Time to Move to a Senior Living Facility?

Time to Move to Senior Living Facility, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Time to Move to Senior Living Facility, Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Westmont Living Experts Answer This Question and More

Today’s seniors and their loved ones have an abundance of choices when it’s time to move into a retirement community. But there remain many factors to consider when deciding the timing of that transition and determining which location is best for you. Experts from Westmont Living, which owns Mariposa at Ellwood Shores in Goleta, share their insights.

How do you know when it’s time to choose senior living?

“Ideally, families should start looking for an appropriate senior living community when when there isn’t a sense of urgency,” said Nick Begane, community relations director at Mariposa at Ellwood Shores, a senior community offering independent and assisted living as well as memory-care options.

Waiting lists can be very long for desirable senior living situations. Can you get on a waiting list even if you’re not quite ready to move?

“A family should start their research at least one year ahead of your desired move,” said Jack McCarty, vice president of sales and marketing for Westmont Living, which also runs The Oaks in Nipomo and will open The Oaks in Paso Robles in 2021. “When you find a place that meets a majority of your criteria, consider placing a deposit with the community so that you can secure a place when you are ready or when they have an opening.”

How can you tell if a place is right for you?

“Some communities allow short-term or respite stays,” said McCarty. “This allows for your parent(s) to spend time getting to know the community, those that work there, and to enjoy the amenities firsthand. Interestingly, some people stay rather than move out again. When that happens, it’s a win-win for the seniors and their families.”

What questions should you ask about a community?

• Is the building secure and do they follow the recommended CDC guidelines?

• How competent is their health support? Are they licensed to provide health services? Are nurses on-site every day? What are their COVID-19 procedures?

• Does the building look like a place that you would like to live?

• Do they have a fitness center or exercise options for optimum health and wellness?

• Is therapy after hospitalization available?

• Does the dining program provide the right menus?

“Once you have determined that a particular community is a good fit for your family member, then meet with a community relations person to review the payment structure and termination and refund policies,” said Begane.

How can you best learn about the culture and vibe?

“Ask to see the community schedule and look at the quality of the activities available and the frequency of social activities,” said McCarty. “Find out if the community can support the mind, body, and spiritual needs of your parent(s).

Stop by and have lunch and spend time observing your new home.”

COMMON SIGNS THAT EXTRA SUPPORT IS NEEDED INCLUDE

 short-term memory loss

 forgetting to pay bills

 not managing personal affairs

disorientation of time and place

 loss of normal judgement, such as making an illogical approach to a problem

 not cooking or eating regularly

 loss of weight

 poor home maintenance (dirty dishes, unwashed laundry, and clutter)

 poor personal hygiene (not bathing regularly, repeatedly wearing the same clothes without washing)

 not taking medication or following medicine instructions

 losing touch with friends, not socializing or participating in favorite activities

 showing signs of depression, like sleeping or crying

Westmont Living: westmontliving.com

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Meet the Society of Fearless Grandmothers

Meet the Society of Fearless Grandmothers, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Meet the Society of Fearless Grandmothers, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

SENIORS BAND TOGETHER TO FIGHT EARTH’S DESTRUCTION

The planet is in grave danger, and a vibrant group of grandmother activists has banded together to battle against the potential destruction of the earth.

This may sound like the tagline for a bring-the-whole-family blockbuster movie, but these superheroes aren’t fictional—they’re working in our midst right here in Santa Barbara.

Committed to nonviolent action and demanding urgent measures to address the Earth’s climate emergency, Santa Barbara’s Society of Fearless Grandmothers was formed last October.

After their first training session—led by two of the founding grandmothers of the indigenous group Idle No More S.F. Bay, and the Bay Area Society of Fearless Grandmothers— the group quickly built momentum. They rallied in front of the County Administration Building on Valentine’s Day, demanding the denial of new fossil-fuel project permits; they hosted a virtual Earth Day art project collaboration with their grandchildren; and they wrote postcards as part of an NAACP effort to reach people in states where voting rights are under attack, urging them to make sure that they are registered and to pledge to vote in November.

