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Last month, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) hosted more than 100 Heads of State and Governments, over 35,000 participants, and numerous pavilions showcasing climate action around the world and across different sectors. For the first time ever, a Food and Agriculture Pavilion was added to the event, where local, national, and global farmers and food system stakeholders convened to develop solutions for how we can ensure the path from farm to table is more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.

In juxtaposition to previous years, food systemsFood Systems: The food system encompasses how food moves from farms to tables. It includes farmers and the farmland on which food is grown, manufacturers and processors, distributors – from truckers to grocery stores to food banks – and all residents as consumers. It also incorporates the inputs needed and outputs generated at each step, including food waste. took the global stage as a legitimate solution to the climate crisis. Participants were finally recognizing that a food systems approach to climate change can deliver better outcomes for climate, people, and nature. At the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network (SBCFAN), we were eager to hear what innovative ideas would emerge.

Highlights from COP27 FOOD Pavilion convenings included:

  • Funding and financing food systems can help us achieve global climate goals;
  • Food and agriculture policy-making must include the voices of all citizens; and
  • AgroecologyAgroecology: Agroecology is sustainable farming that works with nature. Ecology is the study of relationships between plants, animals, people, and their environment – and the balance between these relationships. Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principles in farming. education and sustainable land , regenerative agriculture{end-texte}Environmental Regeneration: Systems of growing food that reclaim carbon and nutrients on the land by increasing biodiversity, building soil health, and improving watersheds to produce healthier food and lessen the impacts of climate change., and other innovative approaches implemented by a diverse group of food producers can improve food and nutrition securityFood Security / Food Insecurity: Food security refers to the economic and social condition of reliable access to an adequate amount of food for an active, healthy life for all household members. A household is food insecure when food security does not exist., enhance livelihoods, improve the environment, enhance biodiversity, and deliver high value solutions to climate change.

It’s not news to us – or any other food action network for that matter – that local food systems hold the solutions to climate change. In fact, SBCFAN and its founders have been working under this assumption since 2016, when the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan laid out 16 goals that if achieved, would help develop an accessible, thriving, sustainable, and healthy food system.

While global leaders play catch-up, SBCFAN is already helping implement solutions informed by these take-aways from COP27, not just for climate change, but for economic development and community resilience, health, and the long-term sustainability and resiliency of our food system.

We are connecting food system projects to accessible, affordable, and equitable funding and financing opportunities.

After launching the Food System Resilience Grant Program in 2020, SBCFAN saw first-hand how critical seed funding is for small-scale food system projects, so in 2021, we launched the Food System Resilience Loan Program. Providing low-to-no-barrier financing opportunities specifically designed for food businesses that often don’t qualify for traditional forms of financing is critical to ensuring these businesses – and our food system – thrives.

We are facilitating food policy coordination, navigation, and advocacy.

Through the recently launched Central Coast Food Policy Community of Practice, SBCFAN has convened a coalition of six regional food system leaders from Santa Cruz to Ventura Counties who are working together to align policy and program priorities, collaborate on food system projects, advocate for ag and food systems as part of economic development, and collectively move the needle forward on food system resilience. This work is critical because food system voices are not adequately reflected in food system policy – and are often left out of the conversation.

We are supporting the development of new and innovative food system projects by a diverse group of stakeholders.

SBCFAN assists food system projects from conception to implementation, coordinating across sectors and holding equitable space for all voices, particularly those individuals who are most marginalized. Together, we are rebuilding the decision-making table to ensure everyone has a seat at the table so we can develop a robust local food economy, a healthy and just community, and a well-stewarded, resilient foodshed.

COP27 validates the work that we are doing, but there is so much more to be done.

Looking ahead to 2023, SBCFAN has big plans:

We want to create new creative community capital opportunities for food system projects.

A Food System Fee Fund would cover otherwise prohibitive regulatory costs for small scale food businesses and community-based charitable feeding programs. An SBCFAN impact investment fund would provide community based access to capital for many of the food system projects in development.

We want to make it easier for funders and investors to support food system projects.

An online catalog for shovel-ready food system projects in need of funding and/or investment would provide a platform for these projects to be discovered, funded, and launched. The platform would also open the door to opportunities for collaboration, partnership, and evolution of projects.

We want to launch an online local food system resource hub that would expand countywide food access

The first phase would include an interactive map and directory of local farms, farm stands, and food businesses that would help connect people to their food, create new income streams for farmers, and reduce food waste and climate impacts. Future phases would build upon this foundation of connectivity to further address food insecurity by facilitating community-led gardens, seed sharing, and nutrition education.

This may seem like a tall order for a small, local food action network to execute, but we believe it is through grassroots efforts – not global-scale strategies – that we are going to achieve the changes needed to ensure a healthy and vibrant future for all of us.

With your support, we can continue this critical work. Help build a more resilient food system from the ground up. Invest today. 

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