Follow fun updates as well as interesting stories about clients, volunteers and supporters of SFBFS

December 22, 2014

Top 10 Demonstration Garden Bloopers of 2014

Happy 2015! The start of a new year means another chance to achieve your dream garden! It's time for a clean slate (and hopefully some compost-enhanced soil) to get your spring crops off to a glorious start. It's also valuable to reflect upon your garden experiences from this past year so you know what NOT to do this time around. Find those crumpled garden notes where you wrote down all the exciting crop varieties you wanted to grow! 

For this blog, I decided to muse about the failures in Demonstration Garden in 2014. Of course, the garden as a whole was incredibly successful but it's entertaining to recount some of the lessons learned. From crop failures due to pests and diseases, painful plant varieties and scary flowers I'm going to recount the Top 10 Demonstration Garden Bloopers of 2014 (in no particular order).
  • The invasion of the harlequin bugs – Fellow gardeners of Sacramento, 2014 was a great year for harlequins, which meant it was a bad year for us. I battled them for my perennial tree kale for months until I realized I could not defeat them.  I gave up and pulled the whole patch up in frustration. Only then did I realize I could have cut most of them down to the ground and they would have re-sprouted. Oops! Check out our new, gorgeous (and shorter) patch of tree kale in the garden this year! 
  • The okra planted in the garden became monstrous and produced a bountiful crop of okra pods.  The problem was I never wanted to harvest them because my skin was severely irritated by brushing against the plant. Yes, I could wear long gloves but it's hard to grasp the pods with bulky gloves. I was never excited to squeeze past the okra and I might have been a tad gleeful when I finally pulled it out of the ground. What will I do differently in 2015? Have more help with harvesting! 
  • A well managed compost pile should be damp and odorless. Poorly managed compost that is rarely turned will cause your volunteers to run away from it. We are often very busy and build our compost piles without turning them regularly (which you should try to do at least every other week). One day a garden volunteer turned a pile and released a stench from the gelatinous mass was shocking, overwhelming and  grossly sweet. One of the volunteers had to leave because of the smell. 2015 will be the year of regular compost turnings! 
  • Everybody loves California poppies, especially me. This is why I planted a dozen around the garden last spring. Unfortunately, not all the flowers bloom on a plant at once, meaning that while the late-bloomers open, the early-bloomers have gone to seed. The most prolific weed in the garden today? California poppies. Who knew that could be a problem? Lesson in 2015 – pull it out before the seed disperses!
  • Sadly, we had some loss of life this year. The aquaponics system lost three fish friends to various causes. The two found floating in their tank died of unknown causes. The final fish jumped out of a huge pot off a counter and onto the concrete while I was cleaning his tank. Note to self: put a cover on all containers full of fish.
  • I grew some interesting flower varieties this year but perhaps the most infamous was cleome. These spider flowers grew about 4’ tall, had a musky scent and sharp spines on the leaves. They caught of a lot of attention by people taking tours in the Demonstration Garden. 
  • We grew pole beans that produced beautiful red flowers, but not one bean. At first I thought an animal was eating all of them up but then I realized no living thing could be that efficient. I figured that the plants were too stressed by heat to produce any beans or I got a mysteriously sterile batch. I am going to try different varieties in 2015.
  • The cucumbers this summer grew phenomenally. The vines became so overgrown and thick that it was often difficult to find the fruit until it was a foot long. I sampled one of these monsters one day and immediately spit it out because the flesh and seeds were so bitter. The cucumber had decided it was no longer being propagated for consumption and decided to put all its energy into make strong seeds. Pro tip: do not give away or eat foot-long cucumbers.
  • Our tomato plants also grew well this summer, and by well I mean they became tomato bushes and obliterated the measly trellis system I erected to hold them up. Given, I should have used wire instead of garden string to hold them up but by the time the strings broke it was too difficult to pull the plants back up or tie string around their branches. We were awash in green leaves but less awash in tomatoes since a majority of the flowers were hidden and didn't get pollinated. This summer – pruning and trellising, oh my!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

October 28, 2014

Kate's Korner: November 2014

I just returned from a trip to Portland and I’m very excited.  Yes, the city is nice, the weather was amazing and the babies in Birkenstocks were adorable – but this is not what has me wound up. I’m excited about …THE FRONT YARD GARDENS!

While walking around different neighborhoods I saw garden beds tucked in amongst perennial flowers and shrubs, filled with tomatoes, greens and herbs.  These were beautiful old residential areas with a strip of grass between the sidewalk and road and often time a garden bed was squeezed into the small space.  It was inspiring to see so many households growing a few vegetables and not just for obvious reasons. Growing your own food is generally preceded by a concern or desire to be healthier, know where your food comes from, save money, cook more at home or be more self-sufficient.  I admire all of these reasons and I do my best to promote them in my gardening classes and everyday life. 

Sacramento has its own thriving agriculture scene and continues to see more people participate in urban gardening and farming.  Unfortunately, this growth has not altered many front yards and the green lawn ideal continues to prevail.  The City of Sacramento passed an ordinance in 2007 allowing fruit and vegetables in the front yard but gardens have been slow to catch on.  I know there are a variety of other reasons for this, like the expense of ripping up a lawn and replanting or a neighborhood association allowing only lawns. It might also be that people think their vegetables could be taken if they are visible from the street. Now I haven't scouted every neighborhood and I'm sure there are pockets of front yard gardens, but would not it be great to see more? Instead of all that grass growing, it would be nice to see food growing! How much food could you grow in place of your lawn? 

