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SF recommits to urban agriculture during housing crisis

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With the closure of Little City Gardens last year, Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced a resolution recommitting The City to agriculture. (Michael Ares/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)

With the loss of the Little City Gardens commercial farm last year and a fast-paced development boom, San Francisco’s commitment to urban agriculture is being put to the test.

But the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday recommitting The City to urban agriculture and calling on city departments to evaluate parcels of land that could be well-suited for growing fruits and vegetables.

“I understand that there are questions about competing priorities for land use given our huge affordability and housing crisis in The City,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who introduced the resolution. “While housing is a top priority, we also have to balance our housing development in this growing city with some urban agricultural space.”

She continued, “I hope this will give us some new momentum so that we can secure our goal of gaining some space where we can have permanent urban agriculture in San Francisco.”

The resolution was backed by those who founded the former Little City Gardens, supporters of urban agriculture like public policy think tank SPUR and members of the GreenHouse Project SF, which supports turning a 2.2 acre of dormant greenhouses at 770 Woolsey St. into a place of agriculture in the Portola neighborhood.

The resolution was the product of former Supervisor John Avalos, who was termed out of office in December and represented the area where the Little City Gardens was located.

“Until our closing in December, we were San Francisco’s only existing commercial farm. We grew food and flowers for local residents, markets and restaurants,” explained Caitlyn Galloway, co-founder of Little City Gardens. The farm operated at 203 Cotter St. beginning in 2007, but closed after the parcel was sold for development.

“The availability of farmable parcels, cultivable soil is dwindling. It is clear we need further city support,” Galloway said.

The resolution calls on city departments like Real Estate and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to focus on sites with such criteria as previously zoned for agriculture, prone to flooding or supported by a group of residents for urban agriculture.

Karen Peteros, founder of Bee-Cause, knows all too well the uncertainty of open space in San Francisco. Between 2010 and 2012, Bee-Cause operated at the Hayes Valley Farm but left when that site was developed for housing.

Bee-Cause was able to
continue its work when a half-acre empty lot at San Bruno Avenue and Ordway Street was offered to them, where the bee farm has operated since 2012.

“There is nothing like the bee farm anywhere in the United States,” Peteros said. She said the farm is self-sustaining through the sales of honey produced by six to eight honey bee colonies, which are managed by beekeeping apprentices. But the property was sold in October to a housing developer.

“That’s great, but we also want to continue and we are looking for a site,” Peteros said.

Isabel Wade is president of Urban Resources Systems, which oversees the Just One Tree project, which is intended to prove cities can rely on local food production by using lemon trees.

“We picked lemon trees,” Wade said. “We need only 11,000 of them to be self-sufficient. Our biggest lemon orchard site is at the Juvenile Justice Center, and they wouldn’t normally have been thinking about food production, but they have a good leader there.

“The majority of our food comes from more than 2,000 miles away,” Wade added. “We must focus on food production in our city.”

San Francisco will see one new urban agricultural site open up this summer. The SFPUC launched a review of its land holdings in 2012 and identified three sites for possible gardening.

The department advanced two of them: College Hill Learning Garden in Bernal Heights, which has opened, and a 10,000-square-foot community garden in the Crocker Amazon tract that is under construction and expected to open this summer.

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