Thursday, May 13, 2010

Support SF Market Gardens!

In case you weren't aware, Little City Gardens is one of the city's only currently operating market garden, and they are experiencing trouble with their new plans of expanding to a larger plot of land.

Read Farmer Caitlyn's letter below, and get active in supporting changes in local planning code!

Hello urban ag friends,

Recently, Brooke and I (Little City Gardens) have been faced with a pretty
hefty obstacle in regards to the gray areas of current zoning code. Based on
the way the code reads now, a market-garden (that proposes commercial
activity) is only allowed in a residential area if it is first granted
Conditional Use Authorization - a process that is involved and costly (we're
hearing anywhere from $1500 to $5000 per site). This type of bureaucratic
process seems in direct conflict with the Mayor's Executive Directive, and
the city's visions of encouraging local food production. We are working to
convince the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and Mayor Newsom
that current interpretations of zoning code are outdated, and if the city is
to facilitate financially sustainable urban food production, it is important
that zoning code reflects that.

Here is a sample letter we are sending to the addresses below:

To the members of the SF Planning Commission,

Little City Gardens is an innovative and experimental new business in San Francisco. (Please see attached for more information) Our aim is to strengthen San Francisco’s urban agriculture movement and food security by creating a functional model of a financially self-sustaining, urban micro-farm (Market-Garden). We are working to embody the important language put forth by the Mayor in the July 2009 Executive Directive: Healthy Food for San Francisco. We have negotiated a temporary Land-Use Agreement (at least 1.5 years) with the owner of a vacant lot in a residential neighborhood (RH1). We will grow healthy organic produce, which we will sell to local restaurants and to community members through a vegetable box subscription program. We plan to operate Little City Gardens as a registered business, but equal to our identity as a business, is our identity as social activists piloting a new model of sustainable economy, as educators, as contributors of experience, and information to the growing healthy food-systems movement. We feel that a clarification in zoning code should be made to allow for Market-Gardening in residentially-zoned neighborhoods (without first obtaining a Conditional Use permit) for a few reasons.

1. Market-Gardening is an approach to urban agriculture that could flourish and grow without dependence on limited city and foundation funding. We believe that urban food production (a field strongly promoted in the aforementioned Executive Directive) will not reach its full potential unless there are unhindered avenues in the local market economy for food gardeners to make a living wage through the sales of their produce.

2. Most of the open spaces in cities that are easily accessible to individuals (especially those who are not affiliated with city programs or non-profits) are backyards and vacant lots in residential neighborhoods. Due to traffic and pollution, parcels of land in Mixed Use, Business, or Industrial zoned areas are often less appropriate for Market-Gardens. Access to property in residentially-zoned neighborhoods is essential for Market-Garden projects to succeed.

3. Due to the small scale of most urban Market-Gardens in the context of the larger food economy, the business of Market-Gardening has an extremely low-margin of profit. Most Market-Gardeners have low start-up budgets because they do not expect to have a large return on their investment. In many cases, including ours, the aim of Market-Gardening is to provide more healthy food for the immediate community while compensating the labor of production. In most cases, including ours, the projection of Market-Garden businesses is not profit, but rather self-sustenance. Our Land-Use Agreement is temporary (at minimum 1.5 years). We will be putting this lot to temporary best use until the property owner decides to develop housing. The cost of the Conditional Use application is prohibitive to this type of business and could amount to a significant percentage of our start-up budget.

4. Functionally, our use of the land will be most similar to the uses typical in Community-Gardening. Our activities will be restricted to gardening. We will not be running a produce stand or making commercial transactions on site. In relation to an average small business, the operation Little City Gardens will be extremely low impact. We will commute to and from the garden by bicycle with occasional truck use for bringing in compost and materials. Once every three months we expect to have an 8ft truck drop off compost. Our work will not draw more regular daily traffic to this residential neighborhood than any household. Our work will not contribute more noise to the neighborhood than an average household as we will rarely be using machines or loud equipment.

If the prohibitive obstacle of the Conditional Use Application is lifted, we believe the field of urban agriculture will be more accessible to would-be urban farmers, thus broadening the urban agriculture movement, our overall food security as well as opportunities for creative entrepreneurship.

Thank you for your Consideration.
Brooke Budner & Caitlyn Galloway
Co-owners, Little City Gardens

Right now we are directing letters to,,,,,,,,,,,,

The addresses are for: Mayor Newsom, Planning Commission President: Ron Miguel; Vice-President: Christina Olague; The Planning Commission (Michael J. Antonini, Gwyneth Borden, William L. Lee, Kathrin Moore, Hisashi Sugaya), Mike Farrah, Chris Daly, John Avalos, Acting Zoning Administrator: Craig Nikitas, and our Planning Department contact: Kate Connor.

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