Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Graduate Student Researcher

Berkeley Food Institute Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Graduate Student Researcher

Appointment: 50%FTE, 20 hours per week for 12 months.

Compensation: For GSR Step V ($25.78 as of October 2017)

Application Deadline: 5PM, December 18, 2017
Applicants must be matriculated graduate students at UC Berkeley. To apply, submit the following items by email as a single pdf to edithfriedman@berkeley.edu with the subject line “Urban Agriculture and Food Systems GSR”

  1. Cover letter
  2. Résumé
  3. Contact information for 2 professional and/or academic references

About the Berkeley Food Institute:

The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) at the University of California, Berkeley seeks to transform food systems to expand access to healthy, affordable food and promote sustainable and equitable food production. We empower new leaders with capacities to cultivate diverse, just, resilient, and healthy food systems. We pursue our mission through interdisciplinary programs in education, research, policy, communications, and community engagement.

About the Position:

This position will support the distribution research and mapping component of the Sustainable Urban Farming project and associated extension/outreach materials. This objective seeks to better understand where and how urban produced foods are being distributed, who they are reaching, and what are the barriers and opportunities for improving urban-produced food distribution methods to reach three goals: 1) urban farm profitability, 2) reduction of urban farm food waste, and 3) reduction of urban food insecurity. We aim to identify both strengths/benefits of the various policies and strategies, and risks or gaps in efficiency and access, as well as opportunities for improvement. In our first year of research, we will focus on distribution, farm profitability, and urban agriculture policies, as well as mapping East Bay food systems, exploring the following questions:

  1. What are the various models by which East Bay urban farms operate (for profit, non-profit, hybrid)?
  2. To what extent are urban farmers economically viable – what are their land tenure strategies, sources of income, largest expenditures and threats to sustainability?
  3. What are the different food distribution models being employed in East Bay urban agricultural farm operations (including both for profit and non-profit)?
  4. To what extent are urban farms helping to address urban food insecurity?
  5. How much urban-produced food is being wasted, what are the reasons for that waste, and what are effective strategies to recover that food?
  6. What state and local policy and planning practices are most effective in supporting urban agriculture and food access/distribution efforts?

The position reports to Jennifer Sowerwine, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist in Metropolitan Agriculture and Food Systems, ESPM, and Charisma Acey, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, College of Environmental Design.


The research assistant will carry out the following activities: (1) desk research, including literature review, review of prior student project work on urban agriculture and regional planning in the Bay Area, and map creation using compiled data and existing spatial datasets on food access, public health, vulnerable communities, and priority development areas, (2) fieldwork, including interviews, focus groups and participatory mapping exercises with urban farmers, community-based organizations and local officials, and (3) creating an East Bay food distribution map.

Specific tasks include but are not limited to:

  1. Conduct literature searches and review secondary data.
  2. Assess typology of East Bay Urban Farms:
    1. Compile list and associated relevant information of all east bay urban farms and identify how many are for profit, non-profit, educational, hybrid, etc.
    2. Assess how many farms are growing food for sale and/or to address urban food insecurity.
  3. Assess economic viability (farmer profitability) of East Bay Urban Farms:
    1. Evaluate economic viability of East Bay farms (infrastructure requirements, capital, land, water and labor requirements, sources of revenue, costs, farmer profitability).
  1. Evaluate local and national distribution models:
    1. Identify existing distribution mechanisms/models (direct vs. indirect sales, farm stand, mobile farmers market, farm to institution, etc.) in the East Bay and associated costs/revenues related to food delivery.
    2. Evaluate additional food distribution approaches (from the literature, online) including farm stands, farmers’ markets, mobile markets and food trucks, corner stores and other retail food outlets, as well as newly emergent home delivery services and farm to food bank/church delivery channels, and crop swaps to identify strengths and weaknesses. Evaluate reputable and innovative on-line and mobile apps that link consumers with urban food producers ranging from on-line farmers’ markets, to food hubs, food processing facilities, to food waste recovery initiatives, and neighborhood food networks. Assess the effectiveness of these distribution models and identify those most effective at moving produce to low-income communities and achieving farmer profitability.
  2. Assess Impact of East Bay Farms on Food Access/Food security:
    1. Survey up to 30 urban farms to assess challenges and successes in distributing the produce they grow to ensure fresh food accessibility to low-income communities.
  1. Evaluate Food Waste on East Bay Farms:
    1. Survey selected farms to determine causes of on-farm food waste (over production, inconsistent demand, in ability to communicate availability, legal barriers, unreliable distribution methods)
  1. Evaluate local and national policies and planning practices that support urban agricultural production and distribution:
    1. Identify and evaluate effectiveness of current California state, county and city laws that aim to support urban agriculture, with a particular focus on East Bay policies and planning practices, and identify successes and ongoing challenges. Examples might include recycling food waste into compost, rezoning, reduced permitting fees, subsidies for inputs (water), innovative land access arrangements (public-private partnerships, land trusts), tax incentives or penalties
    2. Conduct semi-structured interviews with select local government officials to learn more about the innovative policies and how they were developed and adopted.
    3. Compile list of land tenure arrangements (trusts, private, public lands) in the East Bay that allow food production;  land use zoning that supports urban ag, e.g.  established food districts, areas with designated use categories, areas that allow special uses, variance; Identify any cities in the East Bay adopting California’s Urban Agriculture Incentives Zone act (2013/2017) and evaluate successes and ongoing challenges; catalogue and assess the work of California and particularly East Bay food policy councils on urban agriculture and food access/food security.
    4. Compare planning practice and city policies in the East Bay with state and national best practices and model city policies supporting urban agriculture and reduced food insecurity.
  1. Map East Bay food distribution networks:
    1. Develop East Bay Food distribution map
    2. Using census tract data, comparing with our food distribution maps, we will analyze the extent to which urban produced foods are reaching low-income communities.
    3. Evaluate and map existing food access and food distribution strategies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area that move food from urban/peri-urban farms to low-income communities to identify gaps and successful approaches to food distribution.
    4. Map food access and food environment using USDA online data sources.
    5. Map food related health data for the East BayMap East Bay Urban Farms
    6. Map land uses and policies that facilitate urban farming and distribution
    7. Evaluate quality and consistency of data
    8. Create accurate metadata for each map layer
    9. Write up a glossary of definitions for each map
    10. Diagnose and solve problems related to using GIS for mapping and spatial analysis
  1. Other:
    1. Schedule and conduct interviews with key stakeholders
    2. Assist with scheduling and running meetings with urban farmers and community groups
    3. Meet regularly with project co-leads
    4. Perform additional tasks as required for the research project
  2. Extension:
    1. In partnership with community stakeholders, including low-income and culturally diverse communities and the community organizations/leaders that serve them, technology and marketing innovators, food producers, as well as research collaborators, educators and extension specialists, ensure project objectives support and/or align with existing efforts by stakeholders to improve local and regional food security, develop outreach materials to disseminate results of research.
    2. Assist with development of fact sheets, policy briefs, and circulation of results on urban ag listserves as well as present at meetings/field days, East Bay Food policy councils, etc.
    3. Write blogs for Urban Ag website and other venues

Required Qualifications:

  • Familiarity with map making and use of geographic information systems
  • Ability to work with spreadsheets and accessing datasets online
  • Outstanding oral and written communication skills, particularly in regards to communications across diverse groups
  • Ability to work collaboratively as part of a team
  • Ability to work independently and to foresee, identify, and recommend solutions in the position’s areas of responsibility
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Comfort with creativity, innovation, and hard work
  • Professionalism, courtesy, punctuality, and good humor
  • Interest and experience in food access, food justice and/or conducting field work with community groups
  • Interest and experience in public service and social equity, as core tenets of the UC Berkeley experience and the Berkeley Food Institute mission
  • Experience with advanced spatial modeling desired

Equal Employment Opportunity:

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status. For more information about your rights as an applicant, see: http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/upload/poster_screen_reader_optimized.pdf

For the complete University of California nondiscrimination and affirmative action policy, see: