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The Power of Community: Promoting Health and Connection Through Fresh, Organic Food

Alan Foulkes
January 5, 2024
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The Power of Community: Promoting Health and Connection Through Fresh, Organic Food

This feature is a deep dive into an inspiring story of community impact. At DeepNet, we couldn't be more excited to work with clients like the Ceres Community Project (Sonoma and Marin counties) who are making a profound difference. Our commitment is to empower them with robust IT services to match their ambitious growth plans.

Who are Ceres Community Project & Why interview them?

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Deborah Ramelli, a key member of the team that champions health, empowers youth, and nurtures families through a unique program that trains teens to grow and cook healthy organic meals for community members who are facing a severe illness. Starting as a volunteer in 2010 while pregnant with her son, Deborah found a mission that resonated deeply with her values. Starting in a part-time role when the project was in its infancy, she rapidly became invaluable. Over the years, her role within the project has evolved, leading her to head the merged communications and development department today.

The Ceres Community Project: A Nurturing Hand to Those in Need

Deborah speaks passionately about the project's beneficiaries, emphasizing that they are individuals with unique needs and challenges. Last year, the project delivered almost 203,000 medically tailored meals to around 1,600 clients, all of whom were grappling with severe health issues. Eighty-three percent of those clients live on low incomes and received Ceres’ services completely free of charge.. The project’s approach to health is holistic, seeing food as not just nutrition but also a form of care.

Empowering Young People and Communities

A standout aspect of the project is its youth development program, which trains teenagers as primary chefs and gardeners, imparting them with invaluable life skills. These young volunteers play an essential role in meal preparation and gardening, contributing significantly to the project and their communities.

Food for All: Prevention as Much as Treatment

Their meals aren't just for the person who's ill - they're for the entire household. The project recognizes the importance of family meals during stressful times of illness, aiming to provide an experience of eating healthy, nutritious meals that will support long-term dietary changes. While a majority of clients are seniors, Ceres has served clients as young as two.

Expansion: Spreading the Health

The project has high aspirations. Over the past eleven years, they've trained other communities to replicate their model. Today, they have affiliate partners using their model across the US and even in Denmark. The impact of the Ceres Community Project is felt far beyond its original community, fulfilling their vision of creating health for people, communities and the planet on a large scale. As our conversation continued, Deborah explained how Ceres has successfully trained and supported 13 communities. They have nine fully operational projects following their model, with several groups independently reproducing their work.

Partnering with Healthcare and  Government

Ceres believes that access to adequate healthy food is a human right. To help more people who are too sick to shop and cook for themselves, and who are living with a diet-related illness, Ceres has conducted a number of pilots and studies to demonstrate the impact of medically tailored meals on health outcomes and costs. They helped launch the first statewide pilot project in the US aimed at reducing hospital readmissions for low-income individuals insured through the state's Medicaid program. Impressed by the pilot's success, California is now piloting coverage of medically tailored meals as a Community Benefit through their Medicaid program, improving the lives of many vulnerable Californians.

The Future: More Expansion and Growth

Towards the end of our interview, Deborah discussed the project's growth. The demand for their services surged during COVID, jumping from 79,000 meals a year in 2019 to nearly 203,000 last year. The project currently operates from three small commercial kitchens, two of which are leased and all of which are at capacity. To ensure Ceres’ continued growth and stability, they plan to build a new, regional home in southwest Santa Rosa. The location is within 15 minutes of 6 major, diverse high schools and will support an expansion to serve 50% more youth. The all-electric building will feature solar and a battery microgrid to keep the kitchen running through disasters and power outages. The Center for Food, Youth & Community will accommodate growth to 800,000 meals annually over the next ten years. As I wrapped up my interview with Deborah, it was clear that the future promises significant growth and influence for the Ceres Community Project.

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