Erin Primer moved to San Luis Obispo County in 2016 to take a job at San Luis Coastal Unified School DIstrict (SLCUSD) where she is the Director of Food & Nutrition Services. With a background in the culinary and high quality ingredient world of catering, Erin was adamant that students should be getting the highest quality food she could find. She was determined to improve the nutrition in her department, so she began researching how she could get local farm-fresh food into her kitchens.
Meanwhile, a work group of the Food System Coalition (FSC) was conducting farmer outreach and data gathering in order to explore the idea of setting up a Food Hub in San Luis Obispo County. In doing that research, the group found that small local farmers often needed more sales outlets for their crops and so, they started to work to connect farmers to institutional buyers.
Jeff Wade, Found and Executive Director of Slow Money San Luis Obispo, was a leader in that work group and, given this nonprofit’s focus on supporting local farmers, he began networking to organize farmer-to-buyer-mixers in collaboration with other work group members, including Central Coast Grown (now City Farm SLO), and The Farmers’ Guild. The first mixer was held at The Guild Hall in August 2016 to connect farmers to restaurants, grocers, distributors, and co-ops.
Later that year, Erin was invited to a meeting of the Food System Coalition (FSC) that was focused on Farm to School initiatives. She and two other food service directors met with the group and presented how their food service departments operated, and what they were looking for from local farmers. Erin was thrilled to be at a meeting where so many sectors of the food system were represented! She had never been a part of such a group and knew right away that she was in good company with like-minded, nutrition-focused folks.
I couldn’t believe such a group existed! To have a group of people who were assessing the food system as a whole blew my mind. I knew I was in the right place!” - Erin Primer, San Luis Coastal Unified School District
Erin has kept up with the FSC over the years, and is ever supportive of its efforts to make our food system more sustainable. Additionally, thanks to the activity of those past work groups, and the persistence of members, Jeff and Erin have been collaborating closely ever since that 2017 mixer and have grown the Farm to School effort in the county exponentially, reaching not only SLCUSD, but other school districts in the county as well. Erin is grateful for the convening space that Slow Money SLO and the FSC offered, and for the continued work both groups do in education and outreach.
The FSC is happy to play the connector role in stories like these! It is our pleasure to bring diverse sectors of the food system together because we know, as shown here, that the amazing agencies, individuals, nonprofits, and businesses in our county will always carry out great projects that move us all toward a more sustainable food system!
Joel Diringer was one of the conveners of the SLO County Food System Coalition (FSC). His consulting business Diringer & Associates focuses on health policy and program development, research and evaluation, and so he was called upon to work on the Hunger-Free Community Project. This project was born out of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hunger-Free Communities planning grant that was awarded in Spring 2011 to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.
It was important to me to help form the food system coalition in order to coalesce community efforts that were combating hunger on many different fronts, and also to provide a community forum for discussion and action.” - Joel Diringer, Diringer & Associates
After the conclusion of the Hunger-Free Communities grant, the Food Bank, with Diringer & Associate’s assistance, was awarded the USDA Community Food Project grant twice, consecutively. These were used for various projects carried out by food system stakeholders, including the FSC, which focused on expanding nutrition and food opportunities to marginalized immigrant, and Latinx communities in San Luis Obispo County.
Joel sees value in the FSC because it coalesces a wide range of SLO County residents who are interested in an equitable and sustainable food system. Bringing together agriculture interests, social services providers, health professionals, educational organizations and grassroots advocates means a large portion of the food system is represented, which will help bring positive change.
However, Joel notes that ten years after its initiative to drive out hunger in the county, there is still work to do. With the help of a committed base of organizations and persons who continue toward FSC’s goals, Joel knows the food system will continue to improve.
Over the years, I have enjoyed working with a robust group of “old-timers” and new participants to keep the Coalition sustained.” - Joel Diringer, Diringer & Associate
We are so thankful for Joel's help to create our Coalition! If you or someone you know has skills in grant writing, project organizing, or other nonprofit support areas that you would like to volunteer, please contact us today!