Category Archives: Policy

Designing for Food Security: Leveraging Design to Grow Communities and Feed Cities

By Jessica Karr and Tiffani Patton


What does it mean to design for food security?

We found out a few weeks ago at San Francisco Design Week.

On a sunny, but windy, Thursday evening, a mix of Slow Foodies, designers, and social justice advocates gathered in the Parklab Community Garden to discuss how communities can design for food security through urban farming. The rockstar panel included perspectives from leading Bay Area nonprofits, educators, and vertical farming pioneers.

Urban farms can be sites of abundance and foster deeper connection to land, food, and community. Urban gardening, or farming, has been gaining increasing popularity over the past 10 years as community advocates push for urban gardens and farms as a way to combat food insecurity and foster connection. Urban farms can also be signifiers of displacement through gentrification, when they don’t center inclusivity. Because design plays such a huge role in food insecurity — through practices such as redlining which created areas of food apartheid (see Karen Washington’s article). Slow Food wanted to explore how we can instead design for security.   

The panel was moderated by Wendy Leicht, the creator of We’re grateful to Wendy, our five panelists, and to our wonderful guests who withstood the cold wind to hear the great discussion!

Logan Ashcraft, our private sector panelist, currently leads the energy team at Plenty, an indoor farming company. Plenty aims to build an indoor farm outside every metropolitan area on Earth, increasing access to healthy food, slashing greenhouse gas emissions from the conventional agricultural monoculture model, and decreasing emissions by reducing the distance from farm to fork.

Anesti Vega, the executive board member for Acta Non Verba, strives especially to improve food security by enabling the youth to become future leaders. Acta Non Verba, a nonprofit organization based in East Oakland, elevates life in the inner-city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Anesti emphasized the need to understand a situation before intervening to help. He shared a story of Detroit, where a man decided to give free food away because he saw the number of hungry people; what the man didn’t realize was that some African-American farmers had been selling food at very low prices, and his free food was actually undercutting them, thereby worsening the economic condition. It is easy to jump into “Savior” mode and throw a half-baked solution at a problem, but that approach often exacerbates matters.  It is important to take a step back, talk with those who are impacted, and get direction from impacted folks who are likely already doing the work. Anesti recommends only working to intervene once you’ve been immersed in an environment and spoken with the others who are working to solve the problems.

Haleh Zandi, fearless co-founder of Planting Justice, is dedicated to building alliances with diverse communities and practicing strategies that resist the environmental and social violence of the industrial food system. Planting Justice, also based in East Oakland, hires teams of formerly incarcerated landscapers and pays them a living wage while they build edible gardens throughout the East Bay and cultivate urban farms and training centers. Both Haleh and Anesti grounded the panel in historical knowledge U.S. land acquisition and use, with thoughtful reminders that this San Francisco Bay Area was originally Ohlone land that was stolen from them,  and that it is important for us to acknowledge that and speak truth, because forgetting is another form of violence.

Natasha Margot Blum told the story of Hayes Valley Farm, where she co-taught the Permaculture Design Course. Permaculture applies a set of design principles to care for the earth and care for the people. The Hayes Valley Farm was a 2.2-acre interim-use urban farm project collaboration between a core group of designers, farmers and educators, the city of San Francisco, and the community of Hayes Valley. The site, a former urban wasteland, was transformed into a volunteer-ran urban farm that gave away its products. After three years, the farm was cleared for development, but the lesson remains that permaculture and a team of passionate people can turn a small and oft-overlooked plot of land and rubble into a beautiful and productive urban farm that feeds and inspires. Natasha’s path as a design researcher and consultant has been heavily influenced by Permaculture Design as she brings the principles into her everyday work.

Maggie Marks, the executive director of Garden for the Environment (GFE) and a proud new mother, discussed how GFE aims to educate any and all San Franciscans on how to garden. Their beautiful teaching garden is located in the Sunset, and they are actively teaching workshops as well as a full gardening course every summer.

