Learn about San Francisco’s Urban Ag Funding Policies, City Agency Roles, Policies, and the History of Urban Agriculture.
- City/County Agencies’ Roles
- Policies and Publications
- Financial Resources
- Learn More
- Urban Ag Incentive Zone Contract
History of urban agriculture in SF
In 1941, the country went to war and communities nationwide were planting vegetables as part of the Victory Gardens program to reduce pressure on the public food supply. San Francisco’s Victory program was lauded for its expansiveness. In addition to front yards and lawns, the city put public land to use, with gardens on the lawn at City Hall and over 800 gardens in Golden Gate Park.
A formal community gardening program was established in 1973, when Robert Mendelson, a member of the Board of Supervisors, brought a measure before the Board that passed. The City then began funding community gardens after a charter amendment set aside property taxes for an Open Space Acquisition and Park Renovation Fund to acquire, maintain, and develop new park and recreation facilities. Much of the City family took part in the gardening program’s growth. The Department of Public Works hired a coordinator, used the greenhouse at Laguna Honda Hospital to grow plants to give to community gardens, and helped people research new sites and obtain insurance. The Water Department provided water to the community gardens and the Department of Parks and Recreation provided the tools needed for upkeep and cultivation on the urban farms, as well as free compost from Golden Gate Park.
Around the same time, the City implemented a federally funded job and education program called the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). Thanks to CETA, 20 trained and experienced gardeners educated citizens and residents about gardening practices and the importance of urban agriculture. They also worked with neighborhoods to start new gardens and began gardening programs in many schools and housing projects.
The City’s mid-70s urban agriculture upswing was cut short due to changing City leadership and the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which severely limited property taxes. Due to shrinking funds, community gardens was one of the programs cut. With the coordinator and CETA gardeners phased out, by 1979, the program was essentially dead.
Some community members soon noticed that many gardens had leftover grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In searching for a nonprofit organization willing to sponsor the spending of the funds, Pam Peirce and former CETA member, Steve Michaels, formed San Francisco’s League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) in 1981. SLUG soon became the primary urban agriculture force for the City. Over the next two decades, the Department of Recreation and Parks hired the group to help build, renovate, and maintain community gardens. Due to management issues, SLUG disbanded in 2005, calling attention to the need for a centralized city-funded effort to maintain and expand urban agriculture.
Mayor Gavin Newsom made a step in that direction in 2009 when he issued a directive committing the City and County of San Francisco to increase its healthy and sustainable food. The directive called on all city agencies to conduct an audit of land within their jurisdiction suitable for food producing gardens and other agricultural purposes. It set the tone for agencies to make land, resources and institutional support available to urban agriculture projects. In 2011, the city changed its zoning code to permit urban agriculture in all neighborhoods.
With dozens of gardens and small farms sprouting across the city, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation in 2012 creating the city’s first Urban Agriculture Program. In 2013, it was decided to be housed at the Recreation and Park Department. Under the guidance of its coordinator, Hannah Shulman, the program advocates for urban agriculture matters and coordinates all related activities citywide.
- Interview with Pam Peirce.The Trowel. Spring/Summer 1994 #1. http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=San_Francisco%27s_Community_Gardens.
- Eaton, Jon and Ron Sullivan. “Remembering the victory garden.” SFGate. July 23, 2008. http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Remembering-the-victory-garden-3204427.php.
- Victory Gardens 2007+. http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/what.html.
- San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Budget Analyst’s Office.
- Vietor, Francesca. “What U.S. Municipalities Can Learn From San Francisco's Urban Farming Movement.”
Recreation and Park Department
The Recreation and Park Department will coordinate urban agriculture including facilitating access to gardening materials and tools, with emphasis on composts, mulches, and other materials produced as byproducts of other city programs; organizing community events and outreach efforts related to urban agriculture; connecting volunteer and educational programs to urban agriculture programs; seek funding to support urban agriculture; and generally serve as an advocate to increase the production of food within the City/County of San Francisco.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. The SFPUC mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to our care. The SFPUC is proud to be a longtime supporter of a variety of urban agriculture projects that help educate our customers about the benefits to our water and wastewater systems that urban agriculture can provide, engage and enhance the communities we operate in and promote the use of public lands to support environmental, social and economic equity in our communities.
SF Environment facilitates and encourages increasing local food production and opportunities for urban gardening throughout San Francisco. With the inception of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2009 Executive Directive on Healthy and Sustainable Food, the City and Country of San Francisco adopted a comprehensive food systems policy to address nutritional standards, urban agriculture, regional food, hunger and food security, food business, and fisheries.
Department of Public Health
The mission of the San Francisco Department of Public Health is to protect and promote the health of all San Franciscans. The San Francisco Department of Public Health strives to support urban agriculture through its regulation of agricultural sales, promotion of healthy gardening practices and healthy sustainable food systems. SFDPH operates the Agriculture Program, Childhood Lead Prevention Program, and the City and County of San Francisco’s Food Website.