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

September 24, 2014

Kate's Korner: October 2014

Autumn is officially here, although you might not know it from the temperature. The length of daylight shortens every day and soon enough we will all be pitched into blackness by the early evening. Although this means after-work outdoor recreation will be cut short, it also means it's time to start planting fall crops!

Fall crops tend to fall into three broad (and occasionally overlapping) categories: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and root crop vegetables. There are also peas, a cool-weather loving legume. 
Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach and mustard make wonderful additions to salad and soups.  They can also be cooked, preferably sautéed with some oil and garlic. A couple of my favorite recipes are kale and rice soup and sautéed greens with eggs and toast. With regular watering and fertilizing these greens can produce all season! 

Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the Brassicaceae family which include cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and many more. In addition to having the coolest name ever (cross bearing because the flowers resemble crosses), these crops are high in Vitamin A and soluble fiber.  Unlike leafy greens you only get one harvest out of most of the cruciferous vegetables – a head of cabbage or cauliflower. Also, be prepared to patiently wait for your prize as Brussels sprouts and broccoli can take up to three months before they are ready to harvest.

I liken root crops to comic book superheroes like Superman. They look pretty dull and placid while they're growing because the fun, tasty part grows underground. When you harvest them - KAPOW - big, colorful, nutrient roots were hiding just below the surface! Time to plant your beets, carrots, radishes, parsnips, onions and garlic! Potatoes, although they are tubers, are generally classed with the root vegetables also. These are one-time harvest crops and many are fantastic raw, roasted or mashed. Some oil or butter and fresh herbs are all you need to make a wonderful dish out of your root vegetables!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

September 9, 2014

Recognizing an outstanding Senior program volunteer

Susan McCrystal has been volunteering at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services for over two years (since April 9, 2012). She started as a volunteer tutor in the Adult Education program, helping adults move toward their goal of passing the high-school equivalency test. Later, she became a volunteer in our Senior program, which matches volunteers with socially isolated senior citizens and provides them with home visitations and socialization. Ever since starting in the Senior program, Susan visits her senior, Ruth, twice a month bringing her groceries from SFBFS on one visit per month. During the winter, Susan brings Ruth her homemade soups and in the summer, roses from her garden. Susan brought a cucumber plant for Ruth and they both enjoyed watering it and watching it bear fruit. Susan has helped Ruth's family see Ruth's needs with letters and conversations.

Because of Susan’s generosity of spirit and abilities, she graciously took on the additional volunteer task of assisting with office work, data entry and much more. Susan has updated what she has coined, “administrivia”, administrative systems like data entry, and filing systems. She donated new file holders and has offered ideas for expediting and collating information. Her ongoing support and energy are very valuable to this program. To date, Susan has volunteered 275 hours for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. Susan is an incredibly wonderful person who gives her all for the betterment of the community.

Submitted by Marie-Louise Nelson, Senior Program Manager at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

August 27, 2014

Kate's Korner: September 2014

Summer in the Demonstration Garden has been quite a learning experience; from judging a vegetable's perfect ripeness to dealing with persistent garden pests, everyday held a different task to conquer! 

Perhaps the most challenging task, which continues to elude me, is navigating my way around gigantic plants that have sprawled into the path and encroach on their neighbor's bed. Pushing through the eggplant and tiptoeing around the tomatoes and melons are a fine exercise in balance and flexibility. Every week I dutifully hack away at the overgrowth only to see it magically reappear on Monday. If you have walked past the garden lately, then you may have seen the pumpkin vines spilling onto the ground. This is the plants attempt to turn the garden into a pumpkin patch. 

As a consequence of this, it's often a challenge to locate the produce hidden within the plant's greenery.  Volunteers often harvest baby-size cucumbers and zucchini that had previously escaped notice. These vegetables will not stop growing and can avoid detection quite well considering their mammoth proportions.  (Note: Huge cucumbers, of the variety we grew, have incredibly bitter seeds. Left to grow so long they made their seeds bitter to discourage being eaten so the seeds would survive and produce the next generation.)

An unrelated and particularly unpleasant garden problem I also experienced was summer pests. I have written previously of my battles with true bugs but their levels have diminished significantly since my reigns of bug-eliminating terror. The new offenders are mites and white flies. Mites look like small aphids and come in a variety of colors while white flies are tiny, pale and winged. Combined, they both took out an entire row of summer squash after repeated attempts at eradication. Unfortunately, I should have sprayed NEEM, a go-to natural pesticide, much earlier in my pest management but I was determined that a natural sticky spray could take care of the problem. Alas! The things you learn.

Have you had any summer gardening challenges? Feel free to come chat with me whenever the Demonstration Garden gates are open. Happy last days of summer!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

August 20, 2014

My first Fun in the Sun Fair

Fun, food, and information on healthy living were in store for families attending the Fun In The Sun Fair on Saturday, July 19 at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)’ Saca Community Learning Center. Since this year was my first time attending the fair, I was quite excited to see what it was all about and to help make it a huge success.

I was in charge of the SFBFS' information booth at the fair and was happy to hand out informational flyers and talk to families about the six wonderful programs we offer the community. But SFBFS was certainly not the only organization at the fair. Many community organizations from Wellspace Health and Radio Disney Sacramento to Terra Nova Counseling and SMUD were also in attendance. Fun in the Sun fair made sure that families received resources that encompassed different aspects of their lives including mental, nutritional, and financial.  

Not only was there information on healthy living for families but there was also a lot of delicious food and fun activities. Families enjoyed a delicious meal of hot dogs, chips and fruit. The kids were able to get their faces painted, slide on the water slide and play fun games with SFBFS volunteers. Families were also able to participate in a raffle to win cute stuffed animals.

My first Fun in the Sun fair was an amazing experience. It was wonderful seeing families relaxing and having fun while receiving the resources they need to become more self-sufficient. It’s another great example of the work SFBFS staff and volunteers do every day at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

Submitted by Ryan Mishler, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 29, 2014

Youth Education Summer Camp Update

Discovery Museum
The youth went to the Discovery Museum to see animals and science projects last week. The discovery museum has animals, space and many other ancient items from the past. The trip was very interesting because we got to see animals live and actual skeletons.

The animal hall has animals, some live and some leaving behind bones known as modern day fossils. The animal hall has bear pelts, live fish, rabbits and frogs. They also have the fossils of dinosaurs, leaves and butterflies. The favorite animal was the lion face rabbit.

Another exciting thing sectioned in the Animal Hall that was a intriguing game called Swim For Your Life. It is similar to the game system the Wii. The major difference is that you use your body as the controller. This by far was the major highlight of the whole field trip because the youth kept doing it over and over again.

The science and space center is based on scientific research and contains numerous science projects. Inside holds moon rocks, Cosmos the Robot and different inventions. Everyone's favorite was looking at the rocks and the special sand. They all wanted to show each other their favorite things making the trip unforgettable.

The trip was amazing because the youth got to see new things and play games. The trip was full of adventure. It was another great memory added to the youth's fun filled summer.

The Sacramento Police Department came to talk to the youth today. The youth and law enforcement officers discussed the importance of not trusting strangers and safety strategies. Stranger Danger is the danger to children present by strangers.

The youth learned to not talk to strangers and to not do anything they say because it could result in putting the youth at risk for danger. In the future they will use these strategies to protect them from harmful people, who are suspected to be dangerous. The highlight was being able to see a policeman and woman who gave great insight on what to do if a problem rises.

In conclusion, the youth were able to learn how to keep themselves safe and learn that they have resources to protect them if they feel harmed.

Submitted by Journey A., Youth Education Intern at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

July 22, 2014

Kate's Korner: August 2014

Bugs. There are good ones and there are bad ones – and then there are really bad ones. The Harlequin beetle falls into the latter category as it is a pest in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, we have become familiar enemies in the Demonstration Garden. I first noticed them a couple months ago milling about on the perennial tree collards. They are easily identified by their black shield-shaped bodies with orange and white markings. The young beetles are a rounded shape and the eggs are generally white with black stripes. 

Although they eat anything, they’re particularly fond of plants in the Brassica Family, including cabbage, collards, broccoli, mustard, kale and more. I had a handle on it at first...or so I thought. Every weekday a volunteer or I would spend some time picking them off the plants. At the week’s end I would be impressed by how few adults I could find but come Monday, the beetles would be back in force. I began looking for the eggs in an attempt to eradicate the next generation. I found so many eggs it was scary, there were one to two clumps of eggs (with about 10 eggs per clump) on each leaf. At a certain point I realized it was an inefficient use of time to hand pick for an hour each morning. I then graduated to spraying NEEM on the plants every day hoping to kill off all the beetles. By this time, the tree kale was looking awful since the harlequin beetles had been sucking the juices out of their leaves and stems for a few weeks. The leaves were also covered with uneven white spots where the bugs were munching them.  

After about a week and a half of spraying I could tell my efforts were futile. The last resort was to pull the plants out and hopefully remove the bugs with them. In the few days after this tree kale problem, I noticed some beetles on the hops and lovage nearby. My hopes were that they had fled to these plants but wouldn’t find them to their liking. They found a flower variety they favored, cleome, which I promptly removed.

Unfortunately, I have been starting winter crops the last few weeks and a few beetles found their way into the greenhouse and began enjoying a nice Brassica lunch. I've resorted back to hand picking those because the scale is much easier to manage. In a pleasant twist, the fish in the greenhouse aquaponics system love a harlequin beetle snack!

Fingers crossed I can eradicate them before our winter planting. Stay tuned for future installments of Kate the Gardener vs. The Harlequin Beetle Hordes!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 21, 2014

Sacramento Youth Chosen to Attend Worldwide Teen Summit

Two youth leaders from Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)’ Youth Education program are heading to Boston, Massachusetts on July 28 to join nearly 200 other young people for the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network’s 2014 Teen Summit. Youth from 18 countries including India, Jordan, Israel, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and the United States will be in Boston from July 29 - August 3 to explore using technology to make positive change and stand up for youth rights in issues such as education, environment, freedom & safety, health and speech & expression.

Youth ambassadors, Maria (age 16) and Beatrice (age 14), were chosen for their outstanding peer leadership and efforts to give back to their community. 

SFBFS’ Intel Computer Clubhouse, a member of the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, based at the Museum of Science in Boston, provides a creative out-of-school learning environment where young people from Sacramento work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, build confidence, develop life skills and find pathways to success through the use of technology. Clubhouse members also learn to give back to their communities in ways that help build self-esteem, respect for others and commitment to community involvement.

About Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services’ Intel Computer Clubhouse
SFBFS' Intel Computer Clubhouse is a part of the Youth Education program. The Clubhouse is a year round, drop-in program Monday through Thursday. Staff and volunteer mentors engage youth in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (S.T.E.A.M). Youth, ages 12-18, with an interest in joining their local Clubhouse are encouraged to contact Kelly Ann at (916) 456-1980 or

About the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network

The Computer Clubhouse was founded in 1993 and has expanded to include 100 locations serving 25,000 youth annually from under-served communities in 20 countries. The Intel Computer Clubhouse Network is a project of the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. For more information visit:

Submitted by Kelly Ann Adams, Clubhouse Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 16, 2014

Growing Gardens, One Yard At a Time

Everyone loves a vegetable garden. A patio full of pots overflowing with sweet cherry tomatoes and bright herbs or a patch of cleared grass crowded with squash and watermelons. A garden can come in every shape and size and it’s wonderful to see the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people who love their vegetables. 

Unfortunately for some, starting a garden is cost, time, or physically prohibitive. This is a sentiment shared commonly at our free gardening classes in the Demonstration Garden at Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services (SFBFS). Many of our dedicated garden clients have a plan for ramping up their vegetable production but are often limited to their patio containers or smaller plans.

Sensing this need for resources in our community, the Food program applied for and received a grant to begin building gardens for some of our clients. This new facet of the program closely aligns with our mission to foster economic independence and self-sufficiency in those we serve. We want people to expand their gardening capabilities and share the abundance of food, excitement, and gardening know-how with their community. To be eligible, a client must attend and complete the Introduction to Gardening Series, which is four consecutive weekly classes about planning and maintaining your garden. Since beginning this program in April, we have had a slow trickle of qualified  applications turned in. We've completed two garden builds so far! The projects were very different but highlight the different resource needs in our communities.

Our first build was for dedicated gardener Minnie, who desired a raised container bed because of physical problems leaving her unable to bend down to the ground. She already had a dazzling assortment of vegetables on her patio but a small lawn with enormous potential was empty. Greg and I, along with two trusty client volunteers (one being the recipient of our next build) constructed a garden bed about 3 ½ feet tall and filled it with soil, compost and a variety of veggies and herbs. It turned out fantastic and Minnie was very happy. She could harvest and care for everything at a comfortable level. I came back later to set up a drip irrigation system and a basic compost bin to make her garden tending duties even easier. Build 1 – a success!

The second build was at the residence of Joseph and Jeannie, who were inspired by some of our gardening classes to embark on a very large project.  By the time they turned in their application, Joseph had already broke ground on an 800 sq ft. garden and planted about a third of it. Our goal was to put the other two-thirds into production: amend the soil with compost, plant with vegetables and flowers, set up irrigation, and build a large compost bin. Joseph, Greg, four volunteers and myself got busy with our tasks and finished before noon! It was a merry affair and the result of our build was at least 500 more square feet of vegetable production. Joseph and Jeannie were very thankful for all the help and resources, just as we are thankful that they've turned their lawn into a huge garden!

With two builds under our belt, we are ready to take on the next challenge. The next property has three parcels and is partially developed for gardening already but we hope to expand it and make it a veritable urban farm! Stay posted!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden, Health and Nutrition AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 11, 2014

Summer Fun in Youth Education

I'm Journey, a 15-year-old Youth Education intern at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) and blogger. I wanted to intern and work with this program because I want to work in the writing field. I heard about this internship through the Youth Education Computer Clubhouse Coordinator and decided to apply for the internship. Writing is important to me because it is how I express myself and a positive outlet on life itself. As for the work, I am prepared to deliver the news of how the summer programs in Youth Education deliver a fun-filled summer to kids.

The Youth Education program's summer activities kicked off on June 30. The day consisted of fun activities, such as icebreakers and coloring animals and fans for the Senior program. All the kids were happy to partake in all the different festivities with big smiles and decorative art work. Lots of enthusiasm filled the room as kids got to know each other and start friendships down a long road of summer activities. The first day has definitely set  the tone for many days to come over this summer.

The Youth Education program features many fun activities for the kids to indulge in over the summer. The program offers a six to eight week summer camp from June 30 to August. The activities will range from art, skills and enrichment tools, as well as field trips for the youth to look forward to. In conclusion, the benefits of the Youth Education program would be newfound friendships, skills and a joyful summer.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Naomi, age 11, a youth who participates in the afternoon's youth program. She spoke on her great opportunity to be in the camp.

How is your first day at the program?
I like how the volunteers are nice and not strict.

After today, does it make you want to come every day?
Yes, because it looks like a nice place to come to.

Were you excited about joining this program?
Yes, because I like going to camps and it sounded like a nice place to go to.

What sets this program apart from the other camps you have been to?
There is a lot of people that participate.

What experiences do you expect to have here?
To make new friends and represent my family in a good way.

NEXT WEEK: The Youth Education program had a visit from an organization called Nature Critters. The visit had the kids fascinated by different animals, particularly a tortoise. The animals had the youth enticed to know more about the animals and their habitats. See my blog next week for more details. 

Submitted by Journey A., Youth Education Intern at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

June 24, 2014

Kate's Korner - Volunteers: Soldiers of the Soil

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) is well regarded in the Sacramento region (and beyond) for a kaleidoscope of reasons. One of those reasons is our huge volunteer base. In 2013, over 5,800 generous citizens of this city and the greater area spent 67,930 hours assisting staff in SFBFS' six programs. The Food program often has the greatest number of volunteers because of the scale of our food distributions and the huge amount of processing and organization needed on-site. The Demonstration Garden is a small (but large in spirit!) component of the Food program and has a small amount of those volunteers. These gardening enthusiasts, ready to labor in the Sacramento heat with shovel and garden shears poised for action, are my saving grace.

Having a garden volunteer makes the difference between a Kate-outside-all-day-running-around-like-a-maniac day and a Kate-happily-accomplishes-everything-and-can-even-attack-that-looming-administrative-housekeeping-piled-on-her-desk day. On certain mornings when the garden and its miraculous bounty and growth threatens to swallow me and my minuscule harvest basket it feels like Christmas when a volunteer walks through the gate. I briefly go over the pressing matters of the day, direct my trusty sidekick to a battle against pests, rogue weeds, wayward fruit or stunted growth and then gleefully attack the rest of the outdoor duties. Without volunteers, I would be working in the garden almost all day, every day. 

Imagine my excitement to find out that we have a couple great high school graduates from the GreenCorp program (job training for teens) coming to work twice a week in the Demonstration Garden starting the end of June. Woohoo! I may have danced, I may have fist pumped the air...I am excited! I was excited about how much we can accomplish and how much time will be left for new projects and development that will make the Demonstration Garden an even greater resource to the community!

So dearest volunteers, or anyone who has ever volunteered, you are sincerely appreciated. That extra help makes all the difference!  

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden, Health and Nutrition Assistant at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

June 11, 2014

Making Pizza in the Demonstration Garden

In January, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)’ Demonstration Garden team planted wheat to harvest for summer gardening classes. Six months later the wheat was ready to harvest and be used to make dough. 

Last week, SFBFS’ Garden class attendees were able to learn and join the process of creating their own dough out of wheat. 

The dough was then used to make a fresh pizza using ingredients straight from the SFBFS Demonstration Garden. Check out the photos below of the process!

Harvesting the wheat 

Winnowing the the chaff from the wheat berry

More winnowing

Making dough from the wheat berries that have been ground

Grilling pizzas

Finished Pizza #1! 

Finished Pizza #2! 

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services started teaching workshops in the Demonstration Garden in May 2012. Gardening classes include introduction to gardening, composting, pest management, irrigation, healthy food choices and more. 

If you are interested in attending SFBFS' free gardening classes, click here to see a class calendar for June, July and August. 

Submitted by Lauren Razzano, Communications Officer at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

June 9, 2014

Big Day of Giving 2014

Starting at midnight on May 6, 2014 the Sacramento community came together to support close to 400 non-profit organizations throughout the region, including Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS). BIG Day of Giving (BIG DoG), hosted by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation and, was a 24 hour online giving challenge part of a national campaign called GiveLocalAmerica. The objective of this challenge was to not only bring additional funding to the Sacramento region, but also to increase awareness of the non-profit sector and the work these organizations do to make our community a better place. To make the challenge have even more impact, many local businesses and organizations contributed funds to a pool of matching dollars. This means that every dollar donated on May 6 would receive a boost from this pool of funds.

SFBFS was invited to be a participant in the BIG DoG and Communications & Development staff began prepping by attending an orientation, a full day of boot camp sessions and putting together a comprehensive social media and communications plan. As this was a new fundraising initiative for us, we weren’t sure what to expect and were excited to see what it was all about. As the weeks passed by we kept promoting the BIG DoG, posting on Facebook and Twitter, emailing current donors, also excited to see what our neighbor non-profit organizations were doing to promote the event. A buzz surrounding BIG DoG was definitely out in the community and I think we were all eager to see how successful it would be.

Midnight on May 6 arrived and donations started coming in. Facebook and Twitter were filled with posts highlighting #givebigdog. was posting real-time updates so participants and donors could check their fundraising progress. If May 6 marked anything other than BIG oG, it would be hard to tell from the amount of coverage dedicated to the challenge.

During the 24 hour challenge, BIG DoG generated over $3,000,000 for Sacramento area participant non-profits. Over $24,500 of that funding was generated from 190 unique donors who chose SFBFS as their beneficiary organization. Of those 190 donors, 50% were first-time donors to SFBFS. I would say the objective of bringing additional funding and awareness of the non-profit sector to the Sacramento region was a success. I would also say that SFBFS was honored to be a participant in the BIG DoG and is looking forward to another successful BIG DoG in 2015!

Submitted by Melissa Arnold, Development Officer at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

June 6, 2014

An international experience at SFBFS

Last week I had an amazing international experience right here at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS).

A group of 4 educators from Israel, organized by Northern California World Trade Center, were in Sacramento for a few days during their 3-week professional program, which addresses the topic Promoting Tolerance through Education. The educators work to build bridges between students of various cultural backgrounds in Israel, and are looking at how tolerance is taught in the U.S. through the educational system. Their agenda while in the U.S. included meetings with local schools, education officials and, in efforts to learn about services offered to marginalized communities in the Sacramento area, they came to SFBFS.

