Many urban farmers and gardeners are not aware that in order to legally sell their produce, they need to be an “approved source.” According to the California Retail Food Code (CalCode), "an approved source operates using current public health principals and practices, and generally recognized industry standards that protect public health." Luckily, there are many ways for producers to become an approved source—including some new and innovative programs in the San Francisco North Bay!
The core concept is simple: food sold to the public must be safe to eat. In order to ensure this, CalCode requires all retail food facilities to obtain food from an “approved source,” ensuring traceability back to the original producer so the origin of any contaminated product or unsafe food can be located. The most common ways to become an approved source are:
- Certified Producer's Certificate (CPC) for selling at farmers markets from the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Operator Identification Number for pesticide use from the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Organic Producer certified by an official third party organic certifier (if the expected organic gross sales exceed $5,000), registered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Program, and submitted to the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) registered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
However, many urban farmers and gardeners fall through the bureaucratic cracks. Disconnected from the farming know-how about how to become an approved source or too small to necessitate the traditional industry documentation, they unknowingly put themselves and the people who eat their produce at risk. Fortunately, three San Francisco North Bay Counties—Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma—have developed an innovative solution by creating their own Approved Source programs.
Designed with urban farmers and culinary, home, school, and community gardeners in mind, these Approved Source programs enable growers to legally sell or donate their produce to retail food and food preparation facilities such as restaurants, soup kitchens, food banks, and school meal programs. These voluntary, practical, and no-cost programs help growers meet the intention of CalCode's Approved Source through transparency and best management practices for food safety. Growers simply register online with their business name and contact information which provides the necessary traceability, and they self-certify that they follow common-sense best management practices that reduce food safety risks from contamination and the transmission of pathogens through water, soil amendments, worker hygiene, and post-harvest handling. Interested in learning more? Read on to hear how each of these programs developed.
Napa County's Best Management Practices Agreement for a Garden to become an “Approved Source” was developed in 2012 to address the growing popularity of culinary gardens popping up at Napa Valley restaurants and wineries. The NapaLocal Food Advisory Council worked on the topic, forming a subcommittee comprised of County staff from the Agricultural Commissioner's Office, Environmental Health, and the Planning Department, as well as community members. They hosted an approved source roundtable to gauge community concerns and interest. Then they reflected on how the Agriculture Commissioner's office might help culinary gardens attain the approved source designation through the Office's existing services, and they created their own working definition of what it meant to be an “approved source” since CalCode allows for Environmental Health to use their own criteria for determining the designation. From these early conversations, it became clear that there needed to be a different process for growers not served by the typical approved source designations that were already in place.
As a result, the Agriculture Commissioner's Office and the Napa County Environmental Health Department developed a self-certification process for growers based on a set of mutually agreed-upon Best Management Practices. Then the County's Information Technology Services created an online questionnaire that automatically populates the information into a publicly available online database. According to County staff, the development of the program took a cooperative effort between the Agricultural Commissioner's Office and Environmental Health, and by working together, they were able to develop something that meets the needs of local growers, protects public health, and is easy for the County to manage. Currently, the program has 26 producers registered, including culinary gardens at restaurants and wineries as well as educational gardens at schools, colleges, and nonprofit organizations.
Sonoma County Approved Produce Gardener Certificate was based on the success of Napa's program and developed by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, and UC Cooperative Extension, with assistance from the County's legal counsel and Information Services. The team met a half dozen times over a number of months to develop the program, test the website, and deliver two workshops to interested producers. Their primary challenges were how to develop and launch the new program without a budget, how to make the website simple to use and easy to understand, and how to make sure users would actually read the Best Management Practices and agree to abide by them. Based on the successful launch of the program, there are now currently 76 registered growers, with a total of 190 registered since the program was first rolled out in April 2013.
Mendocino County Approved Source(MCAS) was launched just this year and developed cooperatively with Mendocino County Environmental Health, the Agriculture Commissioner, Information Services, and the Mendocino County Food Policy Council. The goals behind the program were to protect food safety while opening new markets for local, small-scale produce growers in order to support local economic development. Interestingly, although their program is designed primarily for Mendocino growers, MCAS welcomes growers from neighboring counties to register, in hopes of fostering greater reciprocity between the other North Bay counties and enabling growers to expand to markets beyond county boundaries. In less than a year, the program already has 19 producers certified, including a couple from neighboring Lake County.
For more information:
- Napa County - Napa County Best Management Practices Agreement for a Garden to Become an “Approved Source”
- Sonoma County - Sonoma County Approved Produce Gardener Certificate
- Mendocino County - Mendocino County Approved Source (MCAS) Program
- And for another similar program, see San Diego County's Conditional Approval of a Culinary Garden Food Source for a Regulated Food Facility
- Author: Andrew M. Sutherland, Ph.D, BCE, UCCE Advisor, SF Bay Area Urban IPM
Pests are an unavoidable part of growing plants or raising animals. Many times, pests are not considered until infestations/infections have become damaging. At such late stages, pesticides may be used to manage these pest issues. Pesticide applications have the potential to negatively impact the local environment and community due to health concerns, nontarget effects (impacts on organisms other than the pests), and contamination of air, soil, groundwater, and surface water. Proponents of urban agriculture may espouse the idea that pests will not be problematic when growing crops or raising livestock organically or "naturally". Such "balance of nature" may exist in natural systems, but agriculture represents a manipulation of nature and will always be subject to some degree of pest pressure.
Additionally, unbeknownst to or misunderstood by some urban farmers, commercial producers of "organic" foods may make just as many applications (or more) of pesticides as their "conventional" counterparts, using materials approved for organic use. Organic pesticides, though usually representing reduced environmental risk and persistence, can nonetheless pose the same hazards discussed above.
Integrated pest management (IPM) has the potential to mitigate some of these concerns. Many have heard the acronym IPM, but few can correctly articulate its meaning. Some folks think that IPM refers to pest management without pesticides…others believe it refers to a reliance on reduced-risk pesticides. Confounding this lack of understanding, each institution or organization seems to offer its own definition of IPM. Upon closer inspection, however, these seemingly disparate definitions all share common themes. Let's now examine the conceptual decision-making process of IPM using the step-wise central tenets of all true IPM programs.
- Education: For pest management to be effective, we need to know a bit about the pest. This means ensuring proper identification of new pests, understanding pest biology and ecology, and knowing what pests to expect in certain situations.
- Prevention: Preventing pests from becoming problems in the first place is a very important theme within IPM. This may involve planting resistant varieties or planting during certain seasons, ensuring proper care and maintenance so that plant/animal immune systems are robust, following proper sanitation protocols, and temporarily quarantining new arrivals to the production area to allow for inspection.
- Monitoring: There must be some way to determine whether pests are present or absent and whether pest density is increasing or decreasing. Monitoring can be as simple as manual/visual inspection during a farm walk or could be as complex as a pest-specific pheromone trapping program. Monitoring requires knowledge about pest biology and ecology and should be done on a regular basis so that data can be compared across time and space.
- Thresholds: There exists, for all pests and situations, some pest density at which commodities will be damaged (damage threshold) or money will be lost (economic threshold) and at which action must be taken to avoid these losses (action threshold). Below these thresholds, pests may not need to be managed at all; predators and parasites often keep pests naturally in check. Once thresholds are reached, as evident through monitoring data, action must be taken.
- Multiple Tactics: Taking action in IPM means using multiple tactics (methods); reliance on a single tactic never qualifies as IPM. Available tactics should be used in an order of "escalating force" such that the most benign approaches are considered and employed first. Physical tactics, such as hand-pulling or cultivation of weeds, should come before biological tactics, such as biological control agents and biopesticides. Chemical tactics (i.e. pesticides) should be considered as the last resorts but may certainly be necessary if other approaches have failed.
