Meet Scott Sawyer, San Diego County Food Vision 2030's Lead Researcher & Report Author

Meet Scott Sawyer, San Diego County Food Vision 2030's Lead Researcher & Report Author

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Scott Sawyer will serve as the Alliance’s Consultant, Lead Researcher, & Report Author throughout the San Diego County Food Vision 2030 development process.


Putting together a 10-year strategic plan for our food system is no small task. Over the next year and a half, the San Diego Food System Alliance will be engaging with hundreds of stakeholders at every point in our region’s food system, as well as the broader community, to develop the most impactful and inclusive San Diego County Food Vision 2030.

Fortunately, we have a seasoned professional sharing the helm of this project, who has led such large and complex food system planning efforts, including Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative: Meet Scott Sawyer. 

We’re thrilled to have Scott on board with us! Read the following Q&A to hear why Scott continues to be passionate about food system transformation, what has surprised him about San Diego County’s food system, and the insights he brings from Vermont that are transferable from coast to coast.

How is your experience at VT Farm to Plate transferable to San Diego County Food Vision 2030?

Scott: Vermont is a small rural state with a population of about 650,000! So we’re obviously talking about different histories, cultures, demographics, and geographies. But, I think what changed things there—and what has resonated with audiences in America and throughout the world—is that Vermont's Farm to Plate Initiative created an inclusive common agenda for people to rally around. It sounds simple, but nurturing those personal relationships year after year builds trust and enables organizations to work together collaboratively. At the end of the day, that’s the secret sauce of Vermont’s food system: relationships, or rather, friendships. All we’re trying to do with the San Diego County Food Vision is develop that common agenda and nurture those relationships. So the process or methodology and the spirit of “we’re in this together” is what’s transferable.

VT Farm to Plate was commissioned by the state government, and as such had public buy-in since the very beginning of the project. San Diego County Food Vision 2030 isn't in quite the same boat, but still has potential to have powerful impact. What can the Alliance do to ensure that the plan doesn't sit on the shelf once it's completed?

Scott: The fact that Vermont’s food system plan was requested by the Legislature did open a lot of doors for us. The nice thing about Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative is that it has continued on now for 10 years through Republican and Democratic governorships. A lot of plans do die quickly. I think Farm to Plate persists because people continue to see the benefits of working together. In other words, in San Diego County we need to see a robust network knocking out policy, financial, educational, and other on-the-ground accomplishments.

Can you share briefly about what inspired you, or personally drew you to food systems work? And what keeps you coming back?

Scott: It’s just been clear to me for a long time that food systems and energy systems are the keys to sustainability. If we can get these systems right then the world that future generations inherit will be ok. Food systems touch every aspect of life, obviously we all eat. Food systems are visible in the crops, cuisines, lingo (e.g., “pop” versus “soda”), and products that are manifestations of the history, culture, and ecology of specific communities. And food systems are linked at local, regional, national, and global scales. So every time I drink coffee I’m engaging this complex web of relationships. I just think that’s fascinating.

Since beginning Food Vision 2030 research a few months ago, what is the thing that has surprised you the most?

Scott: I guess I’m just surprised at how unique San Diego County is within California’s food system. Obviously the Central Valley and some of the coastal counties are major food producing regions. Where I grew up, east of LA, is wall-to-wall sprawl. But San Diego County is one of the few metropolitan regions in the country that has agricultural and seafood production. I think that’s something to celebrate and defend.

The topics in the report will be pretty comprehensive, including Achieving Equity, Confronting Climate Change, Sustaining Food Production, Exploring Food Processing and Manufacturing, Marketing Our Food Products Locally, Reducing Wasted Food, and Cultivating Food Culture. Which area are you most excited to dive into research?

Scott: From my perspective, the San Diego Food System Alliance is interested in doing something very innovative. Elly, Sona, and the team want climate change and equity to be the centerpieces of the analyses. So, while all of the topics are interesting, the ways in which climate change and equity issues interact with San Diego’s food system are the most exciting. The most troubling, and the most exciting.

What is a food business or endeavor you love, and why?

Scott: In Vermont, I loved that I could buy pretty much any kind of food I wanted—fresh bread, vegetables, blueberries, ice cream—and know exactly where it came from. I had a friend who made gelato, Shy Guy Gelato, and that was delicious. Home in California, I will always go to Juanita's in Pomona. This has been my family’s go-to Mexican food place for 35 years.

Thank you, Scott! To stay up-to-date on San Diego County Food Vision 2030, subscribe to our newsletter and follow along on social media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


MEHKO: No enterprise too small to contribute to a more inclusive economy

MEHKO: No enterprise too small to contribute to a more inclusive economy

If there’s one place where Anna feels confident, it’s in her home kitchen: patiently rolling out the dough for her pastel goreng crust, sauteing onion and garlic to fill her risoles, scooping generous helpings of macaroni panga for the guests she’s cooking for—sometimes friends, sometimes neighbors, sometimes her two grown daughters or her daughters’ young sons.

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We're Teaming Up with Ralph's & Food 4 Less to ‘Save The Food’ in San Diego!

We're Teaming Up with Ralph's & Food 4 Less to ‘Save The Food’ in San Diego!

This month, we are on a mission to educate San Diegans about food waste through our Save The Food, San Diego! campaign. Throughout the month of September, we are teaming up with 31 San Diego area Ralph’s and Food 4 Less locations to teach shoppers about the significant impacts of wasted food, and share some simple steps we can all take in our homes and while we are grocery shopping to reduce food waste.

