Sustainable Food Center (SFC), located in Austin, Texas works to create and sustain a healthy community for adults and children in central Texas by improving access to salubrious, affordable, local food. SFC also provides training as it relates to food preparation. SFC trains community members so that they better understand how to cultivate local food and advocate it on a policy level.
SFC began as community organization and is concerned with community level empowerment. In regards to food system changes, Ronda Rutledge, the Executive Director at SFC, says that, “change can happen at the community level while policy decisions are being influenced at all levels.” SFC focuses on growing food and teaching cooking classes, not to registered dieticians and medical professionals, but to those in the community, so that they understand how to cook fresh local foods on a budget. This information is communicated in a culturally specific fashion, in both Spanish and English, as SFC encourages cultural access to food through food justice—food sovereignty, physical access to food, and economic access to food.
Farmer training is yet another focus, but this training does not exist in order to instruct farmers how to practice farming—SFC functions as a matchmaker between consumers and farmers. According to Executive Director Rutledge, “the leadership and strength already exists in the families we serve—SFC provides training and tools to support the community in self-sufficiency.”
Andrew Smiley, the Deputy Director, emphasizes SFC’s “Grow, Share, Prepare” model to help ameliorate the food crisis in the United States. He cites this as the most unique aspect of SFC, as he believes that engaging individuals in multiple components of the food system facilitates the biggest impact. The Farm Direct team puts food in school cafeterias; The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Allegre program teaches community members how to turn food into delicious and nutritious dishes; the annual Program Replication training, which will take place June 9-11, 2014, instructs those from other communities how to best setup SFC-like programs in their native communities.
Rutledge notes that policy is important—all stakeholders in the food system should be involved in influencing policy in food systems. SFC works with the Austin/Travis County Sustainable Food Policy Board, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, and Austin Independent School District’s (AISD) School Health Advisory Council. She encourages community members to write letters and make phone calls. Deputy Director Smiley quips, “if you’re not talking to your lawmakers about food, who is?”
SFC plans to continue community empowerment over the next few years. SFC recently raised USD$4.5 million to build a new facility, including an operational reserve and two years of operating costs, and plans to extend the number of people they are working with. Interested individuals can always volunteer with SFC and support their day-to-day lives by getting involved in their local communities, sharing what they know about their food and culture with others, getting involved in policy discussions, and visiting local farmers’ markets.
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