Mayor’s Agriculture Plan Soon to Bear FruitMarch 30th, 2010
San Francisco Chronicle
by Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer
Vegetable gardens will soon be sprouting in unlikely places throughout San Francisco including a building that produces steam to heat the Civic Center, Department of Public Works land in the Bayview, outside McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park and at the San Francisco Police Academy in Diamond Heights.
The public library has installed gardens outside its Mission and Noe Valley branches with plans for more and is leading classes for teens on how to cultivate them.
And the city may soon adopt proposals from private groups to install easy-to-assemble chicken coops in its gardens and send mobile vegetable markets to school pick-up zones and other busy destinations.
It’s all the result of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s executive directive eight months ago to reshape how San Franciscans think about food and choose what to eat.
“Urban agriculture is about far more than growing vegetables on an empty lot,” Newsom told The Chronicle. “It’s about revitalizing and transforming unused public spaces, connecting city residents with their neighborhoods in a new way and promoting healthier eating and living for everyone.”
Newsom unveiled the unusual plan in July. His directive required that all city departments conduct an audit of unused land – including empty lots, windowsills, median strips and rooftops – that could be converted into gardens.
He also demanded that food vendors that contract with the city offer healthful food and that vending machines on city property do the same. He required that farmers’ markets accept food stamps, though some already did. He also put a stop to doughnuts and other junk food at city meetings and conferences.
The plan was deemed silly by some who said it shouldn’t be a priority for the cash-strapped city, but Newsom remains adamant there are long-term benefits to urban agriculture.
“There’s no better preventative medicine and no easier way to reduce health care costs for the long term than teaching our residents and our children to eat healthier,” he said, pointing to First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden as proof it’s a matter of national concern.
Newsom today will break ground on a new garden at a steam powerhouse owned by the Department of Public Works at McAllister and Larkin streets, and the food grown at the farm will go to volunteers who help care for it. Several other gardens have recently gone up or soon will. The library is eyeing gardens at seven more branches.
The city is partnering with a variety of private groups and nonprofits to build individual gardens, and it’s mostly those groups that are picking up the tab for seeds and other supplies.
The Department of the Environment has started an Urban Gleaning Program to teach people how to plant fruit trees, supply local food pantries with fresh food and manage a listserv for those interested in urban agriculture.
Sales at San Francisco farmers’ markets to those using food stamps increased 85 percent last year. The public health department this summer will begin hosting cooking classes at the Alemany and Fillmore farmers’ markets.
A project is under way to ensure the food served at the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department is locally grown and nutritious.
The city also helped launch a competition last fall seeking innovative designs related to urban agriculture and is likely to begin using some of the favorites. They include Chicken Cribs – billed as “the quick and easy, self-assembly urban chicken coop” – and Mobile Markets, carts stocked with produce that can easily be taken to any busy locale.
Astrid Haryati, the mayor’s greening director, said the food grown on city property will either be given at low or no cost to neighbors or distributed to local farmers’ markets. But she noted there’s a benefit beyond healthful food: a more beautiful landscape.
“It’s not only about feeding mouths,” she said. “It’s about feeding the soul and feeding the pride of San Francisco urban dwellers.”