Bay Area Food Landscapes (2011)

Urban Farms to Open Ranges: Putting Bay Area Food Landscapes on the Map

Client: Bay Nature

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For more than a century, the Bay Area has been at the forefront of the conservation movement, and for several decades it has been a leader in the local food movement. Now these movements are coming together, with conservationists including agriculture in their vision of regional sustainability and farm advocates adding habitat value and farm tourism to their vision of agriculture’s economic vitality. “Bay Area Food Landscapes” is born of that evolving alliance and reveals local agriculture is integral to both building healthy communities and protecting our environment. The familiar vistas of oak-dotted hills are revealed as part of a million-plus acres of land – both private and public – grazed b y beef cattle, dairy cows, and sheep, yielding food products valued at approximately $300 million annually. These lands also provide habitat protection, water conservation, and carbon sequestration critical for confronting climate change.

After decades of losing ground to development, local agriculture is persisting, shedding its hidden-in-plain-sign vulnerability, and reemerging as more people discover its places and flavors and as more farmers reach out to engage the public. Place-based agriculture – where the community at large values the landmark features, unique culture, and even the characteristic taste (“terroir”) of a particular place – is proving more resilient, and more appealing, than agriculture dependent solely on commodity prices. Entrepreneurial producers are diversifying with on-farm activities, integrated animal-crop systems, renewable energy projects, and value-added processing. And urban agriculture is once again expanding farming opportunities in cities. Urban gardens are producing food – and inspiring new food growers – at multiple scales, from backyard bean plots and rooftop bee hives to blossoming ag zones in Richmond, Oakland, and San Jose.

Bay Area food landscapes have a long history: from bountiful foodshed for the indigenous people, to the nation’s fruit basket only a century ago, to battlefields between development and agriculture. Today, our farms and ranches face ongoing threats – speculative land values, low financial returns, increased costs, pressure from agricultural consolidation, dismantled infrastructure, and cumbersome regulations, not to mention climate-change-induced weather extremes. Yet many people at all levels, from neighborhood groups to regional nonprofits and agencies, are promoting reinvestment in agriculture as a key connection between resilient human and natural communities and are forging the relationships that are at the heart of healthy local food sheds.

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