Blog » food systems
- April 2, 2013by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Of the many food and agriculture bills California legislators have introduced this year, three stand out for their potential impact on the Bay Area’s food system: a tax incentive to promote the use of private land for urban agriculture; a change to CEQA to require agricultural land preservation for certain projects; and a statewide sugary-beverage tax. Here’s a closer look at these bills, which we will be tracking this year.
Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act (AB 551)
Introduced by San Francisco’s recently elected assembly member Phil Ting, this legislation would incentivize the use of private land for urban agriculture by reducing the property tax assesment on qualifying parcels dedicated to city farming. The bill would permit counties to pass ordinances establishing “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones” within their boundaries. In these incentive zones, private property owners would be eligible to apply to enter a contract with the county restricting their undeveloped property to urban agricultural use in exchange for a revised tax assessment based on the agricultural use of the land. The program is loosely modeled after the Williamson Act and, as with that legislation, counties could opt into the program but will not be required to do so. Similarly, private landowner participation would be completely voluntary.
One of the biggest obstacles to expanding urban agriculture within California is access to land. This legislation provides an incentive to private landowners to make more land available for urban agriculture, while at the same time enabling them to do so at a lowered cost, which is especially critical for the viability of commercial urban farms.
California Farmland Protection Act (AB 823)
According to the American Farmland Trust (AFT), each year an average of 30,000 acres of farmland is converted to non-agricultural use in California. The California Farmland Protection Act, supported by AFT, the California Climate and Agriculture Network and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, aims to address this. The bill would require developers to either 1) permanently protect an acre of farmland for every acre they develop as part of the mitigation process in the California Environmental Quality Act or 2) build more densely. Developers could protect agricultural land through either direct purchase of a conservation easement or payment of a fee to a public or private agricultural land conservancy to purchase a conservation easement. For projects that develop farmland within city limits, the developers could also meet the requirements by demonstrating that the development achieves a density at least twice that of the statewide average. The legislation recognizes that agricultural land preservation complements infill development as a smart-growth land use strategy and attempts to permanently preserve agricultural land while also increasing the cost of sprawl.
Sweetened Beverage Tax Law (SB 622)
Though proposals for city-level taxes on sugary drinks in Richmond and El Monte failed at the ballot box in November 2012, momentum continues building for public health legislation targeting sodas and similar drinks. The Sweetened Beverage Tax Law would require distributors to pay a one-cent tax for every fluid ounce of bottled sweetened beverage or concentrate they distribute. The revenue from the tax, estimated to be more than $1.5 billion annually, would go toward a Children’s Heath Promotion Fund. The fund would then distribute 65 percent of the money through the state Department of Public Health for childhood obesity prevention efforts and childhood dental programs, run by the department, community groups and medical providers. The remaining 35 percent would go to school districts for public health initiatives that improve childhood nutrition and physical activity.
As the bills have only recently been introduced, SPUR has not yet taken a position on any of them. Though the fate of each of these bills in the legislature is unclear, each illustrates that California continues to be at the forefront of developing food and agriculture policy that intersects with the areas of land-use, economic development and public health.
- February 26, 2013by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The array of food grown within a couple of hours of San Francisco makes our region truly unique. Along with an astounding amount of agricultural diversity, the Bay Area's farms and ranches employ a wide range of business models. This is an asset to their economic vibrancy, but it also means there are few "one size fits all" policy recommendations to support regional agriculture.
I got a firsthand taste of this complexity on a tour of farms and ranches in San Mateo County hosted by the Ecological Farming Association in January. We visited four sites – all near Pescadero on the coastal side of the county.
The first stop was Jacobs Farm, specifically the first parcel from which co-owners Larry Jacobs and Sandra Belin launched their culinary herb business, now one of the nation’s largest. The farm has a history of production stretching back 150 years with previous generations of farmers growing barley, wheat, potatoes, flax, peas and vegetables. Today, the focus is more than 30 varieties of herbs such as rosemary, mint and sage, which are grown on hundreds of acres dispersed around San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, then packaged at a distribution facility in South San Francisco and sold to retailers nationwide.
Just a short drive away is Harley Farms Goat Dairy. It is a great example of a business that has expanded slowly and diversified its operations. Harley Farms currently produces 200 pounds of goat cheese each day with a herd of 200 milking goats. One of the most notable aspects of its business is that the majority of revenue comes from on-site sales of cheese and other goat milk products, along with agri-tourism programs – including a five-course farm-fresh meal served in a restored barn hayloft.
Further down the road, the tour shifted to look at ranching, a type of agriculture that is very common throughout the nine-county Bay Area. TomKat Ranch, the next tour stop, is focused primarily on educating schoolchildren about agriculture, but it also raises cattle for beef marketed under the Left Coast Grassfed label. Following TomKat's educational mission, the farm managers – self-described “controlled chaos mega-fauna ecosystem providers” – are experimenting with a wide variety of ranching practices to reduce the environmental impact of their agricultural operations. This includes testing different strategies of rotational grazing, encouraging laying hens to follow the path of the cattle from pasture to pasture, and studiously protecting habitat alongside streams near where the cattle roam.
The last stop on the tour, Fifth Crow Farm, was the only farm we visited producing vegetables. The owners are graduates of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems apprenticeship in ecological horticulture at UC Santa Cruz, a training program for many young farmers in the region. They farm about 20 acres with row crops, an orchard and pastured egg production and sell their harvest mostly through farmer’s markets, direct to restaurants, and through a local farm box subscription (also known as a CSA).
While these four farms and ranches reveal an impressive diversity within San Mateo County, a similar diversity of production exists throughout the Bay Area, as the 2008 San Francisco Foodshed study attests. One of the most striking aspects of the tour was the variety of business models supporting the operations including wholesale, retail, direct sales and nonprofit education. As we think about the region’s producers, this small sample of San Mateo county agriculture is a reminder that agriculture in the Bay Area comes in many shapes and sizes — and policy that supports agriculture must do so as well.
- February 4, 2013By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The crowd of a few dozen people that spilled off the sidewalk at Lee’s Market on an overcast morning had gathered to celebrate. The occasion: the grand re-opening of the corner store with new offerings of fresh fruit, vegetables and an expanded selection of healthy grocery items.
The January 24 event marked the launch of the Healthy Corner Store project of the Southeast Food Access Working Group (SEFA). The community group’s Food Guardians, three staff members who work on a variety of food issues in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, collaborated with the owners of Lee’s Market and Ford’s Grocery to increase the number of healthy products sold at each store. The initiative was inspired by a 2007 survey showing that residents were taking dollars outside of the community when they frequently traveled to other neighborhoods to buy groceries. SEFA believed that if those items were stocked in neighborhood retail locations, the local businesses would see increased sales and residents would have more convenient access to healthy food.
The change at Lee’s Market was clear and prominent. Limes, oranges and heads of lettuce were visible through the door. Oatmeal, bread and tortillas were on display in the front window. And while ramen noodles, candy bars and alcohol still had significant shelf space, tobacco advertising on the front door had been removed and the difference between the before-and-after photos on display at the launch event was striking.
The participation of the corner store business owners is a credit to their willingness to try out a new set of products, including perishables. In making the change, they received assistance from a coalition of city agencies and community groups. In addition to the outreach by Food Guardians, several city agencies — acting together under the umbrella of the Bayview Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone and funded by a large grant from Kaiser Permanente — provided a mix of grants and loans to the two corner markets to cover the costs of technical assistance and equipment purchase. Initial signs indicates that the storeowner’s investment is paying off. One of the most important measures of success is whether customers will buy the new items. In the first week of offering produce, Lee’s Market sold out and placed another order with its produce distributor.
