When Faced with Disaster, Food Inspires Hope and Builds Community

Today is National Food Day. Although Napa County had an event planned for this evening, we opted to cancel due to the devastating wildfires that swept through the North Bay these past two weeks.

Our event was scheduled at a local public school. Because classroom doors just reopened yesterday for the first time since October 9th, school staff have their hands full welcoming students back. With the fires nearly 100% contained, our community turns its attention from merely surviving to thriving once again. As I reflect on the goal of Food Day and the whirlwind of recent events,  I’m reminded of inspiring stories of hope at every turn.

One of my favorite stories is of CanDo CanGrow. Following Food Day in 2014, a group of volunteers were inspired to act. They teamed up with UC Master Gardeners of Napa County to grow fresh produce for those in need. The Napa Community Garden (est. 2008) donated the land and in the first year, CanDo CanGrow donated over 1,500 pounds of summer vegetables for the Napa Valley Food Bank. I recently learned that tomorrow, October 25th, will mark the last harvest of the season.  CanDo CanGrow is moving to a new location next season.

Equally inspiring is the work of food relief that took place throughout the Valley over the last two weeks. Numerous organizations used food to bring people together during a time of crisis, including:

  • Operation BBQ Relief: Founded in 2011 after a tornado devastated a small town in Missouri, BBQ teams let their smoke rise to the occasion to feed those displaced. In Napa, they hosted a week-long operation in partnership with a catering business in American Canyon.
  • Feed the Firsts: Hosted by Justin-Siena High School, this event provided a banquet meal to deployed firefighters and other safety personnel. Read more in the Napa Valley Register.
  • Feast it Forward Foundation: Promoting the idea of giving back as a lifestyle choice, this organization raised funds and pitched in to support the effort to keep the community fed.

The North Bay fires were a disaster of epic proportions, but our community is incredibly resilient and united to protect a place we call home. I can point to similar stories throughout the nation where gardening and cooking instill inspiration and hope in the face of daily disasters.

Take Stephen Ritz, who grew a green business with his high school students in the Bronx. If his story isn’t compelling evidence that gardening, cooking, and environmental education can have a profound impact on students’ lives, even (and especially) when faced with crisis, I don’t know what is!

This story is evidence that food education changes kids' lives.

Today, the air is clear, the sky is blue, and the sun is shining. Whether growing a plant or growing a movement, I hope you feel inspired to build community with food.

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