The Vivid Picture Project

Envisioning a Sustainable Food System in California

The California food system is vast, and plays a significant role both globally and nationally. California can lead the way to a new model for a healthy and robust food system.

We believe that transitioning the entire State of California to a sustainable food system will:

  • Provide more economic opportunity than the current system,
  • Strengthen rural communities,
  • Employ state of the art environmental management systems,
  • Lift the fortunes of the food and farming industry,
  • Create pride of place,
  • Offer hope of meaningful opportunities for workers in the industry, and
  • Lead a world-wide demand for health and quality in everyday living.

"Leaders must shift from a perspective of incremental change to a perspective of transformation. The key is to paint a Vivid Picture. The point of the picture is not to accomodate the present, it's to accelerate the arrival of a particular version of the future. We must stand in the future and look back at the way we came."
- Paul Dolan,
True to Our Roots


While there are some examples of successful food system practices, no detailed vision or plan exists on how to transition the whole food chain to a sustainable model. The Vivid Picture project, funded by the Roots of Change Fund, is designed to generate a blueprint for a sustainable food system, and a change agenda to achieve the vision.

The project began with a conversation between about a dozen national and California based public and private grant makers in 1999. This discussion focused on the following question:

Why isn't the food system sustainable?

Over the last twenty years, many of these foundations have put considerable resources into helping spur the sustainable food and farming objectives. While many acknowledge the strides that have been made and the growth of a successful niche industry, they are not satisfied with the pace of change.

Together they founded the Roots of Change Fund, initially contributing $2,400,000.00 to pursue a collaborative strategy for food systems change. They formed a top level group of food and farming experts, the Roots of Change Council that advised developing a bold, comprehensive, actionable vision for a new food system to break through the current trends in the conventional system. The Fund commissioned the Vivid Picture Project in early 2004. The project will run through 2005. Results of the project will be available to the public.

Specifically the goals for the project include development of:

1. A Vivid Picture: Create a comprehensive vision for a sustainable food system for California that addresses multiple aspects of the system including:
a. Access to quality food for all people in California;
b. Economic vitality for regional producers, manufacturers, distributors and purveyors;
c. Personal health, well being and community building through food and nutrition;
d. Natural resources used well and fairly so that their usefulness can be maintained in perpetuity; and
e. Enhancement of regional and cultural identities throughout California

2. A Change Agenda: Develop a change agenda that identifies policies, economic plans, and/or communication programs that can shift the entire system or entire components of the system. These change items will do more than provide for demonstration programs. They will change the game. These strategies will be tested and evaluate for viability and impact, identifying those that provide maximum leverage.

3. Sustainability Indicators: Identify a set of indicators by which we can assess progress towards a sustainable food and farming system. The indicators will be based on existing, credible data sets and will help to measure movement towards a sustainable system. Ecotrust, a non-profit organization that works from Alaska to California encouraging sustainable economic and community development, is coordinating the project with help from many other organizations and individuals.

Members of the Roots of Change Council, Public Interest Contributors and Business/Trade Advisors provided their own individual visions of the future, giving us clues that have helped imagine a complete Vivid Picture of a sustainable food system. We are indebted to them for their contributions.

In addition, the Fund commissioned two leadership development projects designed to enhance capacity for instituting a Vivid Picture for a sustainable food system in California. These projects run concurrently with the development of the Vivid Picture. This website serves as a communications vehicle, reporting on the progress of the project. We will be posting timelines and project results as they emerge. Read our Project Summary for more details about the project.

This site is also available in Spanish.

Food Leader Perspective - Paul Dolan, former President Fetzer Vineyards

Food Leader Perspective - Martha Guzman, Rural Legal Assistance Foundation

Vivid Picture's Expanding Network of Partners

How do you measure sustainability?

ROC Council meets on leadership development

Assessing California's opportunity to feed itself

Can we have it all? The VP says - Yes!

Food Leader Perspective - Desmond Jolly, co-chair ROC Council

Food Leader Perspective - Steve Gliessman, co-chair ROC Council

Value Chains for the Vivid Picture

Food Leader Perspective - Leland Swenson, ED of CAFF

July 27th ROC Meeting Report

Food Leader Perspective - Rex Laird, CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau

Food Leader Perspective - Jim Cochran, President of Swanton Berry Farm

Framing a Vivid Picture: Our Approach

New Partners in Creating a Vivid Picture

The Vivid Picture's Trade Advisory Panel:
Food industry leaders will contribute their expertise

The Vivid Picture in Spanish

Read announcement:
The Roots of Change Fund awards $600,000 for Vivid Picture, Leadership Network and Sustainable Food Systems Partnership Projects