One of the distinguishing features of this initiative is its focus on working with resources already in the community rather than trying to recruit a retailer to move into the neighborhood. As one of the speakers at the launch put it, the project was an example of “change from the inside out.” While SEFA was involved in attracting full-scale grocer Fresh & Easy to the neighborhood, it has also focused significant attention on changing the offerings at existing retailers like Foods Co., Super Save and now corners stores. Other groups in the city are watching closely. Organizers in the Tenderloin have begun their own neighborhood assessment using the Food Guardian’s model and Supervisor Eric Mar has introduced legislation referencing SEFA’s work.
SEFA plans to evaluate the impact of its corner store initiative. While increasing access to fresh, healthy food is a clear improvement in terms of convenience and quality of life, the impact of this initiative, and others like it, in terms of affecting obesity, diabetes and other public health issues is not yet proven. Even so, it is clear that positive change, driven from within the neighborhood, is happening at two corner stores. And that is a milestone worth celebrating.
- October 18, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco is known internationally for its celebration of food. The city can boast of top restaurants; nationally acclaimed grocers, bakers and butchers; a thriving fleet of food trucks; and bountiful farmers’ markets. But these food retailers are not distributed equally across the city. While San Franciscans in many neighborhoods can take a short walk or ride and find a greengrocer or supermarket, in some parts of the city, food access is more difficult.
The Department of Public Health has mapped the distribution of existing food retailers as part of its Sustainable Communities Index program. The results show that a number of neighborhoods — including Treasure Island, the Tenderloin, Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, among others — have limited to no fresh food retail options.
While a full service grocery store is never more than a couple of miles away in a city as dense as San Francisco, the lack of quality, fresh food access within a convenient distance has both quality of life and public health impacts. Week to week, having to travel further for groceries – whether by foot, transit or car – takes up time and money. This travel is an additional cost that few San Franciscans would enjoy, but it’s especially difficult for low-income residents, many of whom live in neighborhoods with the least convenient access to fresh food.
In addition to the quality of life impacts, a neighborhood’s access to fresh food is also strongly connected to the health of the neighborhood. As Policy Link, a national non-profit organization pointed out in its Grocery Gap report, proximity to fresh food is strongly correlated with levels of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. Though recent articles in the Washington Post and New York Times have questioned how much the introduction of a new food retailer into a neighborhood positively impacts public health, food access advocates have in turn raised questions about the studies that are cited and pointed out that providing fresh food retail outlets is only one part (albeit an important part) of a campaign to improve diet-related public health.
Recognizing the importance of food access, Supervisor Eric Mar introduced legislation on September 25 to better coordinate the city’s efforts on the issue. The ordinance would establish a Healthy Food Retailer Incentives Program housed in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. On the supply side of the equation, the program would be responsible for coordinating the city’s food access initiatives within a “one-stop shop” that links new or existing small food retail businesses (those less than 20,000 square feet in size) with incentives and technical support ranging from permit expediting and design assistance to grants and loans. The program is also structured to encourage convenience stores and small grocers to reduce the amount of shelf space they dedicate to tobacco and alcohol products. On the demand side, the legislation calls for the new program to pair its support for businesses with community engagement (like that piloted by the Food Guardians and the Southeast Food Access Working Group.)
Promoting healthy food retail has the additional potential benefit of providing economic development. Studies have shown that grocery stores and thriving corner stores can not only provide jobs but can also serve as anchor retailers that lift the fortunes of nearby businesses.
Even with a new coordinated focus from a city agency, addressing food access will not be easy. The changes will take money: retailers investing in new store designs and products, and consumers buying enough fresh food to make it pencil out for the retailer. And gauging the impact will take time. Supervisor Mar’s legislation has energized conversation about what the city can do to better address food access, and SPUR will continue to track the proposal’s development.
- September 15, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Richard Carranza has been an educator for more than twenty years. He has seen firsthand how student learn better when they’re healthy and nourished. And, as a father of two daughters enrolled in the city’s public schools, he’s heard firsthand that students want better food in their cafeteria. Professionally and personally, he understands that school food is integral to the lives of students and the success of the District. And, as the new Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), he is in a position to improve the school meals program.
