Lemon tree cultivation hits a sweet note for SF's urban forestry 

How many lemon trees does it take to make San Francisco self-sustainable? About 12,000.

A group is trying to track the number of trees in The City in a step toward self-sustainability, and all you have to do to help is sign up.

“It’s a cool concept to think The City might be able to provide its own product,” said Doug Wildman, program director for Friends of the Urban Forest. “It’s urban agriculture.”

Starting this month, the group is asking residents to plot a tree on its online map. Once the count has started, the organization and volunteers can get a better understanding of how many more trees are needed.

There are as many as 4,000 lemon trees already in San Francisco, according to Isabel Wade, the group’s founder, who came up with the idea. She said the average person uses 3 pounds of lemons annually, but a tree can produce 200 to 300 pounds a year.

Lemons were chosen because of their ability to thrive in cold climates, and apparently the entire Bay Area is lacking citrus, Wade said. Anyone with a sunny window can participate, she said, because dwarf lemon trees will grow indoors.

Wade said this is one way residents can help The City start becoming self-sustainable.

“We need to start thinking about food,” she said. “Our global agriculture system cannot continue on the way it’s going.”

Wade said she hopes to launch the project this spring.

Lemons from existing trees are already donated to local food banks, Wade said. Eventually, she said, the group would like to make it so retailers won’t have to buy citrus from outside The City.

The lemon tree move is envisioned as the first of many fruits and vegetables that could be cultivated locally, Wade said. Arugula is another option.

“If we really put our hearts to it, we could do it,” Wade said of self-sustainability.


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