CalFresh Healthy Living, UC supports safe, healthy food access during the COVID-19 pandemic

Apr 21, 2020

Essential services provided by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC delivered over 270 pounds of school garden produce and help farmers markets that accept EBT/CalFresh stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Issue

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and shelter at home orders impact every aspect of our daily life from school closures to increased unemployment, uncertain access to food is increasing for many Californians. Food insecurity is defined as having limited or uncertain access to adequate food and is linked to a myriad of negative health outcomes. Food assistance programs such as CalFresh (known nationally as SNAP/EBT) and the federal school meals program have demonstrated positive outcomes for decreasing food insecurity.

How UC Delivers

Staff from CalFresh Healthy Living, UC in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties (UC) lead a working group of the local Food System Coalition to increase the utilization of CalFresh Food and Market Match benefits at local farmers markets. Farmers markets provide an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic. As social distancing orders were put in place, market managers reached out to UC for support so the markets could stay open and safe for the community and vendors. In response, UC staff mobilized County resources to support social distancing measures at markets where EBT/CalFresh is accepted. Support provided by UC staff includes onboarding, supervision, and ongoing training of County Disaster Service Workers to staff high-traffic markets, signage to direct customers in following social distancing protocols in both English and Spanish, social media posting, and circulation of a media release to let the community know that the markets are safe, open, and accessible for people with CalFresh benefits.

To further support the food system and food security efforts, UC staff in partnership with school garden stakeholders, continue to provide the essential service of maintaining school gardens to ensure food is harvested and does not go to waste. UC staff have created videos educating students on what is growing in their school garden, healthy recipes and showing home gardeners how to plant seeds and harvest food safely.


These efforts have resulted in the harvest of over 270 pounds of produce from three school gardens. This food has gone directly back to the community through use in school meals and local food pantry distributions. Ongoing harvests and re-planting of these gardens are scheduled to ensure food resources are maximized.

Additionally, the County Disaster Service Workers have provided over 65 hours of food safety and social distancing support to farmers markets that accept EBT/CalFresh and offer the market incentive Market Match. The collaboration and training provided by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC has made it possible for markets to stay open and provide a safe and reliable source of food for low-income clients throughout San Luis Obispo County. Indeed, the staff has heard community members saying that farmers markets feel to them like one of the safest places to shop for food during the pandemic.

Supporting and enhancing food assistance programs such as acceptance of CalFresh at farmers markets and school food programs and pantries has been shown to increase access to fruits and vegetables and strengthen local and regional food systems. Collectively, these efforts support UC ANR's Public Value: Safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians, particularly as we face uncertainty during a global pandemic.


“I am so thankful for this help and for you for making this happen for [our farmers markets]. I don't know that I would be able to manage this without the volunteers. Thank you again.”

– Farmers Market Manager on the support of workers to keep the markets open and support social distancing efforts.

CalFresh Healthy Living, UC in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara is creating, posting, and sharing new content daily in both English and Spanish. You can follow them on Facebook (El Exito Es Salud, UC CalFresh SLOSB), YouTube (Spanish language channel coming soon), or Instagram (@elexitoessalud, @ucceslosb)!

By Shannon Klisch
Author - Cal Fresh Community Education Supervisor 2
By Katherine E Soule
Author - Director of Cooperative Extension, SLO & SB Counties & Youth, Families & Communities Advisor