Volunteers are currently assessing food systems in San Juan County.

Food System Team forges ahead with work on Community Food Assessment

  • Mon Mar 1st, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by Caitlin Leck, on behalf of the Food System Team.

For the last 10 months, the San Juan County Food System Team — comprised of representatives from WSU San Juan County Extension, San Juan County Health and Community Services, San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, San Juan County Agricultural Resource Committee and Orcas Food Co-op — has been assessing how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and disposed of in San Juan County.

Our mission is to create a food system plan that provides a shared framework for collaborative decision-making in our county and region. By fostering an equitable, localized food system, our vision is to create the conditions for social justice, environmental stewardship, and a thriving economy.

Thanks to a private donation, Caitlin Leck was hired as coordinator and took a deep dive into secondary data research, using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service Economics of Local Food Systems Toolkit and the Whatcom Community Food Assessment as guides. We pulled data from well over one hundred sources and conducted interviews with key stakeholders from eight sectors: land; water; farming; fishing and aquaculture; economy and labor; processing and distribution; consumption and waste.

Concurrently, many data collection efforts were coming into focus in the county: the Voluntary Stewardship Program’s Ag Viability survey; San Juan County Local Food survey; Lopez Food Center feasibility study; and San Juan Makers Guild assets and needs survey. Through financial support and engagement, the Food System Team made it possible for these efforts to ramp up in scale and implementation.

Leveraging this cooperation and collaboration allowed us to gather the data we needed while sharing costs, eliminating redundant work, and multiplying benefits across many organizations. Collectively the data will give us a much clearer picture of the economic opportunities and challenges of agriculture, what drives food purchasing choices in the county, how important local production is to consumers and the desire for infrastructure investment.

We have also partnered with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, the recipient of a $994,400 grant from the USDA Regional Food System Partnerships Program. Together with a network of more than 30 regional entities, NABC is devoting the next three years to addressing food system infrastructure, food access, and education. The Food System Team received a $180,000 subaward, which will be devoted to food system planning and implementation in San Juan County.

Looking ahead, this spring we’ll be working to integrate key stakeholder input and survey data to finalize “Sector Snapshots,” as well as pulling out themes and finalizing the introduction for the community food assessment. We plan to share the assessment with the community to receive public input and feedback this summer, and will then begin the strategic planning process to draft a food system plan. Please contact foodsystem.sjc@gmail.com with any questions.