Planning for Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems

Safeguarding the Most Important Agricultural Resources in California and the Nation

American Farmland Trust develops tools and strategies that preserve farmland and advance economic development opportunities to sustain robust local food systems.  

Current regions of focus include the San Francisco Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley: 


Known for its appreciation of local, fresh and healthy food, the San Francisco Bay Area produces surprisingly little – only 2% -- of its own food.  

Lack of local processing capacity, distribution networks, and capital to grow local and sustainable food businesses inhibit more local food production, but offer a fantastic opportunity for farmers.  

AFT's Successes 

Since 2008, AFT's work focuses on creating new economic opportunities for the region's farmers and ranchers, improving their prospects of staying on the land in the face of higher costs and increasing development pressure.  

In 2010, AFT's landmark San Francisco Foodshed Assessment analyzed the area's ability to feed itself with food grown within 100 miles.  

In 2011, AFT released a seminal report assessing the state of agriculture in the Bay Area in Sustaining Our Agricultural Bounty. The report found that moving forward, the Bay Area would need to embrace a regional agricultural sustainability strategy including conserving land, regional marketing, evaluating agricultural needs, access to capital, and linking farmers with urban consumers. 

Current San Francisco Bay Area Projects Include:

  • Bay Area Greenprint Tool 
    Released in 2017, this online mapping tool reveals the multiple benefits of natural and agricultural lands across the region. This tool was created in collaboration with: The Nature Conservancy, Bay Area Open Space Council, Greenbelt Alliance, and
    GreenInfo Network 

  • Bay Area Food Economy: Existing Conditions and Strategies for Resilience
    Produced for the Association of Bay Area Government’s (ABAG) Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, the purpose of the Bay area Food Economy white paper is to highlight the economic and other contributions of the regional food economy, propose strategies and investments needed to protect and strengthen its contributions, and encourage increased investment in the agricultural resources and food supply sectors.

  • Bay Area Food & Farming Fund 
    AFT is leading work to build a regional strategy to help finance the growth of sustainable farms and food businesses in the region where the demand for local and sustainably grown food is soaring. The strategy addresses the infrastructure needed for family farmers to meet this growing demand—including distribution, processing and marketing—to assure that businesses can successfully support the region’s small family farms and ranches. 


San Joaquin Valley is California's most important and productive farming region producing over 250 crops, providing important habitat for biodiversity and serving as a vital link in variety of complex water and transportation systems.  Farmland and natural resources are under pressure from a variety of factors including future water supply, the influence of climate change, soil impairment and urban development.

AFT's Successes

  • Beginning in 2011, we spearheaded the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint to encourage more robust regional strategies to conserve and manage farmland and other open spaces.

  • A 2013 AFT report found that despite the good intentions of many local governments, the SJV is on pace to lose another 570,000 acres of farmland at a loss of $100 to $190 billion to the economy by 2050.
    • AFT's local land use planning advocacy efforts resulted in the cities of Clovis, Tulare and Visalia including farmland mitigation policies in their new general plans. Tulare and Fresno's government boards also followed suit in their Sustainable Communities Strategies, regional land use and transportation plans required under California's greenhouse gas reduction legislation (SB 375). Fresno City Council recently passed a historic new General Plan that will help protect the irreplaceable farmland surrounding the city's borders. AFT continues to monitor local land use planning decisions and advocate for preserving farmland throughout the region. 
    Farmland mitigation—requiring developers to permanently protect agricultural land for every acre they convert to other uses.

    Current San Joaquin Valley Projects Include:

    San Joaquin Land Water Intersection
    Building off the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint effort, AFT has partnered with the Conservation Biology Institute, creator of Data Basin, to undertake a spatial analysis to identify agricultural areas that are most at risk because of these a myriad of challenges including future groundwater supplies. The goal of this analysis is to encourage a purposeful regional conversation about strategies that will be needed to meet the land and water resource management challenges and assure a productive and prosperous future for San Joaquin Valley agriculture. 

    This analysis of Land Quality, Agricultural Water Stress, and Development Risk will be used at the regional level to identify areas or zones to prioritize for conservation practices such as:  

    • Conservation Easements for areas of high land quality, low water stress and high development risk 
    • Projects to increase water reliability across areas with high land quality and high water stress 
    • Focusing agricultural mitigation on areas of high land quality and low water stress   

    Related Reports