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Grow Local OC Conference delves into future of urban food systems

On Nov. 10-11 hundreds of attendees from across Southern California and beyond showed up for the inaugural Grow Local OC Conference: The Future of Urban Food Systems held Nov. 10-11 in Orange County, CA at California State University, Fullerton to learn more about the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.

The conference attendees were treated to lectures from the foremost urban farming experts, entrepreneurs, and community advocates in the sustainable and local food system space. Topics explored by the speakers and panelists included the role that food plays in bridging the rural urban divide, the potential for urban farming to generate community and economic capital, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs seeking funds for their local food and farming ventures, the potential for controlled environment agriculture in cities, and the power of community development initiatives to increase access to healthy, local food.

The conference provided ample opportunity for the local food champions, entrepreneurs, and advocates in Orange County to continue to strengthen their base of support to increase food access, improve health outcomes, and meet the demands of a thriving local food marketplace.

Seedstock Founder, Jason Reed kicked off day one of the conference proceedings by noting the huge community and economic development opportunity inherent in fostering and strengthening urban food systems in cities and counties across the country. He also outlined a future in which people would see food not only as nourishment, but also as medicine to fuel a healthier society.

Christina Hall, Executive Director of the OC Food Access Coalition echoed his sentiments. She also noted that while Orange County is perceived from depictions on television as a center of wealth in Southern California, there is a hidden demographic that lives in poverty and suffers from food insecurity. Hall noted that 50% of K-12 children in the county receive free, or reduced price lunches.

The conference’s keynote was delivered by Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Secretary Ross delved into the importance of agriculture and local food systems in cities. She spoke about innovative agricultural systems and noted that modern farming and passionate local farmers are taking us from “calories to survive” to “nutrition to thrive.” She also spoke of the vital and necessary role that food plays in bridging the rural urban divide. “Food is a connector like no other,” she said. She also highlighted the state’s commitment to help small urban farmers succeed and become a viable component of the food system.

Secretary Ross’s keynote was followed by a panel focused on ‘Connecting Stakeholders to Foster a Robust Local Food System’ in Orange County. The panel was moderated by Dwight Detter of Slow Money SoCal and featured panelists Kimi McAdam of Kaiser Permanente’s Nutrition Services department, Christina Hall of OC Food Access, Mark Lowry, Executive Director of OC Food Bank, and Farmer Glenn Tanaka of Tanaka Farms. The panel explored the connective tissues that align local stakeholders and enable them to foster a local food system predicated on impactful food policy, and shared community and economic development goals. McAdam underscored the importance to Kaiser Permanente of sourcing sustainable local food. McAdam noted the hospital group is looking for solutions to source more local food, and said that “we’ve always worked with big distributors, but do we have to?” Mark Lowry of the OC Food Bank noted that to really have an impact local farmers need to produce volume. Farmer Tanaka discussed the importance of agri-tourism and educational programs in helping to bolster the economic viability of his farm.

Read more at Grow Local OC
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