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Toddlers at the Production Farm in Marin

Did you know that nearly 11% of households in America experienced food insecurity in 2020? It isn’t just a problem in low-income areas. Even in Marin County, California — one of the nation's wealthiest counties — about 1 in of every 5 residents (and 1 in 3 seniors) is food insecure. Even before the pandemic, hunger and malnourishment were daily struggles due to the high cost of living. 

Access to healthy, nutritious foods is critical for early childhood development, yet access to good food can be extremely limited. This is particularly true in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael, where 1 in 3 children are food insecure. 

Creating access to better nutrition. 

Throughout the pandemic, Community Action Marin (CAM) sustained and grew the capacity of its Production Farm and increased its production of local, organic produce to enhance equitable food access among individuals and families of low-income in San Rafael, especially those hard hit by the impact of COVID-19.  The agency is the county’s largest nonprofit provider of social services and a food justice champion. 

CAM’s Production Farm provides a sustainable community resource for fresh, nutritious, and organic produce while doubling as a space for children and their parents to play, practice gardening, and learn about nutrition. Started in 2019 by staff and parent volunteers, the farm has brought community together and inspired hope.

Last year — with support from Healthy Babies Bright Futures, the Mayors Innovation Project and other funders — the Production Farm yielded enough produce to help feed up to 550 children daily in the agency’s high-quality early education and preschool programs. Other grants have helped CAM to expand its efforts to promote food access and security. 

The Production Farm supports the City of San Rafael’s General Plan 2040, specifically through the project’s alignment with the City’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) focus. This focus represents a commitment to work toward a more just and equitable future for all of its residents. “Food that’s locally grown and nutritious is so important to growing children and families. I’m honored to support the important work that staff, parents, and teachers are doing at CAM to grow and prepare good food for all, nurturing a strong community in San Rafael and beyond”, said Mayor Kate Colin.

How food access affects equity.

Community Action Marin’s collaboration with the City of San Rafael to sustain and optimize the Production Farm supports two specific EDI policy areas. 

The first is Food Access and is designed to expand access to healthy food and nutritional choices through conveniently located grocery stores, small markets, farmers markets, and community gardens, particularly in lower income areas where existing fresh food options are limited. 

And the second is Urban Agriculture, which promotes and supports small-scale, neighborhood-based, food production, urban agriculture, and reliable food supply lines from regional growers). By working collaboratively with government and  community partners, we can scale a sustainable, and educational solution to food security in low-access  food areas while improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities in our communities. 

And it works! 

In 2021, families received over 40,000 lbs of take-home groceries and the children in CAM’s early education programs got over 135,000 nutritious, culturally-appropriate meals and snacks daily (all produce grown by parent volunteers and staff in the Production Farm was prepared in the agency’s Central Kitchen and put into meals or distributed). 

“The children love walking in the outdoor learning classroom and picking vegetables right off the plants growing,” shared Iris Marin-Lima, CAM’s site manager for the child development center located alongside the Production Farm. “And the parents too are incredible, working on weekends to help plant, harvest, and support the farm.” 

"Es impresionante como la confección de directa de recoger vegetales y legumbres de la granja ayuda a los niños en su desarrollo saludable y nutritivo, y a las familias en interacciones familiares y comunitarias [It is impressive how the direct confection of picking vegetables and legumes from the farm helps children in their healthy and nutritious development, and families in family and community interactions], said Juan Martinez, Farm Manager.

How can you take action in your community? 

Start now by watching the Good Food for All video that promotes a dialogue around food justice and access to good food for all. Discuss and share the video and discussion guide—available in Spanish and English. The #FiveMinutesforFood story can help bring people together around the table and create space with friends interested in building food equity in Marin and beyond. Join us!

Curious to learn more? Contact Chandra Alexandre, Chief Executive Officer of Community Action Marin at calexandre@camarin.org.

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.

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