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.
“I would like, a hundred years from now, for someone to look back at this project and say, ‘That was the moment when the new food bank system was born. When we really began to look critically at what food banks do, at how they do it, at the resources they have to make it available'; and that somehow this project would be the first of its kind, a leader in shaping that difference against all the odds. We want to create an educational garden, a community kitchen; we want to have all these resources under one roof to create a space where people come together to grow, learn, and to have conversations around good food. I think that'd be an amazing and love-filled contribution to our community."
“In Good Company is probably one of the most amazing mobile superman entities that goes places to do things. It’s like dropping in the Green Berets to come in and help you on a project. It’s orchestrated and organized and probably one of the better things I’ve ever seen in this kind of arena. So I’ve got to say kudos to the way they’re designing it, and staff, and the people that are coming. They’re here. They know what they’re here for. And they’re not doing it for their community, they’re doing it for my community.”
Impact/In Good Company Volunteers
“There is so much to learn from the people in the community. Getting to have the guest speakers, being able to glean kiwis, and taking a tour of the packing plant really gave us a broader picture of the hard work, tough issues, and the devastation the drought has left on the farmlands. It really brought the project into perspective for me showing me the community NEEDS this space like they need rain.”
“I used to have to be asked to volunteer. This trip opened my eyes to volunteering as a potential pastime, vacation or social event, where like-minded individuals gather together to do work that just so happens to be helpful to others. When I evaluate this against how I spend my time, I find that I have plenty of gaps where volunteering would be the perfect use of my time.”