Blog » food systems
- June 14, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco may soon have a new urban agriculture program. On June 11, the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation introduced earlier by Supervisor David Chiu that seeks to increase the coordination, efficacy and breadth of city support for urban agriculture. Based on recommendations from SPUR's report Public Harvest as well as calls for change from community organizations including the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance, the ordinance now moves to the full board for two consecutive votes, with the first vote likely on June 19.
The version of the legislation that passed the committee included a number of amendments to the original version. Some of the notable changes include:
- Strategic plan: The strategic plan for implementation of the legislation must be presented to the board for approval
- Funding: For the coming fiscal year, the urban agriculture program should have funding sufficient for at least one full-time staff person
- Timelines: The strategic plan may set new target dates for the goals listed in the legislation
- Job training: The program needs to find ways to link urban agriculture with job training and employment opportunities, especially in the private sector
- Land Use: The program must ensure that existing urban agriculture spaces are fully utilized
Though the board agreed to numerous changes, they retained the core components of the legislation. Given the support demonstrated at the hearing by both the supervisors and community advocates, including SPUR, the ordinance appears headed toward passage.
Assuming the legislation becomes law, the most pressing issue becomes how to translate the text of the ordinance into meaningful change. Prime among the questions of the law’s implementation is how the urban agriculture program will be funded. The mayor and Board of Supervisors are in the process of negotiating the city budget, and it is not yet clear what funding, if any, will be included to support the new program and ensure that the ordinance’s call for at least one full-time coordinator is reinforced with budget dollars. The city administrator and mayor will face another large question: Which city agency or nonprofit should manage the program and ensure that the goals of the legislation are met? They have until December to evaluate the various options and submit an answer to the board and public.
The Land Use Committee’s approval of the ordinance has moved the legislation very close to becoming law. And it has moved city agencies, nonprofits and community advocates into the more difficult conversation about how, exactly, the city will create a program that better serves San Francisco’s many gardeners and farmers.
- April 10, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Meals cooked from scratch. At least a quarter of the ingredients locally sourced. Fresh produce from the 1.5-acre farm adjacent to the new central kitchen. These are just a few of the goals in a new vision for Oakland’s school food program detailed in a recently released report.
The feasibility study, published by the non-profit Center for Ecoliteracy with the collaboration of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), looked at how Oakland’s school food program could be reformed to better serve the district’s goal of supporting the health and academic success of its students. The report found that the current infrastructure for the school meals program is stretched beyond its intended capacity and doesn’t have the space to efficiently produce high-quality, fresh-made food that can be distributed to the district’s 89 schools.
OUSD today serves nearly 30,000 meals a day to it students. With 70 percent of those students qualifying for free and reduced-priced meals, the bulk of the revenue that pays for the program's food, labor and overhead comes from federal and state reimbursements, which total less than $3.50 per meal. Despite the fiscal constraints, OUSD has a goal of improving the food it serves its students by overhauling its kitchen facilities and operations.
Specifically, the feasibility study recommends that OUSD dedicate $27 million for capital upgrades including:
- Redeveloping an existing OUSD property into a 44,000-square-foot commissary that would cook food for schools throughout the district
- Remodeling and upgrade nearly every school’s kitchen to either include the capacity for on-site cooking or reheating of meals from the central kitchen
- Creating a 1.5-acre farm adjacent to the new commissary that would provide ingredients for the meals
In addition to OUSD’s capital needs, the report also recommends increasing the school meal program’s operating budget by an average of $200,000 for the first five years and a long-term increase of 3.5 percent in staffing costs once all the new kitchens are opearational. To fund the capital changes, the report recommends that the district pursue local bond funding or parcel taxes, state and federal grants, philanthropic funding, and traditional bank loans. Funding to cover the increased operating costs for staff and overhead are projected to come from increased numbers of students opting for school meals, as well as greater program efficiency.
The report presents an ambitious vision — relevant not just to Oakland, but also to San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). The two school districts serve a similar number of meals per day and both have a similar number of students who qualify for free or reduced meals (more than 60 percent). Though the two districts have substantial differences — San Francisco no longer prepares meals from scratch in its school kitchens, for example — Oakland’s study offers one option for how a Bay Area school district could reform its school meals program. Other options the Oakland report did not explore include improving school meals by using an outside contractor or cooking from scratch in every school.
Whether Oakland embraces the recommendations or another path is to be seen, but the report offers a place to begin a conversation on both sides of the Bay.
- April 4, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Let’s say you’ve got a great jam recipe. Or perhaps you make some mean pickles. Your friends keep telling you that you should quit your day job and follow your culinary passion. But unless you’ve got quite a bit of savings or other access to capital, following your friends’ advice is a pricey proposition.
That’s because in California, you can’t sell any food prepared in a home kitchen. And access to a licensed commercial kitchen costs money — usually starting at around $30 per hour in the Bay Area. Add your ingredient and labor costs, and it becomes a decent investment to test your business idea.
A proposed piece of state legislation, the California Homemade Food Act, would change all that. Called the “cottage food bill,” the legislation would allow Californians to sell certain items produced from their home kitchen. Similar to legislation already enacted in more than 30 other states, the bill comes with certain restrictions, including only allowing the sale of what the health department refers to as “non potentially hazardous” items, which basically means products that would not go bad sitting on a shelf for a few days.
On March 27, supporters of the law — including Christina Oatfield of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Shakirah Simley, owner of Slow Jams — discussed the proposal alongside Richard Lee of the San Francisco Department of Public Health at an event co-sponsored by Kitchen Table Talks, 18 Reasons and SPUR. Lee raised a number of concerns that he and other public health officials statewide shared. The proposed legislation would give the health department much less authority to inspect home kitchens that sold goods to the public than what it has for inspecting licensed commercial kitchens. He expressed concerns about whether home producers would follow best practices regarding hand washing, sanitizing surfaces, pet contamination, vermin, appropriate labeling of allergens and distinguishing what is and is not potentially hazardous food. Oatfield responded by noting that that advocates were working with the health officials to add amendments to address some of their concerns.
She also discussed the issue of scale-appropriate regulation — the idea that the less risk an activity poses to society, the less regulation it requires (and vice-versa). Since home kitchens produce much less volume and serve fewer customers than commercial kitchens, the thinking goes, they should not be subject to the same inspections. One of the aspects of the legislation currently under negotiation is whether a cap, based on sales volume, should be added to prevent a home kitchen from producing at the scale of a commercial kitchen.
The legislation is just beginning to make its way through the California Assembly. It is almost certain to be amended as food-producing entrepreneurs push for lower barriers to entry and public health regulators push to ensure food safety. But, if it does become law, Californians would be able to both sell what they grow from their home garden and what they cook in their home kitchen.
- October 12, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager, and Jesse Sleamaker
At three in the morning, a four-block stretch of Jerrold Avenue in the Bayview neighborhood is abuzz with business. The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, which is busiest during the graveyard shift, is a hidden hub of San Francisco’s fresh food system.
On a recent Friday, fifteen early-rising SPUR members gathered for a walking tour at 8 a.m. — the end of the day for most businesses at the market. Much of the Bay Area excitement around food focuses on either the farms where food is grown or the tables where it is consumed. Our tour of the Wholesale Produce Market gave us an inside look at the infrastructure and people between farm and table. The more than 25 wholesalers and distributors at the market serve as brokers between producers and retailers, balancing the fickle demand of buyers on one hand with a highly variable supply of produce on the other. The businesses that operate at the market provide fresh food throughout the city – to small ethnic restaurants and Michelin-rated ones; to neighborhood grocers like Good Life and Bi-Rite as well as major chains such as Whole Foods, Safeway and Molly Stones. There’s a good chance that the salad you had today passed through the loading docks in Bayview this morning.
