Green Light for San Francisco’s New Urban Agriculture Program

by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
July 17, 2013

Treasure Island Job Corps Farm. Photo by Eli Zigas.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has given the green light for the Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) to take the lead coordinating the city’s support of urban agriculture. The vote on July 16, which provides the necessary approval for the launch of an urban agriculture program within RPD, is an important milestone that comes one year after the board passed legislation establishing goals and calling for greater coordination, efficiency and accountability from the city’s urban agriculture efforts.

During the past year, the city administrator’s office led an interagency working group in determining how to best meet the various goals of the legislation. That effort resulted in the recommendation, published in April, that RPD house the program and hire one full-time staff person to coordinate the work to reach the goals of the legislation.  SPUR supported these recommendations, as did the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance.

With its approval, the board of supervisors is setting up an institutional structure for urban agriculture support. The on-the-ground work is now set to begin. The program’s first year will be crucial, and SPUR recommends prioritizing a number of projects to demonstrate early success. They include:

  • Clearly establishing the urban agriculture program as an initiative that works across agencies and assists gardeners and farmers of all types.
  • Operating as a “one-stop-shop” for urban agriculture that provides the public with a single point of entry when seeking assistance for projects on public or private land.
  • Establishing at least three urban agriculture resources centers that provide compost, mulch, tools and other material support on a regular basis during the coordinator’s first year.
  • Working with the City of San Francisco Real Estate Division to complete the audit of city-owned rooftops suitable for urban agriculture.
  • Developing a strategy to reduce community garden waiting lists within the coordinator’s first six months.

Another important aspect of the program will be increasing accountability and transparency. In the past, many city agencies supported urban agriculture, but when the public had difficulty getting assistance, there was no person or agency clearly responsible. Going forward, the urban agriculture program will be tasked with providing that accountability, which was one of SPUR's main recommendations in Public Harvest, our policy report recommending better coordination of urban agriculture programs within the city. The program is required to send annual reports to the board of supervisors that includes evaluation of a variety of metrics, including an accounting of how city funds have been spent. The mayor’s budget office set an excellent precedent for this kind of reporting in the summary of expenses they provided as part of the strategic plan. Beyond reporting, SPUR also supports the continued convening of the working group of staff from various city agencies and community groups that helped inform the strategic plan. Additionally, the Recreation and Parks Department Commission can play an important role by providing oversight and opportunities for public discussion and feedback of the new program’s progress.

The green light from the board of supervisors gives RPD the chance to inject new energy and focus into the city’s support of urban agriculture. With the department expecting to hire the program coordinator by the end of September, the structure and staffing of the program will be in place by the fall. And then the on-the-ground work – supporting gardeners and farmers seeking access to land, resources and funding – can begin in earnest.

Download the board of supervisors' resolution >>

Download the city administrator’s Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan >>