Blog » sustainable development
- 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 6, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
On March 9, 2012, San Francisco issued its first zoning permit for “neighborhood urban agriculture.” The change of use permit, given to Little City Gardens, allows the small urban farming business to grow produce for sale at its three-quarter-acre market garden in the Mission Terrace neighborhood. It is the first permit issued under San Francisco’s pioneering urban agriculture zoning guidelines, which Mayor Lee signed into law in April 2011.
The permit is both a victory for Little City Gardens and the culmination of a multi-year effort to legalize commercial urban farming in residential neighborhoods in San Francisco. The permit, is, at its core, a simple recognition that the previously vacant lot is now being used to grow food according to basic guidelines. Securing the permit, however, was not simple. The process involved:
- four visits to the permitting office
- plan review by the Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection, Public Utilities Commission and Central Permit Bureau
- a $300 fee
- hours of conversation between the applicants and the various agencies about the new zoning law and the practice of urban farming
Little City Gardens has been at the forefront of trying to find a legal path to sell what it grows in the city. Now, having set the precedent of successfully securing a change of use permit, the path ahead for other aspiring urban farmers in San Francisco will be a little smoother.
- 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.
- March 15, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Two sites owned by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in San Francisco moved closer to becoming urban agriculture projects this week. Since October, PUC staff members have been conducting an urban agriculture feasibility study of open space adjacent to two facilities: College Hill Reservoir (at 360 Elsie Street) in Bernal Heights and the perimeter of the Southeast Treatment Plant (at Phelps and Evans streets) in the Bayview. They presented a progress report and future timeline at the March 13 commission hearing.
The PUC’s assessments of each site shows that both are suitable for growing food, with the necessary access to water and sun. Beyond the technical specifications, the PUC staff reported having had numerous conversations with community groups in the neighborhoods surrounding the two sites. Based on these conversations, the PUC is leaning toward different uses at each site.
For the College Hill Reservoir site, the PUC is proposing to transform the currently inaccessible open space into an outdoor classroom for neighboring schools that also serves the community as well. Based on conversations with the San Francisco Unified School District and Green Schoolyard Alliance, the PUC staff presented the idea of a garden servings students from the public schools that are within walking distance (Junipero Serra and Fairmount elementary schools and Paul Revere College Preparatory School) during school hours while also serving nearby residents not affiliated with the schools during afternoons and weekends. There are few school gardens in San Francisco that also provide gardening space for community members, notable exceptions being the gardens coordinated by Urban Sprouts at Aptos Middle School and June Jordan School for Equity. If the PUC’s proposal becomes reality, it would offer an innovative use of public land to serve both students and the general public on the same site.
The PUC’s proposal for the Southeast Treatment Plant site remains less defined. The PUC reported hearing feedback, especially from the Southeast Food Access Working Group (SEFA), that the neighborhood did not necessarily need more space for growing food. SEFA instead encouraged the PUC to consider other urban agriculture uses of the site — perhaps as a resource distribution area or other type of project that could make use of its relatively high visibility for passersby.
The plans for the two sites are now progressing on two separate tracks. For College Hill Reservoir, the PUC is moving ahead with the outdoor classroom and community garden idea, hoping to have the site up and running before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. For the Southeast Treatment Plant, the PUC staff expressed a goal of hosting open houses for the public to learn more about the site in the summer, followed by a solicitation of proposals in the late summer or early fall. The staff also expects to provide another progress report back to the commission in May.
SPUR supports the PUC’s efforts to open up these two sites for urban agriculture and sent a letter in November encouraging the agency to consider its pilot projects as a model for other city agencies. We are actively engaging with PUC staff as the projects develop and have encouraged the agency to create a more public means of soliciting feedback, as well as a faster timeline for the Southeast Treatment Plant site. With many San Franciscans seeking spaces to grow food, the PUC’s two sites could be an encouraging step toward helping the city meet that demand with public land.
- February 23, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Can you make a living selling what you grow in a city?
That’s a question a number of urban farming entrepreneurs have been working to answer in the past few years, and initial numbers are beginning to become public.