The educators, accompanied by two translator guides from the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, had a lot of questions during my tour and excitedly discussed my answers (The translator was always kind enough to give me a brief synopsis of what was said or clarified in Hebrew.) They explained to me that, in Israel, when a societal need is not met by governmental services, “non-government organizations”, or nonprofits, will arise to fill that need, but will also advocate for the creation of government programs that meet this need in the future. Coming from a background in Nonprofit Administration, it was fascinating to learn about how the nonprofit sector works on the other side of the world. It seemed like their favorite part was seeing our quarter-acre demonstration garden where they spent a lot of time admiring the lush summer crops coming in and asking questions about our gardening classes.

With so much discussion and a meeting with a state senator to get to, we ran out of time before I was even able to show them our food program! Luckily I was able to send them all some information via email. I was so happy when I received responses from them saying that they were very impressed and inspired by my tour all of the services offered at SFBFS. It was so amazing to have the opportunity to represent the U.S. to educators from other countries! I've said it before and I'll say it again, I had no idea what I was getting into when I was living in Seattle and accepted a one-year term at a food bank in Sacramento!

Submitted by Kira Graves, Volunteer Services and Communications Assistant at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

June 5, 2014

Seeing a familiar face at a citizenship fair

Very often, as Programs Director, I am approached by outside agencies wanting to partner with SFBFS, very often to gain access to our high volume of clients. I pick and chose these partnerships with great consideration but there are times when I know instantly that the partnership will be successful and a great benefit to our clients. One example of these instantly beneficial partnerships has been with our neighbor in Oak Park, Pacific McGeorge School of Law. 

On an informal basis, one of the immigration attorneys on faculty, Blake Nordhal, had approached the staff at our location in North Sacramento, the Saca Community Learning Center (Saca CLC), and began offering small “Know Your Rights” presentations and then one-on-one quick assessments of their situation. Many of our students became connected with Blake N. and McGeorge and had successful outcomes. One student that comes to mind is Marina, who after attending ESL classes at the Saca CLC for years and having both of her children enrolled in our Youth Education program was able to advance to English classes at the local community college. After getting connected with Blake N. and McGeorge, it was determined that she was eligible to begin the process to be naturalized. As of late 2013, Marina is now a proud US citizen! 

Throughout 2013, SFBFS and McGeorge furthered their partnership at both of SFBFS’ locations by offering Know Your Rights info sessions for both Naturalization and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). After two successful events in fall 2013 with SFBFS, and two others with other partnering agencies, McGeorge had enough applicants ready for the large Citizenship Fair in November 2013. In one day alone they completed 100 applications for DACA and Naturalization, all with the help from law students and dedicated immigration attorneys volunteering their time.

I had the great experience to volunteer my time as an individual on a Saturday in November for this Citizenship Fair. I was assisting some of the law students by translating for the Spanish speaking individuals that were there to complete their applicants. Towards the end of the day, I turned back to the line to get the next individual so I help translate and low and behold it was one of my old clients from the Saca CLC that I had taught English to in 2005 when I was an AmeriCorps member. Maria instantly recognized me and we had a great time catching up at the same time we completed her application. It was such an incredible moment to worked with someone so long ago to improve their English (which was great and I was barely needed for translation), to then years later be sitting with her completing her citizenship application. I saw her a few months ago and she let me know that she was now a citizen and she told me all about the beautiful swearing-in ceremony. 

Submitted by Genevieve Deignan, Programs Director at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

May 28, 2014

Kate's Korner: Libraries… for Seeds?

When people see the Demonstration Garden at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS), they are usually amazed. They take in the gigantic zucchini, the tasty strawberries, the innovative aquaponics system and the fantastic Kitchen Table. Generally, people marvel at how much goes on in our garden and how good it looks. What fewer people know is that the garden is not constrained to our outside area. A vital part of our garden is tucked secretly away inside the Food  program office. Have you seen our Seed & Resource Library?

In this room thousands of vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds are all eagerly waiting to be checked out, planted and producing beautiful produce and blooms! There are organized shelves full of a variety of seeds from amaranth and arugula to watermelon and wheat. A reference manual will help you determine what sun and water needs each plant has as well as how easy they are to grow and the seasons they prefer to grow. There are empty seed packets and labels offered for convenience. It’s basically a candy store for seeds!

The seeds are “checked out” and not just given away. This means we want gardeners to save some seed from their plants and return it to the Seed Library, in order to keep seeds available. In general, we want people to be knowledgeable about how to save their own seed so they no longer have to purchase new seed season after season. We have offered a Seed Saving class and have another coming up in summer that we encourage our seed “borrowers” to attend.

We also have a resource library with a plethora of books about gardening, healthy eating, cooking, and landscape design that can be checked out for a month at a time. Some of my new favorites are the vermicomposting book Worms Ate My Garbage! and native plant and edible landscape-lover’s Reimagining the California Lawn. There is also a variety of flyers and brochures about conserving water, backyard chickens, fruit tree pruning and more.

The Seed & Resource Library was instituted in order to provide free resources to people interested in gardening. It's hard to start and maintain a healthy garden without seeds and knowledge. I hope this valuable resource makes growing food more accessible to our clients as well as encourage their enthusiasm and continued learning about food production.

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden, Health and Nutrition Assistant at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

May 22, 2014

Peanut Butter with a Purpose

Children in the Youth Education program at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) were invited to attend a fun event to learn all about the healthy benefits of peanut butter on May 21.