Department of Public Works
Public Works is a world-class public works organization that contributes to making San Francisco a beautiful, livable, vibrant, safe and sustainable city. They enhance the quality of life in San Francisco by designing, operating and maintaining, the city's infrastructure, public rights-of-way, and facilities with skill, pride, and responsiveness. The Department of Public Works continues to support urban greening projects that promote diverse uses and enhance the quality of our public lands for residents and visitors of San Francisco.
San Francisco Unified School District
The mission of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is to provide each student with an equal opportunity to succeed by promoting intellectual growth, creativity, self-discipline, cultural and linguistic sensitivity, democratic responsibility, economic competence, and physical and mental health so that each student can achieve his or her maximum potential. SFUSD currently supports the development of green schoolyards and school gardens, which create healthy learning and play opportunities for students and community-building opportunities for schools. School community members interested in building new garden elements on school grounds should contact their school principal and Education Outside for more information on planning and regulations.
Department of Building and Inspections
Under the direction and management of the seven-member citizen Building Inspection Commission, to oversee the effective, efficient, fair and safe enforcement of the City and County of San Francisco's Building, Housing, Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and Disability Access Codes. If you’re planning to take steps to nurture urban agriculture within the City, please note the following situations where your actions may fall under the San Francisco Building Code (SFBC):
- Installing a garden shed: SFBC Section 106a.2 –work exempt from permit. The roof area may not exceed 100 square feet, and the shed may not be taller than eight feet from grade. Larger buildings require plans/drawings, and a permit.
- Outdoor Kitchens: the Fire Department regulates “open-flame appliances,” or outdoor kitchens. The Mechanical Code, Section 917.2.1, addresses “illuminating appliances,” such as fire pits, and open-flame heaters. The installation of gas lines would require a plumbing permit, while certain venting also requires a mechanical permit.
- Disability Access: DBI enforces disabled access regulations for the paths and areas open to the public – which would include any restrooms. Disability issues can be complex and require additional review. You may have to submit plans for DBI review. Please call 415-558-6205 for assistance with your specific situation.
The San Francisco Planning Department guides city agencies and departments regarding urban design, land use, transportation, housing and open space and a variety of other issues. The Planning Department fosters exemplary design through enforcing the planning code; environmental analysis; preservation, and by encouraging diversified housing and job base. The Planning Department hosts a variety of collaborative efforts with other public agencies, businesses, non-profits, and community members to understand and improve San Francisco’s urban food system. The desire is to create a sustainable urban food system that helps the City and County of San Francisco better serve the residents and businesses that are dependent on it for their livelihood and health.
Policies and Regulations
- Community Garden Policies (2006)
- Department of Public Health’s Culinary Garden Application Form for Growing and Serving Restaurant-Grown Produce On Site
- Overview of San Francisco’s Urban Agriculture Zoning Ordinance (2011)
- Lead Hazard Risk Assessment and Management Guidance for Urban Gardens and Farms (2012)
- Water Efficient Irrigation Ordinance (2011)
- Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA)
- Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (local implementation of State Bill AB 551)
- SF Health Code regarding animal husbandry
- California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Small Farm Food and Safety Guidelines (in many languages)
- Statewide Policies Related to Urban Agriculture from the SELC
- City Administrator’s Recommendation Letter for Urban Agriculture Program (2013)
- San Francisco Board of Supervisors Resolution Establishing Urban Agriculture Program (2013)
- Gavin Newsom Executive Directive for Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco (2009)
Starting a Garden or Urban Agriculture Project?
If your project:
The City and County of San Francisco offers funding through the Community Challenge Grant for projects that beautify the city.
If the proposed location of your Urban Agricultural Site or Garden is on Park land, apply for the Community Opportunity Fund housed out of the Recreation and Parks Dept.
Looking to create an orchard? Contact the Urban Orchard Project for opportunities to support your project.
If your project potentially offsets Co2 pollution, apply to the SF Environment’s Recreation and Parks Department’s Carbon Fund to fund the development of your project.
Visit the SF Public Utilities Commission for grant funding for the installation of dedicated irrigation meters for Urban Ag sites, community gardens and demonstration gardens.
SF Public Utilities Commission’s Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant Program provides funding to community-based project that remove impervious surfaces and manage stormwater with ecologically based approaches, including urban agriculture and community gardens.
Save water by recycling your laundry water to irrigate your garden, the SFPUC provides subsidized conversion kits and free trainings.
The Department of Children, Youth & their Families provides a variety of grant opportunities to help partner organizations service San Francisco Youth.
San Francisco/Bay Area - Urban and Community Agriculture
Nationwide and in Other Cities
The Urban Agriculture Movement
This application packet is a summary of the City and County of San Francisco’s implementation program for the California Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act. This act incentivizes the use of private land for urban agriculture. The process, FAQs, contract for the property owner, and the actual applications are in this document.