BY KARA SHOEMAKER | September 2, 2021
While Santa Barbara County is among the country’s top agricultural producers, not everyone who lives here has access to fresh local food. This is particularly true for many individuals and families residing in Lompoc. The vast majority of our county’s fresh fruits and vegetables are shipped to other parts of the United States, as well as to 35 countries around the world, including Canada, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, our local grocery stores are largely stocked with food that has been transported here from outside of the county.
“Eating local food answers so many issues that are relevant right now. Keeping local food local means less travel time which results in more nutritious food and less gas expended. Plus, it directly supports our small farmers who don’t have access to big grocery store sales,” explained Shelby Wild, Founder and Director of Route One Farmers Market. “It’s hard for small farmers to produce at the [quantity] level to get them into chain grocery stores, but they are mainly the ones doing the real sustainable, ecologically beneficial farming.”
Beyond the immediate benefits of better nutrition and less environmental impact, supporting a culture of eating locally has another advantage — it ensures food security during disaster. When most items in our grocery stores are being shipped long distances, a disruption to the supply chain can cause a dramatic shortage in food and other basic necessities.
“We saw that illustrated with the mudslides — [the disaster] didn’t happen in Lompoc, but our big chain grocery stores did not have produce on their shelves because Highway 101 was shut down and nothing was coming up here — similar to the shipping shutdowns during the pandemic. So when you see empty grocery shelves and full fields a block away, it begs the question about a better solution to keep local food local,” said Wild.
Fortunately, Route One Farmers Market is helping keep food local and working to improve food access for vulnerable populations in the Lompoc Valley. Route One was launched in 2019 after one of Lompoc’s few existing farmers markets closed. It is held every Sunday in the parking lot of the Vandenberg Village Community Services District building. Recently, Route One achieved nonprofit status, which will strengthen their efforts to support farmers and get fresh local food into kitchens across the area.
“One opportunity in the Lompoc Valley is the development of local leaders and local nonprofits with vision and capacity to serve the various needs of Lompoc residents,” said Ashley Costa, Executive Director of the Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization (LVCHO). “With initial support from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the LVCHO assessed the need and ultimately helped to develop the Route One Farmers Market concept as a local food hub and champion for food access in the Lompoc Valley. Our vision has come to fruition with the development of a new nonprofit with an impressive Executive Director who has taken on the issue of healthy food access for low income-residents in Lompoc.”
One way Route One is expanding access to local produce is by removing the barrier of cost for low-income residents. Route One is one of the few farmers markets in North County that allows people to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, offered through the CalFresh food benefit program, to purchase food.
“We’ve been working with partners through a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation and support from the LVCHO, to expand EBT access in Lompoc Valley,” said Wild. “There is a large low-income population in Lompoc, and they had almost zero access to purchase local food with their incentives before we opened. We are an ag community, so it didn’t make sense that the only food that they had access to was being shipped from out of state when we are growing amazing produce right down the street.”
Route One has also partnered with Santa Barbara County’s CalFresh Healthy Living office, UC CalFresh Support, and the Ecology Center of Berkeley, to offer the Market Match Program. Market Match is California’s healthy food incentive program, which matches customers’ federal nutrition assistance benefits, like CalFresh and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, at farmers’ markets. At Route One, when a person spends $10 with an EBT card, he or she receives an additional $10 in market vouchers to spend on fresh produce.
“The service that Route One Farmers Market provides in the Lompoc Valley is not only access for healthy nutritional local produce, but they also offer food literacy and are able to leverage dollars for CalFresh/EBT recipients through their amazing “Market Match” program. By doing this they are making an impact to address food insecurity and addressing barriers amongst the low-income and marginalized communities,” said Deanna Vallejo, Community Grants Program Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
Thanks to its partnership with CalFresh, Route One also employs a bilingual market navigator to help welcome Spanish-speaking clientele.
“Another big issue is that the Spanish-speaking community has a lot of reservations about attending and using their incentives at the market. So our market navigator is there to welcome them, explain how to use their EBT card, and share recipes and tips from CalFresh that are based around health and preparing nutritious food,” Wild shared.
Route One is also developing an exciting program to remove another big barrier — lack of transportation. For those without reliable transportation, shopping at the closest grocery store may be their only option. Route One recently received a $25,000 Food System Resilience Grant from the Santa Barbara Food Action Network, in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation and Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, to support the launch of a mobile farmers market, which will bring fresh produce to underserved communities in Lompoc. Route One hopes to launch this pilot program in 2022.
“We are dedicated and in it for the long haul. We want to get local food to local people,” said Wild. “We wouldn’t be here without our partners, the Santa Barbara Foundation, LVCHO, Food Action Network, CalFresh — there are so many pieces to our puzzle that have made this happen! I’m also thankful for our community for showing up and shopping with us. They continue to show us that they want us to be here and stay open.”
To learn more about Route One Farmers Market, visit: www.facebook.com/route1farmersmarket.