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Sonoma County food: Haves and have nots

  • Terry Harrison owner of Foxwhelp Farm in Healdsburg picks gravenstein apples for Saturday's Healdsburg Farmers Market, Aug. 5, 2011.

When you think of Sonoma County food, do you think of gourmet dining, wine pairings and exotic cheeses? Or do you think of hunger, junk food and obesity?

The answer is increasingly both, according to recent assessment of local food production and consumption.

The report by the Sonoma County Food System Alliance found that the county "food system" has evolved into niche markets for outside customers, even as hunger and food insecurity grow and nutrition increasingly becomes a luxury within the county.

Foxwhelp Farm

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"The last hundred years, the variety of food crops produced has decreased to mostly those products that can be distributed and marketed outside the county," the report concluded. "The quantity of food produced has also decreased and has been replaced by wine grapes."

Meanwhile, the number of Sonoma County residents who seek supplemental food and nutrition from the Redwood Empire Food Bank continues to grow. The local food bank, through its 146 partnering agencies, now reaches 78,000 county residents a month, a figure that has increase 20 percent in each of the last two years.

Last June, the food bank served 10,000 more meals than it did the same month a year ago. "This whole escalation of food insecurity began with the recession," said Gail Atkins, the food bank's director of programs.

The food bank partners with non-profit agencies such as churches, child care centers and shelters to handle some of its programs. Funding cuts to non-profits could force them to scale back their participation, she said.

The Sonoma County Food System Alliance is a county-based coalition of food producers, distributors and consumers working toward a sustainable local food system. It is part of the statewide Food System and Ag Futures Alliance.

Of the more than 54,000 county residents eligible for the federal food stamp program, now known as Calfresh, 71 percent were not enrolled.

"Increasing participation has the potential to significantly bolster the amount of benefits received locally and dollars circulated into the local economy," the report said.


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