Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Neighborhood food production assessed

An estimated 10,000 pounds of food is grown in Bayview Hunters Point each year, a number that is increasing as assessment efforts improve, and as more residents begin raising food. The estimate puts the neighborhood's annual food production at about a day’s worth of what is needed to feed the 34,000 people who live here.
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The history of urban agriculture in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood runs deep, and began a century ago with the critical role that the Southeast Sector of San Francisco played in the City's food shed. Struggling immigrant families raised animals, vegetables and fruit as part of the community's daily life.

More recently, the history of agriculture here includes the origins of SLUG (San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners), The Garden Project (founded by Catherine Sneed), Girls2000 (from Hunters Point Family), the California Plant Nursery (project of Literacy for Environmental Justice), and the gardens network that is emerging from community-building work at the Quesada Gardens Initiative.

Bayview's models of food production demonstrate significant social and educational value. Those that have emerged from community-building and organizing approaches seem able to sustain resident involvement and produce strong social networks. Community gardens more closely associated with "greening" also operate as informal public forums. Policymakers and researchers increasingly include "greening" alongside other community development cornerstones such as small business, faith-based institutions, and community-based service providers. Grassroots political advocacy groups are entering the food production arena at a more rapid pace, hoping to make a practical contribution to their constituencies that also advances their general agendas.

Gardens can serve as effective entry points for governmental agencies and large nonprofit organizations to disseminate their messages. Community-building project leaders in Bayview are learning how to balance the opportunity for education and movement-building against the risk of undermining multicultural consensus and local resident investment in their projects. All social change agents in Bayview Hunters Point grapple with a history of disappointment associated with external institutions and movements.

Backyard gardens are increasingly important and popular in Bayview, a trend that may parallel the broad economic downturn, the global food movement's progress with reshaping cultural norms about food, the efforts of public health institutions working to decrease health disparities through physical activity and better nutrition, and new programming from environmental institutions geared toward the reduction of food transport-related carbon emissions.

Contributing factors to the trend toward backyard gardening in Bayview and similar multicultural urban neighborhoods may include unique definitions and experiences of "community." Grassroots community-builders understand that the days of the "neighborhood town square" have passed, and that the connection between municipal "civic centers" and vulnerable populations of people has always been tenuous.

Many residents of Bayview Hunters Point consider the physical parameters of their "community" as their own home or yard, immediate neighbors, and block-level associations. They may or may not feel safe and connected to the commercial districts and corridors available to them. This is especially true when residents experience barriers to social connection such as language and cultural difference, country of origin or citizenship status, and socioeconomic inequity associated with class, race, or gender identity.

Schools-based gardens have proliferated in the neighborhood as “seed to plate” demonstration projects at Bayview Hunters Point schools such as Malcolm X Academy, Willie Brown Jr. Academy, Bret Harte Elementary School, and Charles Drew Elementary School. These programs, which sometimes have filled gaps left by dwindling science and physical education programming, are suffering from eliminated public funding that once had been at a higher level in California than in any other state.

The Quesada Gardens Initiative is mapping assets in Bayview for the Bayview Footprints Network to model hyper-local interactive online interfaces. The group hopes to build capacity of the community's own online portal site while also serving data to citywide and other mapping systems. As a policy and practice matter, the group advocates that both community and larger groups work together to drive traffic to the most local online resources available, and to build the capacity of community-generated social and environmental change tools.

Volunteers are working through the Quesada Gardens Initiative to identify community-, school-, and backyard-gardens and fruit trees, and ultimately to record open spaces, cultural and social history landmarks, and other places of importance to the wellness of a community. The "early" food production numbers cited above are based on well-known gardens in the neighborhood and estimates derived from the Quesada Gardens Initiative's tracking of food production in its own gardens. The actual number of gardens, especially backyard gardens, is unknown … for now.

The current status of urban agriculture in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, to the extent that that is a quantifiable phenomenon, pales in comparison with its food shed history, but is an indicator of growth and potential. There is reason to be hopeful that much more food can be produced here, and that food can be produced in a way that supports the community's interest in defining itself, protecting its diversity, and putting its stakeholders in leadership.

Jeffrey Betcher, Quesada Gardens Initiative
From a presentation to the Southeast Sector Food Access working group (SEFA) in January 2011

Pictured is Tony Tarket, Bayview resident and horticulturist for QGI, demonstrating raised bed planting for USF students.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good exposition, I thought, and it doesn't allow history or theory to dominate, though it certainly aknowledges them. I especially liked the refrerence to elements of community building at the end: Community-building incorporates principles of grassroots community-development, asset-based processes, consensus decision-making, resident leadership and other components of "bottom-up social change."
God knows it's easier said than done, but well worth it!
Keep up the good work and
many thanks,
Konstantine M.