A San Joaquin Valley Quilt: Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability

2011 Annual Report for SW10-801

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,935.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Daniel O'Connell
Sequoia Riverlands Trust

A San Joaquin Valley Quilt: Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability


The San Joaquin Valley Quilt: Stitching Together a Region’s Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability Project has been successfully launched. A diverse group of producers, led by our five core producers, has assembled for the first of three working meetings. Participants were introduced to the projects and resources that are being brought to the region so these could be incorporated in the framework resulting from this project. The group has identified the obstacles/challenges they face in the existing state of the regional food system, the activities that currently exist and represent alliance opportunities and the solutions/opportunities that offer growth of a healthy regional food system. Synthesis of this information will occur in the next two meetings, resulting in a fundable plan for which implementation funding will be sought and an outreach plan will ensue. Resource people were engaged and included to provide an educational and research component. These activities have built the foundation on which to build the road map of actions that will create a more sustainable food system in the San Joaquin Valley.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objective #1 – Develop a strategy to move forward, addressing the issues that are constraining progress and providing a road map of actions that will create a more sustainable food system in the San Joaquin Valley.

Objective #2 – Educate and connect farmers beyond the six producers involved in the project through farmer-to-farmer networking and co-learning opportunities about existing practices and activities, exposing them to resources to help address issues and engaging them in the strategic planning process.

Objective #3 – Establish the local framework to integrate with the expertise and resources that will be brought to the region through the Foodshed and Food System Alliance projects.

Objective #4 – Have a fundable plan with which to seek implementation funding from sources like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Farm Credit/US AgBank, etc.


While this grant funding became available in April of 2010, we intentionally began our work in the fall of 2010 when producers were more available to fully participate and focus on the project. It is our intent to conduct all three of the meetings budgeted in the November 2010 to March 2011 window, as this is the timeframe in which we will get maximum producer participation. Consequently, our first meeting was November 16 and will be followed by the second meeting on January 20, 2011 and the third on March 10, 2011.

Work under this grant was initiated with a meeting of the five participating producers to gather their views on the main challenges constraining progress in the regional food system from a grower perspective. (The sixth producer, Cuyler Leonard, has not been able to participate due to financial reasons). In order to begin the education and research component at the initial meeting (OBJ #2), we gathered information from the five “core” producers to provide direction. The following areas were identified and used to build the agenda and speaker list for the first meeting:

• Creating a Food Culture in the southern San Joaquin Valley
• Connecting with Nutrition and Health “Movement”
• Interacting with the schools and educating them about better taste, nutrition and kids eating healthier, local and fresh.
• How might farmers work more collaboratively to “raise all boats” collectively?
• The existing distribution system is not working for our needs. An alternative distribution system needs to be considered.

A key element of success for this project was getting the right mix of people engaged. Therefore, we went to great lengths to build a diverse group of participants in terms of expertise, business models and products, ethninticity, age and gender. The five core producers were asked to provide a list of five farmers and five resource people supportive of the local food movement. This list was reviewed to find “gaps” in expertise and knowledge. Using the network of the staff at Sequoia Riverlands Trust, the consultant and collaborator Michael Dimock, additional potential participants and speakers were identified and contacted. The invitation list is attached. While not all could attend the first meeting, there was only one person that declined participation due to an impacted schedule. The remainder asked to be kept on the list with the intention of attending a future meeting. Thirty people were projected to attend the first meeting. Thirty-six (36) were in attendance, consisting of 25 farmers and 11 resource people. Refer to the attendee list and photos attached.

The agenda (attached) for the first meeting was designed to begin building toward the four objectives of the project. Participants were asked in the introductions to share a short description of their role in a sustainable food system. This provided the opportunity and environment to initiate the connections and networking among the people in the room, both farmers and resource people (Objective #2 – OBJ #2). As stated previously, our team worked to bring diversity among participants as we constructed the invitation list, as well as including some potential funders of the implementation plan that will be created as a result of the project (OBJ #4).

Michael Dimock, President of Roots of Change and a collaborator, shared information and educated participants about the food system related resources and activities, as detailed in the agenda, that will to be focused on the Madera/Fresno/Tulare county region in the near future. This began addressing OBJ #3.

Each participant was then asked to identify the challenges/obstacles, activities and solutions/opportunities they see and experience in the existing food system (OBJ #1). This provided the foundation on which to begin building the strategy and implementation plan (fundable plan – OBJ #4). Initially it was our intention to prioritize the material provided by all participants in the afternoon session. However, with the plethora of ideas and comments, we used the afternoon session to hear from the entire group. Four individuals volunteered to help the consultant with the consolidation and prioritization of the material prior to the January meeting.

To complete the day, a panel and interactive discussion ensued addressing the four areas that the five core producers had identified. This discussion provided both an education and research component as the group exchanged ideas about challenges and engaged with the speakers about particular issues (OBJ #2).

Following the first meeting, the input from the participants was compiled and grouped by the consultant. The material was then reviewed at two “sub-meetings” held with the five core producers and the four volunteers. This sub-group assisted with the design of the second meeting. The results and structure for the January 20 meeting are outlined in the attached document “Materials for Workgroups-January 20th.”

In the two remaining meetings, the challenges, activities and opportunities will be further synthesized to identify a path by which to address them. The challenge we face is laying out multiple actions that, if taken, will provide solutions (OBJ #4). The second meeting is designed to do just that. For example, the financial section under the operational grouping has a significant list of challenges, yet little in terms of activities and solutions or opportunities. This indicated a need for education, so we have invited an agricultural lender to the second meeting to participate in that group discussion as a resource.

We anticipate that the second meeting will produce a draft outline of a strategy and implementation plan (OBJ #4). This plan will be further refined prior to the third meeting. In addition, experts, resource people and existing models will be identified and invited to the third meeting as assistance in refining the strategic plan (OBJ #2). Actions steps will be finalized at the third meeting and an outreach plan developed. In addition, collaborators, alliances and funding sources will be explored, identified and integrated in the outreach plan.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Through this process, we have noted numerous exchanges of ideas, practices and contacts. The networking is significant as a result of providing the venue for that exchange to happen. This will enhance the development of alliances and collaborations. It will improve business operations, models and outcomes. Through the speakers and resource people that the participants are exposed to, education is taking place and toolboxes are being expanded as networks are broadened.

For example, prior to this project, the consultant was engaged in a Farm to School project associated with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP), a part of which is the sourcing of local, fresh and nutritional products to be served in schools. Since the five core producers listed interacting with schools as one of their focus areas, Susan Elizabeth (CRROPP) was invited as a participant and resource person. In addition, when it became evident that one of the speakers should be a food services director seeking local growers and their products, Susan helped identify Clint Lara, Food Services Director for the Earlimart School District. Mr. Lara participated in the interactive discussion as a speaker. This connection provided an educational component but also tied the Farm to School activity in the region with the producers and introduced producers to a potential market. As a speaker, Mr. Lara’s expertise informed the discussion around schools as a potential market.

In order to tie this project and its participants to other Food System Related Resources and Activities in the region, the consultant referred 10 of the members of this project to the Food System Alliance project, which is being initiated this year. This will provide cross over and will assist in the development of alliances and collaborations.

Two articles are attached for review. One highlights the new business of one of the participants, Tara Hamilton. The other highlights this project in the context of other local food system projects and credits Western SARE as the funding organization.
While it is early in the process, we fully anticipate that a fundable implementation plan will be developed that will address the issues confounding the regional food system and provide a road map of actions that will create a more sustainable food system in the San Joaquin Valley (OBJ #1 & 4). A model to emulate? That is our goal.


Gary Schnitzler

Picked to Perfection
PO Box 310
Kingsburg, CA 93631
Office Phone: 5592853405
Cuyler Leonard

Owner - Farmer
Leonard Farms
844 S. Leonard Ave.
Sanger, CA 93657
Office Phone: 5596967719
Niki Woodard

Communications Director
Sequoia Riverlands Trust
427 S. Garden St.
Visalia, CA 93277
Office Phone: 5597380211
Bob McKellar

Family Farm Fresh
PO Box 189
Ivanhoe, CA 93235
Office Phone: 5597408444
Michael Dimock

Executive Director
Roots of Change
221 Kearney St., 3rd Flr.
San Francisco, CA 94108
Office Phone: 4153910545
Tom Willey

T&D Willey Farms
13886 Road 20
Madera, CA 93537
Office Phone: 5596739058
Kyle Reynolds

KMK Farms
11493 E. Stroud Ave
Kingsburg, CA 93631
Office Phone: 5592895753
Holly King

Triple Crown Consulting
22460 Homestead Rd.
Clovis, CA 93619
Office Phone: 5592963310
Paul Buxman

Sweet Home Ranch
43999 Avenue 400
Dinuba, CA 93618
Office Phone: 5596967187