Bay Area Agriculture and Food Systems

In fall 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 the 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.

As one next step, a Master of Public Policy student at UC Berkeley, is conducting an analysis for SAGE on the resilience of the region’s agriculture and food sector. We want to find out the main challenges facing this sector in terms of disaster preparedness and climate change as well as in business climate, workforce, workplace, and infrastructure (e.g. transportation, energy supply, water supply, and communications). The project will identify policies and other public interventions that can best address the most urgent of these challenges.

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 continues to lose its best and most resilient farmland to development, food processing and distribution businesses and food incubators struggle to find affordable space in high-value real estate markets, and a shortage of qualified food sector workers persists, in part because average wages in the sector fall well short of the average regional wage.

With these challenges and opportunities in mind, the report from SAGE and AFT outlines a high level Bay Area Agriculture and Food Strategy (BAAFS) which includes 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 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.

To read the report in its entirety and see the ABAG context, visit ABAG’s website.

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.