we can build a food system that ensures access to nutritious food for all while preserving our environment for generations to come.