Equity in Power, Health, and Opportunity: The Sustainable Food System of California's Bay Area in 2050
We will erode the Bay's endemic imbalances in power, health and opportunity via an economic model that raises food equity and sustainability
Satellite Image of San Francisco Bay Area, California. Source: Free Stock Photo of Satellite Image of San Francisco Bay Area, California. Photo by NASA.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (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.
Our coalition will reflect the categories of partners required to enact meaningful systems change, based on our prior experiences. We are working to include all or several of the following:
California policymakers and political representatives; Farm owners and farm worker groups focused on equity, such as United Farm Workers of America (California chapter); Food conglomerates advancing sustainable food pilots and advances, such as Walmart; Large corporations and/or tech companies headquartered in the Bay Area and willing to consider cross-subsidization of sustainable foods; Community institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, and/or places of worship, who are central to future food distribution in food deserts, and to changing consumption patterns; Low-income communities and communities of color, who are critical to food production/consumption and composting; Climate adaptation experts to help avert future threats.
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?
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?
California's Bay Area
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
As social impact advisors, we have tackled many of the most complex and systemic social challenges impacting the Bay Area and beyond, from our base in San Francisco. Our pioneering work in systems change, social sector strategy, and coalition-building within the contexts of health, shared prosperity, equity, nutrition, climate, and others have allowed us to become deeply embedded in the ecosystem of changemakers shaping the Bay Area. As such, we are a partner of choice for many of the region’s most ambitious philanthropies, socially-minded corporations, and community actors.
Our deep knowledge of target communities is reflected in the strategic tools we have co-developed with partners over the past decade. These range from detailed population insights (revealing distinct needs, attitudes, and behaviors of diverse psychosocial segments previously overlooked in ‘one-size-fits-all’ systems change), to impact modeling (projecting how communities will react to certain social interventions), to systems maps (detailing how different stakeholders engage around a social issue, how the key pressure points arise, and where to deploy resources to bring solutions). By virtue of our proximity to the dynamics shaping the Bay Area, we are well-positioned to lead system-changing efforts.
Our imprint in the Bay Area is as personal as it is professional. Many of our team have grown up, or spent our formative years, in the Bay Area. Others have migrated here in pursuit of opportunity. We reflect the area’s diversity of race and culture, and our driving mission is to see the Bay Area’s incredible abundance benefit the communities it currently eschews. The Bay Area can only remain a bastion of the Californian Dream by harnessing its competitive advantages in innovation and social progressivism to create the novel, sustainable systems of the future. We consider the food system among the most critical to address.
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 unique in its geography, climate challenges, social dynamics, economic actors, agricultural output, and policy environment. Spanning 6,900 square miles of Northern California, we comprise 9 counties situated adjacent to water, including the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose and extensive farmland communities.
Our socio-political culture is marked by awareness of the power inequities between communities and the outcomes that ensue, on metrics such as economic opportunity and health. A relatively open policy landscape allows for atypical innovation and bipartisan action, thereby offering potential to serve the needs of different communities in novel ways.
Our locale is characterized by mild winters and dry summers but harbors remarkable microclimates – none of which are immune to chronic climate change, as wildfires and drought increasingly deplete our agricultural heartlands.
Home to ~7.8 million people, our population is as diverse as our microclimates. With almost a third foreign-born, only 50% of people are White. 20% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 20% as Asian, just under 10% as Black or African American, and the small remainder represent other ethnic groups. Poverty very disproportionately affects non-White communities, with California suffering from the highest poverty rate in the nation (when adjusted for cost of living). Yet the experiences of lower-income communities of color are largely absent from prevailing narratives around the Bay Area’s success. Known as a global hub of technological innovation, disruptive start-ups, venture capital, and health sector heavyweights create perceptions of wealth concentration with an impressive GDP of $800m. Paradoxically, their growth has exacerbated sharp local inequities causing strife in low-income communities and communities of color.
Agriculture also plays a key role in our economy and landscapes. California leads the US in farm income and fruit and vegetable cultivation, while providing a third of US dairy products and significant meat and fish production. Much originates from the Bay Area and surrounding counties, yet local food access and dietary outcomes are profoundly troublesome. Food deserts exist alongside areas of agricultural production. Precariously employed farm workers, responsible for the fresh produce we so prize, cannot afford it themselves. Schools are excluded from fresh food distribution. As a result of these inequities, obesity and nutritional deficiencies are chronic among low-income populations of color. In parallel, the market for organic, climate-adapted foods is buoyant but largely reserved for high-income consumers entirely removed from food production.
