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Healthy Food Comes to a Rural Neighborhood in Rancho Cucamonga

Case Story

In response to staggering public health statistics, Rancho Cucamonga established a city-wide initiative dedicated to encouraging healthy and sustainable lifestyles. As part of this initiative, the city passed a zoning ordinance to allow farmers markets into one of the neediest neighborhoods and created a program that is helping residents make healthier choices.  


The City of Rancho Cucamonga is located in San Bernardino County where, in 2003, two out of every three people were categorized as obese. In that same year, the County ranked in the top five for having the highest death rate from heart disease and the worst access to healthy food in the entire state of California .

In response to these staggering health statistics, Rancho Cucamonga established the Healthy Rancho Cucamonga Campaign in 2008- a city-wide initiative dedicated to encouraging healthy and sustainable lifestyles.  Over the past five years, the city has engaged the community to address access to healthier foods in their community. As a result of this engagement, the city passed a zoning ordinance to allow farmers markets into one of the neediest neighborhoods and created a program that is helping residents make healthier choices.  

Program Highlights

  • Passage of the Farmers Market Zone Ordinance led to the development of two new farmers markets in the city, including one in southwest Rancho Cucamonga where there are no grocery stores that sell fresh produce.
  • Residents who did not know much about farmers markets are now able to articulate the benefits of eating organic and locally-produced fruits and vegetables.
  • In the first year, the farmers market attracted 150 families from southwest Rancho Cucamonga. The interest in the farmers markets among southwest Rancho Cucamonga residents, a primarily Spanish-speaking population, has increased so much that the farmers market hired a Spanish-speaking manager to address customers’ questions and needs.
  • The farmers markets accept WIC and EBT (public assistance program) payments as well as “Bucks” from an Inland Empire United Way funded program. Through the “Double Bucks” program, families receive a $50 match for purchases at local farmers markets after completing a one day health-focused class. The amount of “Bucks” redeemed continues to increase; $300 were redeemed in 2011 and $1,500 were redeemed in 2012.

Lessons Learned

  • Everyone has something important to contribute to the process.
  • The more that people are involved, the greater the chance of long-term success.
  • Involving community members increases trust and bridges cultural gaps.
  • A community-based participatory approach creates a sense of ownership and helps build community champions who better understand local government polidies and processes.
  • This journey became bigger than the ordinance.  Residents became more educated and took pride and ownership in the process.
  • Housing the Healthy Rancho Cucamonga Campaign within the City Manager’s Office helped the city think broadly about health issues and its relation to other city initiatives.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story

Leveraging more than 5 million dollars in various grants, the City of Rancho Cucamonga launched the Healthy Rancho Cucamonga Campaign to inspire a lifestyle that embraces a healthy mind, body and earth through lifelong learning and enrichment, active healthy living and environmental sustainability.  The city decided that the Healthy Rancho Cucamonga vision needed to be incorporated into its updated general plan in order to ensure land use policies and community design that facilitates opportunities for physical activities and access to nutritional food.

City officials decided that the Healthy Rancho Cucamonga program was central to the role of city government and housed it within the City Manager’s Office rather than within a specific department.  Healthy Rancho Cucamonga inventoried efforts in every department and started packaging the efforts as part of a new brand for the city.

Through an extensive community outreach process, including forums and focus groups, residents and community organizations identified challenges to active living and healthy eating in their neighborhoods and strategies to increase access and opportunities. Through the outreach process the city discovered that farmers markets were not zoned in the southwest area of Rancho Cucamonga, the area with the least access to healthy eating and active living opportunities. Southwest Rancho Cucamonga is a predominately Latino community with high rates of poverty and few neighborhood amenities. There are no grocery stores that sell fresh produce so residents must go elsewhere to shop. Many residents rely on public transportation so they can only buy as much fresh food as they can carry on the bus.  City leaders realized that an amendment to the city’s development code was needed to improve food security in this neighborhood.

With help from the national program Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, the city developed a farmers market subcommittee made up of community residents and city leaders. The group interviewed farmers market managers and conducted site visits at markets in nearby cities. They connected over the phone with similar task force organizers in Columbia, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, who shared their work with farmers markets.

The subcommittee then conducted focus groups with residents of the community to ensure future farmers market sites accurately reflect community desires and needs. These primarily Spanish-speaking residents identified access and cost as the two main barriers to buying healthy food.
The information gathered by the subcommittee laid the groundwork for a development code amendment requiring city council approval. This Farmers Market Ordinance would:

  • Increase areas of the city zoned for farmer’s markets (including southwest Cucamonga).
  • Develop minimum criteria for what is to be sold at farmers markets (at least 75 percent of items sold must be produce or value-added products).
  • Minimize Temporary-Use Permit requirements for farmers markets, extending them to 12 months.

Subcommittee members representing community-based organizations and local residents voiced its support of the ordinance to the city council. The city council unanimously passed the ordinance.

Passage of the ordinance led to the development of two new farmers markets in the city (making three total markets as of 2012), helping increase residents’ access to healthy and locally-grown produce.

In response to residents’ concerns about cost, the partnership pursued and received a grant from Inland Empire United Way to offer all residents of southwest Cucamonga a 50 dollar match for purchases at local farmers markets. Local residents must attend an interactive workshop to receive this incentive, where families learn more about the benefits of healthy cooking and how to make a budget for buying healthy foods with limited resources. Rancho Cucamonga farmers markets have seen an overall increase of sales and a greater number of southwest Rancho Cucamonga residents than in previous years. Students from Claremont graduate school are currently working to  statistically evaluate the benefits derived from implementing the Farmers Market Ordinance.

In addition to passing the Farmers Market Ordinance, the city started a Safe Routes to School Program in three schools and developed a youth leadership program.  The city holds a leadership role in California Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) campaign and has even received national recognition for its ongoing commitment to health and resident engagement from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign. 


Interview: Fabian Villenas, Principal Management Analyst, City of Rancho Cucamonga

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