Where collaboration, innovation, partnership, and health care come together for a better climate

Interview by: Dr. Elizabeth Baca and Stephanie Fischer

Guests: Tara Marchant, Emerald Cities Collaborative &
Lucia Sayre, Health Care Without Harm


Leading up to the Global Climate Action Summit, we have been sitting down with innovative leaders and organizations who tackle many pressing climate change issues.  What connects these diverse leaders is a common perspective: collaboration, innovation, partnership, and health must be at the center of effective climate change work.

Last time, we learned about a partnership between C40 and Ramboll who are working to foster sustainable urban development in our growing cities.  They hope to help cities from around the world take actions that maximize their impact on climate co-benefits.  In this blog post, we shift our scale to a local community effort, where health and equity are also important components in this work.

The East Bay Area is one of the locations in California renowned for their dedication towards food justice and local, sustainable food production.  Emerging from a history of redlining and food deserts, many grassroots organizations empower their communities through small scale farming and gardening.  In addition to fostering economic opportunities and knowledge about the land, the local farms can increase the community’s access to healthier foods.

This deep community involvement around health, equity, climate and wealth is what drew the Anchors in Resilient Communities (ARC) program to East Oakland and Richmond, California.  ARC leverages capacities of community anchors, or local institutions, in low-income communities of color.  After over 200 interviews in the Easy Bay, ARC will advance economic resilience, health, and wealth through regional food systems as their first focus.  This eventually led to ARC’s partnership with FoodService Partners (FSP), a food production and delivery service committed to be 100% local and sustainable by 2025.  This partnership culminated in the My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center.

We sat down with Tara Marchant from Emerald Cities Collaborative, and Lucia Sayre from Health Care Without Harm to talk more about the My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center, and how it was born out of an innovative partnership to support local, sustainable food producers and businesses.

Partnership for Sustainable Communities

My-Cultiver™ a trademark of FSP, is committed to increasing the accessibility of the institutional market and its benefits for small-scale producers of color.  Currently, more than 50% of their products are grown locally through their Sustainability Purchasing Programs, and they hope to continue increasing that number. The goals of FSP and ARC aligns well with California state policies, such as the Farmer Equity Act (AB 1348), but Marchant remarks that these State priorities need to be put in practice:

“Even though you have a policy, it doesn’t mean the procurement people are paying attention to that because they have practices that have long been in place.  This is where people have to get uncomfortable –going to the edge of what they know and pushing towards something that is unfamiliar.”

FSP and ARC were determined to push towards this unfamiliarity, and Sayre mentions that they found the State to be an important economic partner in reaching their ambitious goals:

“Once FSP started to investigate opportunities through the State of California, what they uncovered were several opportunities to build community health and wealth that they could take advantage of.  The State helped this work with several hundred thousand dollars of tax abatement.”

FSP garnered State support and collaboration from various avenues. In 2017, for example, the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development awarded FSP multiple incentives for their work in creating jobs for the local community.  In addition, FSP was awarded $500,000 after they applied for State Tax Abatement –making the State an important partner as the My-Cultiver™ Richmond Production Center came into being.  Sayre also mentions the importance of ARC’s support for this anchor institution:

“The role for ARC moving forward with the My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center is to help build a supply chain ecosystem, in effort to build capacity for small and mid-size producers of color within 50 miles of the site.”

For Marchant, partnership has been essential to growth and trajectory of My-Cultiver™ in general:

“The evolution of the production center has been based on partnership.  The concept in mind shifted based upon what ARC requested of My-Cultiver™ and FSP.  This included creating jobs, career pathways, employment for not just My-Cultiver™, but also small businesses.  We want to help create cooperative ownership around aggregators, and to deepen the query around getting food and how is it going to depend on the health of the community.”

Innovation for Inclusive Economic Growth

ARC and FSP was also intentional about ensuring both private sector and the community were centered on common values and commitment.  Cognizant of the common mentality of the “client and service provider” boundaries, Marchant speaks on the “feedback loop of learning” they had to create and adopt innovative strategies:

“The My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center has the opportunity to be a new, innovative process.  Both FSP and ARC were open to community ownership and deepening the wealth within.  And the actual employees already had some deep alignment with the mission, which was exciting.”

The production center fosters a systematic approach in the way they look at food, onboarding, and actual serving of the food.  This helps streamline their food processing, to best support local, sustainable producers.  Sayre states that one benefit of this is a decrease of food waste:

“FSP basically has a zero waste closed loop system.  They are ordering and bringing in the exact amount of food in a 24 hour period.  They know exactly what is needed because menus are ordered two years ahead of time (in the hospital setting), and can pre-contract with farmers so they can say exactly what they need.  This system creates a great potential to reduce food waste, both on the farm and in production.”

Sayre continues that My-Cultiver™ is also unique in how its organizational model accelerates the incorporation of these sustainable food sources into the supply chain ecosystem:

“My-Cultiver™ is innovative in the sense that it is driven by secured institutional contracts for huge volumes of food.  What that does is it secures volume demand for particular produce.  We have a demand for food products driving the development of the supply chain ecosystem.”

Kaiser Permanente, for example, has one of My-Cultiver™’s major meal patient contracts, which has accelerated this supply chain ecosystem:

“Within the institutional contracts, the products that are going out to Kaiser patients is healthier, local, and more sustainable.  Their involvement with the My-Cultiver™ Food Production Center helps increase the community’s capacity to beat institutional markets, and are helping provide healthier food where they are located.”

Moreover, My-Cultiver™ estimates that 200-250 jobs will be created for the local community because it is encompasses the meal processing, meal prep, and delivery.  Contracting with small production operations, like Planting Justice, is a way to ensure that the production center is in service to the local community.  This particular grassroots organization is dedicated to providing the skills and resources for people impacted by mass incarceration and other social inequities to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing.  Marchant recognizes that these small operations can’t replace institutional markets, but understands the necessity of supporting local, healthy food operations:

“It’s not like Planting Justice is going to supply all the kale that the hospital needs, but they may participate in producing greens for the hospital.  It will allow them to have more economic security within their own financing strategies, so they can later employ people and facilitate other products to sell locally.”

Looking forward

During the Global Climate Action Summit, we are excited hear from organizations who also thrive within the Inclusive Economic Growth and Sustainable Communities key challenges.  This is an opportunity for climate leaders to share what they learned in their innovative work.  Marchant recognizes some of the things that helped make the partnership for My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center successful:

“FSP has recognized that things are different and the need to shift.  They still keep their deep commitment to healthy finance, but are also willing to go outside of what they know to fulfil contracts and make changes.  That is really important for the private sector to consider.  It is a mode for transition.”

Marchant also mentions the importance of the private sector collaborating across expertise, in order to best execute innovative plans:

“We have a specific set of knowledge, but we need other experts like government policy makers, local policy makers, and financing groups to work amongst each other to help these kinds of regional projects get designed and built.”

Sayre is already seeing collaborations like these happening in other spheres, and looks forward to them continuing:

“One of the things I see as very promising, is that it appears that silos are beginning to break down among anchoring institutions, for profit business, and non-profit organizations.  This idea of putting together multi-stakeholder projects that are really committed to strong regional economies; it’s a very promising moment.

Thank you for joining us in this blog series, and please be on the lookout for our next post on how Kaiser Permanente tackles both health and climate change impacts.