The short answer is … maybe. For many new urban-farming businesses that have started in the past couple of years, it may be too soon to judge — just as it would be with any small business getting off the ground. It’s also a question of what level of income you consider livable. A recent article from the two co-owners of Little City Gardens and a study in Vancouver provide some initial data.
Little City Gardens grows a variety of vegetables on a three-quarter acre plot in the Mission Terrace neighborhood of San Francisco. During the past year — their first of intensive production and sales — they marketed their produce to restaurants, caterers, CSA subscribers and to the public through a farm stand. In a blog post reviewing the past year, the co-owners reported that their revenue from 2011 allowed them to cover costs, set aside money for the coming year, and pay themselves $10,000 each. As the Little City owners put it, “Of course we acknowledge that we cannot sustain this type of salary for too long. This is not considered a living wage in San Francisco, and if we tried to pay ourselves by the hour, our wages would be embarrassing. We also acknowledge that this salary absolutely would not be adequate for anyone responsible for supporting a child or other family members, repaying loans or medical bills.” At the same time, they are hopeful that their second year will include increased sales, greater efficiency and the ability to pay themselves higher wages.
The numbers in Vancouver, British Columbia, paint a similar picture of urban farmers earning relatively little income. A study by University of British Columbia researcher Marc Schutzbank of eight commercial urban agriculture projects revealed that city farm owners earned an average of $8.64 per hour in 2010 (the figure was reported in Canadian dollars but is essentially the same in U.S. dollars at the contemporary exchange rates). The report notes that this is slightly less than what rural farm owners earned in British Columbia during the same period, but that urban farmers have the potential to grow and increase profits with higher yields, efficiency and sales.
Other notable commercial urban agriculture operations in areas of the country with high costs of living may soon provide more data about their commercial viability. Dig Deep Farms, for example, grows produce in the Ashland and Cherryland areas of Alameda County and sells its harvest through a CSA. Brooklyn Grange and Gotham Greens in New York City have taken to roofs for growing space. Proponents of a model of intensive small plot cultivation called SPIN Farming have hosted workshops in the United States and Canada promoting the viability of urban farms on less than one acre of land.
Urban agriculture as a business is a young industry. Initial numbers indicate that urban farming, like rural farming, often has low-to-no profit with the added burden of city-level costs of living. As with any young industry, though, it will take a number of years before it is clear which business models can support the livelihoods of urban farmers.
- January 3, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Starting a garden or farm in San Francisco just got a little bit easier. Pulling together the most recent changes to city laws, the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance recently released a guide to the regulations for growing and selling food within San Francisco.
The guide covers a host of topics including:
- Finding land
- Gardening on private versus public land
- Water access
- Selling what you grow
- Specific sections on rooftop gardens, animal husbandry, and soil testing.
The booklet was produced based on the guidance of staff from eight city agencies, ranging from the County Agricultural Commissioner to the Department of Building Inspections. It consolidates, for the first time, the specific wording of agency rules as well as relevant departmental contact information.
The guide won't help your plants or animals thrive, but it does serve as a road map to the rules and policies specific to the City for aspiring gardeners and urban farmers.
Note: The author serves as a volunteer co-coordinator of the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance
- December 5, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Urban animal husbandry, though nothing new, is a cause for concern for many people – especially planners. Chickens, rabbits, bees and goats conjure up nightmares of odors, noises, animal cruelty and more. As mentioned in an earlier post, when Oakland’s planning department held a meeting to discuss changes to urban agriculture regulations, nearly 300 people showed, many of them there primarily to talk about animals. Oakland, like many other jurisdictions nationwide, is proceeding cautiously as it updates its animal regulations.
While concern is plentiful, data is scarce. This imbalance is what makes a recently released study of urban livestock practices in Oakland so useful. Co-authors Esperanza Pallana and Nathan McClintock surveyed city residents who raise animals for food in Oakland and other cities in June 2011. The authors are advocates of urban agriculture and the respondents were all self-selecting. While that could lead to a bias in the results, there’s no indication from other literature that the findings aren’t reliable. Of the 134 respondents nationally, 36 lived in Oakland.
Highlights from the study include:
- The most popular animals are chickens and bees
- In Oakland, more than 80 percent of respondents said that they had never received complaints from neighbors. The six respondents who had heard complaints said they based on concerns over noise (including the crows of illegal roosters), odor and fear of injury/disease.
