City spaces like Hayes Valley Farm, Kezar Gardens, and the Free Farm are disappearing. Is there a future for urban agriculture in San Francisco?
"If you look at the language, there's nowhere in it that mandates or prioritizes urban agriculture on any site," said Roman-Alcalá. "The closest thing is a call for an audit of city owned rooftops. That's the closest it comes to changing land use."
And it won't be easy. "No matter how much support there is for urban agriculture, in the end, developers and their ability to make money is going to be prioritized,'" he said. "The only way to really challenge that right now is cultural. Social change is not an event but a process."
Janelle Fitzpatrick, a member of the Hayes Valley Farm Resource Council and a neighborhood resident who has been volunteering at the farm since it started, is committed to that process.
"Hayes Valley Farm proves that when the city, developers, and communities come together, urban agriculture projects can be successful," Fitzpatrick said. She and dozens of other volunteers created the farm, which is now lush with food crops, flowers, and trees. The farm has a bee colony, a seed library, and a green house. It offers yoga and urban permaculture classes.
Hayes Valley Farm started on land that used to be ramps to the Central Freeway before that section was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The land under the freeway was toxic, but volunteers spent six months layering mulch and cardboard and planting fava beans to create soil. It took less than a year to create a productive farm on a lot that had been vacant and overgrown for nearly two decades.
"We're producing food, we're producing community, we're producing education," said Zoey Kroll, another volunteer and resource council member.
When they vacate their land in the winter, many Hayes Valley Farm team members will already be knee deep in new urban agriculture projects. These include Bloom Justice, a flower farm in the Lower Haight that Kroll says will teach job skills like forestry and landscaping. The farm has also built a relationship with Hunters Point Family, working together to offer organic gardening and produce at Double Rock Community Garden at the Alice Griffith Housing Development and Adam Rogers Community Garden.
As for the loss of the current site, Kroll says, "It's an exercise in detachment." Change in landscapes and ownership is part of urban life, she said — "We're a city of renters."
We're also a city of very limited land. "Securing permanent public land for urban agriculture would be challenging," said Kevin Bayuk, an instructor at the Urban Permaculture Institute. "And securing long-term tenure on anything significant, an acre or more of land in San Francisco, if it were on private land, would be cost prohibitive."
Of the city's three largest farms, only Alemany Farm seems secure in its future. The farm is on Recreation and Parks Department land, and has been working with the department since 2005 to create a somewhat autonomous governance structure.
Community gardens on Rec-Park land are subject to a 60-page rulebook, and according to Roman-Alcalá, Alemany Farm's operations were restricted by the rules.
Last week, the group's plan to be reclassified as a farm instead of a garden was approved, eliminating some of the rules and creating an advisory council of community stakeholders that will exert decision making power over the farm, although Rec-Park still has ultimate authority.
"Now it's more secure," said Roman-Alcalá. "We've finally reached this point where the city acknowledges it as a food production site."
"I think the urban agriculture movement is still growing and burgeoning in the grassroots sense," said Bayuk. "And I think some of the grassroots growth is reflected in the policy and code changes. "I'm optimistic for the idea of people putting land into productive use to meet human needs and be a benefit of all life."
This article has been corrected to reflect information about the location and ownership of the Free Farm.