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Friday, August 13, 2010

S.F. Will Soon Allow Urban Farms to Sell Produce. But Should They?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Little City Gardens' Brooke Budner. - EDIBLEOFFICE/FLICKR
  • edibleoffice/Flickr
  • Little City Gardens' Brooke Budner.
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My colleague Jonathan Kauffman grilled Off the Grid's Matt Cohen recently about the hard-to-scale barriers for mobile food vendors to get permits in San Francisco.

Things are little better for urban farmers. In the New York Times today, Zusha Elinson tells the tale of Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway, the Little City Gardens farmers who raised 20K on Kickstarter so they could find a bigger patch of land than the Inner Mission backyard they were cultivating. Budner and Galloway now have three-quarters of an acre in the Outer Mission, but here's where things start to stink worse than a decomposing rat in a compost bin: The city's creaky old zoning laws require them to spend thousands to obtain a conditional-use permit before they can sell anything they raise.

As it turns out, San Francisco was sympathetic. The city is rolling out new rules this fall, rules that will let small urban market gardens operate more easily. But while urban farming is a sort of centerpiece of the locavore movement, there are arguments to be made against use of city lots for food production. Elinson:

"Any public investment, even in changing the zoning code, has to be mindful of public benefit," said Mary Beth Pudup, a professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "A lot of the urban-food movement can kind of skew to the high end."
Which is to say that most of the food raised at urban farms ― especially in places like San Francisco and Oakland, where land is more precious even than Périgord truffles ― is likely to end up in high-end restaurants, or in high-income home kitchens.

And anyway, couldn't city lots better support housing, which would help prevent sprawl to the region's growing mega-burbs, which often encroach on traditional agriculture centers, places like Brentwood or Tracy?

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