New SPUR Program: Food Systems and Urban Agriculture

By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
July 17, 2011
 Urban agriculture at Alemany Farm. Image courtesy Urbanists

We are what we eat.  It’s true for people — but also for cities and regions. The food we consume and the system that produces, distributes and disposes of it are as vital to San Francisco and the Bay Area as our systems for housing, energy, water and governance. Like those other systems — staples of SPUR policy — food is a basic human need and provides a perspective for answering the question, “How do we make our city and region a more livable place?”

SPUR’s new Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program seeks to answer that question through policy that will strengthen both the food system within the city — where food is grown, how it’s sold and how accessible it is— as well as the region’s network of farms and distributors.

San Francisco has recently experienced a surge of interest in reforming its local food system. In just the past two years the mayor issued a groundbreaking Executive Directive on Healthy and Sustainable Food, the Board of Supervisors updated the zoning code to allow for more types of urban agriculture, and the city hosted the first Northern California “slow money” investment conference. SPUR’s program will be working among a strong base of organizations that are active on food issues in the Bay Area. This desire for innovation and change is driven by many factors, including an interest in reducing the ecological footprint of food; improving public health and eradicating “food deserts”; and strengthening communities by supporting local businesses. SPUR's priority will be on policy, especially where food issues intersect with questions of land use, regional planning and economic development.

In our first year, we will focus our attention on four main issues:

1)   The use of public land for urban agriculture

2)   Reducing regulatory barriers to urban agriculture

3)   Farm-to-cafeteria programs and food literacy in schools

4)   Creating metrics and baselines for local food consumption to help inform future policy

Along the way we will report back, both here and the Urbanist, on other developments in the field of food policy, ranging from federal incentives for grocery stores in food deserts to state pilot projects funding rooftop agriculture for its role in stormwater management.  And we will also host forums (like our May panel on San Francisco’s recent food policy initiatives), walking tours and more.

As we develop our program, I’d like to hear your ideas and feedback. Please send suggestions for potential events, interesting models of food policy in other places or other ideas to ezigas@spur.org.