Bay Area Food Strategies

American Farmland Trust and SAGE have produced a new analysis of San Francisco Bay Area food economy focused on strategies for resilience. Recognizing the integral role farms and food businesses play in the Bay Area, SAGE and AFT have outlined strategies that focus on economic prosperity while also supporting the region’s agriculture, foodshed, environmental sustainability and cultural life.  

Though the Bay Area has an extraordinarily rich and diverse food system—featuring 38,500 agriculture and food businesses, ranging from micro-enterprises to global corporations with an annual value of around $113 billion, the region still faces considerable challenges that require foresight in order to manage. The region continues to lose its best and most resilient farmland as well as food processors, distributors and incubators to a shortage  affordable space in the area’s high-value real estate markets. In addition, a shortage of qualified food sector workers also persists, in part because average wages in the sector fall well short of the average regional wage. Food and Beverage firms at all stages of their business face significant challenges from this real estate environment when seeking to start, remain, or expand in the Bay Area’s largest cities. Industrial rents in San Francisco, for example are roughly double the asking amount for equivalent spaces in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

High land prices also threaten agricultural viability. Farmers may see greater gains by selling their land than by farming it. This often includes disinvestment in their farming operations– either as a farmer, by forgoing capital improvements or investment in high-value crops, or as a landlord, by not renewing leases to tenant farmers. As a result, the profitability of a farm may decrease and selling the farm to a developer may become a more enticing option.

In short, urban development continues to impact farmland. In the past two decades, more than two-thirds of the development in the Bay Area took place atop agriculturally productive land, with losses of the best quality cropland outpacing the loss of lower quality cropland.
Finally, climate change is certain to bring new threats that will also need to be addressed. In the Bay Area’s wine grape and forage production areas (cattle ranching) for example, climate change will impact production. In a future with higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns, ranchers will need to consider new management options for grazing shorter or less‐reliable seasons and for avoiding forage of questionable nutritional content. Wine producers will need to find new ways to reduce heat stress on their fruit or face lower values for their products. There are challenging times ahead, even in a region of fabled agricultural bounty,