New Effort to Save Farmland And Promote
American Farmland Trust and two local organizations have launched an effort to conserve farmland and encourage those who farm it to produce more food for local markets in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area region.
Farmers in the region have been growing food for people in neighboring cities for generations. Despite rapid urbanization, some remarkably productive agricultural lands remain in the nine Bay Area counties. These lands remain in agricultural use because of their extraordinary character, local land use policies and the dedication of the farmers who own and cultivate them. Producing nearly $2 billion worth of agricultural products annually, these lands are an integral part of the region’s history, sense of place and unique character. But the future of these lands and of agriculture in the Bay Area is in doubt.
- Can remaining Bay Area farm and ranch lands withstand the pressure of urban growth?
- Are the farmers and ranchers in the region taking full advantage of expanding Bay Area markets for locally-grown food?
- Are the region’s cities and consumers providing local farmers and ranchers with the support they need to remain economically sustainable?
- How could a deliberate strategy of regional agricultural economic development and resource conservation help advance all these goals?
The Bay Area Regional Foodshed Project will seek answers to these questions.
Project Sponsors and Purpose
AFT’s partners are the Greenbelt Alliance, the leading open space and smart growth organization in the Bay Area, and Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), another nonprofit that promotes “new ruralism.” All are committed to conserving land, both as an economically viable food producing resource and as a source of many other economic, environmental and cultural benefits.
We were inspired to launch this project by an Urban Rural Roundtable convened in 2008 by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, which brought together farmers, environmentalists, hunger and food system advocates and government officials to consider how the Bay Area’s “foodshed” could become more self-sufficient, and thereby promote greater economic opportunity for farmers, regional food security, improved public health and environmental quality. The Roundtable’s recommendations included local food procurement by city schools and other institutions, a trade mission to San Francisco organized by the state Department of Food & Agriculture to promote local agricultural products to urban consumers, and a concerted effort to realize the full potential of the region’s agricultural lands and producers to supply the region’s growing demand for local food. The third recommendation is the objective of this project.
The Bay Area Regional Foodshed Project will gather information and consult local producers, agricultural experts and others to better understand –
- The location, extent and physical characteristics of agricultural lands in the nine-county Bay Area (as well as portions of San Joaquin, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties).
- The variety and volume of the agricultural products currently produced by farmers and ranchers in this region, as well as the current markets for these products.
- The full range of agricultural products that could be produced in the Bay Area’s agricultural regions and potential Bay Area markets for locally produced products.
- Land use and other government policies and regulations affecting the productive economic use of agricultural land in the region.
- The level of interest of farmers, ranchers, public officials and other market participants in expanding production of food and other agricultural products specifically for local markets.
- The opportunities and challenges of building a more self-sufficient regional food system in the Bay Area.
At the conclusion of the information-gathering phase, the sponsoring organizations will convene groups of agricultural and other leaders in each Bay Area county to discuss our findings and to explore their interest in expanding the production of food specifically for local markets – which now comprises only a small fraction of the region’s total agricultural output. (See chart below) Based on the results of these meetings, we will then hold a region-wide conference to enable leaders in each county to share their experiences and to consider what a regional strategy for promoting a more self-sufficient Bay Area foodshed might look like. Part of that strategy will almost certainly have to be a more robust effort to conserve the region’s remaining farm and ranch lands – AFT’s ultimate objective.
The Bay Area Regional Foodshed Project is supported by the generous contributions of the San Francisco Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, the Gaia Fund and members of AFT. AFT’s new policy consultant, Serena Unger, will be our lead researcher for this project.
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