It's no secret that there's a gulf between the Bay Area's wealthy residents and not-so-wealthy residents, and the imbalance shows itself in a number of ways: the soaring rates of evictions, your favorite restaurants closing, and the city’s increasing homogenization. Another side effect? Food insecurity. The SF-Marin Food Bank estimates that one in four residents in Marin and San Francisco struggle to feed themselves, and other local food banks report similar stats.
The Bay Area has a long history of charities working to deal with this problem, including religious organizations like Glide and St. Anthony’s and other groups like Project Open Hand, which grew out of the AIDS epidemic. Now, the conversation about feeding people has evolved to one emphasizing “food justice,” a term that describes a food system where everyone has safe and equal access to affordable, nutritious food grown in a way that supports the health of the workers and the environment. We’ve listed a variety of foodcentric charities across the Bay Area, highlighting their different approaches to a more equal food system. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so let us know your favorite food-related charity or nonprofit in the comments.
CUESA, or the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, is more than just farmers market and goat festivals. The nonprofit has been working since 1994 to inform city goers about the systems and processes that produce their organic kale and sustainable bacon. In addition to their farmers markets in San Francisco and Oakland, CUESA offers a wide variety of educational programs (including their free FoodWise program for elementary school kids and entrepreneurship opportunities for high schoolers) and community resources (such as cooking classes and seasonal recipes).
CommunityGrows got their start renovating blighted parks. Now, the Western Addition group uses those parks to teach kids where their food comes from, with a variety of programs including healthy cooking classes, after-school farm programs and job training for low-income youth.
One of the biggest problems with our current food system is access. Sure, we should all be eating healthy food, but how can we when the nearest grocery store is an hour and two Muni transfers away? Healthy Retail SF aims to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to purchase nutritious, affordable food choices by working with corner stores to include options like fruits and vegetables. They provide a pathway for corner stores to transform themselves, offering resources, financial help and a sustainable model. The group evolved from the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition, started by a group of teenagers frustrated by the area’s lack of healthy options.
An urban farm in the Mission grows a wide variety of produce and distributes it to those in need in the community through their Free Farm Stand, with impressive results: between 2009-2015, they gave away 28 tons of produce.
Second Harvest Food Bank, serving San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, provides a wide range of services to ensure that no one goes hungry: in addition to their children’s nutrition and family programs, they also offer a brown bag program run by seniors for seniors, free fruit and vegetables from their traveling Produce Mobile and nutrition classes.
When he was in seventh grade, South Bay teen Kiran Sridhar volunteered at a food bank. Struck by the need he saw, Sridhar developed Waste No Food, a platform where businesses can post their excess food, and local charities can claim the food and pick it up. Thanks to fans like Levi’s Stadium, who use it to offload leftovers from 49er events, the platform has facilitated the donation of over 10,000 pounds of food since their founding.
Loaves & Fishes, which offers hot meals to those in need, calls themselves a "Soup Kitchen 2.0." In recent years, the organization, dramatically increased their reach in Santa Clara County by teaming up with like-minded organizations--like a partnership that allowed them to use an industrial kitchen, rent-free. Thanks to that collaboration, they're now able to serve 30,000 meals a month.
Similar to Waste No Food, Peninsula Food Runners aims to combat food waste by connecting a fleet of runners--who pick up and deliver excess food from places like restaurants, event planners, corporate cafeterias, and hotels--with local charities. The groups use an app called Chow Match, which allows most charities to get their food in a mere hour, and thanks to that efficiency, the Food Runners are able to serve 30,000 meals a week.
In the eight years they’ve existed, Planting Justice has made significant contributions to their goal of creating “equal access to food, jobs, and education.” In addition their work building farms--they’ve constructed over 400 permaculture gardens around the Bay Area--they also focus on lowering prison recidivism rates by providing landscaping jobs that pay a living wage to formerly incarcerated workers.
City Slicker Farms helps West Oakland residents become active participants in the food system by offering spots in their community garden and providing raised beds for people’s backyards. They also offer a paid summer work program to local teens, as well as a sliding scale farm stand with cooking demonstrations featuring suggestions of meals to cook with the farm’s produce. (The group is part of an upcoming event on food justice in the East Bay, which will also feature Full Harvest Farm, Afrika Town Community Garden, Urban Tilth, and Freedom Farmer's Market.)
Urban Tilth runs seven urban farms in Richmond, where community members are encouraged to eat the farms’ produce, take part in one of many their garden education programs, or participate in the group’s CSA.
Researchers have shown that farmers markets are often overwhelmingly white spaces. Not Freedom Farmer's Market in Oakland. The market serves as a dedicated space for black farmers to sell their produce, with an emphasis on what they call “traditional legacy foods.”
Farm to Pantry takes advantage of Sonoma County’s many acres of farmland by sending volunteers to “glean”--collect the leftover produce--from participating farms, which they then distribute to those in need around the county.
If we want to switch to a food system where we eat more locally-grown produce, one of the biggest obstacles is farmland: land is expensive, and often, small farming isn’t profitable enough to allow farmers to resist development. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust was developed in the 1980s to ensure that West Marin’s farmland will stay farmland forever. It was the first trust of its kind in the country, and today it allows places like Straus Family Creamery to keep making their products.
Since 1988, Food For Thought has been providing produce, frozen meals and vitamins to Sonoma County residents with AIDS/HIV, and has plans to soon expand their scope to serve people with other serious illnesses.
Despite Marin County’s wealthy reputation, the area, like everywhere else in the Bay Area, struggles with issues of food insecurity. Marin Food Policy Council, the second such food council in the country, works to address those inequities by working with city governments to ensure that everyone in the county has access to nutritious fare.