The Sonoma County Food System Alliance submitted a letter of request to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Planners that scoping for the Sonoma County General Plan Update incorporate sustainable food systems, healthy living and environmental justice. 

Date: March 30, 2022

To: The County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors;

Planners Brian Oh, Ross Markey, and Scott Orr

Cc:         Tennis Wick

From: The Members of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance (SCFSA)

Re: Request that scoping for the Sonoma County General Plan update incorporate sustainable food systems, healthy living and environmental justice.

The Sonoma County General Plan update presents a timely opportunity to advance the County’s work begun with Health Action in 2007 and the creation of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance in 2009, to ensure that Sonoma County’s food system is equitable, economically robust, and protects our natural resources.  

As each of you is aware, current conditions have significantly increased the challenges to community health in the Sonoma County food system. Below we have highlighted some of the critical issues which we request be addressed in the General Plan update: 

  • High land cost is making it very hard for farm families, individuals and new farmers, especially those from underrepresented groups, to obtain farmland. It is also difficult for food system workers to afford housing. 
  • Little land is available for food production as most large parcels are planted to grapes and most small parcels do not have agricultural protections. 
  • The protracted drought and limited water resources are reducing the supply of water for agriculture, pointing to the need to prioritize strict water conservation measures and water for existing residents, food production, and natural resource protection.
  • Weather extremes, climate change, pandemics, geopolitics, and other disasters threaten food supplies, making the need for local food security more important.  
  • Income disparities and high housing costs leave many residents unable to purchase local, healthful, and culturally appropriate food.  
  • Lack of adequate public transit, heavy traffic, and high vehicle and gas expenses limit access to healthy food.  
  • The factors above limit the development of a successful local market for purchasing local food and food products.
  • Changing demographics exacerbates inequities and threatens our agricultural base. 

An updated General Plan that meets the needs of our Sonoma County community over the next 10 years should specifically include one or both of the following:

  • The goals outlined in the Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan, created by the Sonoma County Food System Alliance (SCFSA) and endorsed by your Board in October 2012. The Sonoma County Food Action Plan was written by a diverse team of community members based on input by dozens of stakeholders. Many of the components of the adopted Food Action Plan are absent in the current General Plan. See the Executive Summary of this Plan below.
  • A stand-alone Health Element following what was adopted by Santa Clara County for their General Plan Update, 2015. The goal of incorporating a Health Element is to demonstrate the correlation between well-planned, safe, highly livable urban environments and improved health outcomes, such as reductions in chronic disease, thus incorporating an emphasis on collaborative, comprehensive approaches to planning for community health. See the Santa Clara County General Plan Health Element here

In addition, an Environmental Justice component must be included to focus attention on this topic and facilitate integrated systems planning across General Plan Elements. A toolkit for developing an Environmental Justice Element is available here. Environmental and economic pressures on disadvantaged communities in Sonoma County makes environmental justice even more timely and relevant. Environmental justice directly relates to food access. Pursuing environmental justice requires increased public participation by low-income and language minority communities in decisions that affect their health and food security.

The SCFSA is a coalition of diverse stakeholders working to envision and create a healthy, sustainable, local food system through leadership and collective action. Our SCFSA members bring a broad base of experience and knowledge to advance our local food system and community. 

The SCFSA’s years of collaborative work and shared experience can enable the General Plan update to incorporate the necessary focus on fostering a healthy, sustainable food system. 

We’ll be glad to provide more in-depth content for consideration in the General Plan update process and are looking forward to sharing with the Board of Supervisors more details from our Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan (summary appended below). 

We are also open to co-hosting workshops with community members and food system representatives for further discussion on the General Plan update.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan

Building on the work of the February 2011 Sonoma County Food Forum and the July 2011 publication of the Sonoma County Community Food Assessment, the Sonoma County Food System Alliance (SCFSA) and the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services developed the Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan (Action Plan).  The Action Plan provides a roadmap with a shared community vision and shared goals for the local food system. In addition, the Action Plan invites local governments, businesses, organizations, and community members to commit to action and play a role in building a viable food system for Sonoma County.

The Action Plan groups food system opportunities and concerns into four action areas:  Agriculture and Natural Resources, Economic Vitality, Healthy Eating, and Social Equity. Within each action area the Action Plan articulates key goals, enumerates details of policies and actions in sub-goals, and describes sample policies and programs. The Actions at a Glance section below outlines the four action areas and their goals, providing an overview of the Action Plan document.

This executive summary outlines only part of the food system framework outlined in the Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Action Plan (2007). For additional information and detailed sub-goals, please review the full Food Action Plan here. With a collective vision for the Sonoma County food system and the necessary tools to fulfill that vision, we can help create a strong, healthy, and sustainable food system for future generations.

ACTIONS AT A GLANCE: Sonoma County Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan

Agriculture & Natural Resources

· Goal 1: Protect and enhance agricultural land base, farms, and ranches

· Goal 2: Encourage resource management that regenerates nature 

Economic Vitality

· Goal 3: Support local food system jobs and local food system commerce

· Goal 4: Encourage institutional purchasing that supports the local food system

Healthy Eating

· Goal 5: Increase equitable access to healthy, affordable, safe, and culturally appropriate food and beverage choices, while decreasing availability of unhealthy food and beverage choices in neighborhoods, schools and work places 

· Goal 6: Connect the food insecure with food and nutrition assistance programs 

· Goal 7: Increase education about local agriculture, nutrition, and the impact of food and beverage choices

Social Equity

· Goal 8: Address root causes of hunger and food insecurity

· Goal 9: Create opportunity and justice for farmers, seasonal and other farm workers, and food system workers

· Goal 10: Ensure the inclusion of underserved and underrepresented communities in conversations and policy-making about Sonoma County’s food system· Goa

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