Urban Agriculturalist: San Francisco Permaculture Guild’s Temporary Gardens

601a.jpgUrban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.

Walking through the landscape of downtown San Francisco a visitor might notice an abundance of empty lots, but it would be a mistake to assume that these are pieces of public property. Instead, much of this property belongs to developers who are waiting out the long and complicated process of obtaining builiding permits. The San Francisco Permaculture Guild wants to benefit from this potentially fortuitous inaction by creating temporary, shifting tenant gardens.

A tenant garden is traditionally a rented growing space, but the guild’s plan diverges on the issue of payment. Instead of charging urban gardeners, landlords will donate the use of their space to the guild on a temporary basis until development begins. At that time, the guild will have ten days to disassemble the garden and turn it over to the developers. The organic crops grown on the land in the meantime would be donated to food banks, soup kitchens and area residents. Some plans would see these crops sold at farmer’s market, with proceeds returning to operation costs.

The guild’s leader, Kevin Bayuk has written to the owners of several desirable lots, but it is unknown how many of them will go for it. From the developer’s perspective, there are liability issues to having strangers using their land. Why would a landowner make themselves vulnerable to lawsuits? But Bayuk and his group believe they can work out a no-liability contract, just as many community gardens have. The community garden model is a useful one in this instance, as the guild’s proposed land use is very similar in structure. Bayuk further envisions donated soil-testing and garden-planning services from local universities and donated water services from the municipality. Aside from legal concerns, there are advantages for the landowners: beautifying the area raises real estate value, potentially increasing the landowner’s own property value. Developers also often have to pay for weeding and landscaping prior to beginning construction. The guild’s gardeners would of course offer this service for free.

While there will likely be hidden costs and bureaucratic roadblocks to the project, the overall idea is an exciting and logical one. So much so, that the San Francisco Chronicle recently profiled Bayuk. Let’s hope this dialogue continues and the project gets underway.

(Photo by Matt Jalbert)

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