This blog is designed to highlight the diversity of views and news stories on urban energy topics that appear daily in the media. They are intended to provoke discussions on how cultural, geographic, political, and institutional influences shape the way energy markets operate and energy policies are made in cities around the world.
The Bay Area produces more than enough fruits and vegetables to feed San Francisco, and Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to get a lot more of that local produce onto the plates of anyone served a public meal - including schoolchildren, homeless people, hospital patients and jail inmates.
The mayor is expected to release San Francisco's first food policy in the next several months, and one of the cornerstones will be decreased reliance on imported food. The policy will also encourage urban gardens and call for planting fruit-bearing trees and plants in street medians and abandoned lots.
How much the city will be able to accomplish will depend largely on cost. City organizations that feed the public get their food through vendors whose prices are almost always lower than those of local farms. And it's uncertain who would tend the farms in the city and keep the fruit from rotting off the trees.
"The money is not an issue. The resources are there. It's a question of priorities," Newsom said Thursday. "It's better to invest in people's health and wellness. What we're doing will save money in the long run."
San Francisco consumes about 1 million tons of food each year and the Bay Area consumes about 6 million tons, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city's Department of the Environment. More than 20 million tons of food - and 80 different types of food - are produced every year within a 200-mile radius of San Francisco.
The city could never be completely reliant on locally grown food. Bananas, for example, aren't grown year-round, and the Bay Area doesn't produce enough milk for everyone. But no one knows how much food is imported, Blumenfeld said.
Part of the reason to use local food sources is environmental. Trucking and shipping food from all over the world wastes energy and creates pollution. But one of the main focuses of San Francisco's food policy is health. Sodas and fast-food burgers don't come from local farms. "The big theme is trying to get more nutritious foods to our most vulnerable populations," Blumenfeld said.
Already San Francisco schools, which serve more than 3.9 million lunches a year, have made significant strides toward offering healthy meals to children, requesting that vendors buy organic produce, and offering fruits and vegetables grown at Bay Area farms.
Yet cost is always a factor. It isn't just a matter of buying apples from a Sonoma farm. An inexpensive vendor's prices will cover the cost of importing apples, plus cleaning and chopping them into fruit salads or however they'll be served. If schools are going to buy locally, they need to find ways to prepare the food locally, too.
"There are a lot of hidden costs," said Paula Jones, director of food systems for the city's Department of Public Health. "There's a huge potential to grow more food. We want people to have high-quality food, we want to reduce environmental effects, we want sustainability. But we have to be able to find the funding."
San Francisco's urban gardens are another area with potential to yield plenty of fruits and vegetables, but they are logistically complex. Already, residents complain about fruit trees planted on public lands that spill rotten produce on streets and sidewalks. The Public Works Department has created several successful community gardens that are tended by residents, a spokeswoman said. How far that program can be stretched remains to be seen. Next year, the city will open 15 offshoots of the Victory Garden in front of City Hall.
Certainly more city land can be used for farming, Blumenfeld said. Part of the food policy will include an inventory of available land and what types of food could be grown there. "My kids go to a public school in the city, and there's an apple tree there, and every year apples just sit there and rot and fall off," he said. "If the kids are eating apples every day at lunch, they're probably flown in from New Zealand or something. It's just a ridiculous irony."
The key is to get creative, he said. Look at school playgrounds and empty lots and city-owned lands outside San Francisco. Even bus shelters can turn into gardens. The city's newest - unveiled Thursday at the corner of Larkin and McAllister streets - is roofed with sod and planted with strawberries.