By: Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer

Jamie Mack, owner of SpiderMonkey Dessert Studio, was among those helping to box items recently. (OBSERVER Photo by Robert Maryland)

The last 18 months have been rough as many area residents have struggled to put food on the table due to unemployment and underemployment caused by the continued COVID-19 pandemic. Children were cut off from school meals, which for many, was the only time they ate all day.

An alliance formed to help both hungry people and those who produce the food they eat —  Growing The Table, a statewide initiative founded by Kat Taylor to “expand market opportunities for Black, Brown, Indigenous and small organic farmers by strengthening supply chain weaknesses as well as working to reduce barriers for small farmers.”  Ms. Taylor is the former CEO of Beneficial State Bank in Oakland, which she co-founded with her husband, former presidential candidate and billionaire Tom Steyer. Growing The Table gives producers, including Black farmer Nelson Hawkins of We Grow Urban Farms in West Sacramento, a grant to participate. Some $34,000 in payments have been doled out.

Local leaders and program supporters gathered recently at Trinity Cathedral to help create fresh food boxes that are distributed to locals experiencing food insecurity. Discussion centered around the importance of sustaining the effort beyond the pandemic.

“We’re in the wealthiest state in the nation and the wealthiest country on the planet and the reality is too many of our kids are hungry,” California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty said.

“Here in Sacramento, over 40% of our kids experience food insecurity, which matters in their health and frankly, more importantly, it matters in their learning.”

Growing The Table boxes have gone to Grant High’s Environmental Science & Design Academy, Luther Burbank High’s Urban Agriculture Academy, Robla School District, American Legion High, Fortune Schools and Food Literacy Center programs.  Experts say access to fresh produce is critical to preventing health inequities, preventing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, and setting kids up to thrive. 

McCarty applauded Growing The Table and its partners for supplementing existing food programs.

“During the pandemic, local food banks have been busier than they’ve ever been,” he said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg was among those on hand for the recent packing event at Trinity Cathedral and shared how young people help the effort through the City’s Thousand Strong internship program. Local Black chef Dennis Sydnor, who co-owns Renegade Dining and is a past winner of the Food Network competition show, “Cutthroat Kitchen,” also shared the importance of buying from farmers of color. 

City Councilmember Mai Vang thanked Ms. Taylor for her “heart and hustle” in creating the pilot program.

“It’s really essential and it’s really one part of the strategy when we talk about disrupting a system that hasn’t worked for our community,” said Councilmember Vang, who represents District 8 in South Sacramento, an ethnically diverse area historically low-income and experiencing increasing homelessness.

“As Sacramento, we pride ourselves as the Farm To Fork movement, but I often share that oftentimes families in my neighborhoods don’t even have forks,” she continued. 

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Sacramento Food Policy Council, Green Tech Education & Employment, interns from Sacramento’s Thousand Strong initiative and the Food Literacy Center have packed and distributed 800 boxes of fresh produce for Sacramento County youth and their families over the past two months. Each box contains 10-15 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Burgess Brothers BBQ, a local Black-owned business, provides its signature corn bread mix and low glycemic pasta to the boxes. Owners Matt and Jonathan Burgess further support the effort by receiving produce from the farmers of color at their warehouse and coordinating pickups by chefs and restaurants that participate in the partnering Family Meal Sacramento program, which has seen more than 3,300 free pre-cooked meals prepared and delivered during the pandemic.

Ms. Taylor is currently looking for donations to launch a second round of the program. For more information, visit