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A California Landmark for a Healthy, Regenerative Food System - The Center for Food and Agriculture and Zero Waste Farmers Market

Where people experience their connection to real foods, healthy soils, healthy pastures, and healthy seas.

Photo of Andy Naja-Riese
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 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.

April Philips Design Works (Landscape Architect and Planning), McLennan Design (Regenerative Design Firm), Equity Community Builders, Sherwood Engineers, Marin County Department of Cultural Services, Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, University of California Cooperative Extension, Marin Agricultural Land Trust,, Drawdown Project, Kids Cooking for Life, Sanzuma, Community Action Marin, Hundreds of Farmers, Ranchers, Fishers, Foodmakers, and artisans

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Rafael, California

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?

San Francisco Bay Area

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our story begins in the Bay Area of California, home to the Agriculture Institute of Marin. AIM’s mission is to educate the public about the health, environmental, and economic benefits of buying locally grown food directly from farmers, and to connect and support communities with agriculture so the public can access healthy and sustainably-grown food. AIM and its team of thought partners is combining the elements of placemaking with a healthy food culture by building a new Center for Food & Agriculture in Marin County, California. Its purpose is for all people to connect and learn about their local and regional food systems while honoring the past, present, and future of California agriculture and food production.

Physically, the Center will be in Marin County, California, north of San Francisco and the gateway to the North Bay. The Center will serve and connect communities of eaters, shoppers, learners, visitors with the farmers, fishers, ranchers, and foodmakers across the greater Bay Area and beyond. Marin County is a small but mighty county, home to many firsts in food and agriculture. Marin is home to the first agricultural land trust (MALT) in California protecting farmland forever. Marin boasts a prominent food policy council, a drawdown project working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a government-run organic certification program. Marin is also home to the Marin Carbon Project seeking to enhance carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural, and forest soils through applied research, demonstration and implementation of soil stewardship that can improve farm productivity and viability, enhance ecosystem functions and reverse climate change.

The Center for Food and Agriculture and the Zero Waste Market will be the connection point between those who need quality, nutrient-dense foods and those who make their livelihood providing it in a way that regenerates healthy soils, healthy pastures and healthy seas.

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.

The Bay Area is a nine-county region that spans 18,000 square kilometers. The Region contains several densely populated urban centers, along with suburban/exurban communities, protected open space, and agricultural/rural land. The Region sits along the Pacific coast and is surrounded by several estuaries where communities are connected through multi-modal transportation systems. The Bay Area has a temperate climate suitable for year-round growing, where farmers can earn a living. The first farmers and stewards of the land were the Coast Miwok, who later joined with the Southern Pomo to form the federally recognized Graton Rancheria.

The Region has a strong and growing economy with a vibrant tourist base, yet it is also home to some of the most stark and growing inequality in the world based on social capital and economic security. We live in a region that enjoys bountiful harvests of healthy food year-round, however, the Bay Area struggles to provide access to this food for our low-income communities and communities of color. Nearly 12 percent of Bay Area households are food insecure. Among all income groups, the demand for local food remains high, yet the price points of healthy, organic food can be unattainable.

In Marin County, we have access to a 4.63-acre site for the future home of the Center for Food & Agriculture, within the boundary of the Marin County Civic Center campus and is owned by Marin County. Once the tidal marshes used by the Coast Miwok, this area was drained in the 1900s to provide additional agricultural and ranch lands.  Today it is developed and largely paved as the center of multi-cultural, mixed-use neighborhoods and a transportation corridor.  It is an iconic and historical cultural hub home to the county fairgrounds and municipal auditorium.  More recent establishment of open space preserves along ridge tops have given rise to increasing riparian vegetation in need of regeneration to mitigate the damage of development, runoff and highway pollution.  The area is a focus of resilience thinking in the face of rising sea levels through historic waterways.   

The people AIM has engaged with have expressed a vision for the future of this place. More than 80 percent of voters approved AIM to build a permanent home to realize its vision of a landmark devoted to food and agriculture. Through a series of public engagement workshops with people attending the existing farmers markets and a group of non-profit partners and stakeholders called together for visioning work, they imagine a zero-waste market vibrant with cultural connections as well as connections to affordable, healthy and local food.  The farmers who participate as stakeholders envision a place where they can connect to those who will support their purpose of providing food in a way that regenerates soil, water and economic wellbeing. We educate and empower children from local schools about healthy food choices and the importance of being conscious and inspired eaters as they age.

