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Food Production | SSMC

Food Production

Why is this Important?

Agricultural land contributes to the County economy, and preserves cultural heritage and scenic beauty while reducing urban sprawl and habitat encroachment. San Mateo County’s agricultural legacy is highly visible along the coast, from Pescadero to Pacifica. Brussels sprouts, flowers, and nursery crops have contributed a large portion of the county’s agricultural production value for over 50 years. These working landscapes and ranch land add value through the provision of ecosystem services and habitat, which are priceless.

Local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen sustain San Mateo County’s agricultural legacy, maneuver domestic and international markets, and in many cases, play a vital role in environmental stewardship. When sustainably managed, farm and pasture land contribute to soil integrity, watershed protection, and invasive weed control. The number of organic farms in San Mateo County is increasing, proliferating sustainable practices that improve human and environmental health.

By eating local produce, residents also feed the local economy and reap the nutritional benefits of fresh food. The longer food sits, sugars are converted to starch, and water and nutrients are lost. Farmers’ markets and CSAs (Community Support Agriculture) offer residents the opportunity to personally connect with food growers and have first hand knowledge of growing practices.

What is a Sustainable State?

Locally produced food is widely available and affordable to residents of all income levels, as well as food service buyers at institutions such as hospitals, private cafeterias, and schools. Food production is economically viable on a local level for both operators and laborers, who experience fair working conditions. Farmers, ranchers, and fish harvesters practice techniques that conserve natural resources, reduce waste, support biodiversity, and maintain healthy soils, watersheds, and ecosystems. Residents who choose to grow their own food are supported by local land use policies.

Key Findings

  • Within the nine-county Bay Area, San Mateo has the fourth highest agricultural production value.
  • 736 acres of Brussels sprouts were grown in 2014, the largest amount of acreage for a single crop in San Mateo County and the largest amount of pesticides used in 2014.
  • 78% of agricultural production value in San Mateo County is provided by floral and nursery products.
  • Farm production value was $152 million in 2014. This economic output is quadrupled when considering the multiplier effect (San Mateo County Department of Agriculture, 2011).
  • Through the use of renewable resources, water conservation, and support of soil integrity, organic farmers enhance and sustain the environment for the benefit of future generations.
  • Current California labor laws do not guarantee overtime pay to farmworkers, though the work often requires extended hours in high temperatures.
  • In 2014, the total commercial value of the San Francisco Bay Area fishery was $27 million, 63% was attributed to San Mateo County (NOAA, National Marine and Fisheries Service, 2016).
  • As of 2013, 26% of San Mateo County residents grew and consumed food from their own garden.
  • The acreage of agricultural land in the County is generally decreasing with fruit and nut crops the only counter trend.
  • Agricultural production value has increased since a low in 2011, but has yet to rebounded to 2007 levels.

Indicators and Trends
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Agriculture

Acreage by Crop, San Mateo County, 2001-2014
  • The San Mateo County Department of Agriculture and Weights & Measures counted 23 certified farmers markets and 53 certified producers in 2015.
  • There are 16 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations that deliver within the county.
  • The economic viability of farming and the shortage of irrigation water are the primary causes of farmland cessation (Sustaining our Agricultural Bounty, 2011).
  • According to the AgCensus of 2012, the number of small farms increased by 2% to 334 compared to 2007.
  • The production value of fruits and nuts has increased by 304% percent since 2001, while acreage has only increase by 144%. Whereas, the production value of wine grapes has grown by 548%, and acreage only increased by 252%.
Agricultural Production Values, San Mateo County, 2006 to 2014
  • Within the nine-county Bay Area, San Mateo has the fourth highest agricultural production value (Aggregating, Distributing, and Marketing Local Foods in San Mateo County, California, 2014).
  • Agricultural production value is quadrupled when considering the multiplier effect (San Mateo County Department of Agriculture, 2011).
  • 78% of agricultural production value in San Mateo County is provided by floral and nursery products.
Million Dollar Crops, San Mateo 2013-2014
  • Most local producers distribute their crops through wholesalers, few sell directly to institutions or hospitals in the area (Aggregating, Distributing, and Marketing Local Foods in San Mateo County, California, 2014).
  • 736 acres of Brussels sprouts were grown in 2014, the largest amount of acreage for a single crop in San Mateo County.
  • The local indoor floral industry faces increasing competition from international markets (Peter Ruddock, 2016).

Soil

Soil has recently gained worldwide attention for the vital role it plays in food production and carbon and water cycles. Healthy soil is characterized by high levels of soil organic matter (SOM), consisting of microorganisms, insects, and worms that make soil the breeding ground for a quarter of the earth’s biodiversity. According to the American Farmland Trust, over the past 150 years half of the world’s topsoil has been lost to development and poor soil management; 1.7 billion tons of topsoil per year in the US alone. As the largest agricultural producer in the US, California’s state government has instituted the Healthy Soils Initiative. Learn more in the Agriculture and the Environment section.

Organic Farms, San Mateo County, 2006-2014
  • Organic farms rely on ecosystem management to maintain soil nutrients and prevent pests, rather than pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or bioengineering.
  • Practices such as crop rotation promote the availability of nitrogen, phosphorous, and organic matter in soil, which supports biodiversity and increases resilience to climatic stress.
  • Through the use of renewable resources, water conservation, and support of soil integrity, organic farmers enhance and sustain the environment for the benefit of future generations.

Sustainable Farming Practices

In San Mateo County, innovative farm operators have adopted sustainable principals and practices such as organic farming, diversified farming, permaculture, and agroecology. In contrast, industrial farming techniques that rely on chemical inputs and heavy machinery often degrade soil quality, reduce biodiversity, and contribute harmful run-off to watersheds.

SSMC_SusFarmPractices_V2_A1-3
Agriculture Workforce, San Mateo County, 2001-2015
  • Workforce includes agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting jobs.
  • According to the San Mateo County Food System Alliance, there are approximately 3,000 to 5,000 additional migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the county depending on the time of year.
  • Current California labor laws do not guarantee overtime pay to farmworkers, though the work often requires extended hours in high temperatures. See the Food System Policy page to learn about a new bill that supports overtime pay for farmworkers.

Farmworkers

Although many growers in San Mateo County are dedicated to fair labor practices, the US agriculture industry has historically relied on low paid labor. Government regulations lead to policies and procedures that ensure food safety standards are met. However, it is rare for agricultural producers to establish such rigorous methods to ensure that fair wages are paid, worker safety is ensured, pesticide exposure is avoided, and harassment is minimized. Furthermore, on a national level, the agriculture industry participates in guest worker programs that may result in exploitation of laborers who are not familiar with our legal system.

Farmworkers in San Mateo County face the challenge of a high cost of living and stressed housing market. Many work with floral, nursery, and wine grape crops, and do not have access to healthy, fresh food. Organizations such as Puente de la Costa Sur support the livelihood of farmworkers by helping them access healthcare and connect with the local community.

Pesticides

The Department of Pesticide Regulation produces annual reports on pesticide use in the state based on numbers reported to county agricultural commissioners. Recent reports indicate a 2.3% decrease from 2013 to 2014 for San Mateo County. The California Environmental Health Tracking Program has created a mapping tool that shows the density of pesticide use within the state.

In 2014, Brussels sprouts crops received of 31% of the county’s total pesticides, outnumbering other categories such as structural pest control and landscape maintenance. Among the various uses of pesticides throughout the county, Brussels sprouts ranked the highest. Of the 79,746 pounds applied to the crop in 2014, 35,926 pounds were Dichloropropylene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize this pesticide as a potential occupational carcinogen. To reduce exposure to pesticide residue, cut off the outer leaf.

Pesticide exposure by proximity to treated crops has health effects on people of all ages, particularly children, as well as in utero infants. Childhood exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, attention deficit, and compromised brain development. Workplace pesticide exposure has been associated with higher rates of cancer, hypothyroidism, memory and attention changes, and respiratory disease. 10,000-20,000 workplace pesticide poisonings are diagnosed each year (Consumer Reports, 2015).

Some types of pesticides are more harmful than others; however, the ill effects of these products are often proven after they are available in the market. Unlike many other industrialized nations, US regulations are not based on the Precautionary Principal, which requires proof that products are harmless before they are placed on the market.

To learn more about pesticides and pollinators, visit the Agriculture and Environment page.

Animal Products

Production Value of Livestock and Apiary Products, San Mateo County, 2014
  • There is only one slaughter facility in the county, with a limited operation capacity. Many local animals are transported to other counties for slaughter, such as Marin Sun Farms, which is Animal Welfare Approved.

