Policy Research

In service of the good food movement, we conduct original research on policy barriers and possibilities in the United States and abroad.

Organic Agriculture & State Governments

Organic Agriculture & State Governments

Growing Organic, State by State: A Review of State-Level Support for Organic Agriculture

September 2017

By Laura Driscoll and Nina F. Ichikawa

This report seeks to highlight the opportunities and challenges facing state departments of agriculture as they respond to market and farmer demand to increase organic acreage.

The following key recommendations for state departments of agriculture emerged from this study:

1. Expand Dedicated Organic Support at the State Level

2. Incorporate Organic Agriculture Fully into State Marketing and Promotion Efforts 

3. Clarify and Further Disseminate NOP Guidance to States

4. Work Closely with Outside Groups that Serve Organic Farmers

5. Monitor Transition of Cost-Share Administration

6. Expand Language Access for Existing and Prospective Organic Producers

7. Support Future Research and Data Collection

Twenty-one states across four distinct regions were chosen as a representative sample, and the availability of services as well as unique characteristics from each state were compiled through personal interviews, literature reviews, state government documents, and other sources. The states we surveyed represent over $5 billion in sales of organic products and over 3 million acres in organic production across the US.

Download the executive summary and full research report here.



Policy Analysis Paper: Policy Mainstreaming of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services with a Focus on Pollination


Terra Rose, Claire Kremen, Ann Thrupp, Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Benjamin Graue, and Nadine Azzu

The Berkeley Food Institute collaborated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to author this publication. It considers the mainstreaming of ecosystem services at both national and international levels, with a focus on pollination services. Following work undertaken through the GEF/UNEP/FAO Global Pollination Project, and through funding from the Norwegian Environment Agency, this publication addresses the interface between science and policy as a contribution to the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Download the full report here.

Soda Tax Revenue Investments

Soda Tax Revenue Investments

Bay Area Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes: An Evaluation of Community Investments

MAY 2019

Sydney Bennet, Nick Draper, Irene Farnsworth, and Fiona McBride

A Goldman School of Public Policy Independent Policy Analysis team worked with the Praxis Project and the Berkeley Food Institute in spring 2019 to investigate the actual implementation of sugary drink tax revenues in those four Bay Area cities. Their report looked at these aspects of the tax allocations: 1) administrative structure; 2) grantmaking; 3) evaluation; and 4) political and policy considerations for future soda tax initiatives. While these taxes are still relatively new, the team found that Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco have, to varying degrees, made equity a focus as well as taking steps to ensure robust and sustainable political support for sugary drink taxes. All four cities enacted their taxes via ballot initiative and three of them created citizen commissions to guide city leadership on spending of funds raised from sugary drink taxes, giving the community consistent opportunity to be involved in the policy enactment and implementation process. The Bay Area cities have also been able to show a direct link between their sugary drink taxes and valuable community programs. Read the full report here.

Soil Health

Soil Health

Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in US Croplands: A Policy Analysis

MAY 2016

Léopold Biardeau, Rebecca Crebbin-Coates, Ritt Keerati, Sara Litke, and Hortencia Rodríguez

A Goldman School of Public Policy Independent Policy Analysis team worked with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Berkeley Food Institute in spring 2016 to identify current challenges and opportunities in cropland soil health, with a particular focus on soil carbon sequestration. Policy options to increase uptake of NRCS soil health programs in California and Iowa were analyzed, including: adapting existing NRCS technical and financial assistance programs; promoting end-market demand for crops grown through sustainable practices; increasing public-private partnerships; allowing farmers to participate in cap-and-trade; and positioning NRCS as a carbon broker for farmers. Recommendations reflect geographic diversity, crop diversity, and current challenges to soil and farmer economic security, as well as political feasibility. Final results were shared with NRCS state and national staff.

Download the executive summary here and the full report here.

Factors Influencing Farmer Adoption of Soil Health Practices in the United States: a Narrative Review


Liz Carlisle

In 2015, BFI commissioned Liz Carlisle to synthesize the insights of the soil health practices adoption literature, with a focus on U.S. commodity agriculture. While farms, farmers, and farm communities are too heterogeneous to represent with a single model, this review found five emergent themes: 1) differences in perspective along the adoption continuum; 2) interaction among soil health practices; 3) qualitatively different pathways to incremental and transformative change; 4) noneconomic farmer motives; and 5) the key role of larger farm and food system context.  Reviewing recommendations for increasing the adoption of soil health practices, this study found that a complementary approach—combining education, research, policy, measures to overcome equipment barriers, and efforts to address farm and food system context—holds the most promise.

Read the full article here.

The Economics of Soil Health: Current Knowledge, Open Questions, and Policy Implications

JUNE 2015

Andrew Stevens

Soil health plays an important role in agricultural productivity, environmental resiliency, and ecosystem sustainability. However, this hard-to-quantify holistic concept has proven difficult to incorporate into existing economic and policy frameworks. This report summarizes existing knowledge about the economics of soil health, suggests a methodology for studying the economics of soil health, identifies areas with a need for further research, and discusses current and potential policies that address the economics of soil health. Important components of optimal soil health management include search costs for information, private vs. public benefits, land ownership, carbon policy, and the natural dynamics of soil health characteristics. A case study (Berazneva et al., 2014) is highlighted as an application of an economic framework to soil health in Kenya, suggesting the need for similar studies focused on American agricultural systems. The framework developed in this report suggests that soil health policies focus on increasing access to information and internalizing the positive externalities of healthy soils. However, the magnitude of how far the status quo is from an economic optimum is unclear.

Download the full report here.