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 farmvertically.com. 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 (farmvertically.com).