But, as Superintendent Carranza made clear at a September 6 forum at SPUR, he and the District face significant obstacles.
Primary among the challenges is funding. The $18 million budget of the school meals program is supported mostly by revenue from the 27,000 breakfast and lunches as well as the 6,000 snacks that Student Nutrition Services serves each day. In San Francisco, like in many other urban school districts nationwide, the majority of the students eating school meals receive the meals for free. In exchange for providing the meal, the federal government, in the current school year, will send the District a reimbursement of about $2.90 per lunch and $1.55 per breakfast. The students who don’t qualify for a free meal pay $3.00 per lunch and $1.50 per breakfast. The combined revenue of reimbursements and sales is used to cover the costs of the school meals program: food, labor, distribution and management. In San Francisco, the revenue has not been enough to cover the costs and the District has offset shortfalls in the school meals program by transferring money from the District’s general fund. Student Nutrition Services has begun reducing this deficit in the past two years and may be able to increase efficiency more in the coming years. But, even with greater efficiency, the District will continue to face a difficult fiscal position so long as increases in food and labor costs continue to outpace increases in the federal reimbursement rate.
Compounding the difficulty of raising revenue is the criteria that defines who qualifies for a free or reduced meal. The federal government, which sets the standard, has one threshold for the entire lower 48 states, with separate rates for Hawaii and Alaska. A family of four only qualifies for a free meal if their household income is less than $30,000 per year – regardless of whether they live in San Francisco or a small town in Mississippi. In San Francisco, 50% of public school students meet that threshold, which is a sobering statistic. But, according to the Food Security Task Force, a family of four in San Francisco could be food insecure even with an income twice that. The result is that many hungry students receive free meals from the District, which has a policy of feeding any hungry student regardless of their ability to pay, but the District cannot receive a full reimbursement for that meal because those students don’t fall within the poorly calibrated federal definition of poverty.
A third significant challenge for the school meals program’s financial picture is that fewer students are choosing to eat the meals. They are, as the Superintendent put it, “voting with their feet.” The number of SFUSD students eating school meals (called the “participation rate”) is significantly lower than that of comparable districts and has declined since 2009. And, the fewer students who eat the meals, the less revenue SFUSD receives.
Despite these challenges, Student Nutrition Services has made considerable improvements in the past few years. They have, among others successes, installed a point of sale system that expedites meals service and provides valuable data to managers, reduced the paperwork for enrolling families in the free and reduced meals program, and improved the nutritional standards of the food that is served. This has helped SNS begin to reverse the deficit trend including recently lowering the deficit covered by the District’s general fund from $3.5 million in 2009-10 to $2.5 million in 2011-2012 (see: 2 hours and 43 minutes into the video).
Alongside these improvements, however, kids continue to vote with their feet. Many choose to eat bag lunches from home, off-campus, or not at all. As a study recently published by the San Francisco Food Bank details, many factors influence their choice: the amount of time they are given to eat, social pressure and stigma, the number of meal options, the cafeteria environment, and, perhaps most of all, the quality and appeal of the food itself. The report, which was inspired by a goal of “more kids eating better food” at school, provides an extensive list of recommendations for how SFUSD can improve the current program, including calls for: increasing the number of management staff (which the District has begun to do), remodeling of both kitchen facilities and cafeterias, soliciting greater participation in the free and reduced lunch program, and many management suggestions.
Long-term, though, the question for how to substantially improve the school meals program in San Francisco remains. Superintendent Carranza reported that the District is beginning a planning process to produce a 5-year strategic plan addressing the issue and is also reissuing its meal service contract for competitive bid among contractors. The challenges for improving SFUSD’s school meals program are considerable, but these steps and others outlined by the Superintendent are strong indications that there is a new energy, focus and commitment to tackling the issue at the highest levels of the District.
- September 6, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
There may be a drought in much of North America, but this summer has produced a bumper crop of reports on urban agriculture in cities across the continent. Nonprofit groups in New York, Toronto and Boston have recently published studies examining what their cities can do at the policy level to support city gardeners and farmers.
In the Big Apple, the Design Trust for Public Space and Added Value partnered together to produce Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York City, the most comprehensive of the reports. The study’s snapshot of urban agriculture revealed:
- More than 700 farms and gardens (including school gardens) are producing food. This, the report pointed out, is more than three times the number of Starbucks in the city.
- In addition to 390 food-producing community gardens managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the New York City Housing Authority hosts 245 food-producing gardens.
- The vast majority of the sites are 5,000 square feet or less.
An innovative aspect of the report was its call for the city and urban agriculture practitioners to provide more detailed metrics — not only to track production (in pounds of food, value, jobs and participation) but also to track impact (dietary change, food literacy and social cohesion). In the coming year, the Design Trust will begin working with a small sample of sites to collect this sort of data, similar to the work of Farming Concrete.
One other notable aspect of the New York City report was how the history of land insecurity, specifically former mayor Guliani’s attempt to auction off 115 community garden sites for private development in 1999, led to a very specific garden review process for any future transfer proposals. It also led to the establishment of a small handful of land trusts — including the New York Restoration Project and three smaller community trusts that were recently spun off by the Trust for Public Land — that own scores of community garden sites. In contrast, there are no community land trusts operating urban agriculture projects in San Francisco.
Providing an international perspective from a colder clime, Toronto’s Food Policy Council published GrowTO: An Urban Agriculture Plan for Toronto. The goal of this enthusiastic report was to scale up urban agriculture across the city. Reflecting the similarities that dense cities face on this issue, the four top policy recommendations from Toronto are similar to those SPUR identified for San Francisco:
1. Create an urban agriculture program within the City of Toronto.
2. Update city policies to support and implement urban agriculture.
3. Provide incentives (financial and/or other) to groups and individuals starting or growing their urban agriculture initiative.
4. Develop a website that provides a clearinghouse of urban agriculture information.
The report also highlighted a “yard sharing” initiative called YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), a model of maximizing use of private yards that has not been institutionalized yet anywhere in the Bay Area.
Not to be outdone by bigger cities, researchers from the Conservation Law Foundation in Beantown issued their report Growing Green: Measuring Benefits, Overcoming Barriers, and Nurturing Opportunities for Urban Agriculture in Boston. Unlike the others, this report was framed as a feasibility study for a hypothetical commercial urban farming venture that would cultivate many sites across Boston, totaling 50 acres. Two notable findings in the study were that:
- Commercial urban farms were likely to employ 2.6 to 4.5 people per acre
- Boston has at least 800 acres of vacant land suitable for urban agriculture
Alongside its feasibility analysis, the report provides detailed descriptions of existing policy and initiatives in the city, including an urban agriculture zoning overlay district. Unaddressed, however, was whether that zoning policy, or any other policy change, would make it feasible for any urban agriculture venture to gain access to 50 acres of land.
What the three studies show is both a growing sophistication of urban agriculture policy efforts in cities across the continent and the similar obstacles facing farmers and gardeners in dense urban areas. What is not yet clear is whether the bumper crop of studies will lead to subsequent bumper crops of food produced in those cities.
- August 21, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
For more than three decades, San Francisco's Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been operating at UN Plaza, along Market Street and within sight of City Hall. The market is unique not only for its central location but also for its dedication to offering fresh produce to low-income customers living in the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood while also supporting the livelihood of California farmers.
Since its start in 1981 as a joint project of the American Friends Service Committee and Market Street Association, Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been governed by its farmer-vendors. As a result, the farmers have worked to keep stall fees – what they pay for space at the market – low. Currently the fees are $30 per day, per 10 foot by 10 foot stall, which may be the lowest rate in the city. The low stall fees are a prime reason this farmers' market is known not only for its variety but also for its affordability.