“Our hope is that people will really start to talk about the climate crisis issue and demand that we take some action, because otherwise our grandchildren a children are going to be in a world of hurt,” said Irene Cooke, one of Santa Barbara’s Founding Grandmothers. She’s a longtime climate activist who moved from Colorado to Santa Barbara in 2018, primarily to be near her daughter and young grandson.

“I replaced my mountain hikes with beach walks, and it makes me so sad to walk these beaches and know that, when my grandson is my age, those beaches won’t be here,” said Cooke. “They’ll be underwater. There won’t be any beaches, not to mention the issues with food production and migration and disease. The climate crisis will impact every aspect of life on earth.”

Frustrated with the restrictions mandated by the pandemic, the Society of Fearless Grandmothers — which  has about 40 members ranging in age from their late fifties to 85 — is currently using technology and other physically distanced tools to demand that COVID-19 responses focus on a transition away from the fossil-fuel economy to a system that addresses climate justice and protects people, not profit.

They are also adamantly opposed to racial violence, and one of their official statements connects that movement to climate activism: “We recognize that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect people of color. We can no longer tolerate a planet where anyone’s right to breathe is compromised — whether by police brutality or by pollution.”

The Fearless Grandmothers fear that time is running out. “At a certain point, if enough action hasn’t been taken, it will be too late,” said Cooke. “And we’re not there yet. A lot of people have just said, ‘It’s too late, we can’t do anything,’ but that’s not true. The technology is there. It’s just a matter of the political will and people rising up to demand that we do something about this. That’s the main thing that we want to communicate.”

The Society of Fearless Grandmothers: fearlessgrandmotherssb.org

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Reverse Mortgages 101

Reverse Mortgages 101, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Reverse Mortgages 101, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S MONTECITO OFFICE OFFERS PLANNING ADVICE

A type of loan available to homeowners aged 62 and older, reverse mortgages allow people to borrow money based on the value of their homes. Unlike other loans, the debt isn’t immediately due. Instead, payment is deferred until the borrower either dies or sells the home, at which point the debt comes out of their estate or sale.

“In the right circumstances, a reverse mortgage can be a really nice thing for older homeowners in retirement,” said Tom Kronen, an advisor at Mutual of Omaha’s Montecito office who has specialized in this type of loan for almost 20 years. He often works with multiple family members and also prefers to get a trusted advisor involved, whether an attorney, accountant, or financial advisor.

“This is much more of a relationship business than the traditional one between a broker and client,” said Kronen. A reverse mortgage should not be seen as a silver bullet for financial survival, and Kronen does not suggest using it as a “stand-alone product.” He explained, “So you are utilizing home equity, but it’s better if you utilize home equity in coordination with retirement income and other assets.”

But it can be a worthy tool during tough times. “When financial markets are really volatile, and especially if you sustain losses in the market, that’s not a good time to pull money out of your savings and investment accounts,” said Kronen. “Instead, you can use a reverse mortgage to supplement your income and carry you over until the markets rebound.”

Many are concerned that this arrangement will interfere with their ability to leave money to their family when they’re gone, and there’s truth to that.

“Legacy is a really important thing, and it’s something that we always bring up in the conversation because it can really affect decision making,” said Kronen. “But a reverse mortgage sometimes can be even better for legacy; it just depends on the situation. One thing we like to say in our business is: A reverse mortgage is best when it’s not used as a last resort. It’s better if it’s used earlier in retirement and as part of a coordinated plan.”

You can actually use a reverse mortgage to finance the purchase of a new home. “If a retired couple or individual is downsizing or rightsizing into a new home from their old home, they can use a reverse mortgage exactly like they would get a mortgage in a new home,” he said. “But you are not obligated to have mortgage payments on that new house. You’re going to get to put more money in the bank.”

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Building Better Bone Health With Osteostrong

Building Better Bone Health With Osteostrong, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Building Better Bone Health With Osteostrong, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

WELLNESS STUDIO FIGHTS AGAINST OSTEOPOROSIS

Almost everyone knows about the increased dangers of falling and breaking bones as we age. But traditional workout programs never really focused on enhancing bone strength to aid in the fight against osteoporosis.

OsteoStrong, a five-year-old wellness studio franchise operation owned by Yvonne and Jim Parsons, who originally brought Curves for Women to town, hopes to change that.

“We help people with issues with bone health,” said Yvonne, explaining that people stop producing the mineral and tissue that make our bones strong after we turn 30. “If you’re playing tennis or you’re doing high impact sports — hiking, running, tennis, those kinds of things—generally people maintain their bone mass. But as we age, especially for women, we start losing it when we start menopause because our body leaches the calcium out of our bones.”

That leads to osteoporosis or osteopenia, with half of all women and a third of all men over 50 eventually breaking a bone. “It’s the third leading cause of death after 65,” said Parsons ominously. “Forty percent of people who have a fracture will be staying in a nursing home after 65, and 20 percent will never walk again.”

Developed by biomechanics engineer John Jaquish, OsteoStrong works on the principle of “osteogenic” loading. Using super-resistance machines that cover every section of the body—a chest press, leg press, core pull, and skeleton-stressing vertical lift that resemble weight machines and feature feedback monitors

OsteoStrong clients come in once a week, briefly stand on vibration platforms to warm up, then exert 30 seconds of all-out force at each workout station. A session is designed to take approximately 10 minutes from start to finish.

Parsons offered a few analogies to explain how it works. “If you go into a dark room, how long does it take for your pupil to enlarge? If you start to put your hand on a fire, how quickly does your body respond by pulling it away?” she asked. “It just is like a nanosecond, so it only takes five seconds to hit the degree that you need to for the axial loading when you’re doing it on the equipment.”

Curious to try it out? An initial visit is free. osteostrong.me

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Healthy People, Healthy Trails

Healthy People Healthy Trails, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Healthy People Healthy Trails, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

BROAD COLLABORATION IS TAKING SENIORS INTO NATURE

Even during pandemic times, hitting the sidewalks and trails of Santa Barbara is a surefire way to stay fit.

“Many doctors and other health professionals cite moderate physical activity, including walking, as a ‘magic pill’ for excellent health,” said Margaret Weiss, director of health education for Sansum Clinic. “It can maintain the body’s systems in good condition and reduce the risk of chronic illness.”

Plus, getting outside is free, requires no special equipment, and can relieve stress. With this in mind, a broad group of organizations — including CenCal Health, City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, Healthy Lompoc Coalition, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, and Santa Barbara County Trails Council — developed Healthy People Healthy Trails to motivate people to embrace an active lifestyle and connect to the outdoors. The website offers maps to easy and enjoyable walks around Santa Barbara County.

Walking is a particularly good activity for older adults, as it can be done year-round by people of all ages and abilities. “Walking serves many purposes — exercise, fun, and transportation,” said Weiss. “And in challenging times, such as the pandemic, walking is an  effective stress reliever and provides a distraction from everyday worries.”

To maintain good health, experts suggest 30 minutes of activity on most days, 60 minutes for youth. But not even these moderate goals are being achieved, said Weiss, explaining, “Less than 25 percent of adults and less than 50 percent of youth get the recommended amount of activity.”

For older adults, such activity is known to extend lifespans, reduce the risk of falls, improve balance and agility, prevent osteoporosis and muscle loss, and delay the onset of cognitive decline. And evidence suggests that when the exercise is done outdoors, nature enhances the health benefits.

“Recent studies compared people who walked in a forest with people who walked in a city,” said Weiss. “Consistently, even when the groups switched locations, those who were in nature had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and lower pulse rates.”

At a time when we are all advised to stay home as much as possible, especially seniors, walking around your neighborhood or in a nearby park can be the safest, easiest choice. For those just starting a walking program, Weiss suggested finding somewhere flat and firm, but also somewhere that is interesting. “Walking is great for health, and it is even better when you get a glimpse of the mountains, the ocean, or a beautiful tree in your neighborhood,” she said.

Healthy People Healthy Trails: healthypeoplehealthytrails.org/easy-hikes

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Introduction to Active Aging

Introduction to Active Aging, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Introduction to Active Aging, Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

We’re living in a strange time for seniors. Old people have never been so powerful — or so vulnerable.

