Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles

7 ways to access affordable fresh food in Mendocino County (and why the SF Chronicle article is dead wrong)

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It would be advisable that a reporter who is writing an article about Mendocino County actually set foot in Mendocino County before drawing sweeping conclusions about the economy, culture and landscape of this place.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an atrocious article titled “In Mendocino County Fresh Affordable Food is Hard to Find,” which I found so upsetting that I canceled a trip to lay in the sun on the banks of the Navarro River this afternoon in order to respond immediately. Instead, I am sitting here with the heater on, wearing a down vest, typing furiously. In the words of the ever discerning Gowan, this article is “classist, ignorant and offensive.” Here’s one excerpt:

“Their drives sound extreme, but Mendocino County, for all its natural beauty, is actually a difficult place to be healthy. To name a few examples, it has rugged, unwalkable terrain, more fast-food joints than grocery stores, and high rates of premorbidity, obesity and coronary heart disease.” – Stephanie Lee, SF Gate

First of all, if it takes someone 8 hours to do the 140 mile round trip drive from Gualala to Santa Rosa, they stopped at too many wineries along the way. I realize she’s probably accounting for shopping time, but this line alone would discourage anyone from ever wanting to visit our neck of the woods. If Stephanie M. Lee had been to Mendocino County, she would discover that we do in fact have paved streets, and side walks, extremely fresh air, and tons of active, fit and healthy residents. Where the pavement ends, there are numerous hiking and biking trails, rivers and lakes for kayaking, oceans for surfing and diving.

But, what gets me most is what she said about food. In most cities and towns in Mendocino County, you actually have a hard time finding a fast-food joint. What you would find instead is a community that has, by large, resisted chains of any kind and is fueled by many innovative small businesses including locally owned grocery-stores, co-ops and collectives and farm stands, with a dedication to a high quality of life and well-being.

Mendocino County Line

I love living in Mendocino County and I will be the first to admit that there are segments of this community that are seriously economically depressed.

I have struggled with this myself; the job market is very limited, and the cost of living is high. Poverty, hunger, malnutrition and obesity exist in Mendocino County, as well as depression, alcoholism, drug use and all the other problems that plague everywhere USA. And, yet, this is only one part of the picture. It is dangerous, and bad journalism, to speak to only one family in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and make a few phone calls and surmise conclusions about the entirety of Mendocino County.

These obstacles are real, and yet, there are also many opportunities for people to access fresh, affordable and healthy food.

Gowan and I are living examples of this; we have eaten only the freshest local food, every single day for the last seven and a half months, on very limited budgets. We recognize that we have a lot of things working in our favor. We are two educated, middle class white girls, without any children or severe disabilities. Gowan has access to land where she can produce a lot of the food that we depend on. We know a lot of farmers and producers who are willing to barter, or give us food when they have abundance. Our project has become high profile, and strangers often appear with gifts of food or salt or just encouragement (which also really matters). We are very, very fortunate. And we are resourceful as hell and just as stubborn, too. So, we have been able to make this work on an extreme level.

All of this said, there are many ways that affordable, fresh food is accessible for everyone. Here are seven, to start:

1. Mendocino County is on the forefront of the Farm-to-School movement

Noyo Food Forest, located in Fort Bragg, CA, is a groundbreaking non-profit farm education program. They have built Fort Bragg’s community garden in Noyo Harbor, as well as ensured that there is a school garden at every school in Fort Bragg. At their two-acre flagship mini-farm, The Learning Garden, high school interns and community volunteers help grow food that goes directly into all four school cafeterias, feeding incredibly fresh, nutrient dense organic produce to a population where almost 70% of students are from a low income home. The farm also grows food for several of the best restaurants in town, several catering companies, and has a summer booth at Fort Bragg Farmer’s Market and a winter booth at the Caspar Community Center’s winter market. Their model of Farm-at-School is so innovative that Eco City Berkeley came and toured our gardens and interviewed the staff because they wanted to start a farm-to-school program in Oakland and NFF was the closest program they could find to what they wanted to create. Our school lunches are beautiful, vibrant, and fresh, as good as anything you’d find in a restaurant, and we are raising a community of children who are not only kale eaters, but garden lovers.

