Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: food systems

The power of the foodshed

Los Angeles Unified School District has purchased Riverside County oranges over Florida citrus through its local food purchasing initiative.
As a member of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great group of people  – ranging from farmers to chefs to public health officials – on initiatives that connect Los Angeles consumers with healthy, affordable food.  One concept that’s been helpful to our work is that of a “foodshed,” which is a geographic area that could in theory provide a significant portion of a population center’s food. Looking at our foodshed has helped us to think outside our county’s boundaries and learn more about food production in our own county.

Some are surprised to learn that as recently as 1950, Los Angeles County was the No. 1 agricultural county in the United States, its farms producing an abundance of fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, honey and much more. Today, Los Angeles residents tend to think of our county of 10 million residents in strictly urban terms, but the most current available statistics from the USDA Census of Agriculture (2007) showed 1,734 farms in L.A. County. Though ornamental plants are now our biggest crop, more than $31 million in vegetable crops came from Los Angeles County farms in 2011, according to the county’s most recent Crop and Livestock Report. The bulk of the vegetables we produce are root crops, which include onions, carrots and potatoes. Most commercial farming takes place in the high desert around Lancaster and Palmdale, and is seldom seen by most of the county’s population. A sprinkling of small urban farms is also cropping up around the county, as documented by UCLA urban planning students in their recent Cultivate Los Angeles study.

But the amount of food produced in Los Angeles County is just a tiny portion of what’s grown in our regional foodshed, defined as a 10-county region within a 200-mile radius of Los Angeles’ urban core. Our foodshed has some of the most productive farmland in the state, encompassing some 23,000 farms. Strawberries and lemons from Ventura County, lettuce and broccoli from Imperial, and milk and almonds from Kern are some of the highest-value farm products in California.

Yet much of what is produced is shipped to far away markets, and does not reach the plates of area residents. Lack of affordable fresh produce is a fact of life in many Los Angeles County neighborhoods, despite their proximity to agricultural bounty.  

Looking at the overall foodshed helped the Council to conceptualize a key initiative, the Good Food Purchasing Program, which encourages institutions to buy from small- and medium-sized regional farms, along with meeting other purchasing goals that make healthy food accessible. The City of Los Angeles and LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) were the first two entities to sign on. The impact of LAUSD’s efforts in purchasing regional food were recently profiled in a Los Angeles Times article that highlighted how new local jobs have been created thanks to LAUSD’s buying power. This is one example of how thinking about food regionally, and working collaboratively across sectors, can help create a stronger food system. As the director of LAUSD’s Food Services said, "It's fresher food from farmers we know," when regional food is on the menu. And, it’s good for the local economy, too.

Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:45 AM

How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?

Will farmers markets become the new Ralphs?
Some of us spent our weekend in the garden or at the farmers market, obsessing over our fresh produce that will get us through the week. Some of us went to bed last night dreaming about a Frostie from Wendy’s and fries from McDonald’s. Still, others of us spent the weekend trying to make ends meet and scraping together barely enough food to feed our families. Bottom line – food is something we all have in common. It’s a universal language. Whether we pride ourselves on eating local and organic, constantly find ourselves in the fast food lines, or stress about how to feed our families each day, food joins us all together.

All 6, almost 7, billion of us.

But what happens when there are 8 billion of us? Will more and more of us spend our weekends trying to scrape together enough food? Will more and more of us start our own gardens and obsess over our fresh produce? Will farmers markets become the new Ralphs? Will we have enough water to feed ourselves? Will we have enough land? How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?

“We’re going to have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have the last 10,000. Some people say we’ll just add more land or more water. But we’re not going to (be able to) do much of either,” says William Lesher, former USDA chief economist.

This is a global issue. But as Californian's and residents of the world’s top agricultural producer, what is our role in meeting these challenges? On April 9, 2013, producers, geo-politicists, ethicists, economists, humanists and many others from around the world will come together to discuss the challenges surrounding our global food systems at the UCANR Statewide Conference: Global Food Systems Forum.

The Global Food Systems Forum will feature Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute, as the keynote speakers. The program will include a Global Panel, discussing key issues such as resource limitations, ethnical quandaries, climate change, responsibilities, etc. A California Panel will also take place, tackling issues such as California responsibilities, productivity, policies, markets and research.

But this conversation isn’t just about UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. It’s about all of us. We all need to take a stand and advocate for our food. If you watch what you eat, you should join the conversation. If you love what you eat, you should join the conversation. If you worry about how you will eat in the future, you should join the conversation.

The public is invited to participate in this one-day event via a live online webcast. You can also join the ongoing conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #Food2025. Make your voice heard. Stand up for your food, and help shape our future global food systems.

Learn more about the Global Food Systems Forum and register to watch the live webcast at food2025.ucanr.edu

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 7:07 AM

Sustainable agriculture and food systems: An innovative new major at UC Davis

Two terms related to food production — “sustainability” and “food systems” — have been blended into a new major at the University of California, Davis. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, the new undergraduate major, in some ways embodies a re-blossomed, student-driven interest in food production, akin to the organic farming movement of the 1970s.

Food systems is a broad term that addresses nutrition and health, sustainable agriculture, and community development. A food system encompasses the entire production chain, not only from farm to fork, but includes broader topics such as short- and long-term impacts on the environment, labor, management of food inputs (e.g., water, pesticides) and outputs (e.g., waste), and the socioeconomic impacts on communities engaged in the food system. In other words, food systems encompasses agricultural production within the broad context of environmental, economic, social, and political concerns.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, noted during the celebration ceremony for the new major, “Agriculture is incredibly knowledge intensive. It is as knowledge intensive as launching rockets.” He cited a terrarium as a model for how we must maintain a sustainable food production system with limited resources to feed a rapidly growing global population. “The planet is a closed system,” Van Alfen said. “We have to get it right.”

Professor Tom Tomich, master adviser for the major and director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, said, “The major is about leadership, as much as it is about education. It’s about creating a new generation of leaders who will go on to guide the sustainability transformation for this country and for this planet.” Unlike student programs that are limited to classroom learning, Tomich said that the curriculum for the new major combines the best of three worlds — classroom and labs, the Student Farm, and the real world.

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, attended the opening, along with other high-level state leaders in agriculture, including Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, and Don Bransford, president of the UC President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, who spoke about UC Davis’s national leadership in sustainability, noted, “This leadership from the state shows the importance of the program and what impact it may have on the state, on us as an institution, and on our students.”

“Agriculture and food have shaped human civilization and are central to well-being and health,” said Ralph Hexter, provost of UC Davis. “We recognize the need to understand both the natural world and our human activities holistically.” Addressing the global significance of the major, Hexter added, “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems is a major that is truly designed for the 21st century. It responds to today’s needs and incorporates experiential learning and state-of-the-art research.”

A recent UC Davis graduate who helped lay the groundwork for the curriculum, Maggie Lickter, spoke passionately to the 200 people celebrating the major. She said that the major is driven largely by students who have cutting-edge ideas and want to be engaged in creating a useful education. Lickter said that many students felt that components were missing from the traditional agricultural curriculum, such as farming practices grounded in an understanding of ecological systems, and the application of critical thinking skills to modern-day food systems.

In a moving tribute to the success of establishing the major, Lickter said, “This work can’t stop. If you stop stoking romance, love dissolves. If you stop tending a garden, plants wither. So we must stay committed to the evolution of this major.”

Dean Van Alfen, a strong proponent of UC Davis partnerships with the California agriculture industry, views this major as an additional way to create graduates with industry-ready work skills. Addressing UC Davis’s national and global leadership in agriculture, he said, “Agricultural sustainability has been a theme of this campus for a very long time. This new interdisciplinary major is the future in so many ways. It reflects our campus spirit and our culture. It will meet the needs of our stakeholders and the future of our planet.”

For more information:

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Dean Neal Van Alfen, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Carol Hillhouse (UC Davis Children's Garden director), Ann Evans (former Davis mayor), and Craig McNamara (president, State Board of Food and Agriculture)

UC Davis Aggie Ambassadors: Jacob Gomez, Chase DeCoite, Alison King, and Phoebe Copp

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 8:42 AM
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