Hi Everyone, Claire here. I thought it would be a good idea to tell y'all my Food System Coalition story, so here it is...enjoy!
I first found the SLO Food System Coalition (FSC) from an internet search in Summer 2018 by typing ‘sustainable food system slo county’. Wanting to return to SLO County and get involved in the food system, I was thrilled to find the group, and planned a special trip from where I was living in Santa Barbara to attend a meeting in Fall 2018. I got the sense that the group would be a good place to start networking.
I was right! At that first meeting I met the then committee chair, Andrea Keisler, got on the newsletter list and got connected to the network.
Fast forward to July 2019, having another meeting under my belt, I approached Andrea with an inquiry of any part time work in the food system. It just so happened that the then coordinator of the group was looking to step back. Thus, I became the coordinator for the FSC in August 2019, which was a great pairing to the Sustainable Food Systems masters degree I was working on (see me studying away al fresco below)!
The FSC is one of a kind in SLO County. It is the only group that addresses the food system from a wholistic perspective. - Claire Tuohey-Mote, dba Food System Consulting
After finishing my graduate work in August 202, the FSC also launched me into my second career. It connected me to Slow Money SLO, and I am now the Communications Director and Farm to School Coordinator for the nonprofit.
I remain the volunteer coordinator for the FSC because this work is meaningful to me, and I understand the value of it for our county.
I see the FSC as the nexus for our local food system. It brings agencies, organizations, and individuals together, providing space for connections to be made. Then, the phenomenal folks in our food system go together to do great work, addressing the challenges they see in equity, sustainability, health, economic vitality, etc.! I am excited to see where this work will lead!
Together, we can make more impact than as individual agencies. - Jennifer Miller, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department
It was this system focus that led some members of the FSC to explore reasons behind the very low CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps) participation in SLO County, ranking one of the lowest in the state. In 2015, a work group (CalFresh Alliance) was formed to tackle this food access issue and it is still working today to continue to increase Calfresh enrollment.
(Above photo: Jen and other FSC members listen to a presentation from the Chief CalFresh Lead from CA DSS.)
Members of the FSC leverage this collaborative group to raise food system issues to county officials and decision makers, partner organizations and institutions to understand challenges, explore solutions, and drive change. For example, participants in CalFresh Alliance were able to meet with representatives of the SLO County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Social Services to understand how they could work together to enroll more eligible families in CalFresh.
A parallel effort to CalFresh Alliance is the Market Match program which helps individuals double their CalFresh (EBT) benefits if they shop at local farmers’ markets. The FSC supported the efforts of another work group that formed (EBT at Farmers Markets) to get SLO County Farmers Markets set up with EBT capabilities and Market Match programs. The success of this group has been tremendous, with huge growth in EBT spent at local markets.
Market Match is a win-win. It helps families stretch their food dollars while directly supporting local farmers. The success of the group (EBT at Farmers Markets) has been incredible! - Jennifer Miller, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department
It’s this type of work that makes the FSC so special. An aggregation of agencies and organizations represents many voices and distributes information and resources more broadly throughout the food system. This representation empowers members to draw the attention of county officials and policy makers, further impacting the change that we want to see toward a more equitable, resilient, economically viable, and health-promoting food system.
If you agree with Jen, and find the work described above valuable, please consider making a donation to our organization so that our work can continue sustainably!