Sustainable Food Systems

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 has the ability to provide food and nutrition for all in a way that does not compromise future generation’s food system capacity.(1) As complex as this concept may sound, it is equally as important in order to ensure future generations are left with adequate resources to sustain food for all individuals. This is a concept the SLO Food Bank takes seriously – let us show you our role in food system sustainability!

Farmers Markets
Have you ever wondered what exactly makes shopping at farmers markets a “sustainable practice”? Great question!

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 are able to make a living while utilizing these sustainable practices.(2)

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, in which 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

Another effort towards food-system sustainability by SLO Food Bank is the grocery rescue program. This allows the SLO Food Bank to retrieve near-date food items from local grocers to then disperse to families free of charge. This provides a two-tier benefit; it both 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.(3)
  2. US retail stores generate ~16 billion pounds of food waste annually.(3)
  3. Food waste is responsible for 11% of global greenhouse emissions.(3)

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


A second food-rescue program initiated by the 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 fresh produce that is leftover 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
When we look at food insecurity as an interdependent concern rather than an isolated problem, we can better identify the need to preserve and revise our food system as a whole. Reducing the food that is wasted and redistributing it to those in need is a huge step in the direction of sustainability; and this is the key to adequately feeding generations to come.

– Kylie Doty, Dietetic Intern, California Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero


  1. United Nations. (n.d.). High level task force on Global Food and Nutrition Security (HLTF). United Nations. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from
  2. Farmers Markets promote sustainability. Farmers Market Coalition. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2021, from
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture