San Diego Food System Alliance Aims to Develop County Culinary Culture

Farmers, restaurateurs and other food producers brainstormed ideas for increasing sustainability and equity in the region’s food industry at the annual meeting of the San Diego Food System Alliance, held on Friday. at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas.

“We are here today to talk about Food Vision 2030,” said speaker Rio Holaday, referring to the organizations 10-year plan to improve the quality and accessibility of healthy food. “A vision that includes cultivating justice, fighting climate change and building resilience. “

The full-day event at the non-profit Jewish community farm and education center included a forum on people of color in the food industries, as well as farm tours, exhibits and sample treats healthy foods such as chia seed pudding and hibiscus berry tea.

The organization hopes the gathering will help like-minded food producers network and share their resources. This is the key to success for many small businesses in local agriculture and food production, the speakers said.

“It’s really hard to do the math on any small farm,” said Sona Desai, the alliance’s co-executive director and a first-generation Indian-American who worked on a college farm in Colorado and then led. his own little vegetable. farmed in Vermont for a decade. “The costs simply exceed the benefits you can realize. “

The alliance report “San Diego County Food Vision 2030 “ sets goals for the region and identifies strategies to strengthen the county’s food supply and workforce. The report, released in July, also details the evolution of food production in San Diego over the past decades, with many local sectors declining.

Sona Desai, Associate Director of the San Diego Food System Alliance

(San Diego Food System Alliance


The county has lost three-quarters of its agricultural area since the mid-1950s, and production of nuts, fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry has declined since the turn of the century, according to the report.

To help support food businesses in San Diego, Desai said, there must be access to affordable land – a tall order for an area where house prices are skyrocketing.

Solutions could include reallocating vacant city or county-owned land for agriculture and community gardens and engaging land trust organizations to preserve land for agricultural production and conservation.

Small businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities, often do not have access to finance, Desai said, so providing start-up loans on favorable terms would help them cope with the Capitol crisis, Desai said.

Food entrepreneurs also need infrastructure, she said, such as seafood processing facilities for local fishermen and commercial kitchens and food processing facilities for businesses making products for sale. at retail such as sauces, condiments or baked goods.

The county has a variety of resources that it can tap into to provide rich food choices, she said.

“Right now, San Diego County is so special in that we have so many distinct neighborhoods and cultures, and they all have their own unique food cultures,” Desai said.

Attendees visit Coastal Root Farms at the San Diego Food System Alliance Annual Gathering

Attendees visit Coastal Root Farms during the San Diego Food System Alliance’s annual gathering and celebration of its Food Vision 2030 report at Encinitas on Friday, October 22, 2021.

(Kristian Carreon / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

This is what Janice Luna Reynolds, founder of Mundo Gardens in National City, hopes to highlight.

Luna Reynolds started organizing community gardens over a decade ago, when a neighbor who ran a local garden fell ill. She took over the project and developed it as a haven of green space in a community with poor environmental health conditions.

“We have the highest asthma rates in the county, exposure to highway pollution and limited access to healthy food,” she said.

Recently, the garden harvested corn, pepper, cucumbers and tomatoes and are now embarking on winter crops, she said. Luna is also active in Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center in National City, which teaches residents how to grow and prepare healthy variations on traditional Mexican foods.

In addition to food centers, the gardens also serve as gathering spaces for art and music, she said.

“We are putting culture into agriculture,” said Luna Reynolds.

Co-owners of Café X Cynthia Ajani and Khea Pollard in their College Area café which closed in June.

Co-owners of Café X Cynthia Ajani and Khea Pollard at their former location in the College Area. The cafe closed in June.


Cynthia Ajani, vice president of Cafe X in San Diego, said the company is working to overcome the setbacks of the pandemic. Ajani founded the cafe with her daughter, who developed the project through an association with the nonprofit Rise Up San Diego.

The company’s motto, “Through All the Beans Needed,” is a nod to Malcolm X, whose community revelations during his visit to Mecca inspired the cafe’s name and philosophy.

“When we talk about Cafe X, we wanted to focus on self-actualization and upward mobility,” she said. “Generational wealth creation is a big part of it.”

Ajani and her daughter designed it as a collective enterprise, run by owner-operators. The pandemic, however, slowed their momentum.

Ajani said she was dismayed to see large companies getting grants for personal protective equipment when their small business did not qualify.

They lost their retail space during the pandemic and had to find a new one. They plan to hold a reopening celebration at the new site in November, she said.

As a start-up, they had limited access to loans, but Ajani said it was a “blessing in disguise” because when they closed their first store, they had no debt to pay. In addition to the logistical challenges of space and funding, Ajani said, there was the deceptively simple issue of trust.

“One of the obstacles that people don’t talk about is having the confidence of a black woman to say ‘I’m enough to do this’,” Ajani said.

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