Nathan Fletcher

County of San Diego Supervisor Candidate Questionnaire - Nathan Fletcher responses

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We invite you to share your vision for how County of San Diego can build on existing initiatives (ex: the County of San Diego’s Live Well San Diego Food System Initiative) and/or create even more innovative solutions to address these issues in order to develop an equitable and sustainable food system. Please limit each answer to 250 words.

1. How will you address food insecurity in San Diego County? We know that 13% of the total population in San Diego County, half a million, is food insecure, which includes families, seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans struggling with unemployment and underemployment. However, the Federal administration is currently proposing drastic cuts and structural changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). San Diego County also has one of the worst CalFresh (California name for SNAP) enrollment rates in the nation with estimates putting in enrollment at only 49.5% of eligible residents. What role do you think the County of San Diego should have on a local, statewide, and national level on this issue?

The County of San Diego has a vital role in addressing food insecurity not only through programs like Live Well San Diego but through Health and Human Services Operations and strategic partnerships with stakeholders throughout the County. I plan to address this growing problem through programs we know work, like the CalFresh program. CalFresh is the single most successful and effective program in lifting families out of poverty, increasing food security for nearly 380,000 participants in San Diego County. With programs like CalFresh that are proven to work, we need to ensure that the role the County of San Diego is playing in improving access to benefits is at its highest capacity, we have work to do to increase this efficiency through local, state and federal collaboration. According to a 2016 report by the Center on Policy Initiatives, San Diego County has one of the lowest CalFresh participation rates in the state. It is the role of the County Board of Supervisors to advocate for programs which improve the lives of community members and I plan to develop an aggressive program to fully make use of these federal benefits for our community. I plan to continue to not only use what works but call upon the County to be innovative and push the barriers which keep San Diegans from a path to greater food security.

2. How will you support equitable access to healthy food for underserved communities? San Diegans face daunting health disparities, where the most food insecure residents also face the highest rates of obesity in the County, and limited access to healthy, affordable food is disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color. What would you do to remove barriers? How would you work with cities to create land use incentives to improve the quality of food and beverages sold in neighborhood food environments (healthy neighborhood markets, farmers markets, full service grocery stores, full service restaurants, wellness centers, community gardens, etc.) in underserved communities?

From my experience in the capital I understand what it takes to move around unruly regulations and permits, many of which stand in the way of low-income communities accessing healthy food. When opening a local market is fogged with permits, fees and zoning laws it becomes difficult for us to support local San Diegans who desire to feed their community. It is time to address the disproportionately concentrated low-income communities and communities of color who face higher rates of food insecurity, reside in food deserts and have very little access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In a Country which throws 40% percent of its food into a landfill each year how can we accept the health disparities food insecure families face every day? I plan to support equitable access to healthy food through my Human Rights Commission Plan which calls on San Diego County to build bridges between diverse communities and ensure that the County is addressing access to food equitably.

3. How will you support the viability of small-scale farming and fishing in San Diego? San Diego County hosts the greatest number of organic and small farms than any other County in the nation. With ready access to the Pacific Ocean, San Diego also consists of a vibrant fishing community, with over 65 locally-available fish species. Supporting a thriving farming and fishing industry in our region creates local jobs, contributes to multiplier effects to our economy, supports global sustainability goals, and encourages regional resilience. However, the average age of small food producers, both farming and fishing, are over 60 years old. These food producers operate on slim margins with high resource inputs (such as water and land access for farmers), making it challenging to compete with cheaper imports from countries with lower labor costs and less-stringent regulations. What would you do to support the viability of the small-scale local farming and fishing community in San Diego County? How would you ensure that these critical occupations are preserved for the next generation?

San Diego County has one of the largest farm economies in the Country yet we face continued barriers which make it difficult for small farmers and fisheries to survive. With increasing land costs, small margins and growing competition it is important that we encourage local and sustainable food usage throughout the County. With more small businesses and local consumers accessing local and sustainable produce and fish we can further support small scale farming and fishing in San Diego. I plan to push for land usage and small business loan opportunities which would foster the continued development of small scale farms and fisheries for future generations. San Diego County should be recognized as a leader in local and sustainable farming/fishing and I plan to support efforts such as SDFSA’s many initiatives to support local economies.

4. How will you support San Diego County’s food waste reduction, donation, and recycling goals? In San Diego County, we generate at least 700,000 tons of food waste per year and our composting facilities process around 2% of the total food waste generated. Many reasons contribute to the food waste problem including ambiguous date labels, lack of proper planning and storage, and aesthetic preferences of consumers. Behavior changes are necessary to waste less with edible food being donated to feed hungry people in San Diego County. The remaining food waste has the potential to be turned into compost, livestock feed, or energy, which would reduce our the County’s greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. The County of San Diego’s High Waste Diversion Plan includes many of these strategies. What would you do to ensure that the County meets the targets identified? What is the County’s role in ensuring that the entire region is making coordinated progress towards these goals?

