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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Org Seeks to Expand Urban Edge Agriculture by Setting Up AgParks and Training New Sustainable Farmers

December 26, 2012 |

One of the things preventing new and established farmers from growing food is the difficulty accessing farmland. Land is pricey, and farmland in particular is dwindling. Another obstacle farmers face is the lack of inexpensive education and training.

Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) of Berkeley, Calif., is very much aware of these needs, and has implemented projects to help support new and seasoned farmers access land and education. SAGE, founded in 2001, also aims to improve food access for local communities, conserve natural resources and contribute to economic growth.

“SAGE focuses on urban edge agriculture and metropolitan regions,” explains Sibella Kraus, president and founder of SAGE. “Land that is clearly agriculture land can have higher land values. We focus on trying to revitalize urban edge agriculture as a critical component of metro edge sustainability. We do that by developing agriculture parks and participating in regional agricultural planning processes.”

The nonprofit is geared toward small and medium beginning farmers who want to produce local foods near cities for local consumption, as well as communities that want to encourage local agriculture production.

Seedstock recently interviewed Sibella Kraus via email to learn about how SAGE is helping to feed and educate the people in its community through organic, sustainable and multifunctional agriculture.

The Interview

Q: Why was SAGE founded and what are the objectives of the organization?

Kraus: SAGE was founded in 2001 to ensure that multifunctional agriculture—agriculture that provides food and other community benefits—becomes a key element of regional sustainability planning and that it is implemented on the ground in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions. SAGE envisions a sustainable model of multifunctional agriculture that promotes opportunities for beginning, immigrant and established farmers to grow food at multiple scales and food access for local communities, while conserving natural resources, providing public education and access to open space, and facilitating equitable economic development, community livability and smart growth. SAGE’s partners include public agencies, farmers, educators, conservationists, economists, planners, developers, public-interest advocacy organizations and community groups from urban and rural areas. SAGE’s programs directly serve farmers, ranchers, farm workers, students, public agencies, conservation organizations and community groups.

Q: What problems is the organization solving with respect to improving the food system and promoting sustainable agriculture?

Kraus: For equity, livability and public health, all Bay Area communities need a vital local food system that ensures access to fresh, healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food. Meanwhile, in order to thrive sustainably, the region as a whole must engage in long-term planning to steward its agricultural resources. Regional planning agencies and allied organizations are working to link strategies that address regional agricultural viability and community food security through the development of an integrated working lands and natural lands ‘Greenprint’ to complement the region’s integrated land use and transportation plan ‘blueprint’ (the One Bay Area Plan).

Q: Can you tell me about some of SAGE’s projects?

Kraus: On a regional scale, SAGE helps develop and advocates for place-based, systems-based policy planning frameworks, such as New Ruralism, that strengthen connections between sustainable agriculture, public health, environmental stewardship and land use decisions at the critical urban edge. SAGE is collaborating on the development of the Bay Area Greenprint, a framework of principles, policies and strategies, and a tool for guiding informed decisions about the protection of and investment in the region’s natural and working lands. SAGE also produces regional foodshed assessments and participates in the development of regional agricultural planning and investment entities.

At the project level, SAGE focuses on developing urban-edge Agricultural Parks, an innovative, scalable model that facilitates land access for beginning and immigrant farmers, local food provision for diverse communities, resource conservation, public education and job training opportunities. SAGE manages the model 18-acre Sunol AgPark—home of four thriving small-scale farming enterprises and annual field trip destination for thousands of students—and has helped plan six other AgParks on both public and private land in the Bay Area. SAGE works with public and private partners to identify other potential new AgPark sites that can benefit beginning farmers and local communities alike. As part of its efforts to expand the AgPark concept, SAGE is leading the Coyote Valley Agriculture Feasibility Study to assess the potential for creating a permanent, regionally significant eco-agricultural resource area within the 7,000-acre Coyote Valley.

SAGE inspires environmental stewardship in the next generation through hands-on sustainable agriculture education in schools and at Sunol AgPark for students from underserved communities. SAGE also provides public outreach, for example through its interactive, web-based California Ag Almanac (www.calagalmanac.com), in order to increase eco-agricultural literacy, connect urban communities to local and regional foodsheds, and broaden the constituency for regional sustainable agriculture.

Q: How do your projects benefit the land, local communities and the economy?

Kraus: SAGE’s projects benefit the land by encouraging organic, sustainable agricultural practices, protecting natural resources such as water quality and soil quality, and enhancing habitats for native species, such as pollinators. Our projects benefit local communities—such as the 2,000 Bay Area students who visit Sunol AgPark annually to participate in SAGE’s hands-on sustainable agriculture educational programs—by providing education and outreach. SAGE also provides job training, internship and volunteer opportunities, and service learning and green job mentorship to high school students from low-income communities, community organizations and youth groups. Meanwhile, AgParks provide a host of community benefits such as access to fresh, locally produced food, access to green space, improved food security and recreational opportunities. SAGE’s projects benefit the economy by fostering smart growth and green jobs. AgParks foster food security to local communities, support small-scale agricultural ventures by facilitating land access and other necessary resources for farmers, and provide internship opportunities and green jobs mentoring and training for students, community members and volunteers.

Q: How is SAGE funded?

Kraus: SAGE is funded through a mixture of government agency grants and contracts, private foundation grants, individual donations and earned revenue, which generally accounts for at least 50 percent of total revenue.

Q: What challenges does the organization face?

Kraus: As a small, lean organization, SAGE is challenged to meet all of our program goals with our current capacity. We would like to build our capacity in order to more fully take advantage of the opportunities we see to catalyze urban-edge agriculture in the Bay Area and other metro regions similarly primed to integrate sustainable agriculture into the essence of the place.

Q: What does the future look like for the organization?

Kraus: SAGE has accomplished some note-worthy milestones over the last several years. SAGE’s recent history has been a rich one, as it has simultaneously forwarded a wide range of projects for a small organization. Now, as SAGE looks forward, we are considering whether our aim is to grow enough to stay effectively engaged in all of these roles, or whether we want to hone our focus.

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