Making California Resilient with Ecology Center

Sarah Small

The Ecology Center, based in Berkeley, California, is leading the way in food justice advocacy through their programs, markets, and policy leadership. Their programs enable low-income residents to support local small farmers and take charge of their health through nutrition education. Ecology Center is continuously adapting around current issues; their most recent work focuses on addressing the drought crisis plaguing California and its residents.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Ben Feldman, Food and Farming Program Director at the Ecology Center.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Ben Feldman (BF): The Ecology Center works to create an alternative food system that is based on the values of environmental justice through an array of programming. We lead the statewide healthy food incentive program, Market Match, and run three weekly certified farmers’ markets in Berkeley. We support small-scale farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, and we always accept WIC and SNAP (Food Stamps). We also run youth programs including Farm Fresh Choice (FFC) and the Youth Environmental Academy (YEA). FFC is our food justice program that engages low-income residents in reclaiming their optimal health through nutrition education, and youth-run weekly produce stands. YEA is an environmental literacy and green job training program for teens.  Additionally, Ecology Center convenes the Berkeley Food Policy Council, and leads The California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets, a newly formed coalition of farmers’ markets committed to working together for the betterment of our industry and our communities’ health.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of?

BF: Market Match is California’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program that matches customers’ assistance benefits, like SNAP (food stamps) and WIC, at farmers’ markets. Market Match empowers low-income customers to make healthy food choices and benefits hundreds of small and midsize farmers. Led by the Ecology Center, it is offered at more than 230 farmers’ markets, CSAs, farm stands, and mobile markets, in collaboration with 30 regional community-based organizations and farmers’ market operators. It’s a triple win for low-income families, farmers, and the community at large. We are thrilled with this vote of confidence from the USDA. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stated, “This federal grant helps ensure a vital avenue for access to healthy food in our community. The Berkeley Ecology Center does amazing work contributing to the health of our community by addressing food insecurity: providing local, healthy food to the most vulnerable in our community, and promoting social equity.”

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond?

BF: This year, and moving forward, the Ecology Center is responding to the crippling drought crisis in California with an all-hands-on-deck approach. We are giving the public the tools and information they need, fielding questions via our hotline, and sharing fact sheets and resources widely. We are leading hands-on workshops on greywater and rainwater catchment, and hosting a wide range of informative community events.

Meanwhile, we are supporting small, independent farmers who are pioneering innovative ways to conserve water and modeling resilience to climate change, drought, and other threats. Many local farmers have made great strides in adapting to scarce water by shifting their planting seasons and utilizing drip, mulch, and dry farming practices. The Ecology Center plans to continue to advocate for a more sustainable food system by supporting legislation like AB1321, which provides these small-scale farmers with a strong customer base all year long.

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

BF: The Ecology Center encourages consumers to purchase produce and goods from independent local farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, many of whom can be found at your local farmers’ markets!

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

BF: The Ecology Center depends on the support and participation of our members. Your donations keep our programs and services going strong, and enable us to pilot new solutions and create broad coalitions. Your voice helps us to grow our influence, lending grassroots strength to campaigns and initiatives. Becoming a member of the Ecology Center is a very real way to promote the change you want to see.  Become a member today!

Subscribe to our Newsletter and Eco-Calendar of Events HERE.

Download the 2015 Good Food Org Guide HERE.