Meet Scott Sawyer, San Diego County Food Vision 2030's Lead Researcher & Report Author
Scott Sawyer will serve as the Alliance’s Consultant, Lead Researcher, & Report Author throughout the San Diego County Food Vision 2030 development process.
Putting together a 10-year strategic plan for our food system is no small task. Over the next year and a half, the San Diego Food System Alliance will be engaging with hundreds of stakeholders at every point in our region’s food system, as well as the broader community, to develop the most impactful and inclusive San Diego County Food Vision 2030.
Fortunately, we have a seasoned professional sharing the helm of this project, who has led such large and complex food system planning efforts, including Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative: Meet Scott Sawyer.
We’re thrilled to have Scott on board with us! Read the following Q&A to hear why Scott continues to be passionate about food system transformation, what has surprised him about San Diego County’s food system, and the insights he brings from Vermont that are transferable from coast to coast.
How is your experience at VT Farm to Plate transferable to San Diego County Food Vision 2030?
Scott: Vermont is a small rural state with a population of about 650,000! So we’re obviously talking about different histories, cultures, demographics, and geographies. But, I think what changed things there—and what has resonated with audiences in America and throughout the world—is that Vermont's Farm to Plate Initiative created an inclusive common agenda for people to rally around. It sounds simple, but nurturing those personal relationships year after year builds trust and enables organizations to work together collaboratively. At the end of the day, that’s the secret sauce of Vermont’s food system: relationships, or rather, friendships. All we’re trying to do with the San Diego County Food Vision is develop that common agenda and nurture those relationships. So the process or methodology and the spirit of “we’re in this together” is what’s transferable.
VT Farm to Plate was commissioned by the state government, and as such had public buy-in since the very beginning of the project. San Diego County Food Vision 2030 isn't in quite the same boat, but still has potential to have powerful impact. What can the Alliance do to ensure that the plan doesn't sit on the shelf once it's completed?
Scott: The fact that Vermont’s food system plan was requested by the Legislature did open a lot of doors for us. The nice thing about Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative is that it has continued on now for 10 years through Republican and Democratic governorships. A lot of plans do die quickly. I think Farm to Plate persists because people continue to see the benefits of working together. In other words, in San Diego County we need to see a robust network knocking out policy, financial, educational, and other on-the-ground accomplishments.
Can you share briefly about what inspired you, or personally drew you to food systems work? And what keeps you coming back?
Scott: It’s just been clear to me for a long time that food systems and energy systems are the keys to sustainability. If we can get these systems right then the world that future generations inherit will be ok. Food systems touch every aspect of life, obviously we all eat. Food systems are visible in the crops, cuisines, lingo (e.g., “pop” versus “soda”), and products that are manifestations of the history, culture, and ecology of specific communities. And food systems are linked at local, regional, national, and global scales. So every time I drink coffee I’m engaging this complex web of relationships. I just think that’s fascinating.
Since beginning Food Vision 2030 research a few months ago, what is the thing that has surprised you the most?
Scott: I guess I’m just surprised at how unique San Diego County is within California’s food system. Obviously the Central Valley and some of the coastal counties are major food producing regions. Where I grew up, east of LA, is wall-to-wall sprawl. But San Diego County is one of the few metropolitan regions in the country that has agricultural and seafood production. I think that’s something to celebrate and defend.
The topics in the report will be pretty comprehensive, including Achieving Equity, Confronting Climate Change, Sustaining Food Production, Exploring Food Processing and Manufacturing, Marketing Our Food Products Locally, Reducing Wasted Food, and Cultivating Food Culture. Which area are you most excited to dive into research?
Scott: From my perspective, the San Diego Food System Alliance is interested in doing something very innovative. Elly, Sona, and the team want climate change and equity to be the centerpieces of the analyses. So, while all of the topics are interesting, the ways in which climate change and equity issues interact with San Diego’s food system are the most exciting. The most troubling, and the most exciting.
What is a food business or endeavor you love, and why?
Scott: In Vermont, I loved that I could buy pretty much any kind of food I wanted—fresh bread, vegetables, blueberries, ice cream—and know exactly where it came from. I had a friend who made gelato, Shy Guy Gelato, and that was delicious. Home in California, I will always go to Juanita's in Pomona. This has been my family’s go-to Mexican food place for 35 years.