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Mike Reeske, Rio del Rey Beans

Mike Reeske, Rio del Rey Beans

“Common beans are grown and sold in tons, while I grow 25 to 50 bags at a time,” Mike Reeske points out. He’s a former schoolteacher who has picked up farming in retirement, specializing in heirloom beans. Mike focuses his operations on growing heirloom varieties, producing in small high-quality batches, selling direct-to-consumer and restaurants, and farming with sustainable practices.

“Beans put nitrogen in the soil as they grow, so we don’t have to put in a lot of organic fertilizers which are quite expensive,” he explains. “This is crop rotation strategy people have known forever. We try to add to it, and restore the soil as we go along here.”

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Growing Hope: Belinda Ramírez on the power of community gardens, and reclaiming food sovereignty in Southeastern San Diego

Growing Hope: Belinda Ramírez on the power of community gardens, and reclaiming food sovereignty in Southeastern San Diego

“The cool thing about urban ag is that it allows you to escape the system a little bit—you’re taking matters into your own hands by growing your own food,” Belinda says. “We forget how much corporations and exclusive power structures determine what we eat.”

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A Year in Good Food - San Diego Food System Alliance 2018 Annual Report

A Year in Good Food - San Diego Food System Alliance 2018 Annual Report

We believe in the power of collaboration. As an Alliance, we are working towards a common vision of Good Food for San Diego County. Together, we have the unique ability to overcome challenges by building partnerships, influencing policy and catalyzing transformation in our food system. We are breaking down silos and strengthening the capacity of the individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and public institutions in our network.

Here are some of the highlights of our year.

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New Strategic Partnerships Announced to Save the Food

New Strategic Partnerships Announced to Save the Food

Fifteen of San Diego County’s largest hotels, hospitals, and universities will be participating in Smart Kitchens San Diego, which provides sites with Leanpath food waste tracking technology and connects them with local nonprofit recipients for food donation. Thanks to grant funding from the CA Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) through California Climate Investments, the program is designed to reduce our carbon footprint by redistributing food that would otherwise end up in our landfill. 

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Congratulations Barbara!

Congratulations Barbara!

We are excited to announce that Barbara Hamilton, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Alliance, has been elected to Carlsbad City Council!

Barbara embodies the values of the San Diego Food System Alliance, working towards a healthier, more equitable and sustainable community every day. We know that she will lead the City of Carlsbad with this same grace and service to her community. Congratulations, Barbara!

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Fall Grower Highlight: Russell Family Farms

Jim Russell grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where his family raised hogs and cattle, and all the food to feed them, such as corn, barley, wheat, oats, and buckwheat. At age 17, when his parents offered to mortgage the farm to send him to college, he knew it would not be the right thing for him then, so he signed up for the Marine Corps instead.

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He did three tours of duty in Vietnam, was posted to lots of different bases, and even did two years as commanding officer of the Marine Corps detachment on a nuclear powered cruiser, tasked with securing the nuclear weapon as his primary responsibility.

“You go where the Corps tells you to go, you do what they tell you to do,” Russell says, recalling his 20 years in the military. He married his high school sweetheart, had five children with her, rose to the rank of major, got divorced, and was based in Camp Pendleton and engaged to Barbara whom he met while studying for his bachelor’s, when tragedy struck.

Driving his motorcycle one night in 1977, he slid off the road, hit his head and severed his spinal cord, becoming paralyzed from the waist down. He spent seven months in the hospital. Once he got out, he married Barbara and adopted her daughter, completed his bachelor’s degree, and began studying for his M.B.A at San Diego State University.

Circling back to farming roots

For a business school project, he studied the economics of starting a macadamia farm and his professor told him it would be worth pursuing. He had purchased a few acres in Fallbrook and was wondering if it would be viable to grow macadamia trees, which was how the project came about and led to his second career as a farmer, with Russell Family Farms.

“I knew macadamias at that point, I liked eating them, so I thought maybe I could sell those suckers,” Russell says.

Macadamias are native to Australia, and were introduced in Hawaii in 1881, and soon after in California. They began to be planted commercially in the 1950s and production peaked in the 1960s before acreage dwindled due to challenges with the costs of water, labor and land. It continues to be grown in small to medium sized orchards in the state, and is a small, specialty crop.

In San Diego, there are about 1,000 trees, and Russell has about 200 in his orchard. Asked if he chose macadamias for their value as a specialty crop, he laughs and relates an old adage. “I wanted to do something to make money with,” he says, “If you want to make a small fortune in farming, you start with a big fortune, and pretty soon, it will be small.”

It’s a way of life, but not one he would recommend to everyone, especially since the trees suck up as much water as thirsty avocado trees, which add up to high water costs.

A DIY story

To get started, he did need to get up to speed with growing tree nuts, so he joined the California Macadamia Society, bought up all their yearbooks and educated himself on all things macadamia. He eventually became its president, and continues to serve in that role today.

He laid out a plan for the trees and water system, had help from his brother-in-law to create ditches, then put in the sprinkler system, got plants from the local nursery, planted seedlings and grafted them a year later.

“I dug the holes, my wife and mom planted it,” he recalls. Her work as a teacher and his pension helped fund their cost of living in the early years while they waited for the trees to produce nuts. 

Macadamias are his main crop, but he also grows lemons, limes, key limes, kumquats, pomelos, mulberries, and figs, and sells his produce every other Wednesday at the weekly Santa Monica farmers’ market, one of the biggest in the state.

