At Richmond’s first food policy council meeting Tuesday night at City Hall, Urban Tilth Executive Director Doria Robinson instructed the carefully chosen participants to catalog the city’s most pressing food-related problems.
The session started off quickly. As the participants introduced themselves, they cited their biggest concerns while Robinson took notes on a dry-erase board in front of the group.
“We are trying to make a list, to really get a sense of the scope of all different issues that are facing Richmond in terms of food,” Robinson said.
Though everyone worded their concerns differently, most problems started with a lack of education and accessibility to nutritious food.
“This is a food desert, which I don’t like this term,” said Joan Davis, president of the Richmond Community Foundation, “but that’s the reality — we are.”
“Food desert” is a term to describe a region with no or minimal access to food. Richmond qualifies because there are few grocery stores, compared to the many liquor stores and fast food restaurants. There are no grocery stores or restaurants in North Richmond.
“I live in Richmond, but I shop in San Pablo,” said Tamisha Walker, the community organizer for Safe Return and a Richmond resident. “I go everywhere besides Richmond, because I can’t get everything I need from Food Co.”
About one third of Richmond — a little more than 30,000 people — live in an area considered underserved in terms of food access, according to a study done by The California Endowment (which also funds the Bay Citizen in part ) and the California Freshworks Fund.
“It is so easy to access a Big Mac and so hard to access tilth,” said Jeff Rutland of Safe Returns.
The larger group splintered off into smaller groups to address specific issues with production and distribution. One of the distribution groups made a list of places to get prepared food in Richmond.
Fast food places – burger, chicken and donuts – and corner stores topped the list. For many families, the quickest and most convenient place to find prepared dinner is a 7/11.
Even at school, children lack access to nutritious food. Robinson’s daughter, who lives in South Richmond, brought the breakfast that her school provided home to show her.
Though Robinson described it with a grimace on her face, Luz Gomez, the deputy chief of staff for County Supervisor John Gioia responded that it met the state’s standards for nutrition, though it was not fresh.
In West Contra Costa County Unified School District, which includes Richmond and unincorporated North Richmond among others, 16,154 students eat lunch that the school prepared, with 82 percent of the total students are qualified to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
There are a number of community gardens and urban agriculture projects in Richmond, which present their own problems with production of food.
Even the farmer’s markets in Richmond aren’t accessible to most residents, Tamisha Walker said, much like grocery stores.
At neighboring farmer’s markets, shoppers question Richmond-grown food. “People assume that everything in Richmond is polluted,” said Pilar Reber, owner of Sunnyside Organics. “They assume that there are bullets everywhere.”
Representatives from Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco food policy councils are attending the next meeting to provide feedback on the structure and dialogue of Richmond’s.
For now, the food policy council will meet about once a month, until the council grows and decides to change the frequency and setting of meetings.
“It’s just past time,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to have some consolidated thought and create an agenda around food in Richmond.”