A special thanks to Phat Beets Produce, who brought us jackfruit sliders and jalapeno cornbread, an organization that centers justice in all of its work. They work to create a healthier, more equitable food system in Oakland and beyond through providing affordable access to fresh produce, facilitating youth leadership in health and nutrition education, and connecting small farmers to urban communities via the creation a CSA, community farm stands, markets, and youth entrepreneurship.

We hope that our guests who attended, or just read the blog, were inspired to collaborate and build an inclusive, supportive community that improves food sovereignty, especially in marginalized communities. Please check out Planting Justice, Acta Non Verba, and GFE and join for a volunteer day or a class. Slow Food invites you to check our website for upcoming events.

If you enjoyed the plots at the Parklab Community Garden, please contact Sally Rogers – sally@slowfoodsanfrancisco – we’d love to build our team of gardeners at Slow Food!

Pictured from left to right: Maggie Marks (Garden for the Environment), Natasha Margot Blum (design consultant), Haleh Zandi (Planting Justice), Anesti Vega (Acta Non Verba), Logan Ashcraft (Plenty), and Wendy Leicht (

Looking Forward to International Congress

Aaron Lander

Aaron Lander

Once every four years, Slow Food International brings together sustainable food systems leaders from around the world. Delegates discuss the organization’s goals and policy strategies, as well as elect management bodies to carry these goals forward. This October, the sixth International Congress will be held in Turin, Italy at the same time as Terra Madre.

This year, CUESA nominated Marin Sun Farms to send a representative, Aaron Lander, to International Congress, and Slow Food San Francisco will sponsor him to go. Marin Sun Farms is based in Point Reyes, and raises 100% grass fed and pasture raised meats for the Bay Area community. For Aaron, who grew up in the “corn capital of the US” (Des Moines, IA), traveling to Turin, Italy to meet with global leaders in the food scene will be a dream come true. Aaron has been fixated on addressing global environmental issues since his freshman year in college when he dropped his pre-med ambitions in favor of focusing on food issues and community development. He was a founding member of the Des Moines UN World Food Program Chapter and worked with many land management groups as he started his MS in Community Development in 2009 through Iowa State University. He ultimately moved to the Bay Area to get involved in the region’s innovative agricultural community and began working with Marin Sun Farms where he partnered with local Slow Food chapters to organize meat panels, Earth Days and other environmental events.

Aaron is thrilled about the possibilities in Turin. “I’m going because I want to be able to bring what the Bay Area is doing to a global scene and bring what everyone else is doing back here,” explained Aaron. “I’ve also been interested in Slow Food International since I was in undergrad, so being able to continue to work even more closely with the organization is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

He hopes to learn more about global food security issues as well as develop his network in order to build global support for sustainable agriculture and local food systems. He’s also looking forward to bringing the farmer’s point of view to the fore, helping shed light on their limitations as well as opportunities for public support. He’s excited to learn from the many food leaders he expects to meet and to bring that information back to the Bay Area to share with the Slow Food community and others in the industry.

“This is an amazing opportunity that I’m honored to be a part of,” said Aaron. “By involving people from a variety of backgrounds in this world’s food issues, we’ll be more likely to make significant progress in building a more sustainable future.”

The Health Care Bill and Health

The bill has more or less passed. The reconciliation bill will be taken up shortly by the Senate and many seem confident it will pass here as well. Considering the major elements of the bill include things like ending discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions, ending limits on lifetime spending, allowing adult children up to age twenty six to be included on their parents’ policies, ending premium disparity between men and women, and subsidizing affordable policies while taxing cadillac plans, it seems to be more of an insurance reform bill than a health care reform bill. The bill doesn’t include things like reforming measurements of service delivery, moving from quantity to quality or tort reform to decrease defensive medicine practices concerned more with legal liability than the health of patients.