Students interact with Kim during the presentation
Led by SFBFS Health and Nutrition intern, Kim, youth learned all about serving sizes, where peanut butter fits into the My Plate chart and what fun snacks they could make with peanut butter. Kim asked the students what their favorite snacks with peanut butter were and received all sorts of fun answers such as PB&J on crackers, apples dipped in peanut butter, peanut butter spread on celery and ants on a log! The kids then learned that the spread contains protein, vitamin A, potassium, fiber, healthy fat and helps build strong bones.

After learning all about the health benefits of peanut butter, the kids stepped out to the Kitchen Table in SFBFS’ Demonstration Garden to make fun critters snacks. Kim showed the kids how to make snacks look like spiders or an octopus, and then set out apples, grapes, raisins, marshmallows and blueberries. The kids made all sorts of creative food art and then enjoyed their peanut butter snacks.

This event was in honor of Save Mart partnering with local food banks to raise awareness of the struggle many families have feeding their children during the summer months. May 11-31 all Save Mart and Lucky stores throughout the region will be collecting peanut butter to help stock the pantries of local food banks. Giving this initiative a boost, Jif peanut butter has announced a buy-one, get-one promotion making it easy for families to donate a jar of peanut butter each time they purchase one.

"I appreciate us partnering with SFBFS and think it's an awesome cause,” John Biggs, Save Mart Store Manager said. “Running the promotion with Jif so customers would give a free jar of peanut butter has greatly helped to generate donations." 

For more information about Peanut Butter with a Purpose, click here.

May 15, 2014

Donors are God’s Soldiers

When I first took on the position as the Guest Services Coordinator 3 years ago, little did I know that my outlook on life would change for the better. I was the kind of person that liked having material things in life like nice cars, clothing, shoes and even eating out at expensive eateries. My first week at Guest Services was a rude awakening for me as I saw men, women and children with little or nothing lined up at the food and clothing line at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS). They all had something in common, which was a need for food and clothing and just needed the necessities in life to survive.    I realized that donors are God’s soldiers. They come to the aide and rescue for all the men, women and children in dire need for something as simple as clothing and food. Though, there will never be enough to tackle all the needs for these less fortunate individuals and families, at least they now have something they did not have before they came to SFBFS. When I saw their body language and facial expressions before they received help I could feel their sadness. After receiving clothing and food, I could feel their happiness and gratitude. Now, I appreciate all the things that I have in life and not so much wanting materialistic things that made me happy. I tend to preach to my children, family and friends to donate and help the less fortunate and be God’s soldiers in life to help the less fortunate. Again, I feel blessed to be part of SFBFS that helps people in need and has helped me to be more humble and giving. Mahalo Nui Loa, Ke’ea Oka Aina I Ka Pono!

Submitted by Ross Fontanilla, Guest Services Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services. 

May 13, 2014

Senior program at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

In May, 2008, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) undertook the development of a Community Needs Assessment with an ultimate goal ensuring SFBFS program offerings continued to be relevant and supportive of the greater Sacramento community.

One of the findings of the assessment was the prediction (by the California Department of Aging) that by the year 2020, 330,000 seniors will live in the Sacramento region, many of whom will be socially isolated and subject to poor nutrition and depression.

Building on the community needs assessment, SFBFS’ Board of Directors approved a strategic plan in April 2009, which among other things, created our Senior program. This concept is to match volunteer families and individuals with seniors who are referred to SFBFS by Eskaton, a premier senior service non-profit in Northern California. These volunteers socially engage with their matched seniors a minimum of twice a month and provide them with a generous supply of healthy groceries from SFBFS on one of those visits each month.

From these humble beginnings, the Senior program now has 45 active senior/volunteer matches and looks forward to helping many more seniors in the future!

Submitted by Marie-Louise Nelson, Senior Program Manager at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

May 12, 2014

Behind the scenes at SFBFS

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) is a dedicated team of employees and volunteers assisting those in need. We feed the hungry, clothe those in need, educate those needing education and offer an environment conducive to helping clients become self-sufficient and financially independent.

In order to provide that, much work goes on behind the scenes. Drivers must learn routes within the cities in order to deliver empty donation barrels and then return to pick up filled barrels. Donations are picked up from local stores, distributors, growers and individuals and are brought back to our warehouses. All donations must be accounted for. They are sorted, sized, weighed and labeled by our warehouse staff before they are available for our clients.

SFBFS' community rooms must be set up and arranged for meetings and special events for outside groups using our facility, as well as events hosted by SFBFS. This includes setting up tables, chairs, tents and other equipment necessary to accommodate the need.

No matter the number of hours, the weather, or the number of drivers available, we are a tightly knit team- dedicated to getting the job done and going the extra mile to do so. We represent SFBFS every time we drive up to a customer dock, walk into a donating store, or accept a donation from a donor at guest services or a special event.

We know that as a result of our hard work, lives are being affected and changed.  

Submitted by Steve Knieriem, Facilities and Equipment Manager at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

May 9, 2014

Councilmember Kevin McCarty's 6th annual Mother's Day Drive

Over the past six weeks, Councilmember McCarty has been encouraging community members to donate parenting supplies such as new or gently used baby clothing, educational games, baby food, diapers, books, strollers and toiletries to the 6th annual McCarty Mother’s Day Drive. 

