New California Climate Investment Serves Up Benefits for Butte County
There is an unmistakable buzz on the streets of Butte County. The Northern California agricultural region, already well known for its orchards and farms, its tight-knit communities, and its commitment to sustainability just added a new attraction to its community profile.
Welcome to California’s newest hub in the state’s battle against climate change.
“You can see the enthusiasm around town. People are stunned and excited about this opportunity,” Laura Cootsona says before sharing her own reaction to news of a half-million dollar California Climate Investment. “I actually jumped up and down for days.”
Cootsona is a Butte County resident and executive director of the Jesus Center in downtown Chico. For more than 30 years, the humanitarian nonprofit has offered meals, resources and other services to those struggling in and around Butte County. Now, with the help of a $499,789 California Climate Investment, the center is launching one of its boldest efforts yet to combat hunger—and climate change—by rescuing food for the hungry before it becomes waste.
Californians throw away an estimated 6 million tons of food each year. When it decomposes in landfills, food and other organic material emits methane, a super pollutant responsible for roughly 20 percent of current global warming and 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
The Jesus Center operates a farm in Butte County and plans to begin a second farm soon to help provide fresh produce to neighbors in need.
In partnership with the Community Action Agency of Butte County, which includes the North State Food Bank, the Jesus Center will use the nearly half-million dollar Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant to increase its ability to collect, transport, store, and distribute more food in and around Butte County.
“What I love about this project is it allows us to do a ton of social good and environmental good at the same time,” Cootsona says. “This is going to change our community in a lot of serious ways.”
CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities.
“The physical body gets so broken down when you’re confronting the daily realities of poverty,” Cootsona says, noting food insecurity impacts roughly 1 in every 5 Butte County residents. Statewide, about 1 in 8 Californians are considered food-insecure. She adds, “Hunger should not be this prevalent in a state and in a region that produces so much of our nation’s food.”
The fruits and vegetables grown at the Jesus Center farm are used in meals at the Center’s kitchen in Chico. The farm also provides vocational opportunities related to food waste prevention and rescue work.
In 2017, the Jesus Center prepared and plated more than 101,000 meals through its kitchen, shelter, and six transitional houses in and around Chico. Cootsona expects that number to keep rising as grant funding enables the Center to hire new staff, purchase new equipment—including a refrigerated truck and a new commercial kitchen—and upgrade its logistics software to better track food inventory and coordinate donations and deliveries.
“With this new software, farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and other community partners can go online and notify us about new donations,” Cootsona says. “Depending on the food type, we’ll be able to immediately determine whether it should come to our kitchen in Chico or whether it can be better utilized by one of our 50 partner agencies within the North State Food Bank or in the Wildcat Food Pantry at Chico State.”
Food that can’t be diverted to meals or distributed through the food banks will be composted at the Jesus Center farm or other partnering locations to make sure the organic material doesn’t wind up emitting greenhouse gases at area landfills.
“Let’s get food that is designed to be consumed, eaten. Not into landfills.” Cootsona continues, “Composting is a great alternative to landfills, but we want the food in bellies first.”
The center’s new project also includes money dedicated to vocational training in food waste prevention and recovery, further increasing the long-term benefits that will remain long after the grant funds run out.
“We’re integrating this new technology and these new systems into our regular operations so these benefits will remain sustainable long-term,” Cootsona says, ensuring the Center can build on its decades-long history of preventing food waste, protecting the planet, and saving lives for decades to come.