We’ve got a 74-year-old in the White House, put there in part by a cable news network controlled by a mega-wealthy 89-year-old. Then we’ve got a 77-year-old presidential nominee, who won the Democratic nomination over a 78-year-old Senator preferred by many, if not most, young people in the primaries. And don’t get me started about the future of some of our most crucial rights that may rest on the survival of an 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice.

At the same time, almost 80 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. were 65 or older. That’s left many seniors staying close to home, feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable and uncomfortably dependent on the benevolence of family, neighbors, and Good Samaritans.

If you’re fortunate enough, as I am, to have your parents still around, part of the challenge of middle-aging is watching your own parents age. We’re tiptoeing onto that sensitive tightrope of still being their children, while slowly becoming their caregivers.

As Bette Davis famously said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” But staying active, engaged, and prepared for the future with solid plans in place will certainly make all of our golden years shine a lot brighter.

With that in mind, this promotional section was developed from a combination of editorial ideas and suggestions from the special issue’s sponsors about people, projects, and trends that they’re excited about. From that list, we selected stories that represent a wide variety of “active aging” ideas in Santa Barbara and developed the editorial content independently.

Cheers to strong and vibrant finish!

—Leslie Dinaberg

PANDEMIC RESOURCES FOR SENIORS

Accessing information about community resources for seniors is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Family Service Agency is collaborating with many other nonprofits to provide a one stop gateway to critical resources for the health and well being of the seniors in our community. See fsacares.org/senior-resources.

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Providing Healthy Food for Healthier Lives

Healthy Food, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

Providing Healthy Food for Healthier Lives, from Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

We’ve heard a lot about the vulnerable senior population during the COVID-19 pandemic. But even prior to that, a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that in California, one in five adults over the age of 65 lives in “an economic no-man’s land, unable to afford basic needs but often ineligible for government assistance.”

Santa Barbara’s Community Action Commission (cacsb.org) is attacking this challenge head-on.

“CAC’s Senior Nutrition program provides a daily nutritious meal to this vulnerable population in Santa Barbara County, where the need is compounded by the area’s high cost of living, primarily due to a lack of affordable housing,” said CEO Patricia Keelean. She explained that these “invisible poor” receive inadequate social security to cover their basic needs and yet do not qualify for government safety-net programs, such as SSI and SNAP.

“The low-income seniors that we serve are being squeezed financially, forced to choose between housing, medicine, and food,” she explained. “Because they can’t afford all three, a healthy meal usually becomes their lowest priority. This was the status for the past few years—and then along comes COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place directive! So there is a lot of work to do now.”

The countywide program is free, with no qualififications or proof of age, income, or citizenship required. Participants simply sign up for either the home-delivery option or to eat with others at community centers, though those are currently to-go meals because of COVID-19.

“Many of the regular guests to community sites changed to home delivery once the lockdown occurred,” said Keelean. “But there was still a need to feed people without homes or with an inconsistent address or other delivery issues, so this distribution still goes on, and demand here has also grown.”

Requests have increased during the pandemic more than 50 percent, so the CAC now provides meals to more than 700 seniors on a daily basis. When the CAC put out a call for volunteers to help with increased demand in April, about two dozen contacted the commission, and most were over the age of 55, said development director Linda Rosso. Their first project was organizing personal care packages that were delivered to homebound seniors with one of their daily meals.

“With a robust program of trained volunteers, Senior Nutrition can meet the needs of our growing list of enrollees without incurring the additional expense of paid delivery drivers and on-site meal hosts,” said Rosso, who could always use more help. “Using volunteers as drivers and site hosts, we can put the dollars saved on paid staff back into food procurement.”

That means the CAC can feed even more seniors.

“By expanding the number of drivers and site hosts through volunteerism,” added Rosso, “we can also give more time to individual seniors, supporting socialization and safety checks.”

CAC Senior Nutrition Program: cacsb.org/low-income-assistance/senior-nutrition. To volunteer, call (805) 964-8857 x1105 or email lrosso@cacsb.com.

