SF launches easier to navigate urban agriculture effort 

click to enlarge Urban Agriculture Program
  • Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner File photo
  • The Urban Agriculture Program will oversee all activities related to growing food in The City. The agency was created after a SPUR report criticized The City’s patchwork system.
The several dozen community gardens and various green spaces that have sprouted around San Francisco will finally come under a streamlined management.

The Urban Agriculture Program announced by the Recreation and Park Department on Wednesday will coordinate all activities related to urban agriculture, which at its most basic level entails growing food within a city.

More than 36 community gardens the department manages, as well as new urban agriculture resource centers and the application and waitlist processes for new projects, will fall under the responsibility of a forthcoming urban agriculture program coordinator.

“San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to urban agriculture policy,” said Eli Zigas, food systems and urban agriculture program manager for the urban think tank SPUR. “We are one of the first cities — if not the first — to update our zoning codes to allow for urban agriculture.”

The program launches nearly two years after an April 2012 report by SPUR, titled Public Harvest: Expanding the Use of Public Land for Urban Agriculture in San Francisco, identified that at least seven city agencies supplied monetary support and 11 agencies provided land and city gardeners and farmers.

“Though well-intentioned, their support is largely uncoordinated, understaffed and, as a result, inefficient,” the report stated.

Two pieces of legislation — one in 2011 to adjust city code to allow for urban agriculture and another in 2012 to create the program — were sponsored by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.

“This has been a multiyear conversation, so this has been a long time coming,” he said.

Only one year of funding for the program coordinator’s position has been secured so far. Hannah Shulman, who has spent more than seven years in the urban agriculture field, fills those shoes starting Tuesday.

One of the main challenges Shulman says she faces is how to best use the limited land in San Francisco.

“We really want to make sure that we’re maximizing our use of space in a smart and efficient way, in public property especially,” she said. “A good example is making sure we have as many people using the gardens as possible.”

Despite the strides made, San Francisco has yet to implement at a local level a piece of state legislation that took effect Jan 1. Introduced by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act increased use of privately owned, vacant land for urban agriculture and improved land security for related projects.

Counties and cities must pass ordinances and resolutions to create urban agriculture incentive zones, something Chiu said his office is pushing.

“The timing is certainly right to raise the profile and importance of urban agriculture in San Francisco and in cities in general,” said Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “It’s something that in the past few years has become more popular and accessible.”

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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