San Francisco has adopted what may be the country's first county food policy that aims to improve access to healthy food while supporting local agriculture and reducing shipping-related greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive directive Wednesday ordering all departments to survey the land under their control in order to create an inventory of land that can support community gardens. All city-purchased food for city meetings, schools, jails or homeless shelters must be grown locally with sustainable farming practices. Food vendors with city permits must also meet these requirements.

"The stark reality is that hunger, food insecurity, and poor nutrition are pressing health issues, even in a city as rich and vibrant as San Francisco," said Mayor Newsom in a prepared statement Wednesday. "From the alleviation of hunger, to the need to support local and sustainable agricultural practices, these recommendations form a comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing pressing needs in all sectors of the food system."
Mayor Gavin Newsom announces new S.F. food policy at City Slicker Farms in Oakland.
All images courtesy of Mayor Gavin Newsom

The policy must be put in place within six months, and only applies to city departments, not citizens or businesses, according to Joe Arellano, a spokesman from the mayor's office.

The policy has its roots in the recommendations of the San Francisco Urban-Rural Roundtable, a group of stakeholders who worked to create what they call a "sustainable food shed" plan for the region.

When asked how the cash-strapped city would pay for higher-quality organic food, which may carry a price premium, Arellano said the potential savings are two-fold. Food purchased locally saves money through reduced shipping distances and costs, which also trims greenhouse gas emissions. Healthier food may also save the city money on healthcare in the long run: "The city spends a lot of money treating people for diabetes, obesity, heart disease," Arellano said. By promoting healthier food and better eating habits, "we can reduce costs on the back end."

A study released today from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy pegged the economic cost of obesity due to health care costs and lost productivity in San Francisco at more than $1 billion. Obesity costs the state an estimated $41 billion annually.

San Francisco launched a pilot program last July that created the Victory Garden near City Hall to test the feasibility of turning unused space into an organic food production zone, Arellano said, noting that First Ladies Michelle Obama and Maria Shriver have embraced the concept. Before that, the city funded gardening projects at local schools to incorporate these learnings into curricula. Arellano suspects the city's Parks and Recreation Department will take a lead role in future community garden projects, along with local nonprofits, which have in the past entered into contracts to take over gardening responsibilities.

Image courtesy of SF Recycling

Other aspects of the new San Francisco food policy include augmenting food stamp purchasing power with philanthropic funds. The city began working with farmers' markets in 2002 to allow the use of food stamps; an ordinance passed in 2007 requires food stamp acceptance. The program has been a success: Food stamp sales have increased more than 20 percent annually since 2003, while April and May sales have grown by between 70 percent and 75 percent compared to the year before.

There is also a trade mission aspect to help local restaurants and food vendors find farms from which they can buy produce directly, which Arellano sees as a way of creating awareness among local restaurants. Already the city's composting program, which just became mandatory in June, sends tons of food scraps to local farms and wineries, which in turn produce famous wines and high-quality food sold and consumed in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Carrots image CC licensed by Flickr user Tracy O.