why foodies should care about city government

by Megan Degeneffe, SF2011

Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway are the sort of people who are important to making government work. Brooke and Caitlyn run Little City Gardens, a for-profit experiment to find out if growing food in the city can be profitable. The problem came when Little City Gardens attempted to expand and discovered they would need to receive an expensive permit and go through a lengthy approval process.

Instead of seeking an exemption for just themselves, they partnered with the SF Urban Agriculture Alliance and the Mayor’s office to draft and pass a major piece of legislation which changes the zoning code to allow for urban agriculture throughout the city and decreases the cost of a permit (from thousands of dollars to $300). The legislation also allows for the sale of produce as well as “value-added” goods such blueberry jam made from blueberries grown in the garden.

There are reasonable restrictions, of course, to ensure makeshift farmers markets don’t overrun street corners, but the law works to encourage the kind of economic activity the city wants by lowering the cost of entry and allowing organizations to profit from their work. The door is open for non-profit gardens to generate revenue to sustain themselves by selling their goods.

Little City Gardens is not alone. Last month I attended an event put on by the San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (an excellent source of high-quality analysis of issues in SF) and SFMade. SFMade focuses on encouraging local manufacturing and the event showcased small, artisanal beverage makers. During the event, one local winery owner decried the long, arduous process he had to go through in order to receive a permit from the city to operate his business. While his presses sat unused, he had to pay rent and his other overhead costs- a major burden for a small business.

Encouraging efficiency in government is not just about giving taxpayers value for their dollar, it’s also about creating environments where the private sector can thrive as well. In the SFPUC’s Water Conservation Section I am working on streamlining one of our processes for urban farms established under the new law. New and modified planted areas over 1,000 square feet are subject to San Francisco’s Water Efficient Irrigation Ordinance, however, these projects are different from other types of landscaping simply because the plants change so often. Instead of our conventional process, the SFPUC is creating a simpler application which still protects our water resources while lowering a possible barrier to entry.

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