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Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative Enters New Phase

California coast Santa Cruz photo by Robert Campbell
Farmland on the San Mateo Coast near San Francisco / Robert Campbell

A recent grant from the California Coastal Conservancy will enable AFT’s Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative to take the next step in promoting a more robust regional agriculture and food system. It was awarded to AFT for the purpose of conducting a feasibility study of and business plan for a regional agricultural economic development finance corporation that would attract and strategically deploy investment capital to promote increased supply of and demand for locally-produced food. Similar institutions exist in New York’s Hudson Valley and in Toronto, Ontario, which has a rural “greenbelt” like the one in the Bay Area.

"The Coastal Conservancy recognizes the significant contributions that Bay Area farms and ranches make to our quality of life and economic vitality,” said Amy Hutzel, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Conservancy. "We are pleased to provide this grant to the American Farmland Trust to increase economic investment in our working lands.”

Since 2008, American Farmland Trust has worked with partners like the Greenbelt Alliance to call attention to the potential of Bay Area farms and ranches to produce more food for local consumers. That year, along with Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), we issued the report Think Globally, Eat Locally, which concluded that the San Francisco “foodshed” could be self-sufficient in all but a handful of agricultural commodities. Intrigued by this finding, then-Mayor and now Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom sponsored an urban-rural roundtable that recommended, among other things, that more effort be made to preserve the region’s farms and to encourage them to produce for local markets.

AFT took this cue and, along with Greenbelt Alliance and SAGE, conducted a detailed study of the agricultural potential and challenges in the region, outlined in a 2011 report, Sustaining Our Agricultural Bounty. We then brought together a group of 60 stakeholders to help identify the most important things that could be done, not only to sustain agriculture, but also to help it capitalize on its major competitive advantage: proximity to seven million Bay Area consumers, many of whom favor eating food produced from the region. The number one recommendation was additional capital investment, the key to everything from helping beginning farmers gain access to farmland, to reestablishing school cafeterias and expanding other sources of demand for locally-produced food.

Working with its partners, AFT has sketched out a concept for an agricultural economic development finance corporation that would stimulate investment in local food production, consumer demand and infrastructure. Thanks to the grant from the California Coastal Conservancy – whose interest stems from the fact that farm and ranch lands comprise much of the delicate coastal zone in the Bay Area – AFT and its partners will soon hire a consultant to begin to flesh out the concept.

American Farmland Trust