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New Urban Ag Law Paves the Way for Growers in San Francisco

Last month urban agriculture advocates in San Francisco got another piece of legislation to celebrate. City government once again came out to support the growing of food within this dense city, this time by mandating that an “urban agriculture program” be organized. The program will help coordinate existing programs within and between city agencies that touch food production (including the Recreation and Parks Department’s community gardens, the Department of the Environment’s urban orchard work, and the Public Utilities Commission’s water-saving education efforts), as well as look into new ways to expand and improve urban agriculture opportunities (including an audit of city-owned rooftops with potential for gardens or beekeeping; the development of incentives for private landowners to lease undeveloped land to urban ag projects; and–perhaps most importantly–the creation of materials resource centers, where urban agriculturists of all sorts can find the compost, mulch, and materials needed to successfully grow more food).

As a co-coordinator for the SF Urban Agriculture Alliance, a grassroots volunteer group supporting local urban agriculture projects and their respective goals, I am happy that we not only achieved the passage of such legislation, but achieved a more difficult goal: funding for the program. In these days of austerity and endless cuts, our members’ advocacy, and the support of particular city Supervisors (in particular, David Chiu, the legislation’s sponsor, and John Avalos, chair of the Budget committee) were crucial to ensuring that the program would not just exist on paper. The budgeting process is a complex and mystifying beast, but we tamed it, and came out with $120,000 for implementation of the program in the coming fiscal year. Read more

Online Marketplace Set to Launch Local Food Vendors into the Mainstream

When Sadie Scheffer decided to start her own vegan, gluten-free baking company, the logistics were not her top priority. Like many small food companies without retail spaces, she started Bread SRSLY by delivering her breads and muffins on a bike, using a makeshift online ordering system through email and Etsy, and taking cash on delivery. Scheffer’s system worked when she was fielding a few orders at a time, but when it came time to scale up, it was less than ideal.

Enter Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based startup that provides online tools for small and sustainable food producers. Now Scheffer’s orders come through the Good Eggs online platform, and on top of taking orders from house to house, she now also drops off a lot of product at once at community pickup spots arranged by the company. She sells three times as many loaves of bread as she did before Good Eggs. Scheffer admits that she’s had trouble keeping up with orders, but adds: “That’s the fun part, the scary part, and the only way I’m going to grow.” Read more

Contemporary Artists Steward Ancient Agrarian Practices in Brower Center Exhibition

When modern living encroaches on pastoral land, open space and local food access aren’t the only things at stake. What happens to the generations-old land practices that once thrived there? Are they lost forever? What about the people who depend on land for their livelihoods?

The David Brower Center’s current art exhibition features two artists at the forefront of a global resurgence in sustaining farming and shepherding traditionsLand, Use: Works by Amy Franceschini and Fernando García-Dory brings together individual works by each artist–as well as featuring a first-time collaboration for San Francisco Victory Gardens Founder Franceschini and Madrid-based García-Dory. The exhibition runs in The Brower Center’s Hazel Wolf Gallery through May 9. Read more

Cottage Food: A Step Towards a Law

“All food businesses start in a home kitchen,” said Shakirah Simley at a recent Kitchen Table Talks in San Francisco. Her statement is a simple reflection on the ethos driving the recent cottage food legislation in California. Abuzz among the craft food community for months, the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) passed the Assembly Committee on Health on April 17th in a unanimous vote of support by all 15 committee members.

With widespread support by almost 60 organizations and businesses who have already written letters to the California legislature, including Bay Area institutions La Cocina, Garden for the Environment and Rainbow Grocery, the legislation was the subject of the Kitchen Table Talks discussion at 18 Reasons, co-hosted by SPUR. Richard Lee, the Director of Environmental Health Regulatory Programs at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Christina Oatfield, Food Policy Director at the Sustainable Economies Law Center–which introduced the bill–joined Simley in discussing the implications of the legislation on California’s growing number of food entrepreneurs. Read more

Kitchen Table Talks: In Solidarity with the Occupy Movement

In the 10 weeks since that momentous spark in mid-September, what began as an audacious protest, call to action, and singular act of civil disobedience on Wall Street, has quickly taken root worldwide. Capturing the hearts of those negatively impacted by the current economic and political system, speaking passionately for the disenfranchised, and uniting arms in solidarity with protest movements around the world, the Occupy movement has become a lightning rod and catalyst stimulating a long needed dialogue. Economic and social justice, corporate control and profiteering, and systematic corruption are just part of that discussion.

