Farm operations in the Central Valley and food businesses in the Bay Area enjoy a symbiotic, if imperfect, relationship.  The Bay Area represents a large marketplace for locally sourced and organic food produced by Central Valley farmers and manufacturers. Though the relationship can be mutually beneficial, small farmers often lack the capacity and finances to deepen their reach into the Bay Area food markets. In addition, local purchasers don’t always understand the food system and how their procurement decisions impact small farmers, rural communities, and the regional foodshed.

Community Alliance for Agroecology (CAFA), in collaboration with many organizational and individual partners, is producing a series of encuentros throughout California to explore how Agroecology and new economic paradigms for sustainable food producers (farmers) and provisioners (processors and retailers) can better link urban and rural communities and amplify transitions towards a new, more equitable food system. CAFA works alongside small-scale farmers and farmworker communities of the San Joaquin Valley to address historic injustices in the food and farming system and to advance solutions that foster ecological balance, public health and economic equality.

Community Vision is pleased to sponsor the first encuentro, commencing today in Visalia, CA, and running through tomorrow.  “The idea of an ‘encuentro’ is very meaningful to this movement,” said CAFA’s Janaki Jagannath, also one of the event organizers.  “Encuentro literally translates to “encounter” which this is – for farmers, practitioners, and other people in the movement for agroecology who have not had a meeting space across the region before”

Still a growing agricultural discipline in the United States, Agroecology is a framework derived by indigenous Central American farming practices and utilized in the movements for land reform in Central and South America. Agroecology considers the entire food system – including productivity, stability, sustainability, and equitability – to create a more holistic agroecosystem. This approach ensures that food systems are sustainable while still benefiting the entire community. Here in the United States, that means holding events and gatherings in the agricultural heartland of California, the San Joaquin Valley.

“Community Vision wants to increase connections between Bay Area consumers and the Central Valley’s small food and farming operations to grow the sustainability of the Bay Area foodshed,” said Catherine Howard, Community Vision’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.  “As our food work grows, we are seeing a significant need for these two communities to come together to share business practices and make connections that will lead to more sustainable businesses throughout the region.”

Small farm and food operations don’t typically enjoy the resources of conglomerate food industries to connect to broad market opportunities. By bringing together the two regional interests, Bay Area local food purchasers can build their relationships with regional food producers, leading to a stronger, more equitable, local food system benefiting people and communities throughout California. “Events like these are a rare opportunity to make industry connections that lead to more sustainable practices through movement building,” said Jagannath.

“Equitable community development in food means that people not only have access to fresh affordable food, but also that small farms and agricultural businesses can thrive and the people working for them are safe and earning a living wage,”  said Howard. “As an organization dedicated to equitable community development, Community Vision is eager to support efforts that have an impact throughout our region.”

Approximately 20-30 farm and agroecology leaders will be in attendance for a day’s worth of workshops in applied field techniques in agroecology, including addressing historic and current struggles and access to resources in the San Joaquin Valley.  Organizers anticipate more interest as the movement grows.  For Jagannath, the encuentro series is only the beginning.  “We are a budding group of agroecologists and political activists who are stepping into a legacy of scholarship in the United States and working to put it into practice on the ground. We hope that this meeting inspires more independent organizing in agroecology and political power building in the food system”