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Solutions for the Local Foodshed - Featuring the San Francisco Area

By Carolyn Allen, Editor

The American Farmland Trust is about more than farms. These folks are concerned about the food supply for everyone -- from rural areas to big cities.

An elaborate food distribution system has beveloped between producers and consumer that has matured into delivering inexpensive, standardized food products. But times are changing because of organic food trends, and scares about contaminated foods from afar. The US food system is evolving in the direction of delivering the "story behind the food" in response to growing consumer demand. But it has a long way to go.

Food that is identifiable as "local," including food that is organically or "sustainably" produced, is a very small fraction of both total regional agricultural production (0.5 percent) and of total U.S. retail sales (2.8 percent). This sustainable sector of the food system is growing rapidly.

"Eating Local" and Sustainable Food Production in the San Francisco Foodshed

Local food is distinguished not only by where it originates, but also by who produces it and how. The question is being asked, "Could the City of San Francisco feed itself with local food from farms and ranches within 100 miles of the Golden Gate?"

Agriculture within the San Francisco Bay area "foodshed," as defined for a 2008 study, produces 20 million tons of food annually, compared with annual food consumption of 935,000 tons in San Francisco and 5.9 million tons in the Bay Area as a whole.

More than 80 different commodities are represented, only a few of which are not produced in enough abundance to satisfy the demands of the City and Bay Area: eggs, citrus fruit, wheat, corn, pork and potatoes. Many other commodities are available only seasonally, even though northern California has a long growing season.

Most of what is produced in the San Francisco foodshed study area comes from the Central Valley and the Salinas Valley. Only 18% of the farmland in the 10 million acre study area is irrigated cropland, but it is responsible for 3/4 of total agricultural production by dollar value. This land is increasingly threatened by urban development. Already, 12% of the foodshed study area is already developed and new development is consuming farmland at the rate of an acre for every 9.7 residents.

If this continues, 800,000 more acres of farmland will be lost by 2050.

Despite the challenges of locating locally grown foods for families and local restaurants and institutions such as schools, there are significant opportunities to increase "eating locally" in San Francisco and the Bay Area. The local food movement in the region has as much momentum as anywhere in the country. Strong Farmers Coops, Farmers Markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations make it almost convenient!

Many public and private institutions (such as schools and hospitals) are now seeking to source food locally. As the fossil fuel era wanes, fresh, local food may gain an advantage in the marketplace over food that is processed and shipped long distances.

Read more about the growing local food trend in the San Francisco Foodshed Report.