City Councilmember Chris MacArthur Channels Citrus Background into Enthusiasm for Local Food
February 11, 2015 | seedstock
Riverside City Councilmember Chris MacArthur not only has a background in citrus farming, but he has channeled his enthusiasm for local agriculture into being a founder of GrowRIVERSIDE and promoting the GrowRIVERSIDE conference, in partnership with Seedstock.
Seedstock recently asked Councilmember MacArthur about his vision for local agriculture in Riverside, his hopes for this year’s GrowRIVERSIDE conference, slated June 11-13, 2015 and more.
What is your vision for local food in Riverside?
I envision a robust city and region-wide farm-to-fork network from farmers/growers to restaurants. The supply chain should extend from farmers/growers to schools, hospitals, universities, local groceries and food retailers and active farmers’ markets and fruit/vegetable stands in the greenbelt. This will provide access for all of our residents to locally grown food (including residents who live in food deserts).
Is local food in Riverside more established than it was five years ago?
Yes, but we still have a long way to go. That is the reason for the GrowRIVERSIDE conference. We need to raise the awareness of local food production, and create additional incentives and programs to help those in agriculture market their products while simultaneously increasing awareness and demand for locally produced foods. We also need to encourage agriculture as a viable career path for millennials and college students. The average age for farmers/growers is 60. That needs to change.
How does local food and agriculture benefit the Riverside economy?
Local food and agriculture helps all that are involved. It creates a demand for fresh, local food, which helps our local farmers/growers to take their profits and recycle their money into other goods and services in our community. This will help to stimulate the local economy by spurring business to business interactions and consumption spending by food and agribusiness owners and their employees. It also serves to raise tax revenue for our community and profits for our businesses. It creates a need for a “Riverside” brand to create loyalty between our residents and the farmers/growers that serve them.
What are you doing to raise awareness about local food?
It is extremely important to raise awareness about local food for several reasons. We are partnering with our schools to make sure that local farmers can provide fresh fruits and vegetables to our children on a daily basis. We are working with local nonprofits to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to all neighborhoods (including food deserts) in our community. We also have a vigorous community garden program to involve our residents in taking pride in educating and growing their own fruits and vegetables.
Why did you help found GrowRIVERSIDE?
We felt it was necessary to involve all stakeholders in our community and region to discuss the future of local food. Riverside has a rich agricultural history, but citrus groves and other active farming operations have been dwindling in the past 40 years. After the passage of voter driven initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s, Riverside has restricted growth on agricultural lands in our greenbelt to ensure that agriculture would remain a vital part of our culture and economy. However, for our greenbelt to remain viable, agriculture must be profitable. GrowRIVERSIDE allows our city to actively promote and assist our local farmers/growers with the tools they need to be successful. GrowRIVERSIDE is not the finish line, but the starting point for ongoing community involvement.
What are your hopes for the upcoming GrowRIVERSIDE conference?
Our goal is to double the attendance from last year, to 1,000 attendees. The more residents that are involved in Grow Riverside, the better. The conference will continue to perpetuate education, awareness of healthy eating habits and support for locally grown fruits and vegetables.
How does your work with GrowRIVERSIDE relate to your work as a citrus farmer and as a city councilmember?
I believe that I bring a unique perspective to GrowRIVERSIDE by not only encouraging support for the GrowRIVERSIDE movement, but also by protecting my constituents who make their livelihood through agriculture. If we do not ensure that our local farmers/growers have access to clean, affordable water, then we will not have a healthy agricultural economy. It is imperative that the City of Riverside continue to follow our voter driven initiatives which mandate that farmers/growers be given every opportunity to succeed with the help of local government creating incentives and market opportunities for viable and healthy farms, groves and nurseries.
Have other cities looked to the good work Riverside is doing with regards to local foods?
We had other cities and communities from hundreds of miles away attend our Grow Riverside conference. However, the sustainable agriculture movement is nationwide. We can and will continue to learn from each other. Successes of others will become our successes, and hopefully our success will motivate others to create their own local food movements.