We waste nearly 500,000 tons of food in San Diego County, 10% of which would feed the nearly half of million San Diegans who face food insecurity every day. We have the food within our County to end hunger and divert this food from going to the landfill. We must support initiatives that not only decrease food waste but connect food that is already in our County to families who need it the most. Through programs such as retail rescue at Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food bank, which connect local grocers with food pantries and non-profits throughout the County to divert food from the landfill and address food insecurity. San Diego County was home to innovative partnerships between Starbucks and Feeding San Diego through the Food Share Program which moves otherwise wasted retail goods into the hands of food insecure San Diegans. These are the programs we must continue to support, not only to preserve the environment and decrease food waste but to address the 1 in 8 San Diegans who go to bed hungry. In addition to diverting food waste from landfills, we must address the roots of these problems in the first place. This can only be done through educating our communities to waste less food, become knowledgeable on ambiguous expiration dates and look past those imperfect fruits and veggies that get left behind on the shelf.

5. How will you use County contracts to increase purchases of Good Food? The County of San Diego adopted the EatWell Practices in December 2016 to commit to using its public dollars to buy nutritious foods grown locally and sustainably. The County staff is now working on implementing the EatWell Practices. There is an opportunity to ensure robust measures are in place and take this to commitment to the next level by adopting the nationally-recognized Good Food Procurement Program (GFPP). GFPP would strengthen the County’s support of the local economy, environmental sustainability, workers’ rights and animal welfare, as well as nutrition. What would you do to leverage the County's food purchasing power around food procurement?

I plan to work with the Health and Human Services Agency and the Live Well San Diego Food System Initiative to address barriers in successfully rolling out the EatWell practices and utilizing GFPP. We need to continue County contracts that visibly move good food into the County and end contracts that do not. EatWell practices call for increased access to water and healthy food, supporting local businesses and producers along the way. I plan to embrace these values as laid out by the County of San Diego by increasing contracts with local agribusiness and put good food into the hands of San Diegans equitably. I believe it is time to change our County government which has had little oversight and no accountability, spending nearly $20 million a year in purchasing food for the County which does not align with the values of the Good Food Program. If we want to put our community first we must commit to programs like GFPP to ensure that food coming into the County is local, environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable.

6. How will you increase food growing opportunities such as community gardens and urban farms in your district? Urban agriculture provides a myriad of community, health and environmental benefits, including increased green and open space, improved access to fresh food and neighborhood beautification. Some cities have reviewed their land use codes as well as created incentive programs (Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone). What steps do you propose to encourage and support residents growing their own food?

We have the space and knowledge right here in our County to ensure that every area of San Diego can cultivate community gardens and open thriving urban farms. Project New Village in Southeastern San Diego is a beaming example of how urban agriculture can thrive, bringing opportunity for small businesses and increasing access to produce in the food deserts of San Diego County. I plan to work with organizations like Project New Village and utilize the City of San Diego's existing data on Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones to connect growers with vacant space and the tools to establish thriving community gardens in my district.

7. How will you support food system workers? One in seven jobs in San Diego County is in the food system. These jobs include farm work, food processing, distribution, food service, and retail. The average wage of food system workers has increased at less than half the rate of wages across all sectors (at $24,693 annual). Most workers in the food system do not make a living wage for the high-cost region. How would you address these inequities?

I continue to support raising the minimum wage and adopting a living wage, this impacts all service worker and the one in seven food system workers here in San Diego County. It it unethical for our County government to allow our food system workers and their families to be responsible for feeding the County but are unable to feed themselves. Instead of investing in our communities, County supervisors gave themselves pay raises and I plan on first calling to end this lack of oversight and break the status quo. We must put our communities in need first, by demanding a living wage for food system workers, expanding vocational training and supporting organizations like Kitchens for Good, who strive to move vulnerable populations into food industry jobs through culinary training programs. San Diego County relies heavily on food system workers to feed our communities and it is time we took care of them too.

8. How will you support food enterprise and entrepreneurs, particularly those who expand access to nutritious food in under-served areas? Food business opportunities abound to facilitate innovation and job creation with mobile vendors (food trucks and sidewalk pushcarts), neighborhood market owners, restaurateurs and micro-processors, distributors and others. How would you support the growth of the small and micro-enterprise food business sector?

Through my plan to develop a human rights commission and my commitment to putting underserved communities first, it is critical to continue to open opportunities for food entrepreneurs to increase access to healthy foods while growing their business. I hope to see both SB 946 and AB 626 pass, which could make a positive impact on street vendors and home kitchen entrepreneurs’ ability to safely feed the community without risk of petty violations. It is the role of the County Board of Supervisors to put San Diegans first and ensure safe and equitable distribution of food throughout the County, this starts by giving small food businesses the tools to succeed. I hope to look to successful programs like Mas Fresco piloted by the UCSD Center for Community health at markets across San Diego, which aims to increase CalFresh recipients’ access to healthy and nutritious foods through a produce matching program. Similarly looking to farmers markets in District 4 to accept CalFresh benefits and adopt the ‘Market Match’ program which increases underserved family’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables whilst supporting local farmers.

9. Please share your vision for supporting the needs of San Diego families.

One powerful lesson of my service in the Marine Corps came early in my service, officers ate last. The lowest-ranking Marines were allowed to eat first, the leadership took care of those whom they were responsible for before themselves. As County Supervisor’s we must adopt this same service and take care of those we are responsible first. It is unjust that nearly half a million San Diegans do not have enough to eat, and this greatly reflects that our current County government is not taking care of San Diegans first. My vision is to break the status quo of County government and put San Diegans first.