He doesn’t advertise, but does get orders on the internet from people who were gifted a bag of macadamias from his orchard, and seek him out for more of the flavorful nuts.  

He now runs the orchard primarily with the help of two young men, grandsons of the man who first began helping him. His wife passed on, and his sons are settled in the east, while his daughters live in California, and one daughter lives on the farm, running her own business as a bee keeper and growing worms for soil enhancements.

He used to grow gourds and spent hundreds of hours carving them in intricate mathematical designs and selling them as art at the farmers’ market. Artists would also buy gourds for carving from him. But drought rations dictated that he get out of gourds and focus on using the water for his main crops. 

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Macadamia 101

The life cycle for tree nuts is long, and it took about 15 years before Russell began getting good production and breaking even, so having other sources of income helped make it possible to embark on the venture.

He also learned by trial and error. Every few years, a polar freeze would kill trees and this happened to him in his fourth year, wiping out 80 percent of his trees. “You learn the hard way to get some hardier stock and expand to other crops,” he says.

Most tree nuts are deciduous, blooming in spring and going dormant in fall, but macadamias are a year-round crop, and he harvests throughout the year. Most of the blooms set in February or March, and get harvested between November to January. When they’re ripe, they fall to the ground, so they don’t need to be picked.

Of the ten botanical varieties, only two yield edible nuts. The integrifolia is the type grown in most of the world, a smaller nut that is uniformly round but has less sugar content. Russell grows the tetraphylla variety, which has slightly more sugar and comes in all kinds of shapes.

“It’s like the difference between brown bread and white bread - it’s a little sweeter,” Russell explains. “There are also hybrids crossed with these two, that have characteristics of both.”

Because of the uneven shapes of the tetraphylla, it’s not easy to roast it since it can’t all be roasted at the same temperature. He sells both roasted nuts, and nuts in the shell. The latter require a special nutcracker to break them open. They are prized by raw foodies and vegans who like them for their flavor, texture and healthy fat content. 

His helpers hull the nuts year-round, almost daily during the peak harvesting season, and weekly at other times. The huller removes the green, fibrous husk and the nuts go in drying trays for about two weeks at ambient temperature. Russell runs a fan to prevent mold from forming since they go in wet. This reduces moisture content from 35 percent to 5 percent, at which point sugar is reduced and eliminated as well.

“This is when they taste a lot like a cross between a coconut and sweet peas,” he explains.

Next, the nuts go into a heated dryer set at 94 degrees, for a week. Then they’re separated by size, packed up into heavy plastic bags inside burlap bags, where they stay until they are ready to be sold. Larger kernels sell for a premium.

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Skilled veteran, marksman, farmer, and artist

At 77, Russell loves what he does and continues wearing many hats.

A crack shot with the pistol and rifle, Russell runs a shooting program for the non-profit Paralyzed Veterans of America, in which he has served in numerous roles since 1978. His gourd art has won many awards and has been published in many outlets.

He has 6 children, 12 grandchildren, and 2 great-grand children, and lives with his service dog. He finds his work to be rewarding and fulfilling.

“Enjoying mother nature is awesome. Farming is a great way to live. There are lots of set backs from mother nature, but that’s just part of the game. I was very fortunate to grow up on a farm as a young man, and I’m still doing it,” he reflects. “It’s kind of hard to beat living in Southern California, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.”

Written by Padma Nagappan for the San Diego County Farm Bureau

2018 EMIES UnWasted Food Awards

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In San Diego County, almost 500,000 tons of food waste goes into the landfill annually. Meanwhile, nearly 500,000 people in San Diego County don’t always have enough food for an active and healthy life.

The San Diego Food System Alliance is working collaboratively with state and local government agencies, food establishments, food banks, and food pantries to catalyze efforts to reduce food waste and increase donation. We hosted our fourth annual Food Waste Solutions Summit on September 25th, 2018 and were honored to recognize 20 entities devoted to reducing food waste and food insecurity in our community.

The 2018 EMIES Unwasted Food Awards honor businesses, organizations, and institutions with exemplary practices around food waste prevention and recovery. The EMIES Awards are designed to honor the legacy of Congressman Bill Emerson, sponsor of the 1996 Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which, in order to encourage food donation, protects donors from liability.

More information about the EMIES Awards can be found here.

2018 EMIES Award Winners

GNF Novartis

Demonstrates  and shares best practice for upstream food waste reduction, auditing production and engaging staff, excess food donation, and composting. Landfill diversion is 78%; up from 4.4% in 2010.

Sharp HealthCare

Collaboration as an innovator and early adopter with upstream "unusual but usable" procurement, soup stock program, organic gardens, animal feed and composting. 18,000 lbs. of good food donated in 2017.

San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Programs depth and breadth. Green certified 38 concessionaires. Increased food donation six-fold. Pre- and post-consumer food waste composting. Education and signage. Saved over $9000 in landfill fees.

Escondido Union School District

Plate waste study & Smarter Lunchroom program. Designed four compartment trays to reduce plate waste. Zero waste goal. "Healthy Sustainable Living, Every Day Counts!"  student education campaign.-

BrightSide Produce

“Anchor Institution” collaboration, healthful produce at University pricing for 13 small to medium grocery stores in National City. Assists with pricing, displays, sales, signage, and nutrition education.


Four to seven weekly gleaning events, distributing 11,000 servings/week. Diverse and scalable volunteer opportunities By the end of this calendar year will have logged one million pounds of rescued produce.

Vista Unified School District Child Nutrition Services

Integrated food waste curriculum into 6th grade science standards. Tracked & measured food waste in café, students created posters, set up and monitored share cooler in cafeteria, “alumni” outreach.

