Proposal for City Hall garden taking root

This summer, San Francisco will expand its reputation as a green city by showing it also has a green thumb.

A vegetable garden may be planted in front of City Hall, featuring locally grown products such asbeets, collards and Asian greens. The quarter-acre plot would be made in the mold of a modern-day victory garden — a community-based agricultural program backed by the government during World War II as a way to improve morale and increase domestic production.

If the proposal moves forward as expected, groundbreaking for the project would take place July 1, according to John Bela, coordinator for the Civic Center Victory Garden.

Bela said donated seeds for the garden will be pregrown at farms in Alameda and Oakland and transferred to the garden July 12, where they will be harvested for two months. Once the vegetables are ripe, they will be picked and likely donated to Glide Memorial Church — depending on how well the crops turn out.

The project must be approved by the Recreation and Park Commission. Bela said he plans to submit a permit by the end of the month.

The Civic Center Victory Garden will have a full-time educator on site during the day and a night security guard to keep watch after hours, Bela said. Funding for the garden is being provided by backers of the Slow Food Nation celebration, a four-day organic food festival taking place in San Francisco from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.

The Civic Center green once boasted a Victory Garden during the 1940s but the plot faded away after World War II, according to Amy Franceschini of Future Farmers, a San Francisco-based urban design collective.

For the last two years, Franceschini has been leading the effort to reintroduce victory gardens to San Francisco. This January, she received a $60,000 grant from the Department of the Environment to help cultivate 15 new, private gardens in various city neighborhoods.

Bela and Franceschini said they’ve already received support from city officials for the garden in front of City Hall.

According to Franceschini, 20 million Americans were gardening during the height of the victory gardens program from 1941-43.

“The war laid a foundation for community gardens,” Franceschini said. “I think we can have a real strong community gardening program again, and the Civic Center Victory Garden is a great place to start.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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