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A New Partnership Has A Plan To End Food Insecurity In LA

Boxes of food are distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in Aug. 2020 in Paramount.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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A new public-private partnership Tuesday released a plan to address widespread food insecurity in Los Angeles County, including seeking new federal dollars to bolster local philanthropic efforts.

Born during the pandemic, the L.A. County Food Equity Roundtable is a partnership between the county and three foundations: the Annenberg Foundation, the California Community Foundation and the Weingart Foundation.

The roundtable spent a year looking at the issue after successful efforts to meet a greater need for food during the pandemic.

“Really what we were doing is just pushing bigger and better bread lines,” said Efrain Escobedo, vice president of public policy and civic engagement at the California Community Foundation. “[We] began to ask the question: ‘How will we ensure that this is not the state of people’s lives every day?’”

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Nearly one-quarter of the county’s 10 million people experience food insecurity, which is defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as, in part, the limited or uncertain availability of adequate and safe foods.

‘A Coordinated Approach Which Produces Unlimited Access’

The plan is unequivocal about its objective.

“We can and must do better for our fellow citizens and must be all-in to continue to make addressing food insecurity a priority in our L.A. Region, with a coordinated approach which produces unlimited access,” states a letter introducing the report and signed by the head of each of the foundations — some of the largest in the area.

The report goes into substantial detail; as one of its objectives, it lists modernizing the food system by promoting local farmers and urban agriculture. Among the suggested actions:

  • Strengthen secondary markets for farmers of color by linking local and regional producers to public nutrition programs, and collaborate with local businesses and farmers to pilot and test the pop-up store/ mobile models.
  • Facilitate access to land and other key resources for local food production, including by supporting community gardens in food deserts and hard-to-reach communities.
  • Support community leaders and entrepreneurs who are exploring innovative and nontraditional farming practices (e.g. hydroponic, vertical gardening, rooftop gardening, bio-intensive gardening, aquaculture, etc.).

To address mobility issues, it suggests creating grocery pickup spots near public transit hubs for non-perishable goods. The report also recommends testing giveaways of insulated shopping carts for people commuting to grocery locations on public transpiration.

Seeking Help At The Federal And State Levels

The report also calls for more public investment as a way to reduce food insecurity. It supports strengthening the federal Farm Bill when it comes up for renewal next year. The law determines funding and policies for the nation’s largest food assistance program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — known locally as CalFresh.

The report notes that the California legislature is expected to consider proposals covering two important priorities in its upcoming session:

  • Expand the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to income-eligible people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, of all ages.
  • Make assistance available for small and/or farmers of color to adopt or receive certification for sustainable, climate-resilient agricultural practices.
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“We will work with our cross-sector partners representing government agencies, community-based organizations, academia, the private sector, and other local and national thought leaders to achieve our common mission,” the report states.
“The holidays are when we recognize that some people don’t have food,” said Escobedo, “But it's a 24/7 issue.”

Many solutions lie entirely outside the food system, said Alison Frazzini, a policy advisor at the county’s Chief Sustainability Office and co-chair of the roundtable. “Poverty of course is the number one driver of food insecurity and eliminating that will require equitable access to high quality education and economic opportunity alongside a strong social safety net.”

The roundtable plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to adopt the blueprint. It then wants the county and philanthropic organizations to invest in building a coalition that can implement it, according to Escobedo.

Notably, the plan makes little mention of private investment.

“It's been a large topic of conversation for us,” Escobedo told LAist.

Philanthropy in the past decade has been focused on building the capacity of communities of color and others to do advocacy work and less on services, he said, adding, “There’s a lot of work to do with philanthropy.”

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