More than 36 blue barrels were filled with diapers, baby clothes, infant formula, toys, books and even a few hand-sewn quilts to be donated to local families who attend Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)' Parent Education program.

McCarty twins looking at some of the donations
SFBFS’ Parent Education program guides and empowers parents to give their children a bright and happy future. Anyone raising children is welcome to enroll in free educational classes, which include positive discipline, growth stages, car seat safety, healthy snacks on a budget, During Your Pregnancy and much more. Upon completion of courses, parents earn credits, in the form of Baby Bucks, which can be used to shop at SFBFS’ Baby Boutique to purchase clothing, food, diapers and other items new parents greatly need. 

Councilmember McCarty talks to crowd at Saca CLC
Thank you to everyone who made Councilmember Kevin McCarty's 6th annual Mother's Day Drive a huge success! 

May 7, 2014

Have a heart! And some apples, carrots, celery and kale!

Every day at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS), I get to witness the greatest things about being human, seeing people who are giving, caring, empathetic, compassionate, and hopeful.

In the daily span of doing my job I'm blessed with seeing the most wonderful acts of kindness. SFBFS volunteers are truly amazing! Day in and day out we have a constant rotation of volunteers helping to do everything from sorting and bagging canned items, dry goods, fresh produce, meat and dairy, as well as helping with the set up and handing out of these goods at food distributions. The faces I see are all ethnicities, all ages, all incomes. They're all working hard together, all smiling with purpose and moving toward one goal: helping others.

I encourage you to come to a volunteer orientation and see the great changes SFBFS is continuing to strive for. See if there is an opportunity for you or someone you know to give back to our community and help those in need become more self sufficient. Take a step towards greatness.

"Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Submitted by Ray Dowler, Food Program Direct Distribution Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

Healthy Living: Get Out What You Put In

The human body is a remarkable and complicated thing! There are 206 bones in every adult, a heart pumping around 5 liters of blood, a system of nerves, some 650 muscles, and a bunch of major organs that all help keep you healthy and active. It is important to remember that like anything else, your body needs maintenance and care so that it keeps working as well as it possibly can, and the best way to help your system out is to make sure that you get regular exercise and that you are aware of what you are putting into your body. By knowing how different substances are going to affect your health, you can make informed and sensible choices about keeping your body in good working order.

Essential Things Your Body Needs
To maintain your health, it crucial that you find time for regular exercise. Now, this can be tricky for many of us nowadays, because some days we may lack the time or motivation, but as the Harvard School of Public Health Recommends even if “you don’t currently exercise and aren’t very active during the day, any increase in exercise or physical activity is good for you.” You don’t have to suddenly start running marathons – even aiming to go for a short walk everyday can help make a start at providing the exercise you need to stay fit. If you aren’t currently doing much to improve your fitness, it’s fine to start small and build up as you become more comfortable with regular exercise. At the same time, it’s also important to try and find forms of exercise that are fun to help motivate you to keep it up. If you can join in an enjoyable activity that also gives you a chance to spend time with other people, all the better – spending time playing sports or outdoor games with friends will also help maintain your motivation along with your fitness.
Regular exercise helps keep your body running, but what about the fuel we use? According to the last published Dietary Guidelines “Americans currently consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains”. Just as it is important to maintain your fitness, you also need to make sure you are conscious of what you are putting inside your body. In particular, we need to make sure that we are eating enough fruit, vegetables – recommends making sure that half your plate is made up of these healthy alternatives. This is because fruit and vegetables help keep our weight at an appropriate level and prevent obesity, while also providing essential minerals and vitamins that help the body stay in good shape. At the same time by making sure that you are using fruit and vegetables as a major part of your meals and snacks, you will be reducing your risk of contracting disease like cancer.

Taking on Damage: Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs
Of course, not everything we put into our bodies is actually helpful for us – and some things can be downright harmful for our health. We might know that drugs can cause us a lot of harm – even a relatively common drug like marijuana, which says “is often referred to as a gateway drug” can have harmful effects on the body. According to, marijuana smoke can not only cause damage to the lungs, but “A number of studies have linked chronic marijuana use and mental illness.” At the same time, it isn’t just illegal drugs that can affect your health, as legal substances like alcohol and cigarettes can also damage your body.
Like smoking marijuana, cigarettes can cause severe respiratory problems, and as states smoking “damages your breathing and scars your lungs”. Cigarette smoke can significantly raise your risk of contracting cancer, and also lead to problems with your heart, raise blood-pressure and damage your arteries.
Likewise, putting too much alcohol regularly into your body can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Consuming excessive alcohol can also lead to liver disease, since the liver works hard to process alcohol, but too much drinking exhausts the liver. It is especially important to be aware of how alcohol might be affecting your organs, since those who have damaged their liver from consuming too much alcohol will often not be able to feel any liver damage and as says “people often don’t realize it’s suffering until it’s too late.” It is precisely because there is so much going on in our bodies that can’t be seen that we need to make the effort to monitor of how our lifestyle can affect our health.

If you take the time to think about how you are looking after your body and what you are putting into it, with just a little bit of effort, you can keep yourself fit and healthy and help avoid unpleasant diseases. Remember, for a healthier and happier life, keep your body going with exercise, make sure you put in good fuels like fruit and vegetables, and always be aware of the dangers of using substances that can harm you.

Submitted by Lily McCann.