Farmville, for real

City spaces like Hayes Valley Farm, Kezar Gardens, and the Free Farm are disappearing. Is there a future for urban agriculture in San Francisco?

The Hayes Valley Farm is an oasis in the city

In the next few months, San Francisco will lose some of its most beloved urban farms.

The City Hall victory garden is now reduced to dirt. The grants that kept afloat Quesada Gardens Initiative, which creates community gardens in Bayview, were temporary and are now drying up. Kezar Gardens, funded by the Haight Asbury Neighborhood Council recycling center, is facing eviction by the city.

Time is up for Hayes Valley Farm, on the old freeway ramp, where developers are now ready to build condos.

St. Paulus Lutheran Church has also announced that it wants to sell the land that the Free Farm uses at Eddy and Gough.

"There's the old joke about developers," said Antonio Roman-Alcalá, co-founder of Alemany Farm and the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance. "God must be a developer, because they always seem to get their way."

At the same time, new urban agriculture projects have sprung up across San Francisco. Legislation authored by Sup. David Chiu will create a city Urban Agriculture Program, with the goal of coordinating efforts throughout the city.

So is the movement to grow food in the city progressing? It's a tricky question that gets down to one of the oldest conflicts in San Francisco: The best use of scarce, expensive land.


The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association lauds the value of community gardens. An April 2012 SPUR report notes that urban agriculture connects people "to the broader food system, offers open space and recreation, provides hands-on education, presents new and untested business opportunities, and builds community."

According to the report, the city had "nearly 100 gardens and farms on both public and private land (not including school gardens)," two dozen of which started in the past four years.

But that's nowhere near enough for the demand. "The last time waiting lists were surveyed, there were over 550 people waiting," Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at SPUR, told us. "That likely underrepresents demand because some people who are interested haven't put their name down."

Changes in zoning last year, and the recent ordinance to create the Urban Agriculture Program, show a measure of city support for urban farming and gardening.

"We have one of the most permissive zoning codes for urban agriculture that I know of in the country," said Zigas.

One zoning change from 2011 makes it explicit that community gardens and farms less than one acre in size are welcome anywhere in the city, and that projects on larger plots of land are allowed in certain non-residential districts.

More recent legislation is meant to streamline the process of starting to grow food in the city. Applying to use empty public land for a garden can be an arduous process, and every public agency has a different approach. The hoops to jump through for land owned by the Police Department, for example, are entirely different than what the Public Utilities Commission requires. A new Urban Agriculture Program would coordinate efforts.

"The idea is to create a new program that will serve as the main point of entry. Whether it will be managed by existing agency or nonprofit is to be determined," said Zigas.

If the timeline laid out in the ordinance is followed, the plan will be implemented by Jan.1, 2014.

By then, if all goes according to plan, no San Franciscan looking to garden will wait more than a year for access to a community garden plot.


Roman-Alcalá said that efforts to clear the way for urban agriculture are much less controversial than for affordable housing and other tenets of anti-gentrification. But for all the good the latest legislation does, it doesn't secure a single square foot of land for urban agriculture.


Why is this ok? Affordable housing is a scam and should be prevented!!! Can't afford to live in SF? TOUGH LUCK. Again this is all Democrat run, Dems want illegals so they vote D, the payback is affordable housing for illegals getting rid of urban farms!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 10:27 am

Thank you companeros, keep up the good works.

Posted by Patrick Monk RN on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 11:52 am

Why would you feel the need to address urban gardeners in Spanish? These are not farm workers - they're doing this as a hobby.

Posted by Troll II on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

And the problem with bilingualism is?

Posted by marcos on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

How about kickstarter or indiegogo campaign to buy a lot for farming? Perhaps St Paul's could get a reasonable amount for their land and the free farm could continue indefinitely!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

I, like most people make minimum wage in this city.
And lets be real- I don't compromise travel, saving money, having a vehicle, having a decent sized living space with reasonable rent, and so forth for the sake of surviving. That can be done anywhere. I came here, like many others for the vibe, the community, the people, the endless opportunity: And its bullshit like this that makes me wonder if the beautiful energy of the city is going to last very long, or are we going to be like los angeles? -A cold, unfriendly, cutthroat nexus of capitalistic ventures?

Fellow San Franciscans, I'm asking you to ask yourselves what makes this city what it is, and why do you pay so much fucking money to live here? Myself, I pay an arm and a leg to pass my time here BECAUSE we have urban farms and community gardens.

Posted by SF- Resident on Aug. 25, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

Getting rid of our last few urban farms for new condos is stupid- Rather than developing, we should reserve a few plots of land for the city people to enjoy a bit of nature in this fast-paced city.
A study a few years back, in showed that people who spend at least 5 minutes each day immersed in a green environment, (a park or a forest) have dramatically less stress levels. I think most would agree that a farm is much less of an eye-sore than a condominium complex..

Posted by neighbour of the farm! on Aug. 25, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

This is a non-issue. The deal from the beginning was that these garden installations were to be temporary only for as long as the land was not being developed. The people who began the gardens readily and willingly agreed to use the land only for such time as the owners were not developing it or putting it to some other use. It's been known from the beginning that this would happen, all along. Trying to make a controversy out of it now is just political blowharding by a few people who didn't even have a part in the origins of these urban food gardens.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2012 @ 9:53 am

This is not true. In regards to Hayes Valley Farm and Free Farm they were promised a longer (although temporary) time frame we are talking years longer agreed to develop an urban farm. And the city breaks these agreements, the second developer dollar signs are thrown in front of them. I like Antonio's quote, "God must be a developer...." because at least in the past century it seems like developer always get their way. Even when the whole community fights. The only way to make this just is for government to mandate a certain square footage per district for community gardening, native spaces. I think we need to start asking more from our private sector, come on land lords, come on government, come on community lets work together, and share our resources!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

I will immediately seize your rss as I can not in finding your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.

Do you have any? Please let me realize so that I could
subscribe. Thanks.

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