San Francisco is a city of haves and have-nots when it comes to nutrition
Despite the arrival of Fresh & Easy, BVHP remains a critical flashpoint for the food security fight. Markets for fresh produce are few and far between. In 2006 the Department of the Environment teamed with Girls 2000 and Literacy for Environmental Justice to create the Bayview Hunters' Point Farmers Market, but for a variety of reasons, the customer base wasn't sufficient for farmers to keep selling there, and the project stalled. Now there is talk of reviving a farmers market in the area.
But for larger, more structural change to take hold, Mar argues, the food gap "has to be a citywide goal and priority." And, he notes, bigger forces — notably agribusiness lobbies and congressional agriculture committees — make local progress more difficult. "It's hard because the Farm Bill allows these food companies and commodity groups to keep their prices lower, and small businesses and producers have a hard time keeping their prices low," encouraging more fast food and obesity and other diet-related diseases.
On a chilly gray late afternoon the day before Thanksgiving, we met with Patterson, Williams, and two other food guardians at Bridgeview Community Garden on the corner of Newhall and Revere in Bayview. Perched on a small chunk of slope overlooking houses and freeway traffic, the plot offers a thriving little harvest of tomatoes, kale, leeks, basil, and other vegetables and herbs. It's not a lot of food, but along with other nearby agriculture, such as Quesada Gardens and the larger Alemany Farm, it helps bolster residents' weekly dose of fresh produce.
Equally important, it gives budding food activists like Antonia Williams and Kenny Hill reason to believe things can change. After yanking a healthy crop of leeks from the soil, fellow food guardian Jazz Vassar, 25, notes, "There are a lot of community organizations doing good work here. We have high hopes to change things."
Even as they work to nourish a different food future, the food guardians are acutely aware of the jagged rocks and stubborn old roots that need to be cleared. Asked what the city should do about Bayview's many-layered food struggles, Hill responds: "Realize there is a problem in Bayview, and allocate resources here. There are statistics that this is a food desert, there are high rates of crime—people have to wake up and see that people here have been disenfranchised."
It's not about having the city do it for them, says Hill. "Give us something to latch on to so we can help ourselves."
Former Bay Guardian city editor Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.