- Average numbers of animals kept per type:
Bees: 1-2 (hives)
Those last numbers are important, because they help paint a picture of what urban animal husbandry looks like in most yards. In covering this topic, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story in June about more than 20 rabbits confined in small spaces in the East Bay. It was a sensational story highlighting a truly cruel situation. What this new report indicates, however, is that the types of operations that make for attention-grabbing stories are the exception, not the norm. Planners and policymakers would do well to keep that in mind as they update local codes.
- November 28, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission took two steps in support of urban agriculture at a recent meeting. The first step was making it easier for community gardeners and urban farmers to install new water hookups at their sites. Currently, the price of a new water meter installation is approximately $8,500. That high cost barrier has led many garden projects to source their water from a neighboring property rather than build their own connection with the water system, resulting in a losing situation for both gardeners and the PUC. For the gardeners, hooking into an existing water meter means they pay for water as if they were a water customer in a building. That rate includes the standard wastewater charge, even though water that irrigates a garden (and trickles into the soil) doesn’t add to the load on the wastewater and sewer system. For the PUC, any project piggy-backing on a neighbor’s water account makes it difficult to track the water usage of urban agriculture.
To solve the problem, the PUC approved a program to waive most or all of the cost of installing a dedicated landscape irrigation meter. Projects using these meters will not get charged for wastewater, reducing their overall water bill, while the PUC will gain a way to measure water usage.The commission set aside $100,000 for the program and will allow applicants to apply for a fee waiver of up to $10,000 for a new meter. The program could ultimately provide 10 free water hookups to qualified applicants that meet specific criteria. Applications will be considered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
While gaining access to a water meter can be difficult in San Francisco, accessing land is even more difficult. Citing the Mayor’s Executive Directive on Healthy and Sustainable Food from 2009, which encouraged city agencies to identify vacant land suitable for urban agriculture, the commission took a step toward addressing this challenge, as well. Specifically, it approved a feasibility study at two pilot sites: College Hill Reservoir and the Southeast Treatment Plant. The staff will present the results of its study before the end of January 2012.
The PUC has a unique amount of leeway when it comes to what kinds of projects it can consider at these sites. Unlike nearly all the land under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Parks Department, the PUC’s sites are either not currently publicly accessible or not currently used as recreation areas. Establishing a garden or farm on this land could activate unused space, rather than replace an existing use. Commercial operations run by a non-profit or for-profit could fit well on PUC land, whereas they would be more controversial inside an existing park. At the same time, the PUC could ultimately decide that a traditional community garden fits best on both sites. Many types of urban agriculture could fit well on PUC land.
Many questions remain to be answered. One thing, however, is clear. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is demonstrating a strong commitment to urban agriculture that can serve as a model for other city agencies.
- November 16, 2011by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
In late October, SPUR shared with the public a set of draft recommendations for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a long-range vision for managing coastal erosion, infrastructure, access and ecology on San Francisco’s western coast. Though the beach faces many challenges, it is south of Sloat Boulevard that the issues come to head. This is where the ocean’s erosive scour is worst, and it’s also the home of the Lake Merced Tunnel and other expensive, recently built wastewater infrastructure. The beach here has been degraded by emergency armoring and exposed fill, limiting access and threatening both natural communities and a beloved local surf break. In short, it's a mess.
But from a planner's point of view, a confluence of challenges is an opportunity to solve for a number of different objectives at once. Of the six big ideas in the draft recommendations, here are two that propose the most significant — and exciting — changes to streets, public spaces and coastal management at the southern end of the beach:
KEY MOVE 1: Reroute the Great Highway behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline boulevards
Stop defending what we don't need
To date, the city has been defending the Great Highway South of Sloat Boulevard with boulder revetments. Many officials agree that the road is a proxy for a much greater concern: the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot underground sewer and stormwater pipe that runs underneath the highway. The road is lightly traveled and frequently closed (most notably the southbound lanes were closed for nearly a year in 2010). Rerouting traffic from the Great Highway to Sloat and Skyline (which have capacity to spare) would allow a more flexible approach to coastal protection and create major restoration and recreation opportunities.
