Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Oscar Villegas, Supervisor on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Oscar Villegas (OV): During my time on the West Sacramento City Council, the notion of urban gardens was identified as a need for communal projects with the schools and senior housing areas. This led to the emergence of farmer stands and markets which have surfaced throughout the community and has become a viable source of food for the participants and the public through food stands. As a Yolo county supervisor, I see the food agriculture through a larger prism. Our county is one of the top producers of tomatoes, grapes, rice, and nuts, to name a view, in the state of California. It has solidified the needs to sustain and preserve agricultural open land space in the county.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
OV: It’s important to retain and support every aspect of agriculture to ensure that healthy food options are available to every segment of our society. It is critical that food distribution centers provide fruit and vegetable options to the clients they serve. Partnerships with social service agencies and providing farmers with the ability to provide their bounty to individuals with EBT access has presented viable options to the benefit of the client and farmers.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
OV: With the ever-evolving crop science technology, it is exciting to witness the research efforts on vegetable seed development. Bayer recently invested US$80 million towards create a research lab and 2,000-square-foot greenhouse in West Sacramento. It is my hope that the science developed will benefit the local farmer to maximize their products and increased productivity.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
OV: The first person that comes to mind is Mary Kimball, the Executive Director for Land-Based Learning. She was the architect of urban farming in West Sacramento. Through her efforts, she literally changed the landscape of segments of West Sacramento by turning empty lots and fields into fruit and vegetable gardens. Her vision of neighbors feeding neighbors has struck a cord and serves as another thread in binding together the west Sacramento community.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
OV: As a steward of governance for the county, I see my role as supporting the strategic plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors’ goal of flourishing agriculture by agriculture land preservation, facilitating connections between growers and buyers, develop strategic—including a concierge—approach to nurture new ag tech business, and align workforce development efforts with ag and food system employer needs.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
OV: Clearly the fast food industry did not have a presence in society back then as it does now. Meals are now geared to quick and easy access through a drive-through window as opposed to the aroma of a home cooked meal at dinner time. Our culture has changed immensely for the workforce, as both parents generally work a nine-to-five job and leave little time to develop healthy food options. Our challenge is to mitigate the ill effects of the fast food culture by providing easy access to health food options are reasonable prices.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
OV: The obvious threat to our farming community is access to water. It is critical that our policies preserve access to water to enable the crops to grow. The ongoing drought issues and potential water fix efforts must be thoroughly analyzed with priority on farming and habitat preservation.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
OV: Support your local farmers by attending communal markets/stands and by supporting those business which embrace the farm-to-fork aspect of providing fresh produce from local farmers in the meals they prepare.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
OV: Continued access and sustainability of healthy foods available to all segments of a community. It is critical that local farmers be able to sustain their farmland and that their legacy is passed down from generation to generation with increased yields. While I support the science of agri-business, there is no substitute for the individual local farmers. They represent the history of our county and have fed our nation.
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