Active Aging 2020: Our Annual Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens; Santa Barbara Independent, Active Aging Special Section, July 30, 2020.

 

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on July 30, 2020. To view the Active Aging Guide to Senior Life, Seen Through a Pandemic Lens, click here.

Paws and Pivot

805 Living Summer 2020, Paws and Pivot story by Leslie Dinaberg. Photos by Victoria Pearson.

805 Living Summer 2020, Paws and Pivot story by Leslie Dinaberg. Photos by Victoria Pearson.

After its closure during the COVID-19-related stay-at-home order, the Humane Society of Ventura County (hsvc.org) recently re-opened for pet adoptions. “We have room for three appointments per day,” says director of community outreach Greg Cooper. “We have stopped the intake of adoptable animals since the start of the pandemic, so our on-site population is way down,” he says.

Thanks to the power of social media and photographer Victoria Pearson’s Instagram pet portraits (@victoriapearsonphotographer; see a sampling above), Cooper says, “engagement on our feeds has increased by close to double since the pandemic began. People show a great deal of interest if they can see what the dog, cat, horse, or pig looks like before coming up for a visit at our shelter.”

He also credits the contributions of volunteers. “The work they produce is stellar,” he says. “We consider ourselves lucky to have access to such a great resource.”

805 Living Summer 2020, cover art by John Galan.

805 Living Summer 2020, cover art by John Galan.

This story was originally published in the summer 2020 issue of 805 Living. Click here to read it as it appeared in print.

 

Fetching Food for Seniors

805 Living Summer 2020, Fetching Food for Seniors, story by Leslie Dinaberg.

805 Living Summer 2020, Fetching Food for Seniors, story by Leslie Dinaberg.

Stuck at home for the remainder of his junior year at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara due to the pandemic, Daniel Goldberg felt the urge to help others in some way. He texted a few friends about it, and within a matter of days, Zoomers to Boomers (zoomerstoboomers.com), a free grocery delivery service for the elderly, was born.

Since early March, the program has grown to encompass 29 cities nationally and an affiliate in India.

“With the pandemic, I think there is this universal feeling of helplessness,” says Goldberg, “where everyone is just trying to stay away from people, and you feel like there’s nothing you can do. Just seeing how many people are reaching out and saying, ‘I want to do something similar [to Zoomers to Boomers],’ has been a very welcome surprise.”

Jackie Kaplan, one of more than 100 local volunteers, recently finalized a partnership with The Foodbank of Santa Barbara to deliver hot meals from Chef’s Kitchen to seniors, further cementing Zoomers to Boomers community collaborations.

805 Living Summer 2020, cover art by John Galan.

805 Living Summer 2020, cover art by John Galan.

This story was originally published in the summer 2020 issue of 805 Living. Click here to read it as it appeared in print.

 

Unraveling the Kinks in the Local Food Chain to Build and Sustain a Resilient Food System

This story was published on cecsb.org on May 13, 2020.

Like a heat map, the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to areas of strain, places where we need to pay greater attention. One of the most noticeable of these is the food system.

This week, two of the founding members of the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network — Erik Talkin, CEO of Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and Sigrid Wright, CEO of the Community Environmental Council — sat down with food writer Leslie Dinaberg to discuss how COVID-19 is sending shock waves through a fragile global food system, and why this is a particularly good time to build a healthy, sustainable and decentralized food system. They draw on the guiding framework of an action plan published in 2016 and developed in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Orfalea Foundation, and more than 200 community members.

Leslie Dinaberg: A few years ago when you were developing the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan, your intention was to “future proof” the local food system, though presumably, you weren’t anticipating that a pandemic would test it so brutally. What are you thinking now?

Sigrid Wright: We’ve had other disasters that have had a ripple effect through the food system, but the COVID 19 pandemic is sending reverberations through the system unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime, in part because it’s global, and in part because it’s both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. This is a good time to be talking about why we want to build a healthy, sustainable and decentralized food system, because the global system has a lot of fragility to it.

