Food system team works to grow local food resilience

  • Tue May 5th, 2020 10:36am
  • Life

by Caitlin Leck, on behalf of the Food System Team

Like other communities across the country, San Juan County is grappling with disruptions to the food supply chain, a growing level of food insecurity, and challenges in our local production capacity to meet the increased demand. It is an opportune time to look deeply at our strengths and weaknesses to meet the immediate need while planning for a more resilient future.

The newly formed Food System Team is taking up the task, building on years of work by agricultural stakeholders in San Juan County to assess and address needs related to how food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and disposed of. The team includes representatives from the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee, Agriculture Guild, Orcas Food Co-op, SJC Community Health Department, and WSU Extension. Private funding allowed the team to hire Caitlin Leck as coordinator, which catalyzed the team to begin our work on goals of synergizing existing local food efforts, convening stakeholders, and making critical connections to strengthen our county’s food system.

These goals have come into stark relief during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and our team is now simultaneously problem-solving for an effective pandemic response while embarking on a Food System Assessment that will culminate in a Food System Plan. This project will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to our islands as we coordinate efforts to best respond to the challenges ahead.

The pandemic compelled the Food System Team to move from assessment into action. As part of this immediate response, the team is helping facilitate the distribution of grants to scale up production on farms throughout the county. We also convened a series of meetings to address a critical food access need —connecting local food banks with local farmers. As a result of these meetings, many important connections are being forged to address the increased needs of food banks and to support farmers as they adapt to the economic downturn and marketing shift; the Food System Team will now step back as these stakeholders continue their invaluable work.

Going forward, this model of identifying a need or missing connection, setting up conversations to strengthen the food system, and monitoring what happens as a result, will be utilized as needed during the assessment. By teaming up and focusing our work in the context of creating a strategic Food System Plan for our county, the efforts of all stakeholders involved will be more coordinated and effective as we move forward together.

Please contact Caitlin Leck at foodsystem.sjc@gmail.com with any questions.