‘GROW Temecula Valley’ Symposium discusses local food matters

Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo discusses a number of aspects regarding the current and future status of agriculture in the county during a symposium hosted by GROW Temecula Valley, April 11. Shane Gibson photo
Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo discusses a number of aspects regarding the current and future status of agriculture in the county during a symposium hosted by GROW Temecula Valley, April 11. Shane Gibson photo

The city of Temecula hosted the “GROW Temecula Valley” Symposium April 11, inviting a diverse group that included local farmers, suppliers, community educators, wellness ambassadors, Riverside County staff and local business owners to discuss the local food supply chain, community health and education, agri-tourism and the future of local farming. Three separate panels addressed these issues.

Aziz Amiri, senior executive director and commissioner for the Los Angeles Commission on Older Adults, welcomed the participants.

“Disruption and innovation creates opportunity,” he said, also noting that the U.S. household expenditure for food is $992 billion, and venture capital investment in agriculture technology is up to $3.36 billion.

“Ag business is ripe for growth, and we have the opportunity to take advantage with first steps in collaboration and education to connect our local farmers to our communities, to source local foods first,” Amiri said.

Ron Bray, deputy agricultural commissioner for Riverside County, said that Riverside County set a record for $1.3 billion in agricultural production in 2014.

“Riverside County is unique with several distinct climate zones from the ocean to the mountains,” Bray said. “Despite urbanization, water shortage, labor shortages, competition from imported fruits and vegetables, agriculture has not gone away. It looks different from many years ago when we had thousands and thousands of acres of orange groves, walnut and almond orchards and a variety of produce.

“Our mission is to protect and promote agriculture in Riverside County, and we are excited about this opportunity to bring together regulators, city officials, growers, suppliers and restaurants to find out what the challenges are and to take advantage of the opportunities behind the challenges. As the ag/urban interface changes the environment, agriculture continues to adapt to the challenge, and this creates opportunities for producing local food for local communities, ag tourism and bringing different points of view together to shape future solutions.”

The first panel addressed the topic “The Local Food Supply Chain.” The panel consisted of Seth Wilson of the Riverside Food Systems Alliance; Greg Dunne, the director of produce for Barons Market; Scott Berndt of Berndt Farms, who grows produce for local restaurants as well as the Riverside Unified School District and Nathan Bochler of Specialty Produce, a farmers market produce buyer.

“We grow over $600 million annually of specialty crops locally,” Wilson said. “Table grapes account for $144 million; citrus, $147 million; avocados, $159 million; dates, $40 million and carrots, $27 million.”

“Barons welcomes local growers,” Dunne said. “We are looking for quality, safety and price.”

Berndt described their “farmers market cooler” in which the product is displayed and tagged for buyers; he also converted an 18-foot truck into a “mobile farmers market” that services 50 restaurants three days each week and features on-site invoicing.

“We have a capacity problem in Riverside County,’ Berndt said. “We need more farmers and more skilled workers.”

Bochler buys from over 200 farmers and services 950 restaurant and hotel accounts. The Specialtyproduce.com app lists and describes over 2,100 ingredients for consumers and producers.

“It’s important to tell the story of fruits and vegetables,” Bochler said.

The second panel addressed “Community Health and Education.” Brad Knipscheer represented Temecula Valley Unified School District talking about how his “Fresh Foods” program is creating a positive impact in the local farm-to- schools’ food systems.

“We are excited to offer kids locally sourced produce that kids love!” Knipscheer said. “It’s exciting to also know that our local economy and the planet can benefit because of this practice.”

Christopher White, five-star executive chef at Vineyard Ranch, addressed the loss of nutritional value from harvest to table of various food sources, emphasizing local sourcing. Cecilia Harris, community health benefit manager at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, considers food as “culinary medicine” and one of the social determinants of health, along with work, play and worship.

Chef Leah Di Bernardo, founder of E.A.T. Marketplace, facilitated the discussion. One of the concepts included educating the food chain to base purchasing food choices on nutritional density as opposed to poundage.

The third panel discussed “Agri-Tourism & the Future of Local Farming.” The panel consisted of Thom Curry from Temecula Valley Olive Oil Company, Phil Noble from Sage Mountain Farm, Mark Woodsmall from Spero Vineyards and moderator Emily Falappino of the advisory committee for GROW Temecula Valley.

“We hope to create a model in our area that can be adopted universally in other communities and nationwide,” Falappino said.

The panel discussion identified challenges – costs, water, transportation and delivery, competition from big agri-businesses, skilled labor shortage, getting consumers educated/interested in local versus prepackaged and the perception and image of farming. They also discussed possibilities of shared resources and distribution, as well as co-op farms on Community Supported Agriculture boxes that consumers can order. CSA is a membership service that delivers regular shipments of locally grown fresh produce and foods.

Noble shared about his partnership with four local breweries that creates an “almost closed ecosystem.” The spent grain and barley is fed to cows, ultimately creating what he calls “cerveza beef.”

“This initiative is modeled after GROW Riverside,” Christine Damko, Economic Development Analyst for the city of Temecula, said. “There are a number of easy ways to support the local food movement. Look for the “GROW” logo at restaurant and grocery stores, join a CSA or use your place of business as a CSA pickup point, visit a farmers market, take a tour of a local farm and source local food first.”

For more information, visit www.GROWTemeculaValley.com.

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