Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dear Reader ...

[View across spring wheat fields, Anhui Province, China]

Recently GrowCity passed the 10,000 pageview mark, and is now firmly on it's way to 11,000! This may be small fries to larger blogs, but I think it's a big deal for a niche-market blog like this one. And it makes me so happy to know that we are building a community of designers who care about agriculture, and/or non-designers who care about both design and ag.  If you'd like to help GrowCity continue to grow, consider passing it along to friends that would be interested, subscribing to posts by email or rss feed, listing it in your blogroll, or writing for us! 

And on that note, I'm also happy to announce that soon we'll be hearing regularly from a new member of the team, Daniel Tran, an architect by training, and a farm manager at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz. 

Finally, I'm heading out this week for a two week tour of the Pacific Northwest - from SF to Seattle. Have any food landscapes you think I should check out along the way? Please post them in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Food Infrastructure - Wholesale Markets in the City

[Aerial view of the SF Produce Market, and it's relation to transportation infrastructure. The market sits 3.5 miles from the geographic center of the city. The lower right outline shows a proposed expansion area.]

Wholesale produce markets are an essential part of a local food system, hubs where farm products are re-sold to grocery stores and restaurants by aggregators and distributors. Wholesale markets make possible the large-scale distribution that can support market farms, supplementing retail farmer's market and CSA income. Once commonplace in cities, these types of markets have generally been pushed out of urban centers in favor of more profitable and ‘modern’ uses, such as office or condo towers. More common now is a suburban system of private distribution warehouses for chain supermarkets and distributors. For example, Safeway distributes to all of Northern California from a 44-acre facility in Tracy, 63 miles east of San Francisco. 

In recent years the trend has seen a reversal, as cities begin to plan for more integrated food systems. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture there are 72 wholesale produce markets currently in operation; 60% of these have been established in the last five years! Cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit have modernized or updated their facilities recently, and it's not hard to imagine that as public demand for local fresh produce grows, so will the revival of wholesale markets. The wholesale market model, as opposed to the grocery distribution center, benefits smaller  or newer farmers, since a grocery store will only contract with larger growers. It also encourages diversity in the form of niche marketers serving specialty needs.

The San Francisco Wholesale Market has occupied its current space on 25 acres at the eastern edge of the city since 1963, after being relocated from a more central location on the Embarcadero during redevelopment. Last fall SPUR offered a walking tour with a behind the scenes glimpse of the Market. Navigating a wholesale market is worlds away from a farmers market. This is the territory of trucks, not pedestrians. And the public is discouraged. Sellers are interested in doing business by the box, not the pound. They also don't want to compete with their customers - the retail stores who serve the public. The Market offers many lessons in the business of produce, as well as the infrastructure requirements of a successful distribution center. (Note: this is a long-ish post. Just want to get to the bottom line? Skip to the end for design notes).

Located on 25 acres, in four buildings of a former military supply depot, the buildings face each other across a large paved area, at times a parking lot, and at times a busy street. One feature of the physical buildings that lent to the re-purposing as a wholesale market is the high loading docks, which are appropriate height for trucks to dock at. The other is its location in an industrial area, which has eliminated complaints from neighbors, and helped the Market keep its site. Operating between 7pm and 3am, the Market would be a conflict with residential uses, and perceived as blight in a commercial area.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Photo Friday - Micro Greens

The Tenderloin People's Garden sprouting a healthy crop of greens. Great example of a micro-size garden working on a community non-profit model. Occupying a tiny corner across from San Francisco City Hall and the Asian Art Museum, the garden is run by the non-profit Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation and distributes the 3000 pounds of fresh produce grown annually to local low-income residents for free. Read more about the garden from the organizers here or in the press here. Below the garden is shown outlined in red, in the upper center of satellite image (all the rest of that green is City Hall lawn!).