News From the Farm | May 4, 2020

Our friend Nate Norris, the Chef de Cuisine at Zuni Café was one of the first restauranteurs to contact Full Belly after the shelter in place started and Zuni closed its doors to the public.  Nate was thinking about how farmers and restaurants might cooperate to respond to the crisis.  Zuni Café, located in a unique and historic triangular 1913 building on Market Street in San Francisco, was established in 1979 and has long been an outstanding example of classic meals, a warm and convivial atmosphere, and a beloved neighborhood gathering place. 

I recently asked Nate for an update on his efforts.  Here is his report: “Since March 30 we have been working with a program called SF New Deal.  They reached out early on to see if we could make meals for public housing residents in Hunter’s Point at Westbrook Apartments.  The program has grown every week and we are making 900 meals each week under the program, which is now administered by World Central Kitchen.  We expect in the coming weeks to be assigned meals for Project Roomkey, a program temporarily housing people experiencing homelessness in hotel rooms so they can isolate themselves.

“Additionally, we have been helping staff with unemployment filing and problem solving and fundraising for those who cannot collect unemployment benefits.  I have been delivering grocery boxes to staff members who are without income because of anti-immigrant unemployment rules.  We are doing everything we can to get folks working again, but we have to be able to do it safely.

“Lastly, we have been advocating Congress for changes to PPP and for emergency measures to help support the independent restaurant community.  We are fighting to remain vital as we navigate these health and economic crises.”  

Nate’s words illustrate how a whole ecosystem of community organizations and activists is working to address people’s food needs.  Many East Bay restaurants are working with East Bay Feed ER.  In this project, the restaurant staff prepare meals that are purchased by East Bay Feed ER and delivered to hospitals.  This is a great way to support both the restaurants and health care workers. Restaurants are the nation’s second largest employer, sustaining 15.6 million American jobs with annual sales of $889 billion. At least as important as their economic significance, restaurants preserve and showcase food cultures from around the world and create community gathering places. Today, the industry is projecting job losses of 7 million dollars.  Innovative efforts like East Bay Feed ER, that keep food flowing to places where it is needed have been popping up everywhere, emphasizing the importance of community-based, localized efforts.

Quoted recently in the Food and Environment Reporting Network, Rob Larew, the President of the National Farmers Union explained the food system crisis as follows: “After many decades of consolidation, our food system has become highly specialized and centralized. There are far fewer farms, processors, distributors, and retailers, and those that remain are, on average, much larger and tend to focus on a narrow range of range of products and services.

“Under ordinary circumstances, this model makes the food system extremely efficient, capable of producing large amounts of food quickly and inexpensively. But when faced with a disruption — say, a global pandemic — this level of concentration can be a liability. With just a handful of operations dominating each step of the supply chain, an outbreak at just a single facility can affect the availability and price of food across the country. This has become a particularly significant issue for the meatpacking industry in recent weeks, as Covid-19 cases among workers have led more than a dozen plants to reduce or halt production…

“But concentration doesn’t just make our food system vulnerable to pandemics; it also makes it vulnerable to climate change, pests and crop disease, and food borne illness. The solution to all of these problems is the same: a more diverse food system. With more farms, processors, distributors, and retailers of more varied sizes and types, the temporary loss of single link would be a mild inconvenience rather than an industry-wide disturbance, and the food supply as a whole would be much stronger and more resilient.”

Growing almost 100 different crops year-round, and building many different markets so that we don’t rely too much on one sales outlet, has always seemed like a model leading to resilience at Full Belly Farm. We normally invite our CSA members to come and meet all of us in April in person and experience all the fields where your fruit, flowers, nuts and vegetables are growing. Sadly we had to cancel our Open Farm Day, Floral Classes, Farm Dinners and Pizza Nights this spring, but we remain committed to answering your questions about how your food is grown.  We hope to put that knowledge to work building strong community networks like those that have sprung into action recently.  

Welcome to our new CSA members and many thanks to our long term members and friends.  Blessings on your meals.  

— Judith Redmond