Food Recovery Network at UCSD

Fresh and Full Food Transportation program, with AB54 funding, secured vehicle and hired student drivers. Hot meals for students who self-identify as food insecure. 6000 lbs. food recovered last year.

Public Health Alliance of Southern California

CA Food Waste Prevention Week collaboration and promotion guide. DEH Directors across state trained in safe food donation. Nutrition education and SNAP education to include food waste prevention.

 2018 EMIES Distinguished Programs:  

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Culinart Group at Francis Parker School uses menu control, smaller portion sizes, ok to ask for more.

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation for education/recycling in communities across the region.

San Diego Rescue Mission provides shelter for over 200, prepares donated/recovered pre-school meals.

Café Bon Apetit buys imperfect produce, Food Recovery Network Verified, Chefs to End Hunger partner.

Sprouts North Park donated 180,000 lbs. food in 2017, 140,000 lbs. produce, with San Diego Food Bank

UC San Diego Health usesupstream” prevention strategies, 40% decrease in organic waste to landfill.

LeanPath provides innovation, thought leadership. Developing technologies and sharing best practice.

Aztec Shops are the first university markets in the nation to be Green Restaurant Certified.

2018 EMIES Emerging Programs:  

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Harvest CROPS empowering residents/gleaners, over 320,000 lbs. fruits and vegetables since inception.

Resource Management Group provides bins, user education for food waste reduction & recycling.

California State University San Marcos educational outreach, composting tours, Cougar Pantry access.

Visionary Staff Leadership:

Ana Carvalho, City of San Diego

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Ana has been providing leadership and guidance to food production facilities across the City of San Diego. She has been an active member in the Food Recovery Working Group of the San Diego Food System Alliance, and has participated in regional and national efforts to share best practice and reduce the impacts of wasted food. Ana’s visionary leadership has helped many organizations and the City of San Diego to build strong programs in support of their waste reduction and healthy climate goals.

Jennifer Winfrey, County of San Diego

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Jen has been a strong and informed advocate for food waste reduction and donation at the County of San Diego. She has served on the steering group leading the Food Recovery Working Group of the San Diego Food System Alliance. Jen’s visionary leadership has inspired students and residents across unincorporated San Diego County to develop innovative strategies to share messaging, to source reduce food waste, to increase donation, to provide animal feed, and to compost in our rural areas.

Smart Kitchens San Diego Food Recovery Agencies Selected!

Smart Kitchens San Diego, a food waste reduction and recovery initiative spearheaded by the San Diego Food System Alliance and funded by CalRecycle through California Climate Investments, celebrated a big step this week.

We had the joy of honoring The Foundry, Heaven's Windows, People Assisting the Homeless, and New Alternatives Inc as the official food recovery partners for Smart Kitchens San Diego. These four agencies will make good use of the cargo vans and commercial coolers they received through the Smart Kitchens San Diego initiative. They'll recover unwasted food from Smart Kitchens food donors around San Diego County - including the Padres at Petco Park, Park Hyatt Aviara, and Palomar Health - and will distribute this nutritious food to their community members in need.

A huge congratulations to the agencies selected for this partnership! Check out the event recording on Facebook, and many thanks to the San Diego Food Bank for hosting the ceremony.

The Foundry, a food pantry located in Escondido, sees 15 - 20 new families each week walking through their pantry doors. The cargo van and commercial cooler will help them meet this growing need with nutritious food!

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Infectious smiles exude from the Heaven's Windows team as they accept the keys to their van and Smart Kitchens decal for their commercial cooler. Angela Kretschmar, director of Heaven's Windows, stated "everyone in this room has one thing in common - we all want to serve somebody and help somebody - and we all want to work together." We couldn't agree more!

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People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) is on a mission to end homelessness for individuals, families, and communities by providing wrap-around services to the homeless. They serve 150 residents with two meals a day, 365 days a year. That's 109,500 meals per year - 109,500 meals which, thanks to their new cargo van, will now include prepared food from Smart Kitchens San Diego donor participants like the Padres.

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Wondering who will be driving PATH's cargo van? Glad you asked! Participants from New Alternatives Inc (NAI) will be trained as drivers for Smart Kitchens San Diego, providing them an employment opportunity with professional growth potential. NAI provides transitional housing and services to at-risk youth terming out of foster care. The commercial cooler will allow NAI case managers to give delicious food to the participants during weekly visits.

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We look forward to working together to reduce food waste in San Diego County while increasing distribution of healthy food to those in need.

Smart Kitchens San Diego is funded by a grant from the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) through California Climate Investments.

Post by Geertje Grootenhuis, Project Coordinator for Food Waste Reduction & Recovery

Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils: Facilitating Composting in Our Communities


Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils Toolkit available here:

San Diego County has approximately 3.3 million residents in 18 cities and more than 100 unincorporated communities. San Diego County has 5,732 farms and ranks as the 12th largest farm economy among 3,000 counties and has more small farms than any other county. The San Diego region prides itself as a leader in organic farming.  However, soils in San Diego County are not conducive to agriculture- they are typically poor, heavy in clay, and require amending with organic matter, such as compost, to improve physical structure.

Meanwhile, San Diego County disposes of more than one million tons of compostable materials in landfills every year, which equates to about 40% of all waste disposed. Of that million tons, roughly 500,000 tons is food material. These compostable materials, when treated as wastes and disposed in landfills, produce methane gas and leachate; two byproducts that pose risks to public health. The State of California has declared landfills a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and has declared methane a climate pollutant.