And what about preventive care? Not much beyond what many state health departments already offered. The implied benefit is that with the promise of insurance, more people will take advantage of doctors’ services before the issue becomes a crisis. But there was one, minor attempt to consider preventive care in the bill. And it reveals that within Congress, there may be a dim recognition that our food system has something to do with our health. The Wall Street Journal blog “Washington Wire” posted an article Monday about a provision within the bill “requiring restaurant chains to disclose calorie information on menus.” Because these requirements first have to go through the FDA, menus won’t see changes for a few years. Of course, reactions from the restaurants are mixed but the movement to get information into the hands of the consumer isn’t new. And in fact, it seems, it isn’t helpful. An article by The New York Times published last October reveals “Calorie postings don’t change habits.” The study was conducted by professors at NYU and Yale to test the impact of labeling laws in New York City and found, “that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.” So, the provision is headed in the right direction but going about it in the most delicate way. The thinking seems to be, leave it up to the consumer and do as little damage as possible to the private food industry. But, as the study shows, we don’t understand the consumer. Human beings are not rational actors, food is not just a matter of calorie counts, and the “consumer” is not a neutral actor with equal access to all products. If we want to address the connection between health and food, it cannot be done through this minimalist philosophy of intervention that imagines a simple surgical incision can heal the whole body. Calories, cost, convenience, familiarity, marketing, information, etc. all factor into our relationship with food. Slow Food embraces the recognition that the most important information about food is hardly its calorie count. Health is not a numbers game. It is not a matter of converting individuals to a lower intake level. Health happens on the scale of the community and we need provisions that recognize this.

Behind the Organic Label

For those who fight for access to organic goods, it is a relief that at last the USDA Organic label on our milk will mean that the cows had more than just ‘access’ to pastures. The requirement that organic livestock be provided access to pasture had often been abused by large dairies as a poorly written loophole. But the passage has been updated to specify the terms of access. As The New York Times reported February 12,

“The new regulations, which go into effect in June, are much more specific. They say that animals must graze on pasture for the full length of the local grazing season. The season will be determined by local conditions and agriculture authorities, like organic certifiers or county conservation officials, not by the dairy alone. While the grazing season must last at least 120 days, in many areas it will be much longer. The rules also say that animals must get at least 30 percent of their food from pasture during the grazing season.”

All in all, it is a victory for organic. Large dairies will now have to do what small dairies were often already doing and consumers can have a bit more confidence in the organic label. But one thing left unmentioned by both the Times and Marion Nestle’s victorious entry for The Atlantic  is the role these local “agriculture authorities” will actually play. Of course the nature of these bodies will vary depending on location but just to offer an example of what agriculture authorities may entail and the incredible extent of poorly written legal documents, I would like to draw your attention to Ohio. The voters of Ohio recently approved a constitutional amendment creating the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. This board was presented as a humanely-minded regulatory body that would improve conditions for farm animals. And who wouldn’t vote for that, even if it is in the rather extreme form of a constitutional amendment? Fortunately, the more sinister details of the issue have begun to enter the public debate. To start, the body is not an elected one. It is comprised of the state department head of agriculture as well as ten individuals appointed by the governor meant to represent family farms (left undefined), consumers, veterinarians, and “someone who is knowledgeable about food safety.” These individuals are then given the authority to set the standards of care. The constitutional article tries to include details that would deflect criticism aimed at the reach of the Board with notes like, “The state department that regulates agriculture shall have the authority to administer and enforce the standards established by the Board.” I’m not sure how comforting that should be when the head of that same department sits on the Board. Fortunately, there is a move to put this amendment back on the ballot because, even if the Board does not become a reflection of big agriculture business, there is no accountability or opportunity for citizen participation.

This is not to say the new USDA requirements are not a victory. They are/ It is just to point out that phrases like “the season will be determined by local conditions and agriculture authorities, like organic certifiers or county conservation officials, not by the dairy alone” should be considered carefully. County conservation officials sounds good. As do livestock care standards. But the mechanisms are intentionally obscure to deter individual resistance. Inform yourself about your local management bodies.

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