On Thursday, December 15, 2011 please join us in San Francisco for the next Kitchen Table Talks for a thought provoking and stimulating exploration of the context, implications, actions, and promise of Occupy for the food movement. Read more

To Profit or Not to Profit on the Food Movement?

My friend Tree runs the Free Farm Stand, a weekly give-away of left over farmers’ market produce, plus “hecka-local” produce gleaned and grown in San Francisco. Working the line between charity and community building, the Free Farm Stand allows people to provide for each other without requiring proof-of-poverty–which for many hungry people can be stigmatizing. People line up at the stand every Sunday, get food, share food, interact, and enjoy.

Recently, Tree and I discussed the recently-passed legislation which officially legalized urban agriculture in the San Francisco. His project is primarily concerned with food access for low-income communities and creating collaborative, non-commercial projects. Tree does not see a benefit in gaining the legal right to sell city-grown food because he wants food to be free. How, Tree asked, is the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA–the main civic group pushing for the passage of the legislation) going to work for those who want to see volunteer-based, collective, and non-commodified forms of urban agriculture?

As mentioned in my previous post, the SFUAA worked on this new legislation out of a need expressed by one of our members, Little City Gardens, and an opportunity presented by members of city government. But my conversation with Tree has brought to my attention a rift forming in the San Francisco urban farming scene. Read more

Kitchen Table Talks SF: Alternative Business Models

The world is still, after several long years, desperately trying to climb out of the financial abyss brought about during the latest global financial meltdown. Painful “austerity” measures, largely impacting working class people who already suffered the most during the crisis, are proffered by those responsible as the short-term economic fix to what ails nations around the world.

After roughly 150 years, and the countless day-to-day tribulations of billions of people, capitalism is being questioned like never before. Not surprisingly, the Bay Area’s counterculture spirit transforms economic models as well. New, locally minded businesses whose lifeblood includes notions antithetical to the dominant paradigm, including shared prosperity, enabling and/or giving to others, and creating community, are thriving.

Do they offer a more satisfying, rewarding, and ultimately more viable path for long-term success for society at large? On Wednesday, June 29, please join Kitchen Table Talks as we discuss the vision, mechanics, and spirit behind these “Alternative Business Models.” Read more

San Francisco Passes Progressive Urban Agriculture Policy

This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed one of the most progressive pieces of legislation for urban agriculture in the nation. The new legislation has amended the zoning code to allow agricultural activities in all parts of the city, as well as defining the parameters by which urban agriculturists can sell their products. It doesn’t address the touchier subjects of animal husbandry or marijuana cultivation, but has created opportunities for and the legitimacy of urban fruit and vegetable cultivation.

The legislation was the result of a rare combined and cooperative effort between city officials and urban agriculture practitioners and advocates. This was accomplished mainly through the work of the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA), an organization of which I am a member, which formed nearly a year ago to coalesce the various efforts and projects focusing on local food and agriculture into a cohesive political voice. The coalition is made up of over 300 individual and 40 organizational members, and its formation turned out to be very well timed. Read more

Bees Are Here to Stay at the Fairmont

There are two gardens on the roof at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. One has a picturesque green lawn, a fountain, and an array of decorative trees and flowers. In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Nob Hill hotel. Nearby, on a smaller terrace, is something less expected: a culinary herb garden. Raised beds brim with lavender and rosemary, a small compost bin is visible in one corner, and, off to one side, honey bees busily travel to and from three large hives. Read more