Better management of compostable materials (yard trimmings, food scraps, manure, etc.) will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, revitalize agricultural and garden soils, ensure a robust and healthy food system, and create local jobs, while protecting human health and improving the quality of life for the region’s populace. Diverting compostables from the landfill will stimulate the economy by facilitating commerce, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, composting generates four jobs to every one job associated with landfilling.

Even though composting is the right thing to do, San Diego as a region lacks critical infrastructure. Siting compost facilities, large or small, can be a sensitive issue and raise concerns with both local governments and residents. Fears and bad practices in the past have led to restrictive land use allowances and high permit fees which today, consequently, disincentivizes development of composting infrastructure. 

The Healthy Food, Healthy Soils Toolkit aims to demystify perceptions about composting and provides practical insight to encourage fair policies and ordinances that supports composting of all sizes while providing necessary safeguards to protect public health and safety.

The Toolkit was designed for planners, regional stakeholders, and anyone with an interest in furthering sustainability, healthy food systems, and public health through better knowledge of zoning, land use, methods and policy focused on best practices and fair rules for composting.

San Diego County jurisdictions are encouraged to access the toolkit online at and meanwhile look within at its own existing ordinances and policies (if any). What are the next steps needed to set into motion potential amendments to the municipal code that will better facilitate composting and respond to statewide legislation? 

The Healthy Foods, Healthy Soils Toolkit is a project of Live Well San Diego: Healthy Works, implemented by Hidden Resources and San Diego Food System Alliance in partnership with UC San Diego Center for Community Health. This project supports Live Well San Diego, the County's vision of a region that is Building Better Health, Living Safely, and Thriving. For more information about Live Well San Diego, visit

Under the Tent with Food Waste Innovators

Under the Tent with Food Waste Innovators

US Food Waste Summit and Innovator Workshop, June 25-27, 2018, Harvard Law School

Co-hosted by Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic & ReFed

With the $218 billion-dollar issue of food waste becoming a global priority, entrepreneurs, businesses, funders and policymakers around the world have taken notice. This has resulted in an exciting increase in innovative products and services that are turning wasted food into jobs, hunger relief, and environmental stewardship.

The Innovator Workshop and US Food Waste Summit brought together food business innovators and leaders, funders, and policy makers from across the country, in addition to strategic leaders from Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Japan. Connections were made between innovators and funders in order to propel the next level of investment in food waste solutions, both for-profit and non-profit.

Stewarding the Save The Food San Diego initiative in San Diego, our team from the San Diego Food System Alliance was particularly interested in creative solutions and collaborative opportunities for food waste source reduction, wholesome food recovery, and engaging consumer education.  

Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown shared some powerful strategies out of the 100 identified solutions to reverse global warming by 2015. Eight (8) of the top 20 emissions-reducing solutions are actually food system related! And number three (3) is “source reduction of food waste”! Many people think of clean energy as having the most dramatic impact, but solar farms and rooftop solar are numbers 8 and 10, while geothermal and nuclear power are numbers 18 and 20.  Frischmann asserts that we need to employ all 100 of these strategies, but many people in the general public may be surprised at how relevant and impactful our work in food waste reduction actually is to the health of the planet.

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Just to put this in perspective – reducing food waste around the world has the potential to reduce over 70 GT of CO2e, which translates to providing clean electricity to over 10,500,000,000 average homes in the U.S. or taking over 15,000,000,000 passenger vehicles off the road. That is a lot of impact!

Measurement of food waste

Measurement of food waste is key to understanding how best to innovate new models of food recovery, and how to develop and implement federal and regional food waste policy. Kai Robertson, of the World Resources Institute, stated that “measurement is a journey”. Organizations should start tracking wherever they are in their own journey, but manual tracking only works to a point. It is important to “prove accuracy over time” and clearly state the sources of insecurity in the data for transparency.

Alison Grantham, of Blue Apron, is using procurement and sales data to identify and understand food loss in their production model. Beyond reducing food loss in their own business, Blue Apron may have the potential to reduce food loss at home by providing exact quantities of ingredients needed for their recipes, delivered to your door. In their model, they provide busy people and aspiring cooks the tools and ingredients they need to eat healthful and delicious meals prepared at home.

Nell Fry, of Sodexo, stresses the importance of communication with their contracted food services sites around food waste reduction opportunities. At Sodexo they encourage all sites to utilize the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) resources, and are preparing to roll out more robust, data-driven food waste tracking at qualifying sites with LeanPath food waste tracking systems.

At the Alliance we are also utilizing LeanPath food waste reduction systems in our Smart Kitchens San Diego initiative. Andrew Shakman of LeanPath shared that making tracking a “daily practice” becomes a tool for efficiency and “management depth”. When we measure what food is disposed and why, we can make more informed upstream decisions to reduce both cost and waste.

Influencing consumer behavior

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Dana Gunders, of Next Course, LLC, and previously with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), clearly understands why we need to scale this conversation to the consumer. Consumers are “the largest contributor” to food waste. In addition, “convenience is king, and wasting less is not always convenient.” So how can we make it easier? Gunders asserts that “now is the right time to connect the dots and get things done”. Many solutions have already been identified, and food waste reduction has become a core pillar in sustainable food programs.