Gowan is the farm manager at the Noyo Food Forest and is pictured above teaching interns about worm composting.

2. Mendocino County Farmers Markets accept EBT/Food Stamps and WIC Coupons

Shopping at the Ukiah Farmers' Market

In order to make the farmers’ markets more accessible to all, EBT Cards (Food Stamps) are accepted at all of the Mendocino County Certified Farmers’ Markets, located in Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Boonville, Ukiah, Redwood Valley, Willits and Laytonville. At some of these markets, EBT cardholders can benefit from Food Stamp Matching program where their food stamps are matched with grant funds or community donations, so they can receive an additional dollar for every EBT dollar they spend.

3. Community Gardens feed many families in Mendocino County

State Street Community Garden in Ukiah

There is a vast network of community gardens throughout Mendocino County, coordinated by organizations such as the Gardens Project, the Noyo Food Forest, and many smaller neighborhood-based groups. These gardens provide affordable growing space to local gardeners and families, allowing them to grow their own food in a community setting with established infrastructure such as fencing, soil, seeds and irrigation. Community gardeners also have access to  training and knowledge-sharing and this is a fantastic way to learn about growing food if you are a beginner.

4. Food Banks distribute fresh local food

Fort Bragg Food Bank

The local food banks receive plentiful donations of fresh produce from many local farms and gardens and grocery stores, which are freely available to clients.

5. Farmer CSA accepts EBT/Food Stamps

Live Power Community Farm CSA

Live Power Community Farm is an awesome 40-acre, solar electric and horse-powered, certified Biodynamic farm located in Covelo. Their Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) Program  allows consumers to invest in the farm by pledging financial support of the farm at the beginning of the growing season, and then they receive a box of farm-fresh goods every week throughout the season. They accept EBT cards (which are automatically billed monthly) to help make their fresh, high-quality produce accessible to all.

6. Nutrition education teaches students and parents about healthy eating

North Coast Opportunities and the Gardens Project, headquartered in Ukiah, run a variety of programs to support nutrition education and healthy eating. Visit the Gardens Project website for more information about these programs and others.

Fresh from the Start: Teens learn about nutrition and cooking

The Fresh from the Start Program is a nutrition and cooking class for the teen parents of Ukiah High School’s Young Parent Program.  Fresh from the Start aims to help teen parents make healthy choices for themselves and their families.  The program focuses on mother/adult nutrition, as well as infant and child nutrition, giving teen parents a well rounded understanding of their family’s health.

B.E.A.N.S (Better Eating, Activity and Nutrition for Students) is a program for high school students interested in cooking, healthy food, teaching and learning to become Teen Nutrition Advocates in Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg. This program trains teens as peer educators.  Teens learn cooking skills, nutrition basics and gardening, then teach weekly classes to elementary, middle and high school students.

7. Mendocino County is a wonderful place to forage from the land and the sea

Wild Mushrooms

Our “un-walkable” rugged landscape is full of bounty, which is in many cases free for the taking. We forage many pounds of wild mushrooms and seaweed, collect bushels full of berries and tree fruit, and for only the cost of the license you can fish or dive for abalone or catch crab. Living in this county means living much closer to the land and all of its abundance.

Healthy Food = Healthy People

The only thing I can get behind in this article is the recognition that improved access to healthy food is essential for addressing health problems.

In Mendocino County, officials are using the money from the five-year grant to start healthy living programs, encourage locals to stop drinking soda and to walk more, and ban smoking from apartment complexes.

In the full-length version of the SF Chronicle Article, she discusses some of the County-funded and community-based programs that focus on prevention through healthy eating and other lifestyle habits. After painting a pretty gnarly and inaccurate picture of the County, she discusses some of the active programs that are trying to reverse some of the food and health issues in our community. This article could have been framed much differently, even titled, “Programs address obstacles to healthy food in Mendocino County.” Yeah, that’s quite a different, and far more productive, story – especially if the goal is to help more people find access to healthy options.

