San Francisco Passes Laws to Jump-Start Urban Farming

20 Jul, 2012

by John Upton, via

Urban gardening

Urban gardening. Image by: Morten Skogly

Bay Area locavores and caterpillars rejoice: An edible urban jungle is poised to sprout in San Francisco.

City supervisors approved legislation July 17th, 2012 that will help grassroots farming groups replace barren concrete and forests of weeds on vacant land and rooftops with veggie gardens, chicken coops, and honeybee hives.

And the move cements San Francisco’s role as a national leader in urban food production.

“[San Franciscans] are thought of as foodies, and environmentalists,” said Laura Tam, a policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped push the new rules forward. “This is a marrying of our sustainability objectives with the reputation that we have in the world.”

The legislation [PDF] follows zoning changes last year that made it easier to operate small farms and legal to sell food grown in San Francisco. This new set of laws will take it further by removing additional bureaucratic barriers for hopeful gardeners and actively searching for land they can use while providing them with seeds, tools, and advice.

A major focus of the bill is community gardening — neighbors coming together to organize, till, and cultivate plots of land in mini-farms that are managed cooperatively.

Aided by $120,000 in city funding in its first year, the Urban Agriculture Program will hire a city official or nonprofit organization to oversee all community gardening within San Francisco. The city’s utility agency will also provide additional funds to support two farms on land that it owns.

The program will audit city-owned land and rooftops in a quest to dig up potential new public gardening sites. It will also develop incentives for owners of vacant lots to allow their land to be used for community farming.

Passage of the bill follows a rise in popularity of urban farming nationally, which has been fueled by the locavore and organic food movements, and by the recession, which has left lots vacant and families hungry.

A handful of urban food gardens have popped up in recent years throughout San Francisco. Some are on public land and others are on private lots in high-density neighborhoods that are slated to be developed after the economy improves.

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About the author

  • Lana Janoski

    Is there a way to volunteer to help with these projects?

  • Liam Epstein

    Urban farming is quickly gaining ground across the country, and local
    legislation is helping to establish the movement. Our current
    agricultural practices are largely unsustainable, and calls for local
    food growth and consumption are becoming more important. One way to
    produce food in urban settings in an efficient and sustainable manner is
    through recirculating farming, which uses recycled water without soil
    to grow produce and even raise fish. Find out more about these systems
    by visiting the Recirculating Farms Coalition at