This pattern of urbanization has disproportionately affected low-income communities where convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, rather than supermarkets, dominate the food landscape.
Large health disparities by income and race mean that low-income communities of color bear the brunt of our unhealthy food system; 14 percent of our county's population was "food insecure" in 2010, unable to reliably meet their daily food needs with their own or public resources.
Moreover, issues of access to healthy food resources affect many residents of Santa Clara County who consume fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes reaching epidemic levels.
The Santa Clara County Food System Alliance believes that solving these problems turns on a robust, sustainable local food system that provides all of our residents with access to culturally appropriate, healthy food at affordable prices. In our recently released Food Systems Assessment, we put forward several solutions.
First, we need to bring healthy foods into low-income communities. One way would be to increase the percentage of existing retail food outlets that offer healthy, affordable food. Another lies in innovative programs. The new Green Cart program brings mobile produce vendors into low-income communities, providing both healthy food and jobs.
Community farms such as Veggielution provide low-income residents with affordable weekly boxes of fresh vegetables. More than half of our county's farmers markets now accept electronic benefit cards from CalFresh (formerly the Food Stamp program), leading a trend that we hope will involve all farmers' markets. Efforts to increase CalFresh enrollment would go a long way to help; only 52 percent of eligible individuals participate in the program.
We encourage city and county governments to adopt policies to increase urban agriculture within city limits. It can increase consumption of fresh produce, free some household food dollars for other expenses, provide exercise and mental relaxation and create safe, healthy, green environments in urban areas.
There is much unmet demand for places to grow food; while Santa Clara County has 28 community gardens, long wait lists persist. Underutilized land could provide new spaces for urban gardens and farms.
Finally, we believe that linking rural producers to urban consumers can increase access to healthy foods. Programs like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers connect Santa Clara Valley family farmers with local businesses.
Yet farmland is at risk; between 1984 and 2010, the county lost 45 percent of its farmland, and 55 percent of what remains is at risk of being developed over the next 30 years. We support policies that limit growth to urban boundaries.
We also need to increase public awareness of the challenges of farming at the urban edge, where friction can pose a threat to agricultural viability.
On Friday, Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Clara University will host a forum spotlighting the levels of hunger and the cost of a healthy meal in Silicon Valley. Likewise, our food systems assessment highlights some of the solutions, linking rural producers to urban consumers, increasing food access among the most vulnerable populations and creating growth opportunities for our economy. We call on the people and governments of Santa Clara County to join us in this effort.