Tame an unsafe and overwide street
Sloat Blvd is six lanes wide, with diagonal parking in the median. Zoo visitors often park there and jaywalk across the street with small children. Re-routing the Great Highway inland would allow significant improvements to Sloat Boulevard, like moving parking to the south side along the zoo and adding a first-class bike route. The L-Taraval Muni line could be extended one block to terminate adjacent to the zoo. Counterintuitively, auto access to the region could improve, as traffic controls are upgraded and this important link is no longer subject to closure by erosion or flood.
Create a new gateway to the zoo and the coast
Drivers, cyclists and Muni riders would all arrive at the south side of Sloat, where they could visit the zoo and access the coast without crossing any streets. A new access point near the pump station would provide bike parking, restrooms and information, while a restored Fleishhaker pool house could host a visitor center with food and interpretive elements. Sloat's neighborhood businesses could thrive on a safe, attractive seaside street.
Give us back our coast
Removing the Great Highway South of Sloat would offer an amazing recreational resource for cyclists, pedestrians and beach users while allowing for a healthier ecosystem. Today's landscape of asphalt, rubble and boulders would be gradually transformed into a coastal trail linking Fort Funston to the rest of Ocean Beach and beyond, reminiscent of recent improvements at Land's End and Crissy Field. Infrastructure would remain, but the structures used to protect it would be designed with access, aesthetics and natural resources (like the bank swallow) in mind.
KEY MOVE 2: Introduce a multi-purpose coastal protection/restoration/access system
Remove the road, and take advantage of the opportunity
Unlike the Great Highway south of Sloat, the Lake Merced Tunnel is a significant piece of infrastructure and worth protecting in the coming decades. West of the zoo, the road is perched atop an erodable berm of construction fill, well above the pipe. Letting that vertical space go would allow a much more flexible approach to coastal protection. The solution outlined in the draft is conceptual and will require considerable study to ensure its feasibility, but the underlying ideas represent a new and more nuanced approach to the problem of erosion at Ocean Beach.
Armor the Lake Merced Tunnel with a low-profile structure
The Lake Merced Tunnel sits much lower than the roadway. If it can be protected with a low wall, cap or internal reinforcement, it can become a sort of "speed bump" under the beach. This is a significant engineering challenge, as it needs to be protected from wave energy, flotation forces (it is mostly empty most of the time) and seismic forces.
Layer flexible, dynamic structures over hard structures
The structure protecting the Lake Merced Tunnel would be covered by a berm of cobble, stones that range from the size of marbles to that of softballs. These structures, modeled on natural cobble beaches, can be shaped dynamically by wave action and excel at dissipating waves energy. A second cobble berm farther inland, would protect existing force mains and high ground near the Fleishhaker Pool building. Large quantities of sand would then be placed over the cobble, providing a first line of protection and a sandy beach most of the time.
Restore the surface, give us back our coast
If infrastructure protection alone is the goal, then a traditional seawall or revetment would do. But this plan's goal is to serve multiple objectives simultaneously, and the recommended approach allows Ocean Beach to protect infrastructure while also improving recreational access, ecological function and character, in keeping with its status as a national park. Regular placement of sand and revegetation would offer an accessible beach environment, with a spectacular trail connecting Sloat Boulevard to Fort Funston. Cobble is passable and attractive even when sand has been washed away, as it might be in major storms. And the San Francisco Zoo could find a new expression of its conservation values through an improved relationship the watershed and the coastal ecosystem.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan will be finalized in early 2012. To view the complete draft recommendations, see the slideshow below:
- November 4, 2011
We’d like your input!
This pdf (24MB) presents the Ocean Beach Master Plan Draft Recommendations. (It is shorter than the one in the previous post, which also provides a lot of background etc).
The issues at Ocean Beach are complex and challenging. If you’re new to the project, please spend some time with the materials on this site to familiarize yourself with the background. A general overview can be found HERE. Our animations are a great way to understand the coastal processes and infrastructure at Ocean Beach.
Click HERE to provide comments on each of the Draft Recommendations. While comments are always welcome, we are asking for feedback on the Draft Recommendations by the end of FRIDAY NOVEMBER 18th. This will help us incorporate your feedback into a draft plan document in a timely manner.