San Francisco is leading the way for urban agriculture with support from community gardens, the city, and local farmers markets. Local food production is being used as a tool for community development, personal rehabilitation, and sustainable food opportunities that other cities could learn from. There are many hurdles when it comes to urban farming, especially in an expensive and growing city, but with an active urban agricultural alliance working with the local authorities, our connection to eating and producing local food can be restored.
As land surrounding the Bay Area is at risk of development, the city itself is enabling local farming initiatives through urban policies. As of July 29, 2014, the city signed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act that provides tax cuts for property owners who dedicate their land to urban agriculture projects for more than five years. Encouraging longer term goals encourages more stability and opportunities for local growers in a quickly transforming city.
The economics of agriculture is a major concern in urban environments due to higher property costs and lower product profits. Even in vertical farming schemes, the profit per square foot comes no where close to the profit margin of other industries and businesses. Luckily, outside the core of San Francisco, the city is predominately low rise, with a range of green spaces where many community farming projects are taking place.
There are a few projects in the city that are building stronger communities and developing skilled residents through agriculture. The Garden Project supports younger at-risk adults through environmental job training, while improving their local communities through agriculture. It started from the San Francisco County Jail Horticulture Project where inmates grew organic produce for donations, but has grown to support other offenders and high school students with environmentally-based apprenticeship programs. Another initiative alongside community gardens is the vertical garden project in the Mission neighborhood that is “cultivating community” to educate citizens about local agriculture and provide green spaces, while providing prototypes of vertical farming systems to grow food in limited space.
There are several more urban farming projects happening in the city and a large amount of unoccupied space that is being re-imagined. A key to underutilized space for gardens is flat roofs, since there is plenty of sun. The rooftop gardens also reduce the urban heat island effect by replacing some of these sun-attracting rooftop surfaces with greenery. Even though the environmental footprint of food production lies more in the processing and manufacturing than the transportation, it is important to eat fresh and local to support local businesses, improve health, and maintain a connection to food production in a globalizing world. Urban farming can seem like an uphill battle at times, but in San Francisco it is making progress thanks to community support and city legislation.
Has your city adopted similar initiatives or legislation to encourage local food production?
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.