Agriculture

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pandemic Widens Gaps in Regional Food Supply Chain

Posted By on Sat, May 30, 2020 at 10:37 AM

A Cooperation Humboldt volunteer loads a food box into the trunk of a car. - PHIL GUTIERREZ
  • Phil Gutierrez
  • A Cooperation Humboldt volunteer loads a food box into the trunk of a car.
Can we feed ourselves? This is a question the staff of the Humboldt Food Policy Council (a branch of the larger California organization) has been asking since 2012. Now, with COVID-19 crimping the distribution chain for larger grocery stores and more local residents going hungry due to economic losses, the question seems more important than ever. The answer is complicated.

“It’s been a big question for a while,” says May Patino, HFPC coordinator. “Do we have enough food to sustain the people who live in this region? The reality is we don’t actually know.”

In 2018, the California Department of Public Health released a study revealing that roughly one quarter of Humboldt County children experience food insecurity. Food deserts – census tracts where residents live more than 10 miles from a major grocery store or have little access to transportation to get to fresh food – are one cause of food insecurity. Humboldt County has 10 such census tracts (out of 31 total).

HFPC recently received a grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation to create an emergency food system response that would help pool and share distribution among different organizations. (Full disclosure: I am employed part-time by HAF.) One model under consideration would use a central and satellite hubs for distribution – a place where farmers, for example, could bring product that would be repackaged and redistributed at scale to need.

“We’re hoping this will turn into something that will be adapted and can be reactivated in emergency food situations,” says Patino “We would like to increase some long term food sustainability systems in the region.”

The North Coast Grower’s Association has already taken steps to aggregate supply by creating the Harvest Box Program – a multi-farmer CSA that families can order through the NCGA website.

Michelle Wyler, managing director of the Farm to Market program for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, praised the nimble response of local farmers to COVID’s challenges.

“In general, when COVID hit folks, we had to think about pivoting pretty immediately to more direct sales models,” she says.

Wyler works with farmers statewide and says the Humboldt food system had some advantages, including a well-established sales base in local farmers markets and a later start to the growing season that gave local producers more time to figure out a response. While in other parts of the state some farmers have had to scale back or dump product because they couldn’t sell it or pay for the labor to harvest product, in Humboldt farmers are maintaining or even ramping up production to meet demand.

“It’s been a resurgence for the local food market,” says Wyler, adding that another advantage is that local farmers are less reliant on restaurant or wholesale sales, and thus the restaurant industry’s nosedive due to shelter in place is not having the same ripple effects on farmers that it might in other areas of the state.

“A next step would be figuring out what product is viable locally,” says Wyler. “Local product is not going to fill demand.”

To meet demand through larger suppliers and non-local producers, the problem is again distribution. Humboldt County is often compared to an island because of its rural remove from the rest of the state and — like an island – some worry that it could be cut off from the supply chain entirely.

Melanie Bettenhausen, HFPC member and former general manager of the North Coast Co-Op, thinks about distribution a lot.

“We’re so dependent on food that’s coming [from] out of the area,” she says, adding that unwieldy nature of some federal relief programs has revealed the vulnerability of our isolation. “Just participating in some of the USDA programs that are related to COVID-19 relief— they don’t go through our area. They’re for Northern California and Santa Rosa is Northern California. You have to convince drivers to divert from the I-5. And then often they have to be reloaded onto a smaller truck so they can get through Richardson Grove.”

This is true, too, she says, for grocery stores and other wholesale suppliers, many of which struggled to keep ahead of product shortages in the early days of the pandemic. This bottleneck exacerbated an existing problem for small service providers, especially those in rural areas.

“The thing we have keyed into in relation to pandemic is we have organizations who need access to food and they aren’t able to order from distributors, and they also aren’t able to purchase enough of the supplies they need at the store,” Bettenhausen says. “They’re treating all organizations the same.”

Bettenhausen says many smaller nonprofits, such as those that feed or house people, go to Costco or WinCo and buy what their clients need at retail prices, which is not cost effective. But most distributors have a minimum order price that is out of reach for nonprofits. A distribution hub model would be a better solution — allowing bulk purchasing that could be aggregated and then redistributed according to need. But that model comes with its own logistical challenges: cold storage, billing, moving product in and out of the facility. And then there’s the continued challenge of reaching rural areas, which would require refrigerated trucking and a sustainable financial model.

“Our food system feels precarious,” Bettenhausen says. “I personally think we need some policies at the county level addressing food policies and a system response to need. I saw the lack at the co-op when we had the planned power outage, all that food going to waste. The assumption was that those grocery stores are there to sell food but what if they can’t? The solution could be as simple as a partnership with the county to make sure grocery stores have generators.”

These supply chain issues, Bettenhausen says, have been apparent for a long time. It’s only now that they’ve become a more urgent priority.

“These are things are things we’ve known, but a lot of times because there’s no crisis, we have no momentum,” she said. COVID-19 may have changed that.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of census tracts in Humboldt County, which is 31, not 25. We apologize for the error.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Farmers Markets Return with New Rules

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2020 at 2:26 PM

Rest easy, romaine lovers, even in these confusing and confining COVID times, you can still get farm fresh greens at some of the county’s farmers markets —  now open for the season.

Farmers markets, like grocery stores, are deemed essential businesses. And with the opportunity to support local farmers who need it now more than ever, and to get nutrient-rich, delicious produce that has likely been handled less than it is in stores, we'll take it.
PHOTO BY MELANIE CUNNINGHAM
  • Photo by Melanie Cunningham
Our familiar farmers markets are opening up but things look a little different. For instance, at the Saturday Arcata Farmers Market, you won’t see crowds milling about socializing, weaving in and out of the streets and plaza grass, walking between vendors, hula hooping or lounging around listening to live music. There’s no sampling. No groups of friendly strangers sharing space at the stand’s counters touching produce and handing vendors cash. And while that may not sound like a good thing in a regular mid-May in Humboldt scenario, in these circumstances, it is.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Public Health to Cannabis Farmers: Hire Local

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 3:29 PM

In a nod to 420, the international stoner holiday celebrated every April 20, that seemed odd yet entirely fitting, Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich posted a "COVID Minute" video today to social media urging local farms not to hire trimmers from out of the area this year.

"I'd like to have farmers prioritize hiring people from within the area so we minimize the introduction of travelers and recognize that all people coming into the area need to be quarantined for 14 days prior to mixing with the general workforce," she said in the short video, which can be found embedded below.

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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Redwood Acres Fair Canceled

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 3:13 PM

Like so many annual events, the Redwood Acres Fair and Junior Livestock Auction is not to be this year due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. The fair's board and organizers are working out whether an online livestock sale is possible for the 4-H and FFA students who've worked hard to raise their animals. In a press release, CEO Ben Brown says they're disappointed, "but together we will pull through and as our collective health heals, we can start working on the 2021 Fair and Junior Livestock Auction."
Proud 4-H kid Jocie Hague with her prize cow at the Humboldt County Fair. The Redwood Acres Fair, which also features 4-H and FFA animals, is canceled for 2020. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • Proud 4-H kid Jocie Hague with her prize cow at the Humboldt County Fair. The Redwood Acres Fair, which also features 4-H and FFA animals, is canceled for 2020.

Read the full press release below:



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Monday, December 9, 2019

Trump Administration Food Stamp Cuts Will Hit 3,600 in Humboldt

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 9:05 AM

The Trump administration has announced that it will be changing food stamp eligibility requirements, which could cut nutrition assistance to 688,000 Americans, including more than 3,500 in Humboldt County.

On Dec. 4, the administration announced it would be eliminating waivers that allow counties with high unemployment rates to allow able-bodied adults without dependents who work fewer than 80 hours a month to receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than three months. Currently, 52 of California’s 58 counties, including Humboldt, have such waivers in place.

FILE
  • File
Nationally, 13 percent of the population receives assistance buying groceries through SNAP.

