Should cities manage their “foodsheds?”
A few months back, I was at a meeting of the Roots of Change Planning Fellows. This is a great group of people, and I always enjoy the vigorous exchange of ideas and opinions that it involves. While I often hear some with which I disagree, I had never heard an idea proposed there that really left me feeling ill. Until this meeting.
It was proposed that all major cities in California develop Foodshed Management Plans, as a way of connecting their urban consumers with nearby rural producers. Some preliminary discussions had occurred with the City of San Francisco Mayor’s office. Apparently there was a great deal of enthusiasm for exploring new ways to utilize the Bay Area’s farms for the benefit of the underserved populations in the city. Now, I applaud the concept of strengthening ties between the urban and the rural. It fills a great need for quality foods in the urban environment and provides a good business opportunity for farmers.
But putting the city in charge of it?
I expressed the opinion that this was the wrong way to go. Once a government entity (city or otherwise) has identified a resource, and produced a plan to utilize that resource, it will proceed to interject itself, to the detriment of all others involved. There was a fairly lively discussion, and my position met with some agreement, especially from other farmers. Ultimately, it was left that perhaps the idea needed a little refinement. I think many in the room understood my concern, but felt that I was perhaps being a little paranoid.
Sometimes you hate to be right.
An article ran in the SF Gate newspaper on June 6, 2008, stating that the City of San Francisco was seeking to take over the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market that has served the community since 1981. The non-profit which has run it will lose its permit, and the market will soon operate under the City Department of Real Estate, where it is expected to be a revenue producer for the city. Sadly, the scenario I had described had played out, only this time the resource grabbed was a farmer’s market not a farm.
Perhaps the famous San Francisco spirit of activism will prevent this travesty from actually taking place. But if not, would any of us imagine that it will be better for the farmers or consumers who are the heart and soul of this marketplace? I suggest it is more likely that the city, which knows nothing about operating a farmer’s market, will run it into the ground, leaving no market and no revenue. Would anyone like to be identified as a resource by a powerful urban neighbor?
I am saddened to see this play out, but I hope we can gain some wisdom to apply to the State of California’s visioning program.