Announcing an Effort to Create a Countywide Food Security Plan

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Yolo Food Bank has entered into a $75,000 contract with the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at California State University, Sacramento that will set the foundation for a countywide food security plan to guide the Food Bank and its partners as they collaborate to increase food and nutrition security and improve health outcomes for vulnerable residents.

“This ambitious effort is absolutely critical to identifying the needs of Yolo County residents and will inform how Yolo Food Bank and our network of partners can effectively collaborate on policies and innovative programs to meet those needs so that our community can thrive,” stated Yolo Food Bank Executive Director Michael Bisch.

Momentum for the effort to create a countywide food security plan was sparked by discussion during the inaugural Food for Fairness Summit, which took place in October 2021 and was presented by Yolo Food Bank, UC Davis’ Innovation Institute for Food and Health, and UC Davis’ AI Institute for Food Systems. The partnership with ISR will enable them to assist in developing and administering a survey to collect population-based data about county residents to better understand Yolo County’s food security levels and related health issues.

Equipped with findings from the population-based survey, Yolo Food Bank will more precisely identify how to adapt or implement new services to better serve those who are both attending and not attending their food distributions, with the goal of increasing consistent access to high-quality, culturally appropriate and nutritious food for every Yolo County resident.

The survey will be overseen by Robb Davis, Yolo Food Bank’s impact and innovation officer, who has also been leading an analysis of the nutritional content of food distributed by Yolo Food Bank, and collecting demographic, food security, and satisfaction data from those who are currently accessing food through their programs. These analyses have informed the creation of a nutrition policy for the Food Bank that is aimed to improve health outcomes and reduce barriers to access for vulnerable populations. The survey findings will supplement this ongoing work.

“All of this research is asking the question: how can we provide high-quality food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, quality dairy, low sugar options, etc., to the maximum number of people who need access to food, in a manner that is dignified and culturally-appropriate?” Yolo Food Bank Impact and Innovation Officer Robb Davis explained.

Yolo Food Bank’s countywide food security plan seeks to build on multiple region-wide assessments measuring food security and poverty levels. Valley Vision’s 2021 Sacramento Region Food System Action plan found that nearly 12.4% of residents in the Sacramento region were estimated to be food insecure in 2021. Research has established that poverty and food insecurity are deeply intertwined and can result in poor health outcomes and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Additionally, in Yolo County, 20.9% of residents are living in poverty, according to a 2021 study from the Public Policy Institute of California, which was the highest poverty ranking among California counties.

Yolo Food Bank’s work to create a countywide food security plan is a timely effort that has garnered support from the healthcare community and local organizations and coalitions focused on improving public health outcomes throughout the region, including the Yolo County Food Security Coalition. The coalition is made up of academics, medical professionals, and others who voluntarily convene to explore collaborations to increase food and nutrition security. Food security, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Nutrition security builds on food security by focusing on how the quality of our diets can help reduce diet-related diseases, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Edye Kuyper and Lucia Kaiser are members of the Yolo County Food Security Coalition who voiced their support for addressing food and nutrition security through the creation of a countywide food security plan.

“Food and nutrition security are foundational to good health, yet we’ve never had reliable data on the scope of food insecurity in Yolo County. The results of the population-based food security survey will help us better target our Food is Medicine programs and assess their impact on improving patient access to healthy food,” said CommuniCare Health Centers Food and Wellness Manager Edye Kuyper. “We’re grateful for Yolo Food Bank’s leadership on this important initiative and happy to contribute to this effort.”

“We must have an accurate and timely picture of who is food insecure and why. Without this data and a strategic food security plan, health and economic disparities will grow even worse over time,” Lucia Kaiser, Ph.D., a retired community nutrition specialist and registered dietitian affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, shared. “We have a unique opportunity to achieve food security and improve the health of all people in this county. A strategic food security plan developed in Yolo County could be an excellent model for many other counties in our nation.”

We’re aware of complex layers around food security, such as lack of access to adequate medical care, immigration status, language barriers, high cost of housing and transportation. Of these macro-level factors, we’re addressing one: food security,” Davis added. “This is a systemic issue that we’re trying to both grasp and address.”

A multiple-step approach will inform the countywide food security plan:

  1. Use a population-based (structured) survey to estimate the overall prevalence of food insecurity, and assess food access and food and health issues in Yolo County.
  2. Use the same survey to focus on a sample of food system workers, unhoused individuals, and senior residents across the County to derive estimates of food insecurity within these groups.
  3. Conduct individual and group-based semi-structured interviews to explore critical factors related to food access in greater detail.

“First, we need to execute a broad analysis of food security in Yolo County, then talk to specific groups within that community, and then go and sit with people and learn from them more deeply,” Davis said. “These are all pathways to deepening our understanding. When we understand the barriers and assets that residents have, we can work together to create solutions.”

Yolo Food Bank is the leading organization fighting food insecurity in Yolo County. Durably increasing food and nutrition security in Yolo County is integral to the organization’s mission. Uniquely positioned to increase food equity in Yolo County, the Food Bank is committed to building a community that thrives, not just survives. To donate, volunteer, or learn more about advancing food security, visit yolofoodbank.org.

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