City of Food: An Update on Gavin Newsom's Executive Directive for Healthy and Sustainable Food

October 3, 2009

newsom Gavin Newsom makes a number of announcements, so you may have missed the one he made last July at City Slicker Farm in Oakland. That day, to the excitement of many in the food world, Newsom announced an Executive Directive for healthy and sustainable food in San Francisco.

According to Paula Jones, Director of Food Systems at the Department of Public Health, the work behind the directive has been long in the making. At Tuesday’s Kitchen Table Talk, which was devoted to updating the food community about the directive nearly three months after it was issued, Jones was cautiously optimistic. “There have been a number of related resolutions and recommendations made in the City in the past,” she said, “but this directive is different; it has dates and times and responsible parties attached to it.”

Also key is the fact that the directive takes a whole system approach, rather than seeing food through a single lens, such as hunger or environmental impact or health. The detailed directive is based in part on recommendations made at last year’s Urban-Rural Roundtable; the Roundtable brought together food and agriculture leaders from around the Bay Area, including CUESA’s own executive director Dave Stockdale.

So what exactly does the directive say? We’ve summarized some of its key components here:

Urban Farming
This is the area of the directive that has received the most attention in the media, and for good reason: Americans everywhere are fired up about producing their own food. All departments with jurisdiction over public property are being asked to take stock, through an audit, of all land that might be suitable for growing food. In some cases, said Alemany Farm’s Antonio Roman-Alcalá, departments might already have land they know could be farmed. Roman-Alcalá described being approached by the San Francisco Airport about a tract of land they are interested in leasing at a nominal rate to a local farmer, for example. The directive also asks that the Department of Recreation and Parks support more urban ag projects by facilitating access to gardening materials and tools, organizing community events and connecting volunteers to opportunities to get their hands in the dirt.

Buying Power
City funding for food purchases or food programs shall meet nutritional guidelines. In the case of events and meetings, it will have to be “locally produced and/or sustainably certified foods to the maximum extent possible.”

Since food access is a growing issue in San Francisco (there are currently 193 food pantries in the city), the directive also has a heavy focus on eliminating hunger. Efforts to give residents access to food stamps will be beefed up in several ways, and the Redevelopment Agency will be asked to “identify strategies, such as enterprise zones, permit expediting, tax incentives, etc. to recruit and incubate new food businesses,” e.g. grocery stores, in areas where the only nearby sources of food are often convenience stores or liquor stores.

Not only will the City put healthier food in its vending machines, it will also get involved in work to increase funding to the School Meals Program (although the City does not have any actual jurisdiction over San Francisco Unified School District).

The encouraging news, says Jones, is that 46 city departments have already turned in draft proposals examining ways they can prioritize healthy and sustainable food. The challenge, she acknowledged on Tuesday, is that the directive comes with no new funding, meaning city departments must find creative ways to comply at a time when many are already strapped for basic funds.

Alemany Farm’s Antonio Roman-Alcalá also pointed out the limited window on executing the directive, which will expire when Mayor Newsom leaves office. “I’m really interested in what we can do to institutionalize the values behind this directive,” he said, “so that the people involved really care and it’s not just about following orders.” Discussion participant Bu Nygrens, of Veritable Vegetable, a SF-based produce distribution company that has been focused on organic and sustainable food since 1974, agreed. She discussed the barriers of doing business with the City and said, “I want this [directive] to turn into more than a photo op.”  

That’s where San Francisco residents come in. As Jones and others in the room agreed, when it comes to city politics, constituents have a surprising amount of power. “If you care about senior meals or school lunch or urban gardening,” Jones concluded, “give your supervisor a call. Better yet, pay them a visit and let them know what your priorities are.”

Don’t know who your district supervisor is? Here’s a handy map that includes contact information.

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