Aubrey Allison, a contributor at PBS NewsHour, points out that on a personal level we sometimes waste food because of “our expectations and habits”. Her personal ah-ha moment happened in the California Salinas Valley. A farmer there explained to her that an entire area of the cauliflower field in front of them, a very large portion, would not be sold, that no U.S. market would buy it. Because of its location in the field, the top leaf had blown off the plant and caused the cauliflower to yellow. The food was fine, just a bit yellowed in color from exposure to the sun. She knew then that our expectations as consumers contributes to this very large problem of wasted food, and that we can solve it!

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JoAnne Berkencamp, with NRDC, leads the Save The Food campaign, a partnership with NRDC and Ad Council. NRDC research shows some of the reasons why consumers waste food. A lot of food waste happens out of good intentions around eating in a more healthful manner or providing for those we love. There is also a lot of confusion about how to store foods and what date labels actually mean for food safety. Understanding the root causes of food waste at home helps us to develop messaging and resources that will be well received. One of the lessons learned is that “blame is NOT a motivator.”

Laura Moreno, a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley has been collecting data to track this “social phenomenon” of household food waste. She is finding that we sometimes make “perceived choices”, i.e. using how food looks “as a proxy” for how good it actually is. She also finds that we feel “guilt alleviation” because of our “perceived benefit” of wasting foods, i.e. "to keep our family healthy we buy more produce than we may be able to use". Moreno asserts that people want impactful food waste reduction messaging where they are thinking about it, i.e. at the grocery store while shopping.

Jonathan Deutsch, of Drexel University, recounts the age-old food safety mantra, “when in doubt, throw it out” as one reasons behind food waste. He recommends being creative in using all parts of your food, because “it’s all food”. He also recommends considering “equity” when speaking about food recovery, i.e. NOT using phrases like “food waste to feed people”, and moving beyond awareness building to sharing solutions and creating demand, positioning retailers as “consumer educators”.

Food waste policy

By overwhelming consensus at the US Food Waste Summit, we need informed policy to successfully incentivize innovation and address food waste.

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Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Congressman David Young (R-IA) launched a bipartisan House Food Waste Caucus to explore opportunities to reduce food waste. They both felt strongly enough about the issue to record a message to the Summit attendees, encouraging each of us to reach out to our own representatives to encourage them to join this bipartisan group of national legislators, too.

The final version of the federal 2018 Farm Bill may include provisions such as a Food Waste liaison at USDA, a milk donation program, research on specialty crops and extending shelf life, local foods, composting, and funding for food waste prevention.

Kevin Smith of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formed a committee with other stakeholders at the Conference for Food Protection in April to add language to the FDA Food Code that outlines prevention-based standards and strategies to reduce food waste, and provide guidance on safe food donation and procedures.

States and local departments of environmental health typically adopt and/or adapt the Food Code. The state of Texas already has a comprehensive food safety in food donation rule, which includes temperature, packaging, labeling, and shelf life. The state of Vermont Department of Health published a comprehensive “Guidance for Food Donation”.

In the State of Massachusetts, thoughtful design and implementation of a food waste ban to landfill resulted in striking economic success with over $175 million in economic activity and supporting over 900 jobs in the community.

The State of Oregon via its commitment to Champions 12.3 and 2050 Vision has made formal commitments to “reduce the generation of wasted food” and will be publishing supporting research later this year, according to Ashley Zanolli, of the Oregon Department of Environmental Protection.

Innovation in food recovery

Innovators in the food recovery space are looking beyond silo’d solutions, to how upstream solutions and policy can address food waste source reduction and at the same time job creation to target poverty as a root cause of hunger.


But food recovery is not as easy as it seems. Steve Dietz, of Food Donation Connection, asks “how hard is it to give away free food? It’s damn hard!” Food Donation Connection  has been operating for 26 years and has facilitated 1 billion pounds of donated food working with 22,000 donors and 14,000 food recovery organizations across the U.S.

Whole Foods partners with Food Donation Connection across the regions where they operate stores, bake houses, and processing facilities, averaging about 1 ton of donated food per week per store. Karen Franczyk, from the North Atlantic Region, shared successful program components such as streamlined, consistent donation processes, and department-specific staff engagement.  

CommonWealth Kitchen operates as a food business incubator, but also provides culinary skills training and food processing. The 412 model of alternative food rescue is unique in that they develop food distribution within an existing network, taking rescued food to where people live, work, and learn.

Planetarians utilize protein and fiber from defatted seeds to make healthful, sustainable, plant-based foods. Defatted seeds are the dry matter left after oils are extracted from crops such as sunflower seeds, cotton seeds, canola, etc. ReGrained rescues the nutritious grain created during beer production. Brewing beer processes the sugar out of the grain, leaving protein, fiber, and “a whole bunch of micronutrients” to make delicious and nutritious “SuperGrain bars”.

At Harvard University Dining Services. they serve 25,000 meals per day. Crista Martin and her team been working on both source reduction and donation for years. They understand the importance of comprehensive measurement, as well as student and staff engagement. They continually work to reduce food waste in the first place, achieving a low rate of 1.5 oz. of waste per meal. But there is still excess food that can be recovered. Some students are even involved in preparing excess food for donation for their local non-profit partner, Food For Free, in a manner that provides “a meal with dignity”.  

ProduceGood, one of our Alliance members, is a gleaning organization that uses food recovery to empower community volunteerism. Since the incubation of their first grassroots program in 2010, they have blossomed into a thriving organization of 600+ volunteers who have rescued 240,000 lbs. of produce, or 720,000 servings of fresh, healthy food distributed to food insecure individuals.

