Growing Community Through Food in Santa Cruz | Civil Eats

Growing Community Through Food in Santa Cruz


My obscure Community Studies undergraduate degree provided a multitude of lessons, but the main things I gained were these two ideas: 1. The personal is political. 2. To affect change you must begin right where you are. With these dictums in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communities that are coming together to become self-sustaining. With food safety threats, economic destruction, globalization, outsourcing of jobs, and the homogenization of our food sources, it is no wonder that people are starting to get more and more organized. It seems like just this week, I have heard about a variety of examples, not just nationally but really close to home here in my small-ish town of Santa Cruz.

My boyfriend and I already try to support our local economy as much as possible and grow our own food. We have our own source of water and know that if the time came, our little mountain road would come together and help each other out. Once we get chickens, pigs, a couple of goats and a grape vine or two, we’ll be even more set. Actually, we’ll never want to go into town even in the most peaceful and harmonious of global climates. We are lucky to have the resources to keep ourselves and our neighbors okay if the shit went down, at least for a longer period of time than most urban and sprawling suburban communities.

But then I hear about Jerry Belanger of Detroit who has created a regional currency called “Cheers” to stimulate inter-city spending and Lyle Estill in North Carolina who is doing the same thing with the Pittsboro Plenty. That town is moving closer and closer to becoming totally self sufficient through their own food and biodeisel co-ops and now, separate money system.

Closer to home, I see so many people on the forefront of creating this momentum, businesses that are sharing a vision through collaboration and supporting each other to promote the importance of keeping the focus on locality. The popularity of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs are a prime example of this concept, where people contribute to their food sources up front in exchange for consistent fresh produce and the knowledge that their dollars go towards supporting a sustainable system. In Santa Cruz County, where organic farms are a dime a dozen and CSA’s have novel length wait-lists, I’m seeing several local farms offer an ever-increasing diversity to their CSA clients. The rise in collaboration between producers is creating an exciting new approach.

Blue Moon Organics in Aptos is a special 40-acre farm tucked away in a unique microclimate where at times, “all four seasons are experienced in one day,” says owner Greg Rawlings. For this reason, their crops feature intense flavor and they are able to grow an incredibly diverse selection of atypical varieties. Greg’s disgust with the polluted disconnect of watching his fellow chemists pour harsh materials down the drain while researching cancer fighting formulas guided him towards his current career, creating healthy food for people and the planet. Co-owner Patrick Deyoung left a lucrative career in finance to get his hands dirty in the farming business for the very same reason. This spring marks Blue Moon’s first CSA schedule, as well as a unique partnership with Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz. Now, the weekly CSA boxes will contain a bag of freshly roasted artisan coffee from farm-direct beans, to the clients who sign up for it. Not only is this a delicious and convenient ideology, it also helps both businesses in that they share marketing efforts, promote each other’s brands, and widen the scope of who becomes involved in this positive food movement.

Another example here is Freewheelin Farm, located on the Santa Cruz Northern coast, who presents a very low impact philosophy to farm delivery. They use bicycles for all distribution, and are now teaming up with another business to increase the variety in their CSA’s. Yellow Wall Farm, located in a sunny pocket near downtown, has the climatic advantage of growing hot summer produce successfully. Because Freewheelin can offer coastal crops like greens, broccoli, herbs and strawberries, the collaboration with Yellow Wall will round out the offerings with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and orchard fruit while further enhancing a local network and utilizing the benefits of two diverse landscapes.

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A purely simple, old-fashioned idea in a modern time comes in the form of I-Rise Bakery. Fortunately for my mountain community, we can have weekly deliveries, straight to our door, of organic sourdough breads, cookies, granola, and scones at amazingly affordable prices. We can pay monthly or upon delivery, and have the pleasure of conversing with the baker each time on our front stoop. It is as basic as the milk bottle service of yore, and so rewarding to support. “By making a conscious choice to know where your food comes from and keeping it local, you strengthen our community,” aptly written on the latest monthly specials list. I-Rise also collaborates with local chicken expert Brandon Faria of Faria Farms. All of the baked products use his eggs, and there is an egg delivery option by the dozen as well.

The ultimate self-sustaining tactic is to grow your own food supply. For those who don’t necessarily have the time, energy, or confidence to utilize their space for edible means, there are now a number of landscapers turned food activists who are doing the work for them. Custom garden consultation, installation, and harvesting is an important service leading the way towards re-thinking our outdoor spaces, especially in urban locales. One such company, GROW, is taking the idea a step further by implementing neighborhood food sharing. Owner David Stimpson envisions a network of yard spaces, each producing crops suited for their particular climate, then harvested, combined, and distributed among the inhabitants. It is essentially a community owned, community created, community grown CSA.

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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