Food Commons Fresno

Short Summary

Food Commons Fresno is growing a regional food system that fosters health, stewardship, equity, and economic security. This system includes the whole farming process, from production of organic food, via processing to retail sales, in Fresno, California, and the surrounding San Joaquin Valley, USA.

The project is an ambitious attempt to prototype a larger, integrated food system that can provide mutual benefits for everyone—farmers, workers, distributors, retailers, restaurants, consumers, the community—as well as for the long-term resilience of the rich agricultural ecosystem of California's Central Valley.

Website address:
(Note: website used to be but this site no longer appears to be operational)

Location: Fresno, California, USA


The Food Commons initiative was launched in 2009 by Dan O'Connell, Kiel Schmidt and Larry Yee, in collaboration with other leaders in sustainable agriculture and local food production. (See "Friends & Partners" for a more detailed list.)

Food Commons Fresno started as a local farm-to-family food system relying on personal pickups of food or home delivery. A local food hub aggregates and markets produce from trusted farms and distributes it to restaurants and institutions. In May 2017, an old, remodeled restaurant started to function as a hub.

Food Commons Fresno seeks to foster health, stewardship, equity, and economic development in its region. Specifically, it seeks to:

  • create a comprehensive farm-to-plate regional food system
  • make local food more affordable to everyone
  • work in ecologically sustainable ways

Food Commons Fresno consists of three main entities:

  1. Food Commons Trust, a nonprofit that acquires and stewards land and other assets needed to grow and distribute food
  2. Food Commons Fund, a community-owned finance arm that provides affordable capital and financial services
  3. The Food Commons Community Corporation, a locally owned and cooperatively run hub that connects farms, food processors, distributors and retailers
These are augmented by support services for "administration, marketing, scientific knowledge about sustainable agriculture, technical assistance and specialized vocational training," writes John Thackara in his profile of the project.

YOUTUBE JV8yIp0AcWQ "Tom Willey describes his retirement from organic farming and the transition of the T&D Willey Farms to a Food Commons Fresno operation."

Friends & Partners

The Food Commons initiative was launched in collaboration with organizations including Fresno Metro Ministry, Tower Urban Family Farm, T&D Willey Farms, Sweet Home Ranch, and Ooooby (Out of our own backyards), and various Community Supported Agriculture farms, urban farms, farmers' markets, cooperatives and others. Food Commons Fresno has earned the support of the city's business, academic and social justice communities.


Initial business planning and feasibility studies were supported by private foundations, including the 11th Hour Project, the TomKat Charitable Trust, the James Millis Jr. Family Fund, and Patagonia Corporation.

Support has also come from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and individual donors. Cofounder Larry Yee believes that the food commons model can be emulated elsewhere in the world, but the biggest constraint is the lack of investment capital. He estimates that between US$100–$150 million is needed for each regional project.

Food Commons Fresno also solicited general donations and crowdfunding on its website to address irregular, unforeseen needs.

While market exchange is part of the process, the project is reconfiguring the value chain of agriculture, food processing and distribution, and retailing, so that the food can be higher quality and more affordable than conventional markets.

In its blending of commons and market activity, it is a hybrid that nonetheless is clear about what should be commodified and how to make markets more cooperative. In this sense, the project aims to bring together the key players in food production to work together, rather than to extract and privatize as much as possible.

See Also

The project has spawned other food commons initiatives in Atlanta, Georgia, and in New Zealand. Similar projects are gaining support in Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston.