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Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Food Bank Changes Lives

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SACRAMENTO - The Sacramento Food Bank once was one of those standard food-distribution centers where bags of processed foods, carbohydrate-laden government commodities, day-old bread and sweets were bagged and handed to people who stood in line for hours to get it.

One day five years ago, then-new chief executive Blake Young had an epiphany: "I kept seeing people coming through the line, and they were getting fatter and fatter. I realized we were killing them."

So Young set about remaking how food banks operate, taking advantage of Sacramento's location in California's rich agricultural heart.

He and his staff forged partnerships with local farmers, most of them organic, and increased the amount of fresh produce to more than half of clients' food allotment. Then, knowing that most of those served live in food deserts without transportation to grocery stores and the region's many farmers markets, they moved distribution sites to about two dozen neighborhood schools and churches they visit once a month.

Just as at farmers markets, the produce is laid out on tables, and clients can "shop" for fresh carrots, kale, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, squash or whatever else is in season. Background music lends a festive air, and informational booths offer clinics on smoking cessation and health screening.

The number of families served has grown from 8,000 to 20,000 in the two years since the new program has taken off.

"My health has improved; I have more energy now," Marlene Hill, 57, said at a recent event in the Sacramento community of Del Paso Heights. "What we don't eat, we juice up in a blender, and that's something I'd never done before."     

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