Growing the Table Towards an Equitable Food System

We all remember when COVID-19 changed everything. We remember the sudden and extreme ways it touched even the most fundamental aspects like space, communication, and human relationships. We are still living these changes. I remember a Black businessman warning me of the new forms of privilege that could arise in COVID responses. I also remember the moment when a lot more people began raising their voices in acknowledgment of how injustice and weakness in our country’s major systems prevent us from coping with any crisis. One such voice lamented, “how is it that when we buy only what we need that our economy collapses?” If only more people in America could afford the things they need.

One such system, our California food system, is a supply chain that is feeling the immediacy and disruption of the COVID crisis. Farmers and ranchers are struggling to stay afloat in the midst of this sudden and extensive disruption to their markets. Industries like hotels, restaurants, and other institutions ceased their food orders literally overnight. As a result, California farmers have seen their market demand decrease by 50%, leaving them with excess production for which they cannot find buyers and often must either plough under or send to landfill where it supercharges greenhouse gases like methane.

Meanwhile, the often unseen world of hunger swelled on the streets and quietly within millions of homes. Today roughly one in five Americans are food insecure and one in three families in communities of color are now experiencing hunger. Even in better times families and individuals of color have worse access to food.

So Growing the Table was born.

The Office of Kat Taylor and the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation are working with the California Association of Food Banks to raise money for Growing the Table, a program that compliments and expands upon the foundation of their long-standing Farm to Family program. The Farm to Family partnership has paid farmers the picking and packing costs of harvest that would otherwise go to waste, so that the excess food can be donated to food banks of California to feed hungry Californians. Our role is to expand the number of places this food can go, and also expand the number and diversity of the farmers who can take part in a market alternative while their traditional demand channels wane.

The funding we raise will be used to meet the explosion in food-aid demand, and to engage economically vulnerable BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) regenerative, or organic farmers and ranchers in a market alternative program that will pay them equitably for food that will be distributed for free to tens of thousands of food-insecure Californians.

Through this work, these past few months have been a learning experience. I’m humbled by the dozens of growers, nonprofits, and government leaders across California who are working tirelessly in their communities to begin building more equitable, local, food systems through existing networks and by standing up new ones. By adding capacity to these farm-to-family networks, the Growing the Table initiative will bolster black, brown and female farmers, especially those practicing organic or regenerative methods.

We have kick-started Growing the Table with five pilots in Fresno, Oakland, Richmond, San Mateo, and Sonoma. We plan to launch five more pilots in November. In each pilot area, we will document lessons learned and make recommendations for further investment for a state-wide resilient food system that BIPOC farmers and under-resourced communities can depend on. We will share what we learn so others can benefit as well.

Building a Just California food system requires all of us to lend a hand, from those who pick crops in the fields to capital stewards. If you are, or you know, BIPOC farmers who are struggling right now, we want to hear from you. If you have the means and can make a donation, we want to hear from you. If you know of a community organization that connects underserved populations with food resources, we want to hear from you.

Together, with our partners, we aim to shift the food supply chain permanently in favor of racial, gender and environmental justice.

Please visit GrowingtheTable.org to learn more.

Impact Investor, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Beneficial State Bank and Co-Founder of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation

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