The Bay Area is considered one of the culinary hot-spots of the US. Our food culture in privileged neighborhoods elevates healthy, local produce while our more economically accessible offerings in other neighborhoods reflect their racial and cultural diversity. In addition, the Bay Area is a pioneer in normalizing food system innovations, such as laboratory-grown or plant-based ‘meat’, and urban or carbon farming.
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.
The challenges of our Bay Area food system perpetuate its acute inequities and jeopardize its future viability.
The greatest current challenges in food production center around lack of power and opportunity for farmers (including inequities in farm ownership), depletion of agricultural land due to industrial farming, threats derived from climate change (notably wildfires), and policies discouraging cultivation of the diverse, climate-adapted foodstuffs our communities and planet require. To these immediate production challenges, we must add future concerns around the lack of young farmers entering the sector (farmers average 59 years of age), adapting to automation of agricultural jobs, the potential onset of further climate change effects (longer droughts, sea level rises, rain and ocean acidification), and the onset of immigration policies obstructing migrant farm labor.
At a regulatory level, current legal structures and subsidies vastly skew production towards cash crops such as grains, to the detriment of the nutritional diversity we all require – and which low-income communities of color often sorely lack access to. This results in over-production of certain food groups and slows our transition towards produce that regenerates our people and planet.
On food distribution, our challenge is two-fold. First, it is difficult for smaller, climate-adaptive farms intent on ensuring farmer empowerment to access distribution networks: they struggle to generate a distribution network for smaller quantities of produce, see their profit margins eroded by the cost of farm worker empowerment, and are too busy farming to transport their own food to market. Second, small food buyers in communities, such as schools and small convenience stores, cannot access fresh produce, because the fine profit margins of the current distribution model make it unprofitable to deliver to them. As a result, many farm workers face the dark irony of living in food deserts, and lack the means to relocate to food-plentiful cities.
On the consumption side, all consumers currently expect unsustainably cheap food. Those who can afford to pay more for ethically produced and environmentally friendly food operate in a culture that values convenience and is too removed from the production process to understand the environmental implications of current food choices. For consumers who cannot afford better food, in an area where wealth disparities continue to proliferate, they risk being left behind with access only to unhealthy foods that have direct links to poor health outcomes.
Finally, waste management is both a current and prospective challenge. In the near term, we must find ways to reduce the proportion of Bay Area farm produce going to waste (one-third). In the longer term, we must find ways to engage Bay Area communities in compost production, without which we lack the ability to regenerate soils and scale carbon farming.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our imperative is to bring equity in power, opportunity, and health to those who currently lack it, across the entire food system. We seek to achieve this by co-creating a just and viable economic model that addresses each of the challenges set out above. By making power-sharing central to our process of problem-solving, we ensure that it becomes ingrained in the solution itself.
Challenges relating to lack of opportunity and farm ownership among (mainly) non-white farmers will be addressed by fostering solutions that bring them newfound power. These may include cooperative models, urban farming, and a stronger voice in farm management. By also including low-income consumers in the problem-solving process, we will ensure those with limited means are not excluded from the new economic model we aim to co-create. Additional, wider community engagement will evolve current, convenience-centric consumption habits and expectations.
Yet community-building and power sharing alone are not enough. The reality is that economic models and production/consumption habits only change if aligned with economic incentives. Currently, sustainable practices are often more expensive in the short-term than industrial practices. In our future, agricultural policies will no longer favor exploitative industrial production. The public and private sectors will help cover the short-term costs of the transition to sustainability, so people and planet do not suffer the consequences of excluding negative externalities today's food pricing.
Coupled with policy shifts, an improved distribution system will allow farmers to access markets previously inaccessible through a proliferation of food hubs that aggregate, market, and distribute source-identified food based on community needs - thereby eliminating food deserts. Farmers won’t have to worry about transporting food and will set their own prices based on production costs, leaving them with viable businesses and incomes. Additionally, since farmers will have respectable wages and own their own (smaller) farms, the industry will be able to attract and retain the new generation of farmers needed to replace today’s aging farmer population.
