“First we eat, then we do everything else,” wrote M.F.K. Fisher. Food is the grounding nourishment of our lives, so it’s no surprise that a community’s urgent needs—hunger, food insecurity, and waste—often revolve around food. In the face of these entrenched issues, local nonprofits are sowing solutions to grow a vibrant and healthy food system.
San Diego is home to over ten thousand nonprofits. Together these organizations generate nearly 15 billion dollars a year and account for nine percent of the local workforce.
San Diego recently topped the list of America’s most charitable communities. Our city’s nonprofit sector—including staff, beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, and advocates—is a force to be reckoned with.
Nonprofits are uniquely equipped to meet needs in ways government programs and for-profits cannot. They are nimble, efficient and, because they rely on the community they serve for support, inherently collaborative. Within the food system, San Diego’s nonprofits count chefs, educators, farmers, donors, and food policy advocates among their stakeholders.
In this story series we’re taking a look at food nonprofits and the solutions they generate within our regional food system. We’ll highlight three core areas of impact—social enterprise, food justice, and community engagement—and introduce you to the organizations working at the frontlines. Up first: social enterprise.
Outdated or antiquated nonprofits fall flat in the face of San Diego’s enterprising charities while more and more nonprofits are launching revenue-generating programs to address community needs. Their social enterprises solve societal problems while turning a profit and reinvesting the money to do more good.
Mission Edge—an organization that supports nonprofits with back-end operations—recently launched San Diego Accelerator and Impact Lab (SAIL) to help organizations generate, innovate, and build revenue-generating programs. “Because demand is increasing, nonprofits have to figure out how to efficiently and effectively raise money to provide their services,” says Director of Programs Alicia Quinn. Rather than relying only on traditional philanthropy, they’re designing fresh ways of bringing in funds while simultaneously propelling their mission forward.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” applies here. Social enterprises increase self-sufficiency and financial sustainability by diversifying funding, allowing organizations to generate revenue without relying on donors and grants. Quinn also credits the uptick in social enterprises to the role of millennials. “The emerging generation of philanthropists is focused on making an impact and getting engaged, not just writing a check,” she says. Increasingly, funders want to get involved and use their purchasing power to support social enterprises.
Meet the Innovators
Take Kitchens For Good, a workforce-development nonprofit. Kitchens For Good tackles entrenched issues of food waste, hunger, and unemployment with one integrated solution: culinary job training for people who face barriers to employment. The organization provides transitional employment to its culinary students, who use gleaned food to make healthy meals for hungry families. The organization also offers catering and artisan condiments, giving donors—especially millennials—the chance to support the mission with their purchase. (After tasting Kitchens For Good’s spicy orange marmalade or IPA-infused mustard, this isn’t a hard sell.)
“Kitchens For Good ensures its own sustainability by building a revenue-generating food enterprise at the core of every kitchen,” says Senior Director Aviva Paley. These enterprises generate most of Kitchens For Good’s budget—nearly 70 percent—and sustain its mission of breaking cycles of food waste, hunger, and unemployment.
Solutions for Change also had job readiness in mind when it launched Solutions Farms, an organic, closed-loop aquaponics farm in Vista. Solutions for Change works to solve family homelessness and Solutions Farms provides a training ground to prepare clients for workforce re-entry. Tending to fish tanks (nutrient-rich water from fish culture is used to nourish produce) and raising lettuce in the Solutions Farms’ greenhouses gives Solutions for Change’s clients the opportunity to learn and make mistakes in a safe, hands-on work environment.
“We depend on the daily work ethic to teach our residents how to overcome being dependent and move toward becoming productive members of our community,” says Chris Cochran, Director of Operations. But Solutions Farms doesn’t just benefit its clients—the organization also sells its organic produce to North County residents and restaurants.
Project CHOP is the International Rescue Committee’s social enterprise that employs female refugees, serving as a storytelling platform, as well as a mission-driven business. “[The] enterprise is a meaningful, innovative, and fun way of communicating the day-to-day challenges experienced by our clients, as well as showing the positive contributions and hard work that refugees and immigrants offer to the U.S.” says Anchi Mei, who oversees Project CHOP.
Most of Project CHOP’s participants have cooked at home for decades, but they lack skills for a foreign workplace. Project CHOP harnesses their kitchen expertise and employs them to create vegetable platters with produce from local farms. The women provide community markets and events with flavors from their home countries while also supporting local farms.We see in San Diego County a national trend in which nonprofits create new ways to thrive while addressing urgent needs. Complementing and sometimes dwarfing traditional philanthropic income from donations and grants, social enterprise takes ideas from the for-profit sector and transforms them so that “beneficiaries” of Kitchens For Good, Solutions for Change, and Project CHOP transform into active partners with the nonprofit and the community. Now that’s innovation!
Get in touch with the innovators:
Alicia Quinn, Director of Programs at Mission Edge: firstname.lastname@example.org, 917-455-7998
Aviva Paley, Senior Director at Kitchens for Good: email@example.com, 619-450-4040
Anchi Mei, Senior Program Manager at IRC San Diego: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Cochran, Director of Operations at Solutions Farms: email@example.com, 760-295-1437
For a list of all the innovative food nonprofits in San Diego check out our guide. Are we missing any? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.