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Bay Area leading sustainable-food efforts

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The food system is broken. In San Francisco and around the world, vast amounts of food are wasted while many go hungry. One-third of greenhouse-gas emissions come from agriculture. Food-related diseases are on the rise.

Today is World Environment Day, and it is important to recognize the inextricable link between a stable, healthy food system and efforts to preserve the environment. Sustainable-farming practices can help mitigate climate change, improve soil fertility and preserve biodiversity. Whether you live in San Francisco or the developing world, the food you eat is essential for personal and environmental well-being.

Food for all

There are nearly 1 billion people worldwide — or one out of every seven people — who go to bed hungry each night. But hunger is not confined to Africa or South Asia; it also plagues much of the U.S., including 197,000 San Francisco residents.

There is no one solution to the hunger that grips the region’s neediest residents. But preventing the 20 percent to 50 percent of food that is wasted annually is one step in the right direction.

The City has long been a leader in the reduction of food waste.

Volunteer Food Runners deliver about10 tons of leftover food per week from businesses such as restaurants and bakeries to shelters, soup kitchens and senior centers, providing local food-insecure families with more than 2,000 meals every day.

And in 2009, city officials passed a law requiring all households and businesses to discard food waste in a separate bin for compost.

Food for sustainable growth

Two decades ago, organic agriculture and other “agroecological” farming practices were considered insufficient to feed a rapidly increasing population. Rural and urban communities alike, however, are proving that these methods are not just adequate, but ideal for nourishing communities while protecting the environment. Organic urban agriculture, for example, is growing as urban populations grow.

The Bay Area has cultivated a thriving urban farming movement. Individual community gardens have sprung up across the region and are now receiving support from local governments. In 2009, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a directive calling on The City to convert vacant lots, median strips and rooftops into gardens. Last year, The City revised its zoning laws to permit the cultivation and sale of produce in all neighborhoods.

Little City Gardens, San Francisco’s first legal commercial farm, is proving that urban agriculture can not only be a source of nourishment and shared space for community residents, but a source of income as well.

Food for health

Worldwide, 1 billion people are overweight and obese. In the U.S., one-third of adults are obese. Unfortunately, our nation’s schools offer very little in the way of fresh, healthy food.

But organizations such as Slow Food San Francisco are taking active steps to reverse this trend. The local chapter of the international organization promotes organic and local food in school cafeterias and helps develop school garden programs across The City.

Recently, the organization partnered with Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program and the Time for Lunch Campaign to advocate on behalf of the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which affects school nutrition policies.

On World Environment Day, it is good to realize how important sustainability is to the fight for a healthy food production system.

Not only does sustainable agriculture nourish communities, it also improves public health, ensures environmental stability and provides economic growth.

Projects all over the world, from community farming in The City to crop storage technologies in sub-Saharan Africa, are highlighting how agriculture is the solution.

Danielle Nierenberg is project director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project. Dr. Camillo Ricordi is on the Advisory Board of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.