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.

In 2020, the Center for Food and Agriculture will address inequities and dysfunctions in the food system. The Center will address interrelated issues of: food deserts, the increasing cost of food, diet-related disease, loss of viable farmland and small family farms, soil loss, water scarcity, flood risk, excess food waste, and carbon-emissions from a globalized food system.

From 2012-2017, California lost 9 percent of its farms. This decline can be attributed to several factors including retirements, labor shortages, the high cost of land, bankruptcies, and the growing pressures of the climate crisis. The climate crisis is real and worsening, and our globalized food system where a few major oligarchies control the production of genetically modified seeds and 'Frankenfoods'. The global salmon farming industry is spreading pesticides and polluting our oceans while increasing mistrust and fraud in fish species labeling. On land, loneliness and isolation are on the rise in the Bay Area, especially among aging populations. We need a hub to bring everyone together to enjoy real, wholesome foods and social connections.

In 2050, the Center for Food and Agriculture will address the challenge of managing all the visitors to the region who will come to understand how in just a few decades the local farm and fishing community was able to increase production, grow soil organic matter, sequester massive amounts of carbon, mitigate flooding, restore biodiversity and riparian water systems, fish sustainable seafood all while providing so many young and old farmers with a living wage.

Local neighborhoods will be forced to choose between too many festivals each week where they connect with their neighbors around incredible, affordable meals and diverse cultural exchanges.  They will also have to pay taxes to convert more parking lots into estuary, because everyone will be taking transit to the market and commons.

School children will require permission slips to teach the adults on field trips how they are reversing climate change with regenerative agriculture and how through photosynthesis nature and humans can create conditions that are conducive to life right in their own back yards and with the soil beneath their feet.   

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The stakeholders who engaged in Visioning with AIM in 2019 articulated the following vision for addressing the challenges of the current food system and the unique biological, ecological, social, cultural and economic challenges of this place by 2050.


We moved from an emphasis on perfect food products to an emphasis on processes that promote soil health and biodiversity.

We provided education and hands-on alternatives to current large-scale farming techniques that are not regenerative.

We connected the demand for food to local food supplies and local farmers.

Our facilities and infrastructure modeled and measured zero-waste, zero-energy, zero-emissions and balanced water budgets.  

Our regeneration projects and demonstration gardens revealed regenerative techniques and benefits firsthand.


We have more diversity amongst producers (such as immigrants).

The diversity of farmers reflects the diversity of the community.

We kept food affordable while paying farmers.

The transportation corridor is now a transportation hub bringing more equity and diversity to food distribution.

Shoppers have learned where their food comes from through 100% source verification and accurate labeling of foods grown, raised, caught, and processed.


We enabled new and existing farmers to make a living.

We now have affordable food access.

We created a platform for the sale non-food agricultural items (such as fiber).

The local hospitality, retail, and service industry is now connected to local foods.

There are now incubators for people who want to learn to farm.

We developed a bartering system and de-commodified food.

The public now maintains trust in where their food comes from.

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 purpose of this project is to create a world-class community gathering space in California for all people to connect and learn about their local and regional food systems while honoring the past, present, and future of California agriculture and food production. We will showcase the importance of foods grown organically, responsibly, and regeneratively – where agriculture can help “cool” the Earth.

The Project will dedicate public space to the purpose of building a healthy, vibrant food system that serves the Bay Area community, including local food producers, and providing experiential food and farming education programs. The Center for Food and Agriculture will feature a sustainably designed community gathering space, farmers market, and public square or Commons for the community across the Bay Area. Its purpose is to increase small to mid-scale California certified farmers’ direct sales to customers through an economic marketplace celebrating the value of their sustainable and regenerative techniques. The Center will teach school children and their parents how to grow, buy, eat and prepare nutrient dense foods. The Center will eliminate food waste and emissions, feed hungry people, and bridge transportation challenges to food access in the county. The market participants and farmers will reflect and celebrate the diversity of the entire Bay Area and beyond. The market will provide a source of food and necessities during emergency situations adding resilience to the surrounding communities.  The Center will address the challenge of protecting farming, ranching, and food production as a way of life, which both preserves and increases the value of local and regional farmland.