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Another Alliance member, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, works to mobilize the local community through innovative outreach, and consulting services to businesses and jurisdictions on food waste diversion and composting. Each year Solana Center reaches tens of thousands of San Diego County residents through its environmental education and community programs.

One of the innovative partner we are working with at the Alliance, Replate is helping to pilot test “willingness to pay” and tech applications for food donation pick up. Over the past two years Replate has recovered more than a million meals using their tech platform to match food donors with communities in need. They have a unique non-profit model that allows them to generate revenue and create jobs via fee for service, monthly subscriptions and licensing their technology.

Another partner working with us at the Alliance on piloting innovative solutions in the San Diego region is FoodRescueUS, who connects volunteer drivers for food recovery. We are piloting their volunteer driver platform with the San Diego Food Bank in parts of the county where there are not enough volunteer food recovery drivers to meet the demand from food donors.

Food Recovery Network (FRN) is the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America, with 235 Chapters operating on university campuses. Regina Northhouse has expanded student engagement to include FRN Alumni leadership and empower more students around food recovery via their interest in environmental and social issues. FRN is also utilizing Save The Food assets to share tips, tricks, and recipes to reduce food waste.

K-12 schools are also innovating on food waste source reduction and donation. Nancy Deming from Oakland Unified School District has collaborated regionally and across the nation to share best practice and lessons learned. They also shared a their school district food donation guide on the Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions’ Further With Food website.

Working with food businesses to manage unsold inventory is an upstream, business intelligence solution offered by Spoiler Alert. This technology allows food distributors, manufacturers, and retailer stores to get a better handle on their food recovery and waste diversion efforts, as well as creating a marketplace that facilitates real-time food donations, salvage sales, and organics recycling.

By joining together and learning from one another we can reach our national goal of cutting food loss and waste in the United States in half by 2030.

Moving forward

In the next few years we should expect to see both legal and policy barriers and opportunities, creative opportunities and partnerships for accessing capital, measuring impact, and mitigating unintended consequences of food waste reduction work---as well as a continued and more robust effort in fostering consumer behavior change.

Jesse Fink, of The Fink Family Foundation, and a driving force behind ReFed, spoke of the beginnings of this work and creating a “tent” for collaboration. We were in that expanded tent during the US Food Waste Summit and Innovator Workshop. We plan to continue to invite others to join this gathering under the tent, and remain open and inviting to new ideas and opportunities to reduce food waste, feed hungry people, and collaboratively address the root causes of hunger.

We have a big job ahead of us. We must embrace coordination and collaboration to scale for impact. As we move forward we will use food waste as a vehicle to address environment and nutrition. We will expand upon our place-based work as we clearly demonstrate our impact with relevant metrics and outcomes.

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Post by Barbara Hamilton, Director of Strategic Initiatives

Summer Fisherman Highlight: John Law

For the Summer 2018 issue of San Diego Food System Spotlights, we interviewed local fisherman, John Law, on his way back from a day of fishing, enjoying Taco Tuesday. When asked what he ordered, Wild Alaskan Cod fish tacos from Rubios.

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1. Please share the story and history of your fishing business.

When I was 15, my buddy and I went out to Mission Bay with a couple of fishing rods. My first cast was a horrible tangle, but when I got the tangle out, a Yellowfin Croaker was at the end of the line. It was the most magical moment and I’ve been hooked on fishing ever since. I never want to lose that spirit of being a kid and the excitement of going fishing, so I try to hold that childlike wonder and connection.

From then on, I went fishing in Mission Bay every chance I could. I was committed to getting on one of the sportboats I would see coming and going, and when I finally did, I saw bonita and barracuda and all the great things the ocean offers, there was no turning back.

I own and operate two boats named after Blazing Saddles, Rock Ridge and Wild West. I’m a small boat, coastal, day fishermen. I leave after sunrise and am back in the middle of the afternoon. I fish around a 15 mile radius of Mission Bay Harbor, primarily rockfish. I was introduced to rockfish by fisherman, Patrick Dean, in 1977. We went out in a similar boat to the ones I have now, in the same fishing spot with the same kind of fish. Not much has changed, except now I don't have long hair.

2. Why are you committed to local fishing?

I believe in the integrity of my product, selling quality fish at a reasonable price. I have a great relationship with the public and people I sell to, and I think that the worst thing would be to misrepresent the product, or sell poor quality.  

I believe that just because it’s “local”, doesn’t mean it’s the highest quality. It needs to be taken care of properly. It’s important to note the misrepresentation of the word “local”. For example, the market name for halibut is “local halibut” but it could be fish from unregulated Mexican water.

3. What is your vision for your business?

At 58 years old, I know my career won't last forever but I have no desire to quit. I want to continue doing what I’m doing at whatever level is possible. As I get older I am doing less of the heavy lifting and interested in expanding the market for other fishermen who might not have as much desire in interacting with the public for sales. I have been buying and selling high quality fish from other fishermen, helping others get better prices for their fish and bringing more variety to the public.

They say you should always have a doctor, lawyer, and dentist in your life that you can trust. I want to add, fisherman to the list. It’s important to find someone that matches with your personality and the product you want and build that relationship.

4. What have been the biggest challenges for your business?

One of my biggest challenges is being undercut by a product that is less expensive but lesser quality. For example, I can call someone about a hook and line halibut that I caught 40 minutes ago, as fresh as possible, but they aren't interested because they can get cheaper fish elsewhere. I’m asking for a reasonable price for a high quality product and still being undercut by Mexico, which doesn’t have regulated waters, no coastal distance protection, and no protection for fish.

