A Farm? In the Middle of San Francisco?

I love my home city of San Francisco, CA! Bold, quirky, and often way ahead of our time, we're definitely the poster town for The Left Coast. Life here is far from perfect, it's true, but every time I walk two blocks down the hill from my central-city apartment and see the NEW FARM that's going in where a freeway off-ramp used to be, I can't help but smile. That's right, a real farm in the middle of a city! Read on for the story.

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In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged an elevated section of the Central Freeway, which cut through the Hayes Valley neighborhood of SF. The freeway was torn down and the neighborhood blossomed. But for nearly two decades, a large patch of land that held the exit and entrance ramps to the freeway stood vacant and overgrown, hemmed in by a chain link fence.

The land is owned by the city and was slated to be developed into housing until the economy put the project on hold. So Mayor Gavin Newsom's office stepped in and formed an alliance with neighborhood groups to turn the land into a temporary farm, with the understanding that the development project will reactivate in 2-5 years time.

Until then, the farm will function as an education and research space to develop awareness around urban agriculture. Their mission is to to create a successful, sustainable urban farm where community members can access healthy local food, and to serve as a model and a resource center for urban agriculture education and green job training.

The farm is just getting started, with a packed schedule of workshops and events that include how to start and maintain an urban kitchen garden, a permaculture bootcamp, and even an outdoor film night. Eventually, as the season progresses, the farm will offer fruit tress and garden plants for sale as well. Just how much actual food the farm will yield is yet to be determined.

Because the site is a former freeway, 64 soil points on the land were lab tested for lead, with excellent results. Additionally, an enormous amount of organic material has been spread, creating an additional 1-2 feet of soil. The farm staff is very dedicated to demonstrating that urban land can be reclaimed to produce an abundance of healthy, organic food.

There's an emphasis on community, too, with plans for a farmers' market, food and recipe swaps, and plenty of work days where citizens can participate and learn. The farm is also working closely with local schools to integrate environmental education into their curriculum. I consider myself very fortunate to have such a project right in my neighborhood and am very excited to taste the first fruits of our labor come harvest time!

For more information, visit the Hayes Valley Farm website.

(Images: Zoey Kroll licensed for use under Creative Commons; Hayes Valley Farm)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.

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