Let's be honest.
Our food system is making us sick.
Fast food, processed food and chemically grown food has fueled a health crisis that will persist long after the current pandemic winds down. Obesity. Diabetes. Heart disease. Drive along our El Camino Real and compare the number of fast food locations to those selling affordable fresh produce. There are two San Mateos: the "haves" who can eat healthy and buy organic ingredients from Whole Foods or the Farmers Market. And the "have nots" who are saddled with the stress of low paying jobs and living paycheck-to-paycheck without a safety net - making it more likely a family's $10 will be spent at Burger King rather than on a bag of healthy produce...that requires additional time and energy to prepare. Only big food corporations and the pharmaceutical companies stand to gain. Call it inequality, food insecurity...we must change how our community feeds itself.
Local farmers are a valuable asset to the community and must be supported - and I believe they increasingly are...by the "haves". The reality is that a local farmer's need-for-profit raises prices to a level that - even at 50% off - are still out of reach of many in the community. As demand for regeneratively grown agricultural products increases, so will the price - since the supply is constrained by the finite (and extremely valuable) land available for growing.
During the pandemic we've seen organizations like the 2nd Harvest Food Bank rise to the occasion to distribute free food to a swelling number of those in need. But what does it say about our community if so many people need to rely on food bank handouts? While 2nd Harvest does an amazing job...amazing...we're not talking about ingredients freshly harvested and at the peak of flavor...the kind that can make you decide against the bag of Cheetos. Our challenge is to convince our neighbors that quality ingredients matter more than quantity. They have to be able to afford quality ingredients.
Growing food within the city limits of San Mateo is a viable alternative.
What can you do?
1) If you're fortunate enough to own one of the 18,000+ single family homes in the city - plant a garden and donate some of your harvest. The two community gardens in the city (Beresford Park and Los Prados Park) are wonderful assets but have multi-year waiting lists to gain access to a plot. Container gardening & worm bin composting can be very productive in an apartment space. Follow us on Instagram for some practical growing tips (@growsanmateo)
2) Contact our City Council (email@example.com) and request that a Local Food Growing policy be prioritized to promote small scale growing within the city limits. The assumption up until now is that all agricultural activities happen outside of San Mateo - so we need laws and regulations that make it easy for food to be grown and, at the same time, ensure that activities like composting and use of growing equipment don't annoy our neighbors.
3) Learn how other communities are making use of vacant/unoccupied land to produce hyperlocal fresh produce and employment opportunities:
- Sole Food Farm (has driven innovation in growing food on top of paved surfaces)
- City of Berkeley (small scale farming laws & policy)
- The Bowery Project (their vision: vacant spaces in the city should be used to grow food)
4) Volunteer with GROW San Mateo. Current opportunities include:
- Collecting, sorting, preparing produce donations (Wednesday mornings)
- Assisting with our weekly GROW table at the Samaritan House Food Pharmacies (San Mateo & RWC)