California’s Central Valley grows 25% of the nation’s food, and crops worth an estimated $17 billion per year, but Tulare County in the southeast valley is described as a food desert. Tulare consistently ranks in the state’s top three agricultural-producing counties, but many people here have little to no access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables. Simply put, the people growing the food that feeds the country often go hungry themselves. On top of this, access to clean, safe, reasonably priced water can be unpredictable, especially during drought. 

Since 1978, FoodLink for Tulare County has provided food to this area, as well as nutrition education, and recently the nonprofit expanded to become part food bank, part food forest, and part community hub. In 2016, In Good Company volunteers helped FoodLink begin transforming a dry, dusty parking lot into a unique gathering space, the DEEP Roots Farm (Developing Edible and Equitable Potential). Over two weeks, we dug trenches, moved 40,000 pounds of planting soil into mounds, installed 3,250-feet of drip irrigation (crucial in the drought), and sheltered the new space with a 500-foot cedar fence. We also planted trees, shrubs, and herbs; constructed two large pergolas—safe havens during the summer’s 100°+ temperatures—and built a children’s garden to encourage little green thumbs. When we weren’t working at DEEP Roots Farm, we teamed up with local students to glean tons of citrus and kiwi that otherwise would have gone to waste.

The Central Valley projects showed us firsthand the massive scale and complexity of California’s agriculture and water systems as we visited farms and fruit processing centers, and assisted with food distribution. We also observed FoodLink’s commitment to food with dignity: in this vast expanse of industrial ag, it was an honor to help them create a nurturing space that encourages local people to gather, grow food, cook and learn together, and celebrate community.

1 food forest
9,700 pounds kiwi & citrus rescued
88,000 pounds of pavers = 1 children’s garden

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