A Food Justice Response to Covid-19
- Professor Christopher Bacon is collaborating with students, farms and food aid organizations in the Bay Area to draw lessons from the pandemic about how to improve emergency food assistance and create a more just food system.
In March 2020, just days before Covid-19 shut down the Bay Area, Dr. Bacon organized the first South Bay Food Justice Workshop, which convened small farmers, food aid providers, community organizations, and researchers to envision new ways of collaborating to strengthen food justice in the region. The workshop inspired participants to form the South Bay Food Justice Collaborative, which continued to meet online biweekly to share insights and catalyze partnerships to deliver food aid to struggling families who lost their livelihoods during the pandemic.
Bacon, student researchers, and community-based partners also launched several action research initiatives that could help inform efforts to build a more resilient, healthy, and equitable food system. These are central goals for the Environmental Justice and the Common Good’s Food and Climate Justice Program, which Bacon leads.
As unemployment, disrupted supply chains, and rising prices worsened food insecurity, Bacon learned that Fresh Approach was organizing a response by a network of farms, food hubs, and community groups. The coalition secured funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase and distribute over 600,000 pounds of locally-produced fresh produce in boxes that reached more than 14,000 families weekly, while providing much needed economic support to small farmers who lost important customers when many restaurants closed. Bacon saw that it was important to evaluate and learn from this innovative project, which sources food from local farms and delivers it through local organizations that do grassroots community organizing in Richmond, Oakland, East Palo Alto, and East San Jose.
With a grant from the Lawrence Foundation, Bacon assembled a research team to conduct a participatory assessment of the program. The team includes SCU students Paige Whittaker, Kylie Griggs, Brooke Rose, and collaborating students at other institutions, including Derek Ho and Rachael Abraham. Preliminary results from Pie Ranch, one of the several food hubs involved, show how the organization prioritized racial justice and sustainability by sourcing more than 90% of fresh fruits and vegetables from local BIPOC-owned farms, 71% of which were also women-owned and certified organic. This marks a departure from most USDA-funded food relief programs, which typically favor large agribusiness companies as suppliers.
The team will go on to assess the project’s short term impacts on box recipients’ food security and farmers’ economic security, resilience to Covid-19 and wildfires, changes to environmental management, and new social capital created. The results will help assess whether the project could be a replicable model for how a regional food system can meet emergency food assistance needs, while supporting local farmers.
A second part of the Food and Climate Justice program’s response includes a new partnership with the La Mesa Verde urban gardening program and the food pantry at Sacred Heart Community Services. In addition to Dr. Bacon, members of this research team include SCU students Emma McCurry and Ava Gleicher, and Dr. Chris McNeil, a postdoctoral fellow at SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This team is working with four Sacred Heart staff members researching how to expand collaboration between La Mesa Verde and the food pantry, while addressing broader questions about developing a food and racial justice approach to emergency food assistance, and turning food waste into compost to improve the harvests and self sufficiency of La Mesa Verde’s community gardeners.
Photo: Fresh Approach