From Food Insecurity to Food Sovereignty: Reimagining local food systems in the Sunnydale community

From Food Insecurity to Food Sovereignty

Reimagining local food systems in the Sunnydale community

According to the USDA Food Atlas, most San Franciscans travel less than a half mile to get to the nearest grocery store. But that is not the case for residents of San Francisco’s Sunnydale public housing community who have to trek more than a mile to get to a supermarket, even farther if they want to find a good selection of healthy, affordable food. Not only is this diverse low-income community located in the middle of a food desert, most Sunnydale residents do not have access to a car which makes grocery shopping an ordeal. But distance is only part of the problem. With an average household income of just $15,000 a year, families often run short on food during the month. These inequitable conditions have had far-reaching consequences for the community. The chronic disease rate among Sunnydale residents is double that of San Franciscans generally. Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis has made matters worse.

While food insecurity remains a long-standing problem for this isolated neighborhood, Mercy Housing and Sunnydale residents are actively working together to improve these conditions with support from the Stupski Foundation. Stupski, a San Francisco-based family foundation, is currently engaged in some of the most progressive grantmaking strategies in the nation for dealing with food security issues. Their grassroots approach focuses on elevating impacted communities as active decision-makers in creating reliable and dignified access to nutritious food for all community members.

Communities understand best how to create services that address their needs. That’s why the Stupski Foundation is proud to support Mercy Housing California as it engages with Sunnydale residents to design and build a resilient community food system that serves all,” said Claire Callahan, Director of Communications, Stupski Foundation.

In March of 2020, Stupski provided $200,000 in grant funding to enable Mercy Housing, Sunnydale residents and our community partners under HOPE-SF to begin conducting an in-depth analysis of the existing local food systems, brainstorm creative and realistic solutions to food insecurity with experts in the field, and create business plans to improve neighborhood food systems in a way that prioritizes resident self-determination and dignity.

As the Stupski Foundation notes, the defining element of this project is that it is guided by the people who have firsthand knowledge of the problem and are experts on the needs of the community – Sunnydale residents. The project is still in the information gathering phase, but some of the ideas for improvements that residents have envisioned so far include:

  • Creating a co-op to manage the community orchard and gardens – developed by Mercy Housing as part of the HOPE-SF neighborhood transformation plan.
  • Purchasing and repurposing a nearby corner store with limited selection and inflated prices.
  • Exploring transportation options that would improve access to quality, competitively priced food.
  • Expanding the existing community garden program to provide more fresh produce to Sunnydale families.
  • Establishing resident-run food co-ops and community commercial kitchens that would support microbusinesses.

Funding for this project is well-timed, as Mercy Housing, Sunnydale residents, and local nonprofits are currently planning for the development of a new Community Hub as part of ongoing neighborhood improvements. In addition to a rec center/gym, community gathering places, and green spaces, the Hub will incorporate findings from this project, such as food-related social enterprises and new healthy food retail.

From Food Insecurity to Food Sovereignty: Reimagining local food systems in the Sunnydale communityDanielle Tate, Associate Project Manager for Mercy Housing’s Sunnydale Development Team, is overseeing the Stupski-funded project and working closely with other members of Mercy Housing’s Sunnydale Team, residents and community partners on this effort: “Everyone is very excited about this project which has grown out of years of collaborative work with Sunnydale residents around community needs and their vision for a revitalized neighborhood. Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has made food insecurity in Sunnydale a lot worse, and it has made the inadequacies of the existing food systems even more apparent. “Right now, we’re working hard to address urgent needs while also looking at the bigger picture of improving food access.” Danielle goes on to describe the intense effort on the part of Sunnydale staff, resident leaders, community volunteers, and partners to deliver and distribute groceries and meals on a weekly basis to over 550 families and homebound seniors experiencing food shortages in the wake of COVID.

At the same time, Mercy Housing staff at Sunnydale are in the process of interviewing and surveying residents by phone and going door to door (using masks and social distancing) to gather information that will help inform the design of new healthy food sources for the community and approaches to ensuring access to those sources.

Despite the unanticipated challenges to this project presented by COVID, Mercy Housing, Sunnydale families and the Stupski Foundation remain committed to developing effective long-term solutions to addressing food insecurity in the neighborhood. Together, we are reimagining community food systems and creating a blueprint for a dynamic network of businesses and resident-centered programs that will create easy access to nutritious food, promote positive health outcomes, and support community economic stability. We look forward to sharing more about our progress on this endeavor with you in 2021.