“Those programs are things like community gardens, school gardens and teaching farmers,” Zigas said. “In the Bay Area and most of the country, these are typical forms of urban agriculture.”
Nonprofit farms are very important to urban communities, Zigas said, because they help people connect with the land and learn about the ecosystem, the seasons and how it grows. eating their own food. Even the US Department of Agriculture has an advisory committee and various grant opportunities directed at urban farmers.
While not all urban farms fall squarely into these two categories, Zigas says it’s helpful to understand how they live here.
To get a better understanding, we visited some farms.
‘A skill for life’
At Valley Verde, a nonprofit farm in downtown San José, the mission is simple.
“We want people to learn how to grow their own food,” said Lovepreet Kaur, the farm’s executive director. “We want to teach them skills for life. We don’t want to just hand over a plant and say, ‘OK, here you go,’ and that’s it.
Valley Verde was founded in 2012 and currently offers special educational gardening programs for low-income community members in San José. For example, their Shared Garden program provides participants with tools and information for gardening at home, including a board and materials such as raised beds, soil and materials. plant.
Those skills can help reduce food insecurity – a serious problem in Silicon Valley.
The farm also grows foods that are culturally relevant to its participants, including okra, bitter gourd and Thai chili peppers. It means a lot to Kaur, who immigrated to America from India when she was 11.
“When I came to America, there were a lot of vegetables that I grew up eating that I couldn’t,” he said. “I don’t see them in stores, and if you do, they’re very expensive.”
But running these programs for free is not easy. Like most non-profits, Valley Verde lives on donations, including from the Health Trust and the Lucile Packard Foundation. But, according to Kaur, the biggest problem is getting into the country.
“We want to live downtown or on the east side,” Kaur said. “Wherever we serve the community, we want to stay in our community. We don’t want to be separated from them.
Much of the land is available in rural areas or in the hills surrounding Silicon Valley, but Kaur says that their participants need to have access to the program to maintain their mission.
Valley Verde has moved several times in recent years. Now, they rent their share from Google, which pays them only $1 per month. But with two years left on that lease, Kaur is already starting to think about what’s next. He believes the next move will continue.
“Moving from one place to another is very important, especially if you have plants. There is a lot of death every time we try to move the plants as they grow,” he said.
Farming in the sky
In contrast to non-profit farms like Valley Verde, business operations in the Bay Area are more difficult, which makes Bluma Farm, a commercial flower garden in Berkeley, a rare example. In fact, founder and owner Joanna Letz doesn’t know of anyone else in the Bay Area operating a for-profit farm in such a community.
Bluma’s position is unique; the farm is spread across 15 modular residences near downtown Berkeley and boasts a 360-degree view spanning the Berkeley Hills to downtown San Francisco.
Letz started growing flowers here in 2019, two years after the building was built. He grows all kinds of flowers: godetia, nigella, violas, larkspur. The garden is like a mosaic of raised beds in the sky, dotted with a rainbow of flowers.
At first, Letz said the transition from farming on the land to housing was difficult. But now that he’s used to it, he sees “all the important benefits of farming on the roof and being able to grow in the city and show other people what’s possible.”
As a real estate company, Bluma has various income streams. About half of their income comes from marriage, although that has changed slightly during the pandemic, Letz said. She sells some flowers wholesale and some retail, and has a flower arranging service.
“Cut flowers have more value per square foot than any other plant I can think of,” he said.
However, making money is difficult – especially in a high cost environment.
“I try to keep my costs down as much as I can because I want myself and my employees to be able to earn enough money to live here,” he said. “And that’s hard.”
But it was important to him to stay in the city, where he thought the farms would start to grow.
“A lot of houses went up when I farmed here,” he said, pointing out some houses in the distance that didn’t have a barn. “What do we do with them that we don’t?”
Letz said she is passionate about teaching young people about agriculture and the power of growing your own produce. He works with a handful of students from local high schools.
“That’s what makes me happy … that we can wake people up here and see this,” he said.
That’s why, despite the challenges, we must fight to save urban farms here in the Bay Area, says SPUR’s Zigas.