Erik Talkin: The food system now is so hyper-organized and so dependent on every little link of the chain from here to China and back, that one break in that chain creates a lot of problems. The Foodbank has seen a 60% decrease in the amount of food that we get donated because grocery stores are selling out of food that would normally be provided to us. At the same time, our donations from the agricultural community, primarily the Santa Maria Valley, are up by 50% from this same month last year.

So that’s an indication that local growers have products available. Obviously they have their own problems with food distribution, as there are no schools or hotels operating, but we have a system in place that has allowed excess food to be effectively used. People are reading in the New York Times and elsewhere about milk being poured away and crops being plowed under, but that’s not happening really significantly in California.

LD: Are there any supply chains that are likely to be disrupted so that you won’t be able to access certain products a few months from now?

ET: Yes, there already have been disruptions in that the supply chain is overheated and unable to respond to requests. The Foodbank spent a quarter of a million dollars a couple of weeks ago on food that we haven’t received yet, because it’s slow in coming and our order is not as big as other orders.

Overall, in theory, there’s enough food in the country, but in terms of specific foods, we are already unable to get everything we would like.

SW: The modern food system is designed for speed and convenience. It’s highly efficient and certain aspects of it are really compacted, particularly around meat processing. From what I’m hearing, I would expect to see shortages of meat within the next few months.

This relates to Santa Barbara County because although we’ve traditionally been a cattle region and still do raise a lot of cattle here, we no longer have processing facilities. The same is true of fisheries. We have access to a good amount of animal protein on the Central Coast, but everything has to be shipped out, processed, and shipped back. That was one of the many issues that surfaced with the Food Action Plan: how do we decentralize some of those processing facilities so they are local?

LD: What have you learned about Santa Barbara’s food resilience in the past couple months that you didn’t anticipate?

SW: On the production side, pretty much every small farmer and fisherman is having to think on their feet and make some drastic adjustments to their business models as people are shopping less at farmers markets, and as schools and restaurants stop their orders. They’re having to go direct-to-consumer, often in inventive ways, whether that be a pop-up farmstand or more community supported agriculture boxes. Managing those new market routes is like picking up a second job: the first one being food production, the second being the delivery and marketing through different channels.

I’m also really concerned for our local restaurants. After the Thomas Fire, many businesses were barely hanging on or were just starting to recover, and now they’ve gotten hit again. We may lose a lot of local capacity, both on the producer end with farmers and fishermen and then on the consumer end with restaurants. That to me is a sadness. I personally am not ready for a future in which I get most of my food from Amazon.

ET: There haven’t been the types of runs and shortages over the last few weeks that theoretically could have happened, but I think we are still at the beginning of this crisis. People are afraid to go out and stand in line to get food. Toward the end of the summer, once the economic impacts have really cut deep — with people who are working but have large debts, and people who are still out of work — we’ll have a huge need for additional food for the community. That food can’t all be produced here, but has to be purchased or donated within the state and nationally.

LD: Is there a government entity to help with that?

ET: There’s a national emergency food program called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that is designed to pay local distributors to put together food boxes and make those available to either Foodbanks or to be distributed directly. So we’re having to go out to all of these people and say, “Do you want to be involved in this program? You get paid to provide this food, you get paid to truck it to a particular location.” But it’s a hugely complex 17-page application. Companies like Jordano’s, which is probably our largest local direct food distributor, don’t want to be involved because there’s not enough money in it for them.

The government, in a way, is trying to respond to this issue of food being dumped by offering incentives further down the chain than previous incentives. But there’s not the time or the organization or the planning to make them successful in anything more than the very short term.

SW: The Santa Barbara County Food Action Network, which was spearheaded by CEC and the Foodbank to implement the Food Action Plan, is looking at how we deal with all of this locally. One solution is to create a food hub, so that those who have products have a central vehicle for getting information out about them.

LD: Let’s talk about how this situation is affecting labor. According to the Food Action Plan, the agricultural sector is Santa Barbara County’s primary economic driver, and nearly 20,000 residents work in food and beverage stores or service locations. What are you seeing?

SW: It’s a bitter irony that people who work in the food system — in the fields or grocery stores for example —are deemed as essential workers, and yet they are not being protected as essential workers.

In our region we are really seeing this with farm workers who just don’t have the proper protection and are often having to work shoulder to shoulder. We saw similar inequities in other crises like the Thomas Fire, where it wasn’t until groups like CAUSE and MICOP got involved when farm workers had access to the N-95 masks that everyone else already had. We need the public to strongly advocate for protection for our farm workers, our seasonal workers, our grocery workers, so that they have safe conditions.

ET: It should be a requirement for the employers to do that. Even at the Foodbank — we have very stringent rules and we’ve been wearing masks and gloves for weeks — people just can’t help congregating together in tiny spaces and I’m constantly chasing away people. (Laughs) I’ve been doing that for years, but now I have an excuse to break up the party.

LD: What are you seeing at the home level? Food waste is certainly top of mind right now because no one wants to go out and buy food any more than they have to.

ET: At the most basic level of individuals, people are being forced to reckon with having to provide for their own nutritional health and to sit down and make something to eat, which wasn’t necessarily the case in the past. This may be an opportunity for people to increase food literacy and their understanding about how to take care of themselves and be healthy with food.

SW: We’re clearly seeing a shift in shopping and eating patterns as more people are cooking at home. I know the news media are using the word “hoarding,” but I don’t love that language. What I’m seeing is that people are trying to do a couple weeks of shopping at one time to reduce their exposure. It’s good people are shifting their behavior, but that caused some of the slowdown that Erik referred to.

Again, it’s not that the supply chain has a shortage of food, although there may be some gaps in things that we may not have access to when and how we want it. I think we’ve gotten quite spoiled, frankly, because we’ve built a food system that was designed around getting things fast and conveniently. To really be resilient you need some amount of redundancy and things that are less consolidated.

LD: When you are providing food from the Foodbank, how many days worth of food are people picking up at one time?

ET: We typically give out bags of groceries that are about 30 pounds. We’ve begun to switch to boxes which are slightly bigger, so there’s a variety of dry goods, canned goods, fresh produce, fresh meat, but it’s not your total dietary or meal requirements for that period of time. The food that we provide is supposed to be a supplement to the other food you’re getting. It is possible to go to more than one place if your need is greater.

We see the need for that type of food increasing dramatically and there’s been a real kind of blockage with the USDA food. There’s definitely problems with the emergency food distribution network, as well.

LD: Beyond the critical need for emergency feeding, at this moment is there anything else that stands out from the Food Action Plan?

ET: I think people’s understanding of the need to have more fully developed local networks for both distribution and availability of food is important.

We talked earlier about the need for local processing for seafood and meat, but that’s also a need for agricultural products. For example, if facilities were available we could make spaghetti sauces and other things out of produce before it goes bad. There’s a lot of potential there, but it requires an investor. It may be something we have to think about in more of a tri-county way.

LD: That feels like such a great way to use some of those kitchens that aren’t being used right now.

SW: One of the projects of the Food Action Network was to map out sites that could serve as community kitchens. In good times they might be used to make the value-added products that Erik was talking about. If farmers had a bumper crop of tomatoes, they could hand that off to a caterer to go in for a couple of weeks and make tomato sauce, for example. In bad times like now, community kitchens could be used to help with disaster feeding.

LD: This is obviously an excellent opportunity for us to illustrate the importance of protecting the local food system. What are some things that individuals can do right now?

ET: Continuing to utilize local farmers markets, purchasing from smaller local stores to enable those stores to be able to weather the current situation, and keeping away from chain stores. I think that restaurants will be gradually opening up in a more limited fashion, so just make sure that you’re supporting local restaurants, even with a kind of take out environment that we have at the moment.

SW: At the moment there are still some strengths in the local food system, and there is some scrappiness. We are a community that does seem to care about this kind of stuff.

One of the outcomes of all of this is that people are actually talking about things like the food system, either using that phrase or having a great awareness. Hopefully that will have a positive effect. But protecting the local food system will mean that we will have to step in as individuals and really support it.

ET: Every generation needs something to wake it up a little, so I guess this is it.

Originally published on cecsb.org on May 13, 2020.