And, that’s been true for more than forty years. The Wholesale Produce Market began as an assortment of produce distributors along streets just northwest of the Ferry Building. In the early 1960s, however, the city approved the Golden Gateway Redevelopment Project that includes today’s Embarcadero Centers, forcing the market businesses to move. After years of negotiation, the vendors agreed to move to the market’s current location, which is on city-owned land. Today, the market is in the process of renegotiating its lease with the city so that it can remain and expand in the existing location.
Though the cost of business for the market tenants is higher in San Francisco than in other parts of the Bay Area, many choose to stay in the city. What keeps them in San Francisco? Michael Janis, our guide and the Market’s General Manager, explained that it was a combination of factors. First, the market provides the essential infrastructure of loading docks, warehousing, refrigeration and easy access to highways. But beyond the infrastructure, the market offers added value to its tenants by providing a community of businesses, a mature market with a long-standing customer base and a management structure that works with the businesses.
The Wholesale Produce Market has worked so well as an incubator that some of the businesses have begun to outgrow their space there. Greenleaf, the market’s largest business, is hoping for an expansion. If the market can’t expand to accommodate the growth of businesses like Greenleaf, it may lose them.
The morning’s tour emphasized how infrastructure like the Wholesale Produce Market is essential to the future of our regional food economy. The market provides the region’s farmers with access to buyers while also supporting the growth of food retailers of many sizes. This industrial facility, tucked away in our dense city, is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that would be nearly impossible to recreate in San Francisco today. We’re lucky to have such a thriving market, and we need to ensure that any future food systems policy doesn’t lose sight of the importance of food distribution infrastructure – hidden though it may be.
- August 30, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
In many neighborhoods in San Francisco, the opening of a new grocery store is notable. But in the Bayview, a new Fresh & Easy store that opened on August 24 filled a full-scale grocery store gap that had persisted for more than 15 years. “It’s all about health, about neighborhood vitality, about jobs, and about fulfilling old promises,” explained Mayor Ed Lee at the opening. “That is what this store represents.”
The store opening, planned since late 2007, marked the success of a partnership between Fresh & Easy and a number of city agencies and advisory groups. In 2007, the Southeast Food Access Working Group, which is supported by the Department of Public Health, released a survey showing widespread support for more grocery options in the Bayview. Responding to this desire, staff at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) reached out to many established grocery chains in San Francisco, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Andronico’s, Trader Joe’s and others, seeking a company that would open a store in the neighborhood. All of them declined to set up shop, except for Fresh & Easy.
With a lot of recent focus on incentivizing the creation of grocery stores in food deserts through programs such as the federal Healthy Food and Financing Initiative and the California Endowment’s FreshWorks Fund, it’s worth noting that the City of San Francisco did not provide any direct subsidies or loans to Fresh & Easy. Instead, MOEWD helped make the project a reality by assisting the developer in changing its building plan to make space for the grocery store while still adhering to code; helped spearhead a change to the city’s restrictions on alcohol sales in full-scale grocery stores so that the store could offer some alcoholic beverages; and facilitated the availability of federal New Market Tax Credits for Fresh & Easy’s participation in the development of the project. And, as the project moved forward, the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee, which advises the city’s Redevelopment Agency, also provided feedback. This concerted effort by multiple city agencies and groups helped seal the deal for Fresh & Easy.
The store isn’t without controversy. Labor groups are critical of Fresh & Easy’s stance on unions, some neighborhood activists oppose the store’s sale of alcohol, and others argue that the development as a whole should include more affordable housing. Protesters with picket signs joined those who came to the opening to shop for groceries.
But neighbors’ enthusiasm was even more apparent. When Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason touted the store’s policy of not stocking food with transfats, “ingredients you can’t pronounce”, and focusing on fresh options – some in the crowd began applauding.
After the speeches, the doors opened to the public. And, for the first time in many years, Bayview residents could walk the aisles of a full-scale grocery store in their neighborhood.
- July 18, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.