SFgate_mendocino_073_JT

Food vs. “food”

It is also flawed to be drawing comparisons about processed food when making claims about healthy, fresh food. This Trader Joe’s shopping cart is filled with pre-made enchiladas and frozen waffles. This is not healthy, fresh food. And the produce buried underneath is arguably “fresh” – Trader Joe’s like most stores sources produce from all over the world, and by the time it gets to the shelf, it is far from fresh and wrapped in many layers of plastic, but that’s another story. While certain things are cheaper when purchased from chain stores (due to the simple economics of scale) often there is a perceived savings because certain items are cheaper, whereas others may be quite comparable to what is available locally. Most people don’t buy whole foods when they stock up at TJ’s or Costco – they tend to purchase cases of non-perishable processed foods. This more-for-less mentality has nothing to do with health and nutrition.

We cannot compare frozen waffles or cartons of chicken broth to a shopping list made up of whole foods. Yes, it takes more work and time, but it is often cheaper (and always healthier) when you buy whole ingredients and cook from scratch. This is one of the things that has made the biggest difference in our diets this year.  You can’t compare Top Ramen to the price of potatoes; one is food and one is empty calories. And, we understand that there are times when the only thing a person can afford is Top Ramen. But, fortunately there are other options, such as the Food Bank or the opportunity to volunteer in community gardens in exchange for fresh produce.

The cost of healthy eating

When people ask if our local food diet has been more expensive, they are often surprised when we say, “no.” Imagine never going out to eat, cutting out all processed and prepared foods, and eliminating your daily latte. We purchase only whole foods, often in bulk quantities, usually direct from the grower/producer. This cuts out an incredible amount of the cost. And if we want waffles, we use the freshest locally milled flour to make them. The price per gallon of milk or per pound of butter is significantly higher than what people would pay at Safeway or Costco, but the quality is unparalleled, and you make up for that cost by not purchasing a lot of incidental, non-essential food items. Our budgets have been trimmed by eliminating crap from our diets. We understand the austerity of making these changes might be a shock to many peoples’ lives, but you cannot argue with the fact that it is both economical AND healthier to shop and eat in this manner.

The real problems in our food system

I need to emphasize that this is about a lot more than personal responsibility. We need to address the broader injustice of the industrial food system, government subsidies for commodity crops, GMOs and the rising price of petroleum. ALL of these factors contribute to a more comprehensive picture of the real challenges to the food system and affect every single family in this country (rather than single out one County as a hotbed of problems). The statistics about health issues are not the problems themselves, but the symptoms of the deeper imbalances in the food system.

Furthermore, we cannot have a real conversation about the economics of Mendocino County without discussing marijuana, and the impact of the pot industry on real estate, housing and the cost of doing business.

There are many problems facing our community; some are unique, and others mirror the issues we see across America. The best way to deal with many of these challenges is to pursue viable local solutions, such as the seven listed above. I love this place, for all its beauty, and all its troubles. I am proud to live in Mendocino County and to work alongside so many people who are dedicated to building a vibrant and just food system. And, I would like this reality not to be our best kept secret.

Stephanie, if you want to see what’s really happening in the food system here, you’ll have to look deeper, and beyond federally-funded grant programs. I’m pretty sure it was Einstein who said problems are never solved by the same thinking that created them. Certainly, these programs are a critical link in identifying and addressing the problem, but they cannot be observed by looking at a map and a few statistics. Change is happening through a broad network of initiatives which include both the public and private sector in establishing a new food future in our community. Let us know if you want to tell the true story of Mendocino County, we’d be happy to give you a tour of some of the most exciting and transformational food system projects underway here. You’ll need to wear closed-toed shoes, you might get a little dirty.

36 thoughts on “7 ways to access affordable fresh food in Mendocino County (and why the SF Chronicle article is dead wrong)

  1. First of all I want to applaud you for writing such a heartfelt and educated article. I commend you for being able to eat a local only diet and appreciate that you disagreed with the article written, but I would like to share my opinion. I agree that there are many opportunities for people to eat off the land, but for myself and being a local of Ukiah, I have to agree that there are not many affordable places to get organic food such as Trader Joes. I am also a person who travels to Santa Rosa to shop at Trader Joes and Whole Foods market simply because the Co-op is too expensive for me. I love the idea of being able to shop at the Farmers Market (and I do sometimes) but I am a working mom and student, and unfortunately, it is just not realistic for me. I buy as much organic produce as I can and my refrigerator is stocked full of healthy options, but a lot of these options are pre made certified organic additions. This is what my reality is, like most people I know. We are not afforded the option of harvesting salt and bartering for our food. While reading the article that Stephanie wrote I agreed with her that there are not many food markets that carry organic affordable chains around Ukiah with good deals, like Trader Joes. The Co-op is extremely overpriced and I would welcome a Trader Joes or Whole Foods market in this town. Like I said in the beginning of this response, I applaud your determination to live off of your resources in Mendocino, but please do not forget about the rest of us who want to lead a healthy organic life, but are unable to do so with the different lifestyle and stores here.

    • Hi there. We completely understand that we are in a unique position, and wouldn’t even suggest that eating local is the only “right” thing to do nor that everyone can do it. Totally understand what you’re saying and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make this work financially this year. What I have discovered in terms of cost savings has surprised me. Our hope is to not at all to say that eating local is the only “right thing” to do. Rather, we wanted to challenge this article’s characterization of the problems – which have deep roots. She was right about certain things, and there was also some misinformation, and missing information. I want to fill in with some of the real, viable options that people have. We are not going to change the socioeconomic dynamics at play overnight, and the solutions aren’t easy. But, hopefully anyone reading this will learn about new opportunities to access local food. Many people have no idea that the school lunches contain locally grown, organic food in Fort Bragg. Again, 70% of those students are on the free/reduced lunch program and they are getting the healthiest local food. These types of programs are making a huge difference, one plate and one kid at a time. We feel a responsibility to tell these stories, so that when we talk about the problems that we all face in living in a rural area, we are also aware of the good news, and the options we have including community gardens, access to food stamps and some weekend foraging. Thanks for writing, we love the discussion.

      • Wow.. I really did not know that the school lunches contained locally grown food! My child is eats school lunches and unfortunately doesn’t always like my gluten free, healthy options so he eats what they serve. I will be the first to say it isn’t my favorite option and I wish Ukiah could do more of what Mendocino is doing. I did not at all feel like your response to the SF article was offensive, just wanted to remind others that along with local farms, farmers markets AND budget friendly stores we would all be winning. I am not a fan of box stores, but I do feel at a disadvantage from the stores that are available here in Ukiah in regards to being budget friendly, healthy and organic. I really wish there was a Whole Foods or Trader Joes here! That added to what we do have with local produce and Farmers markets would be a win win for people like me. I only wish I could experience what you two gals write about and I am a follower and supporter of your page on Facebook. Keep up the great work:) ❤

    • Trader Joe’s has good prices, and though I think some of their sourcing is dicey, I’d still love to have one closer to us. But Whole Foods is cheaper?? Which Whole Paycheck store is that? I’d love to check it out!

    • Many stores in Ukiah other than the Co-op carry affordable organic food. Safeway and Raley’s have their own brand of organics, I only buy bulk items at the Co-op the rest of my food is sourced from Safeway, Raley’s Lucky and it doesn’t break the bank Whole Foods personally seems over priced to me.

      • In addition I moved to Ukiah from Fort Bragg 10 months ago. By far easier to get what I wanted in organic in Fort Bragg. In Ukiah I typically shop all the stores to get my groceries and yes Grocery Outlet does have good deals. It takes a little more time and creativity to eat well in Ukiah but by no means difficult.

  2. Sarah – I’m with you. That article is ridiculous, and based on the comments most people seem to get just how poorly researched it was.

    Just a heads up to anyone in Ukiah looking for affordable, organic, and even local food options: the Grocery Outlet is an amazing resource! It carries tons of organic brands – including meat, cheese, and produce – and has very reasonable prices. The management always tries to accommodate special requests to carry a certain brand or continue getting a certain product, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find organic dish soap, beauty products, and supplements as well. This is cheap food that will literally get thrown out if it isn’t purchased, and it’s also a relatively small chain, so you can feel good about shopping there on a variety of levels. Between the Grocery Outlet, Farmer’s Market, and Co-Op, plus our own private vegetable garden, I manage to feed not only myself and my boyfriend but most of our friends whole, local foods on a regular basis and on a tight budget.

  3. I was just as surprised as you by the the San Francisco Chronicle article. To single out Mendocino County as being so “unhealthy” is a disservice. We have visited the area MANY times, and find the lifestyle quite healthy, with many opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking (our favorite) that we can only dream of in the Central Valley. (Fast food restaurants???? Not in the areas we visited).

    Our nation is full of unhealthy people……so the Chronicle would better serve the public by promoting good examples of living healthy lives, regardless of budget. Keep doing what you do. It matters.

  4. Gowan found the SFGate piece “classist, ignorant and offensive,” but doesn’t the race and class of the family in the article directly impact their ability to use the food resources you laid out here?

    California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, and the Barragans have an annual budget of $36,000. How would a cable installer and a housekeeper with four children find time and money to drive to local markets, forage, farm or join a CSA? I called Live Power Community Farm this morning, and they said a family would pay $43/week for their largest box.

    As you write: “We recognize that we have a lot of things working in our favor. We are two educated, middle class white girls, without any children or severe disabilities. Gowan has access to land where she can produce a lot of the food that we depend on. We know a lot of farmers and producers who are willing to barter, or give us food when they have abundance. Our project has become high profile, and strangers often appear with gifts of food or salt or just encouragement (which also really matters). We are very, very fortunate. And we are resourceful as hell and just as stubborn, too. So, we have been able to make this work on an extreme level.”

    You and the Barragans aren’t in the same boat, not by a long shot.

    • It’s true, everyone has their own boat to row. But the Barragans can pick a different model. They would qualify for food stamps, which they could use at their farmer’s market right in town. They could go to the food bank. And they could save themselves the 8 hour round trip and I’m guessing some money if they made a few changes to their eating habits. Eating highly processed, packaged foods is convenient, but it’s certainly not more healthy OR affordable than buying a bag of rice, a bag of beans, and some fresh produce and cooking from scratch (especially when you consider the gas it takes to get to and from Santa Rosa). From-scratch cooking is not that hard, we’ve just become lazy as a society. And don’t tell me they don’t have time – I grew up in a poor household with four children and we had simple but from-scratch meals every night, plus my mom still had time to watch a few hours of TV afterward. The average American watches TV for 34 hours a week. If the Barragans are anywhere near that, they have plenty of time to drive to a closer but more affordable market, cook whole foods for their family, and still watch some boob tube to unwind at the end of a long day.

    • I think a lot of your comments are really insightful, but I think you’re missing some of the point of what we’re doing here- its our job to work in the local food system specifically to make it accessible to people from all backgrounds and at all income levels, so we want this information to be out there. I work for a non-profit that is devoted to food education and growing healthy local food for the schools, and much of my work is unpaid. Sarah is the manager of a Farmer’s Market and moved heaven and earth to get EBT set up for this year, and is also underpaid. Our work is to find ways to make good local food accessible and make sure everyone knows how to find it, that’s why this article was designed to provide resources. Its frustrating when someone comes in from outside the community and points out a lot of the problems in our food system while ignoring the very real ways we’re fixing those problems on a community level.
      Packaged food is expensive. Its easier to get a better deal on packaged food in big box stores. No argument there. But packaged food is not healthy or cost effective, and there are other options locally, and people should know what they are. Its true that I happen to be a farmer, which means I have access to the food I grow. But after my bills are paid I’m left with $400 monthly budget for everything else including gas for myself and a teenager. So you’d better believe I’m conscious of what I’m spending. I personally couldn’t afford to buy packaged food here or anywhere else, and certainly couldn’t afford the gas to drive that much. I also work 7 days per week, and its tough to find time to do anything else. It can be a serious struggle, for us and everyone. I’m not disparaging the Barragans in any way, as I’ve said in a previous blog post, my issue is always with the corporations that created our unjust food system, not with the people stuck in it. This is particularly close to me because Gualala is my home town. I grew up there, and I’m well aware of the issues in the community. I moved back here to do this work specifically because of those issues. So as for class, I’m on about the same level as the Barragans. As for race, I think the actual majority of the plots in the Ukiah community garden are kept by Latino families. The majority of our B.E.A.N.S. students are Latino, many of my interns are, Our Farmer’s Market coordinator is bi-lingual, many of the vendors are Latino, and Safe Passage Family Resource Center teaches cooking classes on how to use whole foods that are accessible to the Latino population as well. Overall, the Latino community is a very vibrant, well represented part of the local food movement.
      These aren’t simple issues, but simply stating that we aren’t comparable to this family isn’t helping. I’m from the same tiny town as they are, I have about the same budget accounting for family size, and while I definitely have some serious advantages, I’ve also dedicated myself to finding ways to make this food available to everyone, and I would like people to know that it exists, they can afford it, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure it only gets more possible for more people.

