California District Brings Fresh Veggies to Low-Income Communities

By Susie Kirschner, Inland Empire Resource Conservation District Project manager

In 2017, the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD) located in Southern California was awarded funding through the National Association of Conservation Districts’ (NACD) Urban Agriculture Conservation (UAC) Initiative to develop a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. The CSA program ensures lower-income residents have access to affordable, organic, local produce.

Ceja delivering the CSA boxes to the IERCD office in Redlands, Calif.

In August of 2017, the IERCD hired on Lucy Solorzano de Ceja as the CSA coordinator. She has expanded and improved the CSA program above and beyond what was expected. Huerta del Valle Community Garden grows and sources all of the produce for the CSA, helping the program feed 60 families.

Ceja also started a new CSA hub at the IERCD office to offer the program to a new community. Members receive fresh boxes each week that include seasonal produce, including kale, beets, turnips, cabbage, oranges, avocados and various herbs. Additionally, Ceja provides nutritional information and recipe cards to CSA members to introduce them to healthy new recipes and encourage members to prepare meals using seasonal vegetables.

Ceja with NRCS District Conservationist for the Redlands field office and several of the farmers who attended the workshop on NRCS programs to improve conservation on their farms.

The IERCD has also organized several successful outreach workshops through UAC grant funds. Workshop topics include how to cook with herbs, nutritional cooking and mushroom cultivation. Each of these workshops are well-attended by community members with more than 60 participants.

Ceja is now focusing her efforts on workshops specifically for farmers in the region. In an effort to advertise the funding resources available through our partner, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Ceja organized a workshop to introduce farmers to NRCS funding and technical support. There were ten farmers at the workshop who had never even heard of NRCS before. Since then, three of those farmers contacted NRCS staff to develop conservation plans for their farms.

Additionally, workshop attendees suggested other workshop topics that would be useful to improve their farm operations. Thanks to feedback from those surveys, the next scheduled workshop will focus on pest management.

The IERCD and its farmers and residents have received numerous benefits from the UAC grant and look forward to continuing work on this project.

To learn more about the IERCD’s 2017 Urban Agriculture Conservation Grant Initiative Project, click here.

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