Inaugural panelists described how the city is working to make food an important part of its future plans, even though San Jose was historically not a food destination like San Francisco.
Sibella Kraus, CEO of SAGE and founder of the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, noted that her work in San Jose was recently answered with the answer, “Is there something?”
One reason for this reputation could be that food was not yet a major force in urban planning. “It’s usually not on the list of sectors that make up Silicon Valley,” said Kim Walesh, assistant city manager and director of economic development for San Jose.
However, plans for a new food center in Veggielution, an urban farm on the east side, and the adoption of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones last year, which give tax breaks to property owners who allow community gardens on their land, could indicate a shift in San Jose’s approach .
Can food systems withstand development pressures?
Land use battles were ugly in the extremely hot real estate market in Silicon Valley. County Supervisor Ken Yeager described the industrial “attack” on farmland in northern Coyote Valley, far south of San Jose. The area, earmarked for industrial use despite its food production potential, is a destination for engineering data centers and warehouses that would require paving over prime farmland. The SAGE Food Works report recommends city guides reassess this zoning in order to create a permanent “urban food belt” to better reflect the excellent soil and climate in this area, home to 45 percent of the population to use water supply for Silicon Valley.
Protecting farmlands in Coyote Valley from industrial growth could also protect against some of the effects of climate change and reduce downstream flood risk as well as disasters like the February flood that forced the evacuation of 14,000 residents from San Jose. “Food systems can be the connective tissue to save this last chance landscape,” said Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.
Silicon Valley’s difficulty in maintaining its grocery shed “is what sets us apart from Santa Cruz,” Yeager said. In this neighboring seaside town filled with hippies, the restaurant menus include the names of the farms from nearby Watsonville and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Farmland near San Jose, once abundant, is now a destination for the industrial growth of the tech industry. The Open Space Authority recently proposed raising $ 80 million to protect the North Coyote Valley from development. This shows how seriously they intend to fight tech companies that want to build in the food-growing belt.
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 farmer’s market to the now-closed farmers ‘market on East Santa Clara Street is Le Marché on Santana Row, an upscale mall in the west of the city operated and reportedly aimed at high-end by the California Farmers’ Markets Association -Buyers.
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, housing manager for the city of San Jose. “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 average $ 26,600, and even top chefs – at the top of the ladder – get an average of just $ 45,000. And with most San Jose families making less than $ 50,000 a year spending 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 workshop space 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.
The city is also running an accelerated new restaurant approval program designed to reduce the delay between renting restaurant space and opening it to the public. The streamlined process, similar to the city’s 15-year-old accelerated program for tech companies, would mean restaurants could get all of their permits in one 90-minute meeting.
Keeping grocery stores open will likely still be a challenge in San Jose. “I’ve watched family businesses buy up or leave the area for the past 15 years,” said Lee Bassian, president of Bassian Farms, who plans to keep the family farm in San Jose, where it has been since the 1960s. But he adds, “The math is getting harder.”
With San Jose’s population projected to grow 50 percent to 1.5 million over the next 25 years, the SAGE report encourages the city to include food in its vision for 2040. “We now have a moment and guidance to look at this differently,” said Mackenzie of the Open Space Authority.