One sunny afternoon during our stay in the Bay Area we set off to visit some city farms in San Francisco. As with the urban projects in London that we are familiar with, these places combine growing food with educational and social welfare programmes.
First up we dropped in on Alemany Farm (featured in the Greenhorns documentary), where there are four acres of city donated land right up against the freeway. There is a free CSA scheme so people who live in the social housing project next door can sign up for food grown as locally as it gets! Volunteers help tend the land and it is run on permaculture principles. We arrived during a work party session and Brett showed us how the volunteers were starting on a project to build swales to take advantage of natural groundwater irrigation.
Moving swiftly on, we crossed town to visit Hayes Valley Farm, a two acre project started nine months ago on land also donated by the city. After the 1989 earthquake the area became unsuitable for road use, and so eventually has been donated for farm use. Using permaculture principles they have just finished mulching in a big way – covering the area in a foot and a half of cardboard (donated from Google and other companies) and then a foot and a half of woodwaste (from Bayview Greenwaste) and horse manure. Hayes Valley also give away excess food after volunteers get a fair share, and are part of the Free Farm Stand in San Francisco offering excess produce to poorer neighbourhoods.
It struck me that setting up urban projects such as these appears easier in San Francisco than London. I’m not sure, but it seems as though there is less red tape involved. Also, the abundance of organisations that distribute excess food from farms and markets seems in excess of what is possible in the UK. The Free Farm Stand and organisations like Food not Bombs spring to mind, plus I wrote about gleaning in Seattle and Vancouver a while back. Farmers’ Markets accepting food stamps to encourage a wider social demographic to shop there is similarly progressive. I know there are things going on like FareShare in the UK, but there doesn’t seem to be such an established network. Our friend Alice who runs The Dinner Exchange in London, has had a lot of trouble persuading market stall holders to donate food to her cause that would otherwise go to waste – I think there are bizarre regulations that stop this sensible redistribution happening. If anyone knows any different or of any campaigns to try and get things changed I would like to know more.