Consumers will have fresher and higher quality food, and based on ability to pay, will either subsidize or be subsidized in order to achieve equitable access, backed by policy changes. The public health crisis disproportionately affecting low-income consumers will be reduced by proactively facilitating their access to good food as a form of treatment and preventive care.
Finally, food waste will be alleviated by creating a market for produce that does not meet the demanding appearance criteria set by supermarkets, using food hubs to pre-prepare food into dishes ready for consumption, and incentivizing food composting by consumer communities in order to fuel the farms that supply to them.
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.
Our vision is to combat today’s prevailing food system defeatism and bring equity to each stage of the Bay Area food system. We will realize this vision through the establishment of a coalition of diverse stakeholders mandated to co-develop an innovative economic model for the food system: a financially sustainable and scalable model that erodes endemic discrepancies in power, opportunity, and health.
Through fortified networks and collective problem-solving processes that foster a diversity of insights and ideas, the coalition of stakeholders will shift policy and the broader economic environment required to incentivize producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers to favor the provision and consumption of diverse food groups that do not exhaust human or natural resources. In so doing, we seek to prove the potential of food system reform to improve the health and wealth of low-income producers and consumers (particularly those of color), and vastly mitigate and adapt to climate change threats that would disproportionately affect their well-being.
By centering the focus of a system-wide coalition on economic incentives, we seek a commercially viable and inclusive model able to be replicated across many parts of California – America’s agricultural heartland.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
This visual demonstrates how the Future Food System of California's Bay Area is one in which stakeholders both directly and tangentially related to the food system collectively influence its drivers from production to consumption to erode endemic discrepancies in power, health, and opportunity
Our vision is to combat today’s prevailing food system defeatism and bring equity to each stage of the Bay Area food system, via a new and economically sustainable model.
We will realize this vision through the establishment of a coalition of diverse stakeholders to leverage our region’s unique communities of producers and consumers, agricultural resources, climate opportunities, social dynamics, economic actors, and policy environment and bring about transformative change. This multi-stakeholder coalition will co-develop innovative business models that help erode endemic discrepancies in power, opportunity, and health. Through fortified networks and collective problem-solving processes that foster a diversity of insights and ideas, the coalition of stakeholders will shift policy and the broader economic environment required to incentivize producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers to favor the provision of diverse food groups that do not exhaust human labor or natural resources. The result of this commercially viable and inclusive model will bring equity to power, increase economic opportunity and employment, and sustain human and environmental health at every stage of the food system process from production to consumption.
1. PRODUCTION - We envision a coalition that designs policy and economic incentives such that improved worker rights and environmentally sustainable production practices are brought to the production process.
1.1 Worker Rights & Opportunity. We seek to ensure food producers receive and maintain power through agency and opportunity for professional growth. One Bay Area farmer dreams of a future of worker-owned cooperatives in which farmers own, work, and live on the same land as a means to achieve these things. As an extension, we envision a Bay Area where more farms and fisheries are co-managed, owned, and staffed by men and women of color. Together with current landowners, financial advisors, and policy makers, property rights can be ensured, the education and financing required to operate independently can be accessed, and many more Bay Area food producers will be empowered to operate autonomously.
1.2 Environmental Sustainability. With the necessary economic incentives, we will achieve a future in which Bay Area farmers and fishermen desire and are empowered to operate their land and seas for environmental sustainability and climate mitigation, in addition to profit. Farmers will shift away from exploitative industrial production and the current cash crop trinity(grains, dairy, meat) to instead focus on diverse foodstuffs and practices that value the long-term viability of environmental resources and ecosystem services. They will also have increased access to the Bay’s waste management program, creating a circular food economy that reduces the use of harmful and unnecessary land inputs. Similarly, fishermen will avoid overfishing to maintain diversity and resilience of ocean ecosystems. In doing so, farmers and fishermen alike will mitigate several threats posed by climate change, given lowered emissions and increased carbon sequestration in healthy soils and oceans.
To achieve environmental sustainability of production, we will leverage cost incentive structures, provide education on regenerative practices, and employ and ensure access to technological advances that provide cost efficiencies. This means involving and connecting farmers, economists, agronomists, climate scientists, food conglomerates, policy makers, and major corporations with the means to subsidize progress (such as Bay Area tech firms) to make decisions on how to share the increased short-term costs of transitioning to more sustainable production. Having a clear path forward for cost sharing between public and private entities in the short-term will ensure that people and the planet will not have to confront pricey consequences in the long-term.
2. DISTRIBUTION & RETAIL - As we continue along the process chain, we envision policy and economic incentives designed by the coalition will improve market access for producers and consumers alike.
2.1 Market Access. We seek a future in which producers have sustained economic opportunity and income through improved market access. A proliferation of food hubs – or businesses that aggregate, market, and distribute source-identified food based on community needs – will make it possible for producers to access previously inaccessible markets, and schools will also be leveraged as distribution points able to reach families (in line with California Governor Newsom's policy shifts). Producers will no longer have to worry about transporting food and can set their own prices based on their costs of production, leaving them with viable businesses and incomes good enough to comfortably afford the expensive cost of living in the Bay Area. Additionally, the food production industry will be able to attract and retain a new generation of farmers – something that is critically needed to replace today’s aging farmer population. The coalition of stakeholders will couple policy shifts with an increased network throughout the system, in order to bring market access to producers.
2.2 Consumer Access. The coalition of stakeholders will also be able to create a future in which distribution networks increase market access for all consumers. The proliferation of food hubs created by and for communities will allow for the examination and recreation of current distribution patterns and incentive structures.
Currently, one Bay Area food hub that connects smallholder farmers with food programs within wealthy tech companies understands the potential for these new networks to provide less wealthy organizations in geographic proximity – such as hospitals and schools – lower costs by piggybacking on the distribution networks already employed by wealthier consumers. Understanding distribution opportunities and employing models such as these will allow consumers, regardless of location, access to fresher, higher quality, diverse foodstuffs being produced by smallholder farmers and fishermen. Tapping into these distribution networks holds the potential to truly make food deserts a thing of the past.
3. CONSUMPTION & CONSUMER CONTRIBUTION - Our coalition will bring power, opportunity, and health in the forms of more purchasing power, better health outcomes, and positive behavior change.
3.1 Affordability. We seek a future in which consumers, regardless of income-level, can afford and are incentivized to purchase better food. The coalition will inform how and which public and private sector entities will subsidize or be subsidized for food procurement based on ability and incentive to pay. For example, in an equitable world it is important for schools, hospitals, and prisons to access and afford good food, yet currently they cannot. In the future, wealthy private sector consumers such as tech giants or health insurance companies could pay more for their own food procurement so that, coupled with government subsidies, schools, hospitals, and prisons can pay less. In essence, a sliding payment scale by private sector consumers alongside government subsidies ensures affordability, while improved distribution channels ensure access.
3.2 Health Outcomes. We envision a future where consumers have better diets and are healthier individuals. The public health crisis that disproportionately affects low-income communities will be treated as health insurance companies and hospitals invest in food programs that offer improved diets as a form of treatment and preventive care, incentivized by significant savings from a reduced number of costly hospital visits from patients with chronic illnesses and other diet-related diseases. By leveraging the health sector alongside the improvement of distribution networks that allow all consumers to access and afford good food, the coalition will have great effects on improved health outcomes.
3.3 Behavior Change. Finally, we envision a world in which consumers appreciate and celebrate the value producers bring to society. In our world, consumers will work hand in hand with producers to build stronger communities, such as by offering up their domestic composting output to the farms that supply them, and they will no longer be far removed from the production process. Consumers will understand the implications of enabling a race to the bottom and will shift their behavior away from a cultural obsession with convenience. To achieve this, it will be important to not only create space to make meaningful connections between producers and consumers, but to involve behavioral psychologists, and city planners to ensure it is done equitably and effectively.
Our team has created this vision based on our understanding of the Bay Area and its food system – enhanced by secondary research and conversations with people involved at different points along the food system process chain. Our organization's primary areas of functional expertise are coalition building, population insights and behavior change, and strategy development. We believe these are uniquely suited to bringing together diverse stakeholders, ensuring that under-served communities are involved in design, and that our emerging vision has systemic impact. We stand behind our vision to prove the possibility of collective food system reform via sustainable economic models, and to improve the power of low-income producers and consumers (particularly consumers of color). We believe our vision can yield a model with the potential to be replicated across many parts of California – America’s agricultural heartland.
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