The place will benefit from a kind of stewardship that will invite nature to repair an essential water way, and clean water that is coming from and returning to the bay. We will be rebuilding biodiversity on the land, in the air and water and in the fungal networks underground.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The Center for Food and Agriculture is a much-needed element that connects the Bay Area’s nationally significant agricultural history with its, yet, unwritten future. It will inspire our community of residents to consider food and agriculture as a livelihood. It will bring the lessons of sustainability and the economy of food production closer to home. It will help us all to understand that it really is possible to eat our values by seeking out those foods that are grown in accordance with what we say matters most. It is dedicated to the understanding that we can all be a part of building a better world, one bite at a time.

The Center for Food and Agriculture will make healthy, locally and regionally grown food more accessible to people of all ages, abilities and economic capacities and educate eaters and farmers about sustainable practices in farming and food production. Farmers and ranchers travel from approximately 40 counties to sell at AIM’s markets, and AIM plans to provide better amenities for producers at the market. AIM also intends to promote the sale of foods that are grown responsibly in healthy soils, regeneratively to capture carbon in the soils, and with stewardship for the land, animals, water, and other natural resources. The project represents a triple “win” by: 1) increasing direct sales and revenue for local producers; 2) stimulating the local economy; and 3) providing more non-profit revenue for AIM’s mission-driven programs. Ultimately, this project will offer a social return on investment through improvements in diet and public health, community food security, climate action, and economic development in the communities we serve now and in the future. Through increased farmers market activities and learner-centered education, AIM will elevate the visibility of sustainable food grown from across the California food shed and seafood caught in U.S. Pacific waters.


To ensure small and mid-size farmers, fishers, and food producers make a viable living at the world’s most welcoming, authentic, climate-friendly farmers market that fosters a healthy food system for all


A world where all people can experience the benefits of eating real foods from healthy soils, healthy pastures, and

This means:

1) Preserving small and mid-size farming and food production as a part of a healthy food system.

2) To be one of the 1st closed-loop, zero-waste farmers markets in the world.

3) To show how principles of regenerative systems are imbedded in everything “we” do.

4) To embed hands-on learning and community building into the farmers market experience to be a welcoming space for producers, eaters, shoppers, and learners of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

Project Goals:

1. Access and Sales: Increase public access to and sales of locally and regionally grown and produced foods.

2. Experiential Learning: Provide dedicated space for experiential learning for people of all ages about agriculture, food, human health, nutrition and sustainability.

3. Opportunity: Create jobs and volunteer opportunities to support career pathways and enhanced business opportunities in a variety of fields (e.g. farming, fishing, ranching, food productions, the arts, and the environment).

4. Welcome: Provide a welcoming public square that facilitates social interactions and cultural vitality.

5. Knowledge Sharing: Build and connect communities of residents, farmers, fishers, ranchers, food purveyors, chefs, artisans, and non-profit partners for peer-to-peer learning and information sharing.

6. Sustainable Food System: Ensure food security so that all community members can access a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system.

7. Sustainable Design: Exemplify and demonstrate the principles of sustainable design in the physical infrastructure and living systems.

Experiential Learning – Visitors to the Center will have opportunities for hands-on experiences in nutrition education, food preservation and cooking, food gardening, and sustainable living. Additionally, the public will learn of ways that individuals can play a role in advocating for, and shaping, a more equitable local and regional food system. The Center for Food and Agriculture will also feature a commercial-grade teaching kitchen, a demonstration food garden, and classroom space for AIM to offer hands-on learning about food and sustainable agriculture. Through AIM’s Farm Audit program, we will certify that 100 % of agricultural products were grown by the farmers who sell them.

Career Pathways – AIM provides volunteer and work opportunities designed to evolve into career pathways for community members in need. The Center will feature a job board to link local community residents, including college students, new mothers returning to work, and older adults seeking “encore careers” with training and front-line sales positions at the farmers market. As an added value to working farmers and food producers, the Center will provide consultants in business development and direct marketing and guidance for beginning farmers and ranchers in successful direct sales and marketing of local foods.

Community Building – The Center’s meeting and education space will foster deeper community connections as we offer learning opportunities and cross-sector events. Events will include “Harvest Talks,” cooking demonstrations, guest speakers, book-signings, and specialty dinners with local chefs and food producers. Local artisans and educational exhibits on the history and future of Bay Area agriculture and West Coast food production will offer cultural and entertainment experiences that intersect with the Marin Cultural Association. Taken together, these activities will illustrate how our communities are intertwined through food, culinary arts, and programming to support a robust local food and cultural system.

Equitable Food System – A healthy food system is one that provides economic sustainability for its producers, provides good quality food, is equitable, and reduces food’s carbon footprint. AIM runs The Rollin’ Root, a mobile food truck that brings farm-fresh products to older adults and underserved communities that lack transportation to visit the farmers market. The Center will provide refrigeration for AIM to store fresh produce for delivery on the Root to older adults. The Center will house AIM’s programs focused on food access for nutrition benefit clients participating in CalFresh, WIC, and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and inform clients how to stretch their food dollars. Additionally, partnerships with help to redistribute excess produce and baked goods from the famers market to feed the hungry and reduce food waste.

Net-Positive Design of the Center: An indoor - outdoor relationship with the building and site is also a highly desirable outcome for the future design as is an ecologically sound sustainable design ethic. The integrated design process we will use to design the Center ensures that design decisions are informed through identifying possible holistic benefits. The goal is to enhance the Center’s flexibility of use, optimize energy consumption, provide a healthy and comfortable environment through thoughtful consideration of the site location, water use, energy use, and material selections. Through a living systems approach developed by the Living Food Challenge, The Climate Positive Design Challenge, and Project Drawdown, the team will shape design decisions through systems thinking that is centered on science, equity and health to achieve true community resiliency.

AIM is committed to the goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions and zero net energy, the Center will be fully electric, without any onsite greenhouse gases. We will even prioritize Net-Positive Energy, Net-Positive Water and Net-Positive Waste. These concepts, which could be measured with the Living Food Challenge and the Living Community Challenge. Net-positive energy means we will supply own energy and store enough for emergency.  Net positive water means we will mimic natural hydrological cycles appropriate to the site by using only the water that falls and returning it to the aquifer clean and healthy. Net positive waste is nearly 99% construction waste management, and a waste management plan is in place for operations.

The Center will incorporate the principals of passive design where possible. The climate in San Rafael allows for natural ventilation which will significantly decrease cooling energy usage while providing staff and visitor comfort. Reducing lighting loads while providing visually comfortable interior spaces will be achieved with natural daylighting through the façade and roof. Finishes and materials will be carefully selected to minimize environmental impact and maximize health and wellness of staff and visitors. We will use composting infrastructure for keeping nutrients and biomass out of the landfill and back to the land to support carbon farming efforts. Permeable paving in conjunction with habitat restoration in the riparian zones and along the highway will sequester pollutants and filter water. 

Conclusion: There is probably no single thing any human being can do that is more impactful, beneficial, pleasurable, or achievable, than to eat seasonally, foods grown regeneratively, and close to home. Reducing the distance that food travels from producers to consumers lessens food transport carbon emissions. Market shoppers across the Bay Area constitute a community of households determined to use their buying power to benefit themselves, their communities, and the environment. They understand the value of their collective choice to buy sustainably produced food for better health and a better planet. There is no better time than now or place for us to realize our Vision for a healthier food culture than through the Bay Area’s Center for Food & Agriculture.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners
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Attachments (3)


The Living Food Challenge Pilot is a Visionary Path to a Regenerative Future developed by McLennan Design for the Living Future Institute. It offers regenerative strategies for The Center for Food & Agriculture to follow for a regional, and ultimately a statewide transformation of the Food System into a Living Food System to feed the world. It is a systems based approach on food production, food waste, food distribution systems, soil health, farm worker rights, hunger and malnutrition and more.


The primary elements of the Center for Food & Agriculture.

200107 AIM Masterplan Phase 1 Summary Report_v2.pdf

This Summary Report presents the vision, analysis, synthesis and conceptual design studies of the Phase 1 Masterplan process for the Center for Food & Agriculture.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, Leah Smith  ,

Thank you for publishing! I would just like to suggest reviewing your vision according to the Prize's Themes frame and the guidelines on the Evaluation Criteria:

It may be that the questions that it includes lead you to new perspectives or simply help you to confirm the details of your proposal.

A great way to improve and revise your work is by connecting with others and receiving feedback. I encourage you all to provide some feedback on one another’s Vision submissions through the comments section to support the refinement of your work.

Best regards,


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