The market is also known for its size. With more than 50 farm stands and nearly 20 prepared-food vendors selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, eggs, bread, tamales, rotisserie chicken and more, the market is bigger than most other markets in the city except the Ferry Building and Alemany Markets. According to Kate Creps, Heart of the City market manager, most of the farmers travel 1.5 to 3 hours to reach the market, though some travel further, including Dates by Davall, who drives more than 8 hours one way to bring his produce from the Coachella Valley, east of Los Angeles.
The market also distinguishes itself by its commitment to support the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets. More than 75 percent of all CalFresh electronic benefits used at farmers’ markets in San Francisco are redeemed at Heart of the City.
The organization just reached a new milestone this month with the addition of a Friday market, complementing its existing Wednesday and Sunday gatherings. While it’s still to be seen whether demand is sufficient to sustain the Friday market, it's an exciting development in a neighborhood with no full-service grocery store. Starting a new farmers’ market is difficult in general, but that’s especially true in low-income areas, with the close of the Bayview farmers’ market providing an example.
Describing the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, though, doesn’t do it justice. So stop reading and mark your calendar for a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday starting as early as 7 a.m. Bring a shopping bag, appetite or both, and enjoy this special market yourself.
- August 2, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco will soon have a new urban agriculture program. On July 17, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation — introduced by Supervisor David Chiu and co-sponsored by Supervisors Avalos, Cohen, Mar and Olague — that sets clear goals and timelines for how the city government can better support urban farmers and gardeners.
The following week, the board put funding behind the program when it included $120,000 for the initiative in the 2012-2013 city budget.
The supervisors made two amendments to the version of the legislation that passed out of committee before giving it the final nod:
1. The goal of reducing wait times for a garden plot at community gardens to less than 1 year by 2014 was changed to a goal of developing a strategy to reach that same target by the end of this year.
2. The language regarding creating resource centers was altered slightly to prioritize that the resource centers should be hosted at existing sites rather than opening new facilities.
Now that the ordinance is law, the following timelines and goals go into effect:
· To complete and publish, by January 1, 2013, an audit of city-owned buildings with rooftops potentially suitable for both commercial and non-commercial urban agriculture;
· To develop, by January 1, 2013, incentives for property owners to allow temporary urban agriculture projects, particularly on vacant and blighted property awaiting development;
· To develop, by January 1, 2013, a streamlined application process for urban agriculture projects on public land, with clear evaluation guidelines that are consistent across agencies;
· To create, by July 1, 2013, a “one-stop shop” for urban agriculture that would provide information, programming and technical assistance to all San Francisco residents, businesses and organizations wishing to engage in urban agriculture;
· To develop new urban agriculture projects on public land where residents demonstrate desire for the projects, with at least 10 new locations for urban agriculture completed by July 1, 2014;
· To provide garden resource locations in neighborhoods across the city, at existing sites where possible, that provide residents with resources such as compost, seeds and tools, with at least 5 completed by January 1, 2014; and,
· To analyze and develop, by January 1, 2013, a strategy to reduce the wait list for San Francisco residents seeking access to a community garden plot to one year.
While the above timelines and goals set an overall vision for what the new program must do, another crucial deadline in the legislation is December 31, 2012. By that date, the city administrator and mayor must present to the board a strategic plan for how the new program should meet its goals and a recommendation regarding who – meaning which agency or non-profit – should manage the program.
SPUR’s focus on urban agriculture will now shift from the legislation to its implementation. Many questions remain to be answered between now and the end of the year, and we will be working to ensure that the new urban agriculture program is as effective as possible.
- July 9, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Update: On July 17, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the expansion proposal and new lease for the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.
The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, the city’s hub for fresh produce, is looking to modernize and expand. And, this month, the SF Board of Supervisors will be considering a proposal to allow it to do just that.
