San Francisco Collaborative Food System Assessment | San Francisco, CA

An organized group with clear indicators and data collection can compile an awful lot of useful data — see how the San Francisco Food Alliance decided what to measure and how their CFA findings have been useful to many groups in the Bay Area.


Photo: Noah Christman, for SPUR Urbanists

The 2005 San Francisco Collaborative Food System Assessment was developed as a comprehensive, citywide assessment that would provide a holistic overview of the local food system. The goal was to provide a resource to help drive food-related policy and decision-making, and to generate recommendations for making San Francisco’s food system healthier, more equitable and more sustainable.

The assessment came about through a community process led by the San Francisco Food Alliance. Members of the Alliance helped by defining indicators, acquiring data, writing text and organizing a participatory event to gather qualitative information. Project management and editing were provided by staff of San Francisco Food Systems and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

A working group developed a list of food system indicators to track, drawing partially from the “Food and Agriculture” chapter of the 1997 Sustainability Plan for the City of San Francisco. Indicators focused on major areas such as government and charitable food programs, urban agriculture, organic recycling and food retail. The document compiled existing data from multiple governmental agencies and community based organizations to illustrate gaps, assets and opportunities in the local food system. Data sources and other resources were included in order to assist with tracking this information in the future.

In August of 2005, the San Francisco Food Alliance hosted a Round Table event at City Hall, bringing together a broad base of stakeholders to explore the San Francisco food system. One of the main objectives was to gather feedback on the preliminary assessment, which consisted of five chapters of quantitative data on the indicators. Another objective was to increase awareness of a systems approach to food programs and policymaking among people working with and/or affected by food issues in San Francisco. This holistic approach helps to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate foods, and that the system functions based on the principles of public health, social justice, economic stability and environmental sustainability.

THE STRATEGY: The Alliance’s recruitment strategy for the Round Table aimed to identify and invite a decision-maker, a provider or producer, and a recipient or customer for each subject area included in the assessment. In this way, they deliberately recruited a balanced and diverse pool of participants. Eighty people attended, including farmers, community gardeners, food retailers and administrators and recipients of food assistance programs. The meeting was organized into five sectors to group individuals working in or affected by similar parts of the food system: food assistance; urban agriculture; direct marketing; health; and restaurants, retail, and commercial recycling.

The Round Table event was a participatory meeting, designed to facilitate communication across multiple sectors of the food system, and to gather people’s stories and experiences. The activities allowed participants to individually and collectively examine the past, present and future of food in San Francisco and to propose ways to improve the food system. The success of the day was seeing participants trying on a systems approach to food issues, making key contacts, and collaborating across sectors. Discussions, priorities, and action steps that came out of the Round Table event will be used to inform and drive future food systems work in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Food Systems Alliance released the San Francisco Collaborative Food System Assessment in 2005. The Alliance and many community partners are engaged in ongoing smaller scale community food assessment work in communities around the Bay Area.

Profile originally authored by the Community Food Security Coalition, based on material provided by the staff of San Francisco Food Systems and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, July 2006.

Updated 7/2006.