Bay Area Agriculture and Food Strategy

In the fall of 2017, SAGE and its collaborator American Farmland Trust (AFT) published a new analysis, the Bay Area Food Economy: Existing Conditions and Strategies for Resilience. Recognizing the integral role of farms and food businesses in the Bay Area, SAGE and AFT have produced this report outlining strategies for strengthening the region’s agriculture and food cluster as a critical pillar of the region’s economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and vibrant cultural life. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) commissioned this report as a part of the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Food and agriculture-related strategies and actions suggested by SAGE are now included in the final draft Economic Action Plan. Click here to read the press release for the White paper.

Food and agriculture-related strategies and actions suggested by SAGE were included in ABAG’s regional Economic Action Plan. SAGE has been invited to continue its engagement with the regional Economic Development District, now in formation. “The Bay Area Food Economy White Paper adds a significant dimension to the CEDS. It shows that the agriculture and food economic cluster is a critical and integral sector for our region, and identifies the investments needed to strengthen this important element of our regional resilience,” said Cynthia Kroll, ABAG’s Chief Economist.

In May 2018, Beth Leuin, a masters student at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy working with SAGE, produced a fascinating analysis: Risk and Resilience: Building Disaster Preparedness in the Bay Area Food System. This paper describes how lack of sufficient analysis and prioritization of the Bay Area food system in resilience planning leaves the sector at risk of interruption from natural disaster, threatening regional food security. The paper outlines strategies that regional and local governments can pursue to strengthen resilience in the regional food system, given the sector’s dependence on power and water supply and transportation and communications systems. These include: conducting a regional supply chain resilience study, implementing a small food business disaster preparedness program, and – more broadly, increasing level of community self-sufficiency. Beth got very positive feedback when she presented the paper to the ABAG resilience team. Click here for a PowerPoint presentation of the Resilience white paper.

Agriculture and food sectors in the Bay Area have impressive assets and growth opportunities, but also face considerable challenges. On one hand, the Bay Area has an extraordinarily rich and diverse food system. Its 38,500 agriculture and food businesses ranging from micro-enterprises to global corporations, have an annual value of around $113 billion. The food economy employs close to half a million people, around 13 percent of the region’s workforce. However, the region’s food and ag sector faces considerable challenges: food and ag sector wages that are 64% lower than the Bay Area average annual wage for all other industries; drastic labor shortages in the sector; continued loss of the best farmland to development; food processing and distribution businesses and food incubators struggle to find affordable space in high-value real estate markets and unmet potential for greater public engagement in creating impactful, new urban-rural connections.

SAGE is working with key champions to begin to tackle these issues. We are establishing a Bay Area Agriculture and Food Economic Development program, with a working group as a first step, to act as a regional umbrella for addressing food sector challenges and opportunities. We have outlined a high level plan, with specific strategies and actions for increasing investments in the food and agriculture sector:

  1. Establish a regional agricultural and food economic development program.
  2. Support value chain climate and natural disaster resilience to help regional agricultural and food industries manage climate and natural disaster impacts, adopt best practices, innovate, and manage business risks and opportunities associated with climate change and natural disasters.
  3. Facilitate development and enhancement of food goods movement and food processing and distribution infrastructure, mindful of pending innovations, and help stimulate investments that address the growing strains on transportation, water, energy, and communications.
  4. Upskill the workforce and provide pathways to better jobs by improving the alignment between workforce skills and business needs, and evaluate ways to improve low wage occupations.
  5. Enhance Plan Bay Area (PBA) to ensure a land use pattern with space for all activities, while encouraging the protection of the region’s most productive agricultural lands to support their economic viability.

The genesis of the Bay Area Agriculture and Food Strategy (BAAFS) was the findings from a series of meetings of Bay Area agriculture and food systems leaders organized by SAGE in summer 2016. Our goal in 2018 is to initiate implementation of prioritized actions as supported by engaged collaborators and funders.

To date, the California Coastal Conservancy and the Gaia Fund have been the primary funders for SAGE’s BAAFS work.

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