The market is a critical piece of the region’s food system infrastructure. Its loading docks, warehouses and offices allow more than 25 wholesalers and distributors to link farmers from the region — and from around the world — with grocery stores, restaurants and other food retailers. The market infrastructure, however, is getting old. Most of the warehouses were built in the early 1960s, and its earlier generation of technology and design are limiting the growth of many market tenants and making it more difficult to comply with evolving food safety regulations.
In response, the market is proposing a comprehensive upgrade and expansion of its facilities on city-owned land. The resolution before the Board of Supervisors would allow the market to construct a new building at 901 Rankin and either rebuild or remodel its existing buildings. Importantly, the legislation would also give the market long-term security with a 60-year ground lease. The modernization and the long-term lease are both crucial to the success of the market; without those changes, many of its tenant businesses have indicated that they will leave, taking more than 600 jobs and $720,000 of annual tax dollar revenue out of the city. With the expansion, however, the market projects that its tenants’ total employment will expand to 1,000 people and that the revenue to the city will increase by 44 percent, to at least $1.04 million annually.
The proposal presents San Francisco the chance to support the modernization of its wholesale food infrastructure at less cost than that of other major cities. State agencies in Pennsylvania provided millions in loans and more than $100 million in grants to build the new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. New York City invested a total of $110 million for the redevelopment of its Fulton Fish Market and Hunts Point Produce Market. In contrast, the proposal before San Francisco's supervisors does not involve any capital funding from the city.
Cities around the country are working to develop “food hubs,” organizations that actively manage the distribution and marketing of local and regional food products. In San Francsico, we already have one. SPUR supports the market’s proposal to expand and modernize so that it can continue supporting the vibrant food industry for which the city and region are so well know.
- June 20, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Thirty miles east of San Francisco, four farm businesses are growing food for market amidst the hills of Sunol. Though the rows of tomatoes, strawberries, kale, and other crops are typical of the region the land use arrangement at the site, known as the Sunol AgPark, is anything but typical. That’s because the park is on public land owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directly adjacent to the Sunol Water Temple. In 2006, the PUC began an innovative land stewardship partnership and lease with the non-profit organization Sustainable Agriculture and Education (SAGE), who, in turn, subleases the 18 acres to local farmers.
In other words, for-profit farmers are cultivating publicly owned land managed by a nonprofit. It’s an arrangement that works for the PUC, SAGE and the farmers. From the PUC’s perspective, farming is compatible with this site, as it is with many others they own between San Francisco and Hetch Hetchy. By permitting agriculture next to the Water Temple, they reduce their maintenance costs and are able to provide a community benefit, not only to the farmers and their customers, but also to the thousands of visitors and schoolchildren that the PUC and SAGE bring to the site each year for educational tours. For the farmers, the AgPark provides protected land with existing agricultural infrastructure, proximity to urban markets and technical assistance — at rates comparable to farmland with similar amenities available on the private market. And for SAGE, the AgPark increases awareness of the value of local food systems and the importance of preserving agricultural land around cities while covering a portion of its own operating costs.
The AgPark began with a nine-year lease, and it is a model that, if successful, has the potential to be replicated throughout the Bay Area and beyond. The Public Utilities Commission alone owns 84,000 acres outside the city of San Francisco. Other water agencies, utilities and public land stewards in the Bay Area also control thousands of acres of land. Much of the PUC’s land is managed to preserve water quality or otherwise support the function of the water, sewer and power systems they operate. But, recognizing that much of the land could have a secondary use beyond its primary utility function, such as organic farms in a protected watershed area, the PUC adopted a new framework for considering secondary land uses in March.
The Sunol AgPark is a pilot project that, in addition to its educational mission, is helping explore the viability of agriculture as a secondary use on publicly-= owned land. The potential for expanding the model is tantalizing. Time will tell whether it continues to work for the public utilities, nonprofit land managers and the farmers.