TomKat Ranch

Comprised of 766 acres of historic ranch land, TomKat Ranch is an open-air research laboratory and home to cattle, horses, and a coastal ecosystem. The on-site cattle ranch, LeftCoast Grass Fed is Animal Welfare Approved and part of the American Grass Fed Association, which ensures that their cattle are humanely raised, are not given hormones or antibiotics, and fed only grass. The ranchers use Holistic Management techniques that increase soil nitrogen, carbon sequestration, water retention, and organic matter.

The TomKat Ranch Foundation supports a healthy watershed through the development of a riparian border to safeguard the integrity of waterways. The ranch plans to increase the growth of perennial grasses, which are optimal for carbon sequestration and water retention because of their deep, dense roots. Research partners include Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit organization that operates an on-site weather station, and monitors biodiversity, soil quality, and carbon storage at the ranch. The foundation also funds extensive research on greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, water consumption, and social impacts.

Commercial Fish Catch, San Mateo County, 2013
  • In 2014, the total commercial value of the San Francisco Bay Area fishery was $27 million; 63% was attributed to San Mateo County (NOAA, National Marine and Fisheries Service, 2016).
  • According to a 2014 San Mateo County Food System Alliance Report, there were 122 fisherman docked at Pillar Point Harbor.
  • Seafood Watch is a project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that advises consumers on sustainable seafood choices through a quarterly report and phone app.
  • The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) produces a list of fish consumption advisories for the region and the waters of San Mateo County. Current advisories include: Brown Rockfish, Brown Smoothhound Shark, California Halibut, Chinook (King) Salmon, Jacksmelt, Leopard Shark, Red Rock Crab, Striped Bass, Surfperch, Tule Perch, White Croaker, and White Sturgeon.
  • The 2015 Dungeness and rock crab seasons were limited by contamination by domoic acid, a neurotoxin found in algae and known to cause seizures, coma and even death when consumed by animals or humans. The production of domoic acid increases as ocean temperatures rise.

Urban Agriculture

As urban populations have grown many residents see the value of integrating farming into the urban environment. Trees and other green space offer habitat to animals, birds, bees, and other pollinators, as well as pervious surfaces that absorb rainwater and reduce runoff.

As of 2013, 26% of San Mateo County residents grew and consumed food from their own garden (Community Health Needs Assessment: Health & Quality of Life in San Mateo County, 2013). In addition to hosting community gardens and encouraging edible landscapes, many local cities allow residents to raise chickens and some have made provisions for beekeeping. Organizations such as Village Harvest help residents distribute the excess produce grown in their gardens.

City and County Government Survey of Urban Agriculture

SMCUrbanAgricultureGraphic_V4_Web_A2Each year, Sustainable San Mateo County administers a survey to local governments on the topic of the key indicator and sustainability policies. Listed below are a few highlights of the urban agriculture policies and projects within the county.

  • Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, and Redwood City have policies that encourage edible landscapes.
  • Bee boxes are maintained adjacent to Brisbane’s Community Garden, which hosts over 30 rented planters.
  • The Town of Colma was a pioneer in the adoption of the state’s recent Cottage Food Law, enabling the use of home kitchens for commercial food production.
  • The Redwood City Parks Department partnered with Incredible Edible, an organization that plants orchards on public lands, to install 25 fruit trees at Red Morton Park and the Veterans Memorial Senior Center.
  • The City of Menlo Park hosts classes on water efficient edible gardens.
  • The Cities of San Mateo and Redwood City are working with the San Mateo Beekeepers Guild to amend policies and remove barriers to beekeeping.

Community Gardens

Community gardens offer space for residents to grow their own food or flowers. There are 25 community gardens in San Mateo County. In a traditional community garden, plots are open to nearby residents though there is often a waiting list. San Mateo Ecovillage is an example of a housing based community garden, shared by two apartment buildings. The Peninsula Jewish Community Center’s Fight Hunger Garden Project is an organic farm that teaches volunteers and children about gardening and donates vegetables to local shelters. Several San Mateo County community gardens have been established by health clinics, such as the Fair Oaks Health Clinic Garden.

School Gardens

There are 45 school gardens in San Mateo County, where students learn about natural systems by growing food. The Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco provide training and resources for school garden programs.

Established over 20 years ago, Better Understanding of Garden Science (BUGS) is a school garden education model, which has been implemented at three local elementary schools. In this program, the garden is used to teach fundamental principals of earth science in a practical setting. Recently, the curriculum was updated to align with the next generation science standards. Program organizers observe that students are more willing to try vegetables that they have grown themselves.

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