Urban agriculture showing some life on SF lands

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Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
Land adjacent to the College Hill reservoir could be used in a pilot agriculture project.
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San Francisco residents four years ago called for more urban agriculture space in The City, prompting a pilot program that is now beginning to bear fruit.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission announced Tuesday that a new garden site is expected to open this summer in Bernal Heights and another site in Crocker-Amazon could be built out late next year. A planned community garden in Bayview-Hunters Point at the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant was scrapped and instead gardening supplies were offered there and other locations.

Urban agriculture supporters in San Francisco have long looked to the SFPUC to show more leadership on the issue given its vast open-space portfolio.

Interest in the cultivation of land by residents is evident by at least one measurement. Last year, there were 750 people on a waiting list to use community gardens in the Recreation and Park Department’s portfolio. The department oversees 38 community gardens, which average about a quarter of an acre in size. The gardens accommodate over 1,000 plots that serve more than 1,700 people.

The SFPUC set timelines for when the Bernal Heights and Crocker-Amazon space will become active agriculture sites. The sites were selected in 2012 for an urban agriculture pilot program, which relates to broader issues of food security and climate change.

The College Hill Learning Garden in Bernal Heights is out for competitive bidding and is expected to become operational in the summer. In partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District, the 6,000-square-foot site will provide lessons for kindergarteners through fifth-graders. The site will include a bioinfiltration basin, rain gardens, green roofs and a composting toilet.

“Each feature in the garden was designed to teach specific curriculum that will groom the next generation of environmental stewards and future ratepayers that will take care of our system,” SFPUC spokeswoman Suzanne Gautier wrote in an email.

For the Crocker-Amazon tract, next to playing fields, neighborhood Supervisor John Avalos and the nonprofit People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights have worked to develop an agricultural parcel. After an environmental review is conducted for the project this spring, detailed designs will be brought to the community. The plan is have this McLaren Park site operational by late 2016.

The 5,000-square-foot parcel at the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant just never panned out.

“We heard from stakeholders that they didn’t want to activate that site for food cultivation,” Gautier said. “The corner is heavily truck-trafficked and is next to a gas station, and many community members expressed concern for growing in that location.”

Instead, the SFPUC developed mobile resource centers, or popups, where community gardeners can pick up gardening resources like soil and mulch.

“There are no definitive plans to continue the Bayview popups,” she said.

The pilot cost $950,000. Once the sites are constructed, organizations would operate them.

Eli Zigas focuses on urban agriculture for the public policy think tank SPUR, whose 2012 report on urban agriculture exposed The City’s failure in meeting demand. Improvements have since been made.

Zigas said that having other city departments besides Rec and Park step up “was a big thrust of the report,” and he praised the SFPUC’s pilot program.

These sites won’t be the first urban agriculture use on SFPUC land. In 2006, the agency, which manages watershed lands throughout the region, partnered with nonprofit Sustainable Agriculture Education to operate the existing 18-acre farm in Sunol.

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