Spotlight on Nonprofits: Route One Farmers’ Market Expands Access to Local Products | Lifestyles
Although Santa Barbara County is one of the country’s leading agricultural producers, not everyone who lives here has access to fresh, local food. This is especially true for many individuals and families residing in Lompoc.
The vast majority of our country’s fresh fruits and vegetables are shipped to other parts of the United States, as well as to 35 countries around the world, including Canada, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, our local grocery stores are largely stocked with food that has been transported here from out of the county.
“Eating local foods answers so many issues that are relevant right now. Keeping local foods local means less travel time, which translates to more nutritious foods and less gas expended. In addition, it directly supports our small farmers who do not have access to large grocery store sales, ”explained Shelby Wild, founder and director of Route One Farmers Market. “It is difficult for small farmers to produce at the [quantity] level to get them into grocery chains, but it is mainly those who practice true sustainable and ecologically beneficial agriculture.
Beyond the immediate benefits of better nutrition and lower environmental impact, supporting a local food culture has another benefit: it ensures food security in the event of a disaster. When most of the items in our grocery stores are shipped long distances, a disruption in the supply chain can lead to a dramatic shortage of food and other essentials.
“We saw this illustrated with the mudslides – [the disaster] didn’t happen in Lompoc, but our big grocery chains had no products on their shelves because Highway 101 was closed and nothing was brewing here – like shipping closures during the pandemic . So when you see empty grocery shelves and full fields a block away, it begs the question of a better solution to keep local food local, ”said Wild.
Fortunately, Route One Farmers Market helps keep food local and works to improve food access for vulnerable populations in the Lompoc Valley. Route One was launched in 2019 after one of Lompoc’s few farmers’ markets closed. It takes place every Sunday in the parking lot of the community service district building in the village of Vandenberg. Recently, Route One was granted nonprofit status, which will strengthen its efforts to support farmers and provide fresh local food to kitchens across the region.
“One opportunity in the Lompoc Valley is the development of local leaders and local non-profit organizations with a vision and ability to meet the diverse needs of Lompoc residents,” said Ashley Costa, Executive Director of Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization. “With initial support from the Santa Barbara Foundation, LVCHO assessed the need and ultimately helped develop the Route One Farmers Market concept as a local food hub and champion of food access in the Lompoc Valley. Our vision came to fruition with the development of a new non-profit organization with an impressive Executive Director who looked into the issue of access to healthy food for low-income residents in Lompoc.
One of the ways Route One is expanding access to local produce is by breaking down the cost barrier for low-income residents. Route One is one of the few North County Farmers’ Markets that allows people to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer Card, offered through the CalFresh Food Benefit Program, to purchase food.
“We have worked with partners through a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation and support from LVCHO, to expand EBT access in the Lompoc Valley,” said Wild. “There is a large low-income population in Lompoc, and they had almost no access to buying local food with their incentives before we opened. We’re a farming community, so it didn’t make sense that the only food they had access to was shipped out of state when we grow amazing produce just down the street.
Route One has also partnered with the Santa Barbara County CalFresh Healthy Living office, UC CalFresh Support, and the Ecology Center of Berkeley to deliver the Market Match program. Market Match is California’s Healthy Food Incentive Program, which matches federal nutritional assistance benefits from customers, like CalFresh and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, at farmers’ markets. At Route One, when a person spends $ 10 with an EBT card, they receive an additional $ 10 in market coupons to spend on fresh produce.
“The service that Route One Farmers Market provides in the Lompoc Valley is not only access to healthy nutritious local produce, but they also provide food literacy and are able to raise dollars for CalFresh beneficiaries. EBT through their incredible Market Match program. In doing so, they have an impact on addressing food insecurity and barriers within low-income and marginalized communities, ”said Deanna Vallejo, Community Grants Program Manager at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
Through its partnership with CalFresh, Route One also employs a bilingual market navigator to help accommodate Spanish speaking customers.
“Another big problem is that the Spanish speaking community has a lot of reservations about participating and using their market incentives. So our Market Navigator is here to welcome them, teach them how to use their EBT card, and share CalFresh recipes and tips focused on healthy and nutritious food, ”explained Wild.
Route One is also developing an exciting program to remove another big obstacle: the lack of transportation. For those without reliable transportation, shopping at the nearest grocery store may be their only option. Route One recently received a $ 25,000 Food System Resilience grant from the Santa Barbara Food Action Network, in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Santa Barbara County Food Bank, to support the launch of a food market. mobile producers, who will bring fresh produce to underserved communities. in Lompoc. Route One hopes to launch this pilot program in 2022.
“We are dedicated and committed for the long term. We want to provide local food to the local people, ”said Wild. “We wouldn’t be here without our partners, the Santa Barbara Foundation, LVCHO, Food Action Network, CalFresh – there are so many pieces in our puzzle that made this possible! I am also grateful to our community for coming and shopping with us. They continue to show us that they want us to be there and to stay open.