One of the realities that has guided both my personal and professional life over the years is how so many of us find our path thanks to the inspiration of everyday heroes who add purpose to our lives and open us up to new ways of thinking about how to make our community a better place. That is what prompted me to take this opportunity to highlight the work of the visionary women who founded Locally Delicious in 2008. The recent passing of founding member Suzanne Simpson, and the transitions the group has experienced this past year prompted this reflection on their accomplishments, which I am honored to share with you.
When they first got together, members Ann Anderson, Carol Mone, Pat Bitton, Ann King, Martha Haynes, Lauren Cohn-Sarabia, Edie Jessup and Suzanne Simpson referred to themselves as the “Heirloom Tomatoes,” joking that it seemed appropriate given that they were too old now to be considered “hot tomatoes.” In the background was their treasurer, Lew Litzky, who provided support for the entire time. Together, they joined forces to author two books: Locally Delicious: Recipes and Resources for Eating on the North Coast and Lunch Box Envy: An Adventure in Healthy Eating for Kids and Families. Locally Delicious - through Tomatoes Suzanne Simpson, Lauren-Cohn-Sarabia, and HSU - produced the film, Locally Grown: America’s Food Revolution. They also created The Local Food Guide to highlight the accomplishments of our local food producers and the grocery stores and restaurants that make it a priority to locally source as much of their food as possible. As authors and activists, their focus has been on encouraging us to obtain a larger percentage of our food locally, to help keep agricultural land in production and promote the development of a sustainable regional food economy. And they wanted access to healthy, locally grown food to be available to people of all ages and income levels. Over time this philosophy evolved into what they referred to as the “Three E’s”: Environment, Economy, and Equity.
In the course of the research for their books, they got to know many of the key players within the Humboldt County farming and food community, and as members of the Humboldt Food Policy Council, they worked to shape policies that supported local agriculture while increasing access for households with low incomes. They never passed up an opportunity to engage policymakers and the broader community in their efforts and decided to invest the proceeds from their books into projects that promoted the “Three-Es." And that is how the Food for People Farmer Fund got started. The Farmer Fund has made it possible for us to contract with local farmers at the beginning of the growing season to grow crops specifically for the food bank, making fresh, local and mostly organic produce available to those served by our Senior and Child Nutrition programs.
The Farmer Fund has enjoyed increasing success since its launch here in Humboldt County in 2009 and has generated lots of interest within both farming and food bank communities in other corners of our state. We happily share the details with anyone interested in launching a similar effort, because it’s a model that can easily be replicated and adapted. But as the program has evolved, the ladies of Locally Delicious have had to acknowledge that life changes, which seem to accelerate with age, have meant the loss of founding members Ann King and Suzanne Simpson, and prompted others to step away to deal with competing interests and family concerns in recent years. In light of these realities, the decision has been made to dissolve Locally Delicious’ nonprofit status. But since the Farmer Fund has been such a resounding success, both Food for People and the remaining Heirloom Tomatoes have come up with a plan to ensure that despite these transitions, the Food for People Farmer Fund will continue!
Donations to the Farmer Fund can still be made to Food for People and will help us sustain this innovative program so that we can continue to support our local farmers, especially newer farmers who struggle with cash flow at the beginning of the season, while providing the nutrient-dense, fresh local produce that is so deeply appreciated by the people we serve. Just include a note to tell us that you want to designate your donation to the Farmer Fund.
And we are very pleased to announce that the North Coast Growers’ Association (NCGA) is stepping up to help with these efforts. They also practice the “Three-E’s” in their extensive work promoting the local food system and local food producers, and by offering the Market Match program, which provides matching funds when shoppers use their CalFresh benefits at Farmers’ Markets. They are committed to helping us secure additional grant funds and donations to keep the Farmer Fund viable now and into the future.
I would like to close with a heartfelt THANK YOU to the Heirloom Tomatoes for their many contributions to our local food system over the years. Your vision has inspired so many of us along the way, and the impact of your work will continue to be felt for a long time to come.
Anne Holcomb, Executive Director