According to the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Humboldt currently has 3,606 residents who receive benefits through the program — administered as CalFresh in California — who would be impacted by the change. They receive anywhere from $16 to $194 a month in benefits, which come in the form of an EBT card that can only be used to purchase food, including fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, grains and other staples.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

CHP, Sheriff's Office Upping the Enforcement Ante on Driving Around Livestock

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2019 at 10:04 AM

Cattle on Old Briceland Road will have to share their grazing ground with impatient travelers later this month. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIANNE ODISIO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIANNE ODISIO
  • Cattle on Old Briceland Road will have to share their grazing ground with impatient travelers later this month.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and CHP are jointly “beefing up” (their words, not ours) enforcement around and awareness of driving on county roads with livestock crossings.

According to a release, both agencies “CHP have received numerous reports of livestock being struck by motorists” over the last year.

“As a rural county, several Humboldt County roads have easements granting the public passage through otherwise private lands; some of these lands being livestock pastures,” the release states.

“On county roads with easements, livestock have the right of way. While a fence is still needed to keep them on their property, it is not needed to keep them off the section of the road running through the property (often marked by cattle guards).
This does not apply to state highways, where a lawful fence is required, and livestock are not permitted to freely cross,” it continues.

One of the roads where this might occur is Old Briceland Road, which is receiving an upgrade to act as a detour for when the county starts repairs on Briceland Thorn Road, likely at the end of month.

As Marianne Odisio — who delivers mail in the area — says in this week’s JournalRough Road Ahead," Old Briceland Road runs through the working cattle ranch and this is calving season.
Calves from a previous year watching a vehicle pass along Old Briceland Road. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIANNE ODISIO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIANNE ODISIO
  • Calves from a previous year watching a vehicle pass along Old Briceland Road.
"For the first few days of a calf's life, they are pretty clueless about vehicles," she said, adding that she’s also worried about the safety of domestic animals and wildlife in the area. "Sometimes ... a newborn calf will be standing on its wobbly little newborn legs in the middle of the road and you will have to slow down or stop until they get safely out of your way."

The release also notes that a driver can face hit and run charges for leaving the scene after striking livestock.

Read the full HCSO and CHP release below:


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Monday, September 9, 2019

'Responsible Resilience' on Display at Cooperation Humboldt's Edible Garden Tour

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 10:24 AM

As you walk into Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson’s backyard in Arcata, you are met with a beautifully diverse food forest with an array of vegetables, flowers and fruits, from asparagus and pears to onions and cabbage. Shepherd and Thompson began working on their food forest after they moved into their house 19 years ago. Like most homeowners, their backyard was just a lawn but, with much determination and hard work, they transformed it into a sustainable, food-producing garden and, in some ways, an ecosystem.

“When we first moved in here, we had a lawn but we wanted to be experimental. The grass kind of gave us a fresh start, a blank slate to begin our garden,” Shepherd said. “It’s become less of a garden and more of a habitat, with all the animals, bugs and even the weeds that grow.”

Cabbage in Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson's food-producing garden. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • Cabbage in Karen Shepherd and Bradley Thompson's food-producing garden.

Shepherd and Thompson’s yard was one of eight edible gardens within Eureka and Arcata that participated in Cooperation Humboldt’s first Edible Garden Tour, which the group hopes will become an annual event. Cooperation Humboldt (CH) is Humboldt County nonprofit that looks to create a solidarity economy with a few different areas of focus: food production and distribution, economic democracy, arts and culture, housing and care. CH’s food program works under the premise that food is a basic human right and has piloted programs like Little Blue Pantry and Food Not Lawns to try to make food more available to everyone. CH’s food program is also designed to help residents take back skills needed to build responsible resilience, like growing their own food, which helped inspire the edible garden tour. 


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Monday, February 11, 2019

Harbor District Approves Lease for Massive Fish Farm

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 8:29 PM

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass speaks at the crowded hearing. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass speaks at the crowded hearing.
The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District today approved a 30-year lease with Norwegian company Nordic Aquafarms to build a massive fish farm at the former pulp mill after hearing concerns the deal was ushered through without public review.

The plan is to build a land-based aquaculture facility that would eventually produce some 25,000 tons of fish a year – likely salmon or steelhead – to serve as the West Coast hub for Nordic Aquafarms, which is currently in the process of developing an East Coast equivalent in Belfast, Maine.

The agreement comes with two automatic 10-year renewals but also includes a three-year option, or “planning period,” during which the company will be pursuing the necessary permits before the full lease would go into effect.