    • He voluntarily quit his job at the cable company.

  5. Elizabeth, I don’t know anything about the Barragans besides what was reported in the free version of the article, so I’m not sure if they visit a food bank, and I don’t know if they receive Food Stamps. I certainly wouldn’t pass judgment about how much TV they watch; I don’t know these people.

    A dollar goes a lot farther in a supermarket than in a farmers market. In this blog post, it looks like salad greens are $2.50 for a head. A bag of Romaine hearts at Trader Joe’s is a better “value,” because it’s more food. Which of the resources you described would extend their food budget? You listed suggestions that would help them buy healthier food — that’s not the same thing at all.

    Incidentally, here’s another view of their shopping cart, which appears to contain fruits and vegetables: http://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/Poverty-health-struggles-in-scenic-Mendocino-4677338.php

    You’re not suggesting that the people in this article are “lazy,” or managing their time poorly, are you? The cable installers and housekeepers I’ve met are really hard-working people, especially when they have children to look after.

    • Of course I’m not suggesting that complete strangers are lazy. What I am suggesting is that as a culture we’ve strayed so far from where we started that we don’t even recognize what is and isn’t food anymore, and we sacrifice health in favor of convenience. I suggested not only healthy options but affordable ones as well. If you think buying bags of rice and beans isn’t a more affordable option than frozen enchiladas, you must not do the shopping in your household! I also consistently find the price of produce at farmer’s markets to be on par with or even lower than grocery stores; in fact, a 2010 study found that “organic items at farmers’ markets were nearly 40 percent cheaper than they were at neighboring supermarkets.” This article references that and other studies with similar findings: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/05/the-farmers-market-myth/238661/

      • Identifying the Barragans as part of a culture that chooses to “sacrifice health in favor of convenience” — when they’re living on an annual budget of $36,000 and raising 4 kids — is an interesting way of *not* suggesting that these complete strangers are lazy.

        Perhaps you know more about their situation than I do. I haven’t read the full article because I don’t believe anything at SFGate.com is worth paying for, but if this family’s as pressed for time and money as most are in their income bracket, my guess is that they feel these shopping treks are their best option when it comes to meeting their needs.

        You can’t purchase dry goods like diapers, rice or dog food at a farmers’ market, and supermarkets are open 7 days each week at all hours. Farmer’s markets mainly sell whole foods and are open a few hours each week; get there too late in the day, and you won’t find what you’re looking for.

        The Barragans live at approximately 113% of the federal poverty level; after looking at a living wage calculator for Mendocino, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a family in this situation to make most of the choices you’re suggesting:

        http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/06045

        Full disclosure: I’ve been cooking from scratch since I was 8 years old and started shopping for a household when I was 13. I’ve also managed an organic produce and bakery as well as a catering company.

    • Inextricably linked to our food choices is the cost of health care, or, as it’s actually practiced in the dominant culture of this country now, disease management. Cheaper food in the short term is an illusory bargain if one ends up with chronic disease in the future. If you look at disease statistics and projections, it’s almost guaranteed for those who don’t choose their food carefully.

      It is a very real issue for many of us committed to healthful local food to be able to afford it, for ourselves, our families, our animals. But I’d venture to guess we do pay less for health care. At the moment, I’m paying zero for health care, other than a recent vet bill for a dog with a scratched cornea. My partner and I can’t afford any health insurance right now, so we have no safety net other than our own (hopefully wise) choices.

