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Keeping food local

keepingfoodlocalA two-day event will explore the necessity and challenges of creating a local food supply

Resilient. The word brings to mind the ability to bounce back after a break-up or the elasticity of a rubber band. But now, thanks to “go-local” groups like Transition Santa Cruz (TSC), the word is gaining leverage as a key green term – think of it as the next ‘sustainable.’

“Resilient is a little different than the term sustainable,” says Michael Levy of TSC. “It means that you have enough resources locally to handle things that come at you from the outside, like the climate getting dryer. Resilient means that we are attempting to re-localize our community so we meet more of our needs here.”

Last year, Levy quit his job as a school music teacher to dedicate himself to fighting climate change. “I couldn’t justify to myself not doing something about it,” he says. He got together with a group of other locals concerned about “climate change, the depletion of oil and things like that,” and, inspired by the transition movement that originated in England several years ago, they formed TSC to help Santa Cruz transition into a more resilient community.

“We were all overjoyed to come across a movement that was hopeful and solution oriented, and not just a depressing source of bad news,” he says. We all know how easy it is to slip into what Levy calls the “doom and gloom” space by sitting back and reading terrible news about the environment. TSC aims to move from sulking in this space to actively seeking solutions in a more hopeful one.

In an effort to pass along this positive attitude, the group is hosting a two-day event entitled “The Future of Local Food” on Jan. 30 and 31 at the United Methodist Church in Santa Cruz. Both days—the Friday night panel discussion and Saturday’s community day—will explore the issues and solutions pertaining to our local food supply, following in TSC’s plans to have a more resilient town by 2020.

Levy says that Santa Cruz, like every other city across the country, will soon have no choice but to switch to eating locally. The two-day forum will help prepare for that. “We won’t be able to continue feeding ourselves in the way we have been from huge factory farms and long distance trucking,” he says. “Instead of waiting until this becomes a crisis that overwhelms us, we can start working on this now.”

Not only does the detached factory farming method of supply emit enormous amounts of methane and carbon into the atmosphere, it is also on the verge of causing food prices to soar.

“We are at a time right now where we are facing a permanent decline in both oil and natural gas, but world demand is continuing to go up,” says Levy. “That means that the price of these fossil fuels is going up inevitably and the price of food will skyrocket as a result.”

The benefits of eating local foods are multifarious. In addition to drastic environmental advantages, for example, it would help spur a stronger local economy by keeping money in the community rather in the pockets of multinationals. According to a recent study on Detroit’s food system and growing local food supply, eating locally even affected the population’s welfare. Author Michael Shuman reports that with a 20 percent shift in spending from conventional to local foods, Detroit’s unemployment rates would drop by half and average household earnings would increase by almost $3,000. TSC hopes that the event will spark solutions that accomplish this sort of economic change for Santa Cruz, such as awarding restaurants and grocery stores that support local agriculture.

“The Future of Local Food” is co-sponsored by Ecological Farming Association, Ecology Action, and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The panel discussion will feature perspectives from local food experts and farm representatives, while the second day will be “open-space,” allowing the community to brainstorm, choose topics and form discussion groups. The open-space method has been practiced for more than 20 years as a productive means of community thinking and planning. Levy says they expect this technique will evoke the best ideas from the Santa Cruz turnout, which he estimates will be about 150 people.

“We could’ve had a meeting with a full day of speakers and a full agenda with topics laid out, but we thought that it would get more creativity from the community if we let them set their own agenda,” he says. “If we tap into the genius of the whole community, then we can find solutions that maybe one person couldn’t have figured out. Plus, it’s really fun!”

Participants will have the task of tackling some tricky challenges with Santa Cruz County’s local food supply. For one, most of the farmland in the region is used for lucrative, exported crops, like strawberries.

“It’s difficult for farmers to get away from that because the rent they pay on their farmland is so high,” says Levy. “We can’t just expect them to switch over to growing whatever grains or vegetables we need here. These are the kinds of problems we need to start wrestling with.”

Surely these are serious obstacles, but if anyone can rise to the resiliency challenge, Santa Cruz can. “It’s possible by 2020,” says Levy. “It will have to be, necessity being the mother of invention.”


“The Future of Local Food” will be held on Friday, Jan.30 from 7-9 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the United Methodist Church. 250 California St.,Santa Cruz. Friday will have a sliding scale of  $5-$15. Saturday is free, $10 for lunch with RSVP.

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