Silicon Valley chefs often struggle to find local fruits and vegetables for a number of reasons. You’re a little further from small organic farm hotspots like Marin and the Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento. Even the nearby farming communities on the south coast, just over the mountains west of San Jose, suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure, even as the cost of living rises from the invading tech industry.
Additionally, San Jose culture has prioritized sourcing farm-to-table products a little slower than the rest of the Bay Area. Chef Jessica Carreira of Adega – the first Michelin-starred restaurant in San Jose – said her top priority, along with employee and customer satisfaction, is “more product variety”.
This diversity may still be difficult to find as the city struggles to build supply and demand at the same time. Last year, the young farmers’ market, which opened 30 blocks south of Adega, was closed because efforts to build it did not “result in sustainable business opportunities for farmers,” according to an email from the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association. The closest farmers market to the now closed Farmers Market on East Santa Clara Street is Le Marché on Santana Row, an upscale outdoor mall in the west of the city operated by the California Farmers’ Markets Association and reportedly aimed at upscale shoppers.
South Bay is on the verge of losing another pillar of urban agriculture: Sunnyvale-based Full Circle Farm recently announced it would be closing in late July after a decade, partly due to problems with supporting its workforce. “We couldn’t have interns on the farm. We had to pay the rent for Silicon Valley, ”garden manager Dan Hafeman told The Mercury News in May.
High cost of living hurts food workers too
Up until last month, San Jose, which in April left San Francisco and Oakland behind as the most competitive housing market in the country, was the only city in the Bay Area where landlords could vacate tenants for no reason. “People have to make terrible choices to live here,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, City of San Jose housing manager. “How could we do more in this area to help people survive?”
The skyrocketing rent has hit the food industry across the Bay Area. As in San Francisco, the people who make food in San Jose cannot afford to live there. In 2016, the New York Times found that property prices had pushed out the supply of restaurant workers in the area for the tech boom, and several panelists at the Food Works event cited workers as a barrier to their company’s success.
Dan Bassian of San Jose-based meat wholesaler Bassian Farms told attendees that “finding enough good, high-performing employees” keeps him up at night. He added that some Bassian Farms workers commute two hours each from cheaper apartments in the Central Valley.
Food Works’ report named 40,000 jobs that earn San Jose $ 2.8 billion each year, but those jobs pay low wages. According to the report, a line chef could expect $ 31,000 a year in 2013, while bakers make an average of $ 26,600 and even top chefs – at the top of the ladder – get an average of just $ 45,000. And since most San Jose families making less than $ 50,000 a year spend more than half their income on rent, the hospitality workers are likely to feel the burden.
However, entrepreneurship in the food sector could be one way to improve access to food. For example, a weekend food truck could help a low-income family pay the rent. Veggielution’s Eastside Grange, intended as a community building, technical assistance and workshops for small food businesses, is designed to support this type of income improvement and build on the “extremely deep connection many East Side residents have with agriculture and culinary traditions” build Cayce Hill, Managing Director at Veggielution.