ULI Orange County/Inland Empire What’s New?

The Intersection of Food and Real Estate

In the Spring of 2016, ULI Center for Sustainability and the ULI Healthy Places Initiative launched a program of work examining the intersection of food and real estate.  Thus far, the research and programs have explored the relationship between food-based amenities – such as community gardens, farmer’s markets, food halls, restaurants, grocery stores and community building.   The work recognizes how access to fresh / local food is spurring innovation in development projects.  The foundation has committed resources through 2018 to further explore this connection.  The research is funded in part by a generous gift from the Leichtag Foundation, a portion of which will fund activities in Southern California and Cali-Baja. The genesis of the grant was through the Director of Agriculture Innovation and Development, Daron Joffe, who attended one of ULI’s 2016 programs.  He saw an intersection between the goals of the Foundation and ULI.

For the first time, ULI San Diego – Tijuana and ULI Orange County / Inland Empire came together to host a joint program.   More than 100 people from across Southern California and as far away as Hawaii, Seattle and South Carolina gathered together on March 30, 2017 at Leichtag Foundation’s headquarters in Encinitas.  The program focused on the project, policies and the people who are pioneering change using food as a catalyst for behavior change, economic development and contributing to improved health and wellness.

Food has been at the core of community development strategies for decades.   It creates an infrastructure for sustainability and public health. Food is also at the epicenter of culture and entertainment.   In the past 60 years as communities have become more urbanized, we have moved further and further from food source.  However, there is a formidable food movement afoot across the country. The demand for locally and ethically sourced food is on the rise thus a growing interest in the importance of the local food systems. It is fueled in part by our heightened awareness on health and well-being, in part by creativity and passion and in part by fostering stronger social ties.

Agrihoods, farmers markets and food-centric events promote local food production and scalable solutions for food desserts. They help to grow economic opportunities  for small and mid-sized farmers.  Agriculture and farming contribute more than $8 billion to the economies of San Diego and Orange Counties and when you include the economic impact of Baja Mexico that number grows to close to $10 billion. Mounting pressure from competing land uses is forcing community builders to be more creative in the ways in which food is insinuated into the community.

Digital innovation has shifted the social dynamic in nearly every aspect of our lives.  The community of growing, preparing and eating food cannot be replicated online.Eating is a social activity – the act of sharing community with others. It becomes an experience to be savored and nurtured.

At the heart of all of that we learned in March was passion.   It is an understanding that thriving communities are characterized by health and well-being and strong social and cultural connections.  It is this passion that is challenging conventional wisdom and business models for real estate development projects. The real estate community is forging new relationships with non-profits, universities, chefs and health care providers.    The intersection of these industries and advocates will be a nexus of innovation.

The program began with an update from the ULI Content Group.  The exploration the intersection of food and real estate has become a cornerstone of the work within ULI’s Healthy Places Initiative.  Highlighting some of the country’s most successful development with food-based amenities, the scale of the projects ranged from a 1.25 acre production garden in Denver to a 22,000 square foot indoor food hall in Washington, D.C.  It gave the group the necessary context for the ensuing panel discussions.

Aria in Denver is 17.5 acre infill community designed with a focus on the health of its residents and the surrounding neighborhood. The development will include 400 new residential units and 30,000 sf of new commercial space.  With a 1.25 acre production garden and 1800 sf greenhouse, the community accommodates access to fresh produce.   This case study reinforced the scalability of agricultural production.

The program continued with discussions with local practitioners focused on passion, opportunities and challenges and what lies ahead.  The speakers consistently reinforced the need for a multi-faceted approach.  It isn’t enough to add a community garden.  Rather successful implementation requires the right partnerships and policy to support local food production and long-term behavior change.

Chef Nick Brune of Eco Catering and Daron Joffe (Farmer D) shared their personal journeys as they discovered the transformational and personal impact food production and preparation has had on their lives.  Chef Brune’s inspiration comes from his New Orleans roots where food was an integral piece of the culture.  For Farmer D, his journey was set in motion when he began to question the source his food and redirected the course of his life through education.   Both have created community with vibrant and healthy food.

Ron Troyano, founder of Alchemy San Diego, moderated a discussion that took a deep dive into the complexity of our local food systems.   Healy Vidgerson, executive director with Olivewood Gardens, shared how they are trying to build more equity into food production and access.  They are achieving their goals with regional collaborations with government agencies, consumers, restaurateurs and educational institutions.  Jordan Perkins, executive director with Solutions for Urban Agriculture, highlighted innovative agricultural solutions for adaptive reuse to support food production.  Strategic land leases with tenant farmers allowed Jordan to repurpose former military runways for and adjacent fields for agriculture.  Casey Anderson represented the Orange County Farm Bureau and shared the increasing appetite among citizens for more local food production and permanent farming operations.

Beth Callender, founding principal at CallenderWorks, moderated the second panel discussion that explored trends that are catalyzing creative land use.  Greg Strangman with San Diego – based LWP Group highlighted how the culinary scene in Tijuana has changed both the tourism industry and lifestyle opportunities for full-time residents.   Chris Bennett, director of development with LAB Holdings shared how the community has embraced the Packing District in Anaheim as the heart of the community.  Repurposed buildings have become a unique eco-system that provide opportunities for community interaction, business incubation and education.

Tiffani Ghere, pediatric dietitian at Sapphire at School, oversees a school lunch program that teaches families about food and wellness at a global scale.  The focus on the intersection of community, health and healthcare is affecting long-term behavioral changes.

Joan Marcus Colvin, chief marketing officer with the New Home Group, shared insight from the public private partnership that deeded seven acres of land to the City of Davis and operated by the Center for Land Based Learning.  The partnership builds upon the concept of farm to table by teaching residents at all phases of life how to work the land get long-term civic buy-in.

There is an awesome responsibility that comes with city-building.  As members of the ULI community, we are engaged in all aspects of real estate and land use.  The intersection of food and real estate is still in its infancy.  Pioneering projects like Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, Liberty Station in San Diego and Telefonica Gastro Park in Zona Centro in Tijuana are helping to redefine how we create and sustain thriving communities.  Over the next few years, we anticipate more creativity and innovation on this front.  We will have partners from outside our core industry and we can expect to see a higher demand for projects that incorporate more healthful amenities.

People development is at the heart of what we do.  It is the values of the people who will drive the next iteration of community development.

From here, both ULI San Diego- Tijuana and Orange County / Inland Empire will continue to explore local projects and policies that support healthy lifestyles.   In Spring of 2018, ULI will host a national food forum in Encinitas.

Click the link to read the executive summary!

Food & Real Estate Executive Summary

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