During that time, Nordic will pay the harbor district $20,000 a year. The rent will increase to $159,128 annually after the three-year mark. Included in the terms is the right for the company to discharge 6 million gallons of wastewater per day using the site’s ocean outfall pipe, which extends 1.5 miles offshore.

Nordic would also pay a $500,000 fee to access the district’s electric substation.

The facility will use a recirculating aquaculture system, or RAS, which utilizes large tanks and water treatment systems, a method the company says prevents many of the common issues associated with raising fish in offshore pens, including pollution from waste, chemical use and the potential to pass on diseases and parasites to wild fish.

Read previous Journal coverage of the fish farm proposal here.

Nordic Aquafarms Concept from Netron on Vimeo.


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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Massive Fish Farm Proposed for Pulp Mill Site (Video)

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 at 1:40 PM

A rendering of the Belfast, Maine, facility. - NORDIC AQUAFARMS
  • Nordic Aquafarms
  • A rendering of the Belfast, Maine, facility.
The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District and Norwegian company Nordic Aquafarms are set to formally sign a lease Monday for the development of a massive fish farm at the former Samoa Pulp Mill.

According to the harbor district, the project will include “the removal of all remaining deteriorating buildings and unutilized infrastructure” at the 30-acre property, which was the site of a multi-agency clean-up effort in 2014 to avert a looming catastrophic environmental disaster on the edge of Humboldt Bay.

Read previous Journal coverage about the removal of nearly 3 million gallons of caustic pulping liquors abandoned in failing storage tanks by Evergreen Pulp here, here and here.

The proposed project is forecast to “result in the investment of hundreds of millions dollars in the local economy,” the harbor district’s release states.

According to a report in seafood business publication Undercurrent, the project “represents a potential $400 million investment,” bringing around 80 jobs. Eventually, the article states, plans are to produce some 25,000 tons of fish a year at the facility.

In a Facebook post linking to the article, harbor district Commissioner Richard Marks described the fish farm as a nearly half-billion-dollar project, writing that “new construction will bring many hardhats to the area and then many high end Fishery jobs for biologists form Humboldt State.”

A land-based aquaculture facility – likely producing salmon or steelhead – the venture will serve as the West Coast base of operations for Nordic Aquafarms, which is currently in the process of developing an East Coast equivalent in Belfast, Maine, according to the company.

The facility will use what is known as recirculating aquaculture system, or RAS, which utilizes large tanks and water treatment systems in raising the fish. The company says the method prevents many of the common concerns associated with farm fishing in offshore pens, including pollution from waste, chemical use and the potential to pass on diseases and parasites to wild fish.

Nordic Aquafarms Concept from Netron on Vimeo.

“We will now be situated on both coasts, which fits into our strategy of locating fish farms close to major regional markets,” said Marianne Naess, Nordic’s commercial director, in a release. “The Humboldt location will enable us to reach more than 50 million people within a 12-hour drive or less, which reduces the cost and environmental impact of transportation while supplying the market with super-fresh, sustainably raised local fish.”


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Friday, August 17, 2018

Judge Finds Animal Cruelty Case Against Rancher Can Proceed to Trial

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 12:45 PM

Ray Christie - HCSO
  • HCSO
  • Ray Christie
A Humboldt County Superior Court judge has ruled there is enough evidence for local rancher Raymond Christie to stand trial on charges related to his treatment of animals and the disposal of dead livestock at properties across the region.

According to a Times-Standard report, Judge Kaleb Cockrum held Christine to answer Thursday to three felony charges of animal cruelty and 47 misdemeanors related to large amounts of cattle carcasses dumped near state waterways, including sloughs in Trinidad and Arcata.

Cockrum’s decision came after a three-day preliminary hearing with witnesses, including law enforcement officers and a state environmental specialist.

Christie was arrested March 19 after what the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office described at the time as a “long-term investigation” initiated by "ongoing complaints" of animal cruelty and reports of dead animals being improperly disposed of near or in waterways.

Christie has pleaded not guilty in the case and will be rearraigned on the current charges Aug. 30, the T-S story states.
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