‘Innovation’ isn’t just about tech; it’s mostly about yield.

Growing, producing, and selling local food leads to greater local self-reliance, pure and simple. Currently, we grow less than 1 percent of our local produce here in Sonoma County. (We do a much better job in dairy, poultry and eggs, and meat production, and even manage to export it.) There is a tremendous local demand for healthy foods, grown and processed close to home, and we’ve only just  begun to meet it.

Each year, Sonoma County residents collectively spend $2.1 billion on food in area restaurants and grocery stores. Imagine if we could harness some of that consumer purchasing power. Local food businesses could generate an additional $285 million a year if resident consumers did just one thing:  Shift 10 percent of their food dollars to locally owned grocers and restaurants that carry locally grown, harvest, processed, and produced food.

Sure, it’s about self-reliance—but it’s also about innovation.

We tend to think of innovation as solely residing in the high-tech sector. But social and economic innovations are actually more reliable, because they usually cost less to implement and the results more immediately change the yield of a resource. For an economic innovation example, take what we suggested earlier—shift 10 percent of consumer purchasing to locally owned goods through local retailers. By shifting $210 million in purchases, we generate an additional $75 million in economic activity. That act increases the yield of an existing resource—our purchasing power to fuel local production. We would create new jobs. We would keep more money in the local economy. We would actually grow more money, like they do on trees—OK, on grapevines.

High land prices, of course, remain a stumbling block to area growers, producers, and processers. So, let’s innovate. Plant wheat amid grape rows, freeze and package vegetables right where they’re harvested, build new production plants and fill them with Central Valley produce until we can move enough of our own. Unless we pivot towards this future, we’ll never capture that 10 percent, that $285 million, that is currently flowing out of Sonoma County and enriching the pockets and tax bases of states and counties that have nothing to do with us or our way of life.

These ideas and others will be on tap at North Bay Innovation Week, slated for Sept. 15-19, 2014. The Food System Innovation workshop, a day of TED-style talks, is planned for Wednesday, Sept. 17. We hope that you’ll join us to consider how we can change to get a greater yield. It’s good for all of us.

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