A Regional Food and Agriculture Economy Commission for Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Creating a body of local elected leaders and diverse stakeholders for a more resilient, connected food and ag economy in D.C., MD, and VA.
Metropolitan Washington and What Our Region Grows report geography
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Large NGO (over 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) is an independent, nonprofit with a membership of 300 elected officials from 24 local governments, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, and U.S. Congress.
Every month, more than 1,500 officials and experts come to COG to make connections, share information, and develop solutions to the region’s major challenges.
A volunteer Agriculture Task Force (Ag Task Force), comprised of local elected officials, was established in the spring of 2019 to assess regional capacity to implement recommendations in COG’s What Our Region Grows report.
A primary recommendation of the Ag Task Force is to create a 10-year Regional Food and Agriculture Economy Commission to oversee report implementation, and priorities identified during interviews with more than 40 regional leaders in 2019. Doing so will bring together local policymakers and a range of stakeholders and experts in food and farming in a nationally unique forum.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
COG is located in Washington, D.C. and serves member governments from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Metropolitan Washington is a diverse and dynamic region home to more than five million people and one of the nation's largest economies. More than a million new residents and jobs are forecast between now and 2045.
The COG region is comprised of 24 member jurisdictions in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and northern Virginia. Together members and other stakeholders help advance COG's Region Forward Vision for a more prosperous, accessible, livable, and sustainable future.
In 2016 COG launched a Regional Food Systems Program to work with a range of stakeholders—from businesses to non-profits to local, state, and federal government to identify opportunities for leveraging COG’s unique expertise and competencies in ways that can grow the region’s food economy to the benefit of producers, consumers, and COG members.
A primary impetus for the formation of the Ag Task Force was the completion of the What Our Region Grows report in 2019 with the support of a regional, staff -level, multi-stakeholder agricultural work group and the Regional Food Systems Program.
Further, Region Forward set a goal to maintain more than 497,500 acres of land in farms in the COG Region. Unfortunately, data released last year from the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture showed that with 480,281 acres of land in farms, the region has dropped below its goal.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Home of the nation’s capital, the COG region has also become a top destination for visitors and growing, innovative industries in business and financial services, biotech, information technology, and more. The region is also home to more than two dozen colleges and research universities, and nationally recognized labs. Nearly half (49 percent) of the region’s residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Seventy-five museums, 19 Smithsonians, nearly 100 miles of bicycling and walking paths, are among some of the assets that residents and visitors enjoy.
The region is racially and ethnically diverse, and a significant number of residents are foreign born. It is one of the most affluent regions in the country, but prosperity is not universal.
Two years ago, COG released Uneven Opportunities: How Conditions for Wellness Vary Across the Metropolitan Washington Region based on research conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University. The report showed variations in life expectancy and the impact that factors like income, education, housing, transportation, and the environment play in shaping good health. Further, people of color and immigrants are more likely to live in neighborhoods with fewer resources supporting health and wellness.
In recent years, COG members have made working together to address the growing need for affordable housing a high priority. It has also partnered with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity to create a regional program for local government staff to advance racial equity and opportunities for all.
In terms of land use, the region spans urban, suburban, and rural communities. The COG region, and larger Washington Agricultural Region studied in What Our Region Grows, benefit “from a favorable climate and varied topography, which allows for a rich bounty of agricultural products. These include award-winning wines and other craft beverages, high quality meats, fruits and vegetables, cut flowers, seafood, and other specialty products and services.
The region is also highly urban, which places limits on agricultural production through land use dynamics. While the Washington Ag Region produces a wide variety of food and fiber, most food products are imported from other places.” (What Our Region Grows, pages 7 to 8.)
Although there are limits to traditional forms of production due to constraints on access to land, farmers continue to innovate. Anecdotally, COG staff and work group members have noted significant growth in urban agriculture enterprises since What Our Region Grows was first published in 2012. Land access, especially for new and beginning farmers, is a persistent challenge.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
COG’s What Our Region Grows report identified a number of challenges to agriculture. Among these are high land costs, declining amounts of land in farms, swings in commodity prices, rapidly changing market conditions, inappropriately scaled infrastructure, unpredictable weather, and more. The report raises concerns about the future viability of certain subsectors including medium-scale fresh produce production and dairy.
Food production, generally speaking, has been declining across major crops and livestock over time, however, the 2017 Census of Agriculture did report some minor increases in production of certain items over 2012 level.
What Our Region Grows tracks a basket of commonly eaten foods and found that the production of most has declined between 30 percent and 85 percent.
The region’s ability to rely on itself for some amount of its own food production is declining, in large part to a growing population. Without additional intervention, the region’s ability to rely on itself to provide some of its own food needs is likely to continue to decline.
This comes at a time of heightened interest in local food, healthy eating, and food education, as well as growth in small food businesses.
To be sure, there are other challenges within the region’s food system including an on-going need to improve access to healthy food for all. It is the aspiration of COG’s Regional Food Systems Program to expand its capacity to address this issue; strengthening partnerships with the region’s emergency food service providers, advocates, food policy councils, and others to enhance regional action to address this critical human need.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
What Our Region Grows makes several recommendations to address challenges to the region’s agricultural economy. One of these is to create a regional committee on food and agriculture at COG. Having reviewed the report recommendations and interviews with regional leaders over the summer and fall, the Ag Task Force has proposed the formation of a 10-year Regional Food and Agriculture Economy Commission.
The Commission will serve as a new model for regional collaboration that leverages data, best practices, and expertise to drive policy change and investment to improve the resiliency of the metropolitan Washington region’s food system.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The Ag Task Force also developed a high-level vision statement of what it hopes to achieve working together with other elected officials and public and private stakeholders and experts.
It envisions “a more resilient, connected food and farm economy across urban, suburban and rural communities in the metropolitan Washington region that provides more of the region’s food needs: a disruption of current trends. This transformation to create a more certain food future will result in workforce development, economic growth, environmental, health, and cultural benefits, including as these relate to climate change. An increased number of diverse food and agricultural enterprises will be more visible, supported, and celebrated by residents, leaders, and visitors of all kinds.”
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
To date, COG’s staff-level, multi-stakeholder regional agricultural work group, and the Ag Task Force, part of COG’s Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee, have identified a number of challenges to, and opportunities for, building a more resilient, connected food and farm economy across Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
An on-going regional forum on these issues is needed in Metropolitan Washington that begins to put food and agriculture on a level playing field with other vital concerns like transportation, housing, water supply, and more. A Regional Food and Agriculture Economy Commission is in very early planning stages to do just this. It would leverage an increasing body of work in local jurisdictions - by a range of stakeholders - to preserve farmland, promote increased adoption of practices to build healthy soil, support new and beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs, and much more.
The Ag Task Force has identified a number of issues that a Regional Commission could address to the benefit of the region’s economy, environment, and communities. A Commission would oversee implementation of What Our Region Grows recommendations by:
- Hosting regional forums on agricultural issues;
- Commissioning a strategic plan for agriculture;
- Funding agricultural-related technical, educational and marketing services; and
- Supporting diversification of farm activity, incentivizing local food aggregation, processing, distribution and purchasing.
Other complementary areas of collaboration to produce actionable outcomes and realize the Ag Task Force’s vision include:
- Bringing greater attention to the generational change in farm families occurring, and the various reasons farmland is transitioning to other owners and uses.
- Illuminating local regulatory and policy changes that can be made to enhance the competitiveness of large and midsize farms in the region.
- Strengthening opportunities for food and farm businesses and expanding how the region thinks about agriculture. This includes supporting work to connect small-scale farmers, including urban farmers, to value-added agriculture opportunities.
- Conducting strategic planning and assessment to prepare for emergencies, and ensuring a reliable, available food supply over the long term in the face of a changing climate.
- Showcasing new investments in land conservation and soil health that could benefit from greater policy support in metropolitan Washington; elevating practical ways local governments can connect these investments to other goals such as next generation farmland access, food and agricultural business development and entrepreneurship, climate goals, etc.
- Supporting expansion of work underway in many local communities related to food waste, food recovery, and composting.
In sum, the Ag Task Force proposes a nationally unique body which would bring local policymakers together with stakeholders and experts in food and farming to work towards its high-level, bold vision for the future.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?