  6. Brava, Brava! Thanks for sacrificing time by the Navarro River to write this. Excellent job. I just posted to Facebook because the issues discussed aren’t unique to Mendocino. People of limited means (myself definitely included) do struggle to afford good quality food, but there are things to be done. We buy our meat in bulk from MENDOCINO COUNTY ranchers like Magruder Ranch and Lovers Lane Farm, as well as smaller amounts from Pacific Pastures via Harvest Market. Cutting out junk food is the biggest first step that *anyone* can take. Even if you can’t afford organic, just shopping for fresh food instead of boxed, canned, factory food will be more cost-effective and healthful.

    This county ROCKS for prioritizing farmers markets and making that bounty available to those on public assistance.

    • If everyone planted a little plot of greens, or even just some pots on the balcony with lettuce and parsley and chard, it would not take very much time or money and would reduce grocery bills a lot. Having a little garden is the best. And kids love to plant seeds and watch stuff grow. Going in the back yard to pick a salad — THAT is local. Also, wanted to mention that Purity, in Fort Bragg, carries a LOT of organic stuff and their prices are really great. And Downhome Food is just completely awesome. Their prices beat just about everyone’s. I am so, so proud of you, Gowan and Sarah. What you are doing really matters and is very incredible.

  7. The frozen enchiladas shown in the TJ’s shopping cart photo are very healthy. They are made with tofu, zucchini, corn, and beans, wrapped in corn tortillas, and have 4 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 20 grams carbs (2g fiber, 1g sugar) and 130 calories per enchilada. Most of the ingredients are organic. I don’t recall the price off-hand, I think they are $1.99 per package. They are my top go-to affordable *healthy* meal when I don’t have time to cook. I can totally understand why a hard working family buys some of these, for those nights when everyone gets in late and they need to get dinner on the table quick, or when they need to make a quick dinner for one person who is heading out (e.g. a child who is going off to a game or other activity) and needs to eat before the main meal is ready.

  8. BRAVA, BRAVA, BRAVA for this great response to that nearly fact-free SF Chronicle article. I reposted on Facebook because the issues people of limited means struggle with here have resonance elsewhere. Just cutting out fast food and crap, as you have done, is a first step anyone can take. Even if one can’t afford organic, just buying fresh foods instead of processed factory “food” is something anyone can do for less money and greater health benefits.

    Buying in bulk from local farmers is something we love to do, such as getting our beef and pork from Magruder Ranch, pork and honey from Lovers Lane Farm, etc. We raise our own eggs and supply the monthly Caspar Community Center fundraising breakfast.

    This county ROCKS for prioritizing farmers markets, fighting GMOs, resisting fast-food chains, etc. We’re blessed on the Coast to have Noyo Food Forest doing such a great educational service and real food service, making fresh food available for the schools and the senior center, and no doubt inspiring many others to grow their own gardens.
    Thanks,
    Jeanmarie

    • OK, if one doesn’t have a home and therefore no access to a kitchen, it is DEFINITELY more difficult to eat right. That’s why it’s so great that our food bank (at least here in FB, not sure about elsewhere) has fresh produce available and that farmers markets accept EBT cards.

    • Sorry for duplicate comments. Once I logged in, it looked like my typed-up comment had disappeared so I added it again. Oops!

  9. More o n this story: http://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/Poverty-health-struggles-in-scenic-Mendocino-4677338.php?t=efe3baf33d47b02379

    The family in the article receives food stamps now but will most likely lose them soon (read the rest of the article to find out why.)

    The debate over whether they can or cannot buy healthy, organic food has taken an interesting turn. Some people seem to have taken it as a personal attack on our community. Others think the family of the story isn’t doing everything they can to obtain healthy food for themselves. And others, myself included, think the story (while poorly researched and written) is
    pointing out the disparity of wanting to eat healthy and being able to afford said healthy food. They have 4 children and both work full time. I remember those days; up at the crack of dawn, breakfast, kids dressed, myself dressed, everyone off to where they need to be, with lunches in tow. Home, laundry, dinner to cook, house to clean, homework to do, school events/sports…..bath time, story time, bedtime…exhausted and we get to start again in just a few short hours. And then weekends filled with restocking the kitchen, errands, school/sports events, more homework, and trying to cram in a bit of fun family time.