Mother nature is another challenge. There are a variety of conditions that can affect a day of fishing, including too much or too few fish and changing weather.

I compare my job to gambling. I get up in the morning, take my money and place my bet. My bet is my gasoline, ice, bait, crew wages, and all the expenses that come with a day of fishing. I bet on myself to do well that day. When I drive away from the dock, all that money is spent. I am betting that my boat is functioning, that I've used the right bait, that I’ll catch enough, and that the demand will be there. There are few days that I make it big, the rest I stay at the table. With fishing there are a few ways to win and a million ways to lose.

5. What do local fishermen need to succeed?

Infrastructure is key.  Fisherman should feel confident that there is a safe and secure place to tie their boat up. They need to feel like a welcome part of the community. With the redevelopment of G street, the fishing community is getting squeezed into an area of entertainment. Fishermen need to have a place to conduct their business and there is always a need for more dock space devoted to the fishing community.

6. What do you want San Diegans to know?

I want San Diegans to know that they live in one of the most heavily regulated coastal states, in terms of fishing requirements and protection of resources. If your fish comes from a California fisherman, you don’t need to ask if it’s sustainable or viable, California seafood speaks for itself. It’s regulated so tightly that there is no question that you are buying the best available product for environmental sustainability. It’s as clean and green as it gets.

7. Where can San Diegans find you and your fish?

I am sporadically at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. I also patronize restaurants that strongly support local fishermen and that have menus modeled after locally caught fish. Some of these include, Ironside, Juniper and Ivy, LionFish Restaurant, and Ceviche House.

8. What are you selling this week?

I catch and sell rockfish. From other fishermen, I sell line-caught halibut, black cod, and yellowtail.

9. What is your favorite fish to eat?

I like to eat anything that can be used for bait; sardines, anchovies, muscles, clams.

Although, I guess I should say a local fish...rockfish.

10. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I want the public to know that the ocean is healthier and more vibrant today than I could imagine. The fish, seals, whales are all thriving. No one loves the ocean more than a fisherman and no one needs the ocean to be healthy, more than a fisherman. From where I stand, the ocean is healthy. We don't have to save it, we just need to maintain it.

My final words I want to leave with...NO fish farms.

Summer Grower Highlight: From Garden Patch to Dickinson Farm

The Dickinson farm isn’t your usual generational family farm. It has a unique start up story, all beginning with a life changing moment.

Mike and Stepheni purchased the Wallace D. Dickinson homestead in February 2012, as their forever home. When they bought the property, Stepheni was in the midst of pre-deployment work-up preparing for a 10 month deployment, and in March she was bit by a tick on San Clemente Island off the coast of Southern California.

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Unfortunately, Stepheni was left sick and untreated for a 10-month deployment. Almost a year later she returned home very ill and went from doctor to doctor to find a cure.  After 2 and a half years of fighting an undiagnosed illness, and a year of looking for a doctor, in July 2014, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Stepheni immediately started daily IV treatment and was told to eat as fresh and healthy as possible by her doctor. Each day after treatment, Mike would take her home and would try to find fresh, organic food for dinner. This is when they noticed the lack of fresh produce in National City.

Stepheni asked her doctor if she could be outside and garden a little. With no real farming experience, MIke and Stepheni planted a few fruits trees and learned how to plant a small garden patch …and with that the Farm began.

In the SoCal sunshine, the crops sprouted up with ease, providing excess in abundance of what they could eat. Mike and Stepheni started giving away the excess to friends, family and even started a crop share. Then even started giving excess to Dreams for Change to help feed those who couldn’t afford to buy their own. Meanwhile, Stepheni sat in the IV chair researching how to make the Farm an official business.

By January 2016, the few trees and garden patch turned into 16 raised boxes, an orchard, 4 hedgerows of coffee, a hop patch and 20 in ground rows; 1/4 of an acre total. With plans settled and licenses obtained, the little garden patch became Dickinson Farm.

Stepheni, the Founding Farmer began with no formal agricultural experience or education, instead her fondest memories set the groundwork for Dickinson Farm. She is now the Farm Manager, working and managing the day to day operations of the farm.


Born and raised in Southern California, with time spent in rural southern Illinois, Stepheni learned about wild edible plants in sixth grade camp and through afternoons of playing in the fields and forests of Illinois. She learned about stinging nettle, sassafras, cane berries, persimmons, paw paws, and mushrooms.

Stepheni has always been amazed yet frightened of what’s growing naturally all around her and this brought a sense of awe into her adult life, always looking for small gardens in nestled spaces. Her favorite fruit is any berry found around poison oak while hiking with her husband.

She has spent 20 years traveling all over the world as a entrepreneur, regulatory compliance and military professional. During her time off, she would navigate the landscapes of rolling hills, urban gardens, fresh markets and back alleyways.

Her previous experience and expertise with startup and growth strategies for emerging markets, operational environments, program development, and research management has helped ensure the success of Dickinson Farm.

Dickinson Farm also has a great farm to table “Farmacy” program designed for patients receiving on-going, out-patient care and great for anyone on a specialty diet. The program provides a great mix of Chef Made Meals and freshly harvested heirloom Dickinson farm produce delivered to your doorstep or even your doctor’s office. All produce is seasonal, organic, non-GMO and heirloom, and all ingredients in meals are organic and California grown. From responsibly raised and processed meats to heirloom varietals of grains and produce, each ingredient is carefully considered and presented in each dish to project it’s peak flavor to the diner.

Check out what’s growing at Dickinson Farm and sign up for your Farmacy or Farm Share, here.