The Challenges of a California "Agrihood"

The Cannery ‘Agrihood’ in Davis, California.

The Cannery ‘Agrihood’ in Davis, California.

By David Ceaser

Last month I attended this year’s Meeting of the Minds Conference, held in Sacramento, CA. The theme was Smart Cities, and the conference was attended by leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors looking to learn from each other and positively influence our cities moving forward.  

Day 2 of the conference featured workshop tours focusing on several aspects of smart cities in the Sacramento region.

I was fortunate enough to attend the tour titled “Growing Food, New Farmers, and Creating Jobs in Innovative Urban Spaces”. The tour was led by Mary Kimball, Executive Director of the Center for Land-Based Learning.  

The first and main stop on the tour was a new farm-based development, or “agrihood”, called The Cannery in nearby Davis, CA. The Cannery features more than 500 homes on a total land area of 150 acres, all powered by solar energy with a goal of net zero consumption. Sustainable living is central to the Cannery’s mission, and in that spirit 7.4 acres are dedicated to the organic on-site farm meant to provide fresh produce directly to the agrihood’s residents.  

At the location, Farm Director Sri Sethuratnam explained how the farm operates and the challenges that the project has faced thus far.  

The Cannery Farm Director Sri Sethuratnam (right).

The Cannery Farm Director Sri Sethuratnam (right).

One of the main challenges has been communicating the realities of the farm to residents, many of whom had unrealistic expectations about how the farm would operate and how residents would interact with the farm.  

Additionally, soil quality was not as expected and the site is undergoing a remediation process to add organic matter to make cultivation more viable. This necessary remediation has in turn delayed much of the development of the farm on site.

It is unforeseen issues such as these that highlight the importance of having a viable farm plan in place from the outset of an agricultural project, especially a farm-based development.

Finally, Sri emphasized how challenges around food production and our aging farmer population is really an issue of national security. When our aging farmers stop farming and this knowledge of food production is not passed on, where will we get our food then?

We can rely on imports only as long as other countries have enough to feed themselves. Once they don’t they will simply stop exporting to us. It’s a very important point that we should consider as we plan the next iterations of our cities and continue to develop our regional and local food systems.

As a Horticultural Consultant at Agritecture Consulting, David advises clients on growing and operations related issues, and assists with our West Coast business activities. Learn more about how Agritecture could help turn your concept into a viable agriculture business.