    Oh wait, that’s right, there is food for the taking here; mushrooms, berries, seaweed….fish, crab, abalone (if you can afford the licenses and the gear). Let’s just take mushrooms as an example; walk through the woods, pick the mushrooms, porcini let’s pretend. You take home your prizes, clean them up and cook them. You present them to your family for dinner….what?? They are all still hungry? Oh that’s right, the caloric content of mushrooms isn’t enough to sustain growing bodies. Excuse me? You mean I would have to add something else to the meal, but I’m tired and spent more than a couple hours looking for these. Oh and did I accidentally pick any poisonous ones? I’d sure hate to kill one of my family members.

    Let the picking apart begin.

  10. excellent post!

  11. Great article, Sarah. The SF Gate writer should be ashamed of herself. Costco and TJs, on the other hand, must be mighty pleased.

    We, and most people we know around here, spend a much larger proportion of our time in getting and preparing food than the average American. That is just part of the Mendocino lifestyle. If the Barrigans want to spend a whole day driving around shopping in order to avoid spending extra time each day preparing meals from the fresh whole foods that are abundantly available on the coast, they are free to do so – but it is a choice they are making, not one forced upon them.

    Here in Albion, the uncertified farmer’s market has an incredible amount of fresh produce at prices far lower than the supermarket. But there is no prepackaged, heat-to-eat “food products,” no frozen pasta, no canned whatever-that-is Ms. Barrigan is considering in the photo. It takes time and understanding to plan and prepare meals from this kind of real food; but it doesn’t require much driving.

  12. Having lived in Mendocino County for a year now, I find that this article from the SF Chronicle is just crass and utterly ridiculous. Originally a Northeast Pennsylvania native, I spent much of my upbringing eating Fruity Pebbles and fast food. In fact, my first job was at a McDonald’s where I worked for 3 years. My first roommates after college – one I worked with at McDonald’s, the other a manager at KFC.

    I’ll save you the details, but in short, the place where I come from is so unhealthy and nutritionally undereducated that I became a vegetarian and moved to Redwood Valley last year to live on a self sustainable farm. Months later, I joined Americorps and have been living in rural, coastal Fort Bragg where I live off dollars less than minimum wage (part of the deal being an Americorps volunteer) where I eat better than I’ve eaten in my entire 24 years of living.

    Living on that farm in Redwood Valley, I spent NO MONEY. I ate directly from our garden and milked goats for milk and cheese. I was 100% sustained at the cost of some physical labor. Since moving up from No pay to underpaid, a year later, I am the healthiest I have ever been and the most educated and nutritionally aware version of myself.

    I came to Mendocino County for a vacation from my crazy life back east, and I stayed for the good people and the healthy lifestyle change I experienced immediately here.

  13. Great job Sarah. Thank you for sharing.
    -Debra

  14. Great article, Sarah. And let’s not forget that Mendocino County is the home of the internationally acclaimed Ecology Action: Biointensive Farming Method, teaching communities how to feed a family on 12 square feet of land. At Mendocino Community College, we have an Agriculture Department that offers degrees, certificates, and paid internships. We are fortunate to access local heirloom seed companies such as Bountiful Gardens, Amish Heirloom Seed Company, and Sustainable Seed Company where you can obtain seeds that have not been genetically modified. In Willits, we have the Grateful Gleaners who collect an overabundance of fruit and vegetable crops and then donate them. We have stockpiled grains and rice at our vibrant local Grange. There is hunting and fishing here as well.

    We should be be able to feed ourselves well, if/when the system crashes. If SF is wise, it will start encouraging self-sufficiency in neighborhoods and schools NOW! And if we are wise, we will be ready to share when they all migrate North!

  15. In response to one comment above, I don’t like the idea of encouraging people to apply for food stamps so that they can buy organic foods over allowing those same people to try to make it without assistance and eat some processed foods. Just a thought.

    • Having been a recipient of public assistance some 40 years ago, I can assure you that most people do not choose to live in poverty, and those who do often cannot afford to buy organic whole foods. So, I doubt the statement encourages people to go on Foodstamps, but instead, encourages them towards healthier living. I agree with you that they should be taught independence through gardening, for sure!

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