- Integration: No tactic used should interfere with another. For instance, application of a broad-spectrum insecticide targeting aphids may also kill predatory beetles feeding on the aphids.
- Evaluation: All good IPM programs have an evaluation component, where practitioners consider whether their approach was successful. What worked? What didn't work? Are pests still a problem? What might we do differently next time? This evaluation process feeds back into the "Education" component of IPM, creating a feedback loop and informing IPM practitioners for the next time they do battle with the same pest.
This decision-making process can be used to successfully manage any pest in any situation, whether it's weeds in a garden bed, rats in an attic, or rot fungi in fruit. To learn more about pest-specific IPM programs, visit these UC IPM web pages:
- UC IPM Online - Vegetables and Melons
- UC IPM Online - Fruit trees, nuts, berries, & grapevines
- UC IPM Online - Pest Notes Library
On August 7, San Francisco officially became the first city in California to establish an urban agriculture incentive zone. Following passage of a law introduced by Supervisor David Chiu and unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors and Mayor, owners of vacant property within San Francisco will now be able to apply for a property tax reduction in exchange for committing their land to urban agricultural use for at least five years. San Francisco's new law is the first local implementation of Assembly Bill 551 since that state bill went into effect at the start of this year.
The San Francisco legislation has a number of main features:
The entirety of San Francisco would be considered an urban agriculture incentive zone, which means that that any parcel that met the eligibility requirements set out in state and local law could receive a reduced property tax assessment.
- The Planning Department would be responsible for certifying a parcel's eligibility based on its size, existing structures, and access to water.
- If a parcel is eligible, the property owner would submit an application to the Agricultural Commissioner explaining the plans for agricultural use of the site. The proposal goes above and beyond the state's minimum requirements by requiring the property owner to demonstrate through their plans that the farming or gardening on the property would have some interface with the public through either distribution or sales of food; educational activities such as classes and workshops; or that that site is being used as a community garden with members other than the property owners' family.
- The Agricultural Commissioner would be responsible for both reviewing the plans in the application as well as conducting annual site inspections after a contract is signed to ensure that the site is used solely for agricultural purposes.
- The Assessor-Recorder would be responsible for calculating the change in property taxes and providing that information to the Agricultural Commissioner and property owner.
- If an application is approved, the property owner would sign a contract with specific terms, to be enforced by the Agricultural Commissioner.
- The legislation explicitly allows the agencies involved to establish fees to process the initial application and defray the costs of annual inspections.
The legislation also has a number of safeguards to prevent abuse:
- Any proposed contract that would reduce property tax revenue to the city by $25,000 or more each year; result in five contiguous acres under contract; or would increase total revenue loss to the city above $250,000 annually for all properties under contract would automatically be sent to the Board of Supervisors for review.
- If a contract is cancelled by either the property owner or by the city because the property owner is found to be in breach of contract prior to the expiration of its five year term, the landowner would be required to pay the city all back taxes, with interest (as determined by the Assessor-Recorder).
- To provide an additional check and balance for the program, the Board of Supervisors has a ten-day window after receiving the Agricultural Commissioner's list of recommended contracts to request a hearing to review any contract. If the Board does not request a hearing, a recommended contract can be approved administratively.
The final details of the application and contract itself are now being worked out by city agencies so that property owners can apply by the October 1, 2014 deadline. While San Francisco has a limited amount of vacant land, local advocates are hopeful that the law will support a number of projects in the city while also inspiring other cities and counties across the state to establish urban agriculture incentive zones. It's one tool that has great potential for supporting greater land access and land tenure for urban farmers and gardeners so that more people in the state can benefit from urban agriculture.
- Read San Francisco's Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone ordinance
- Read UC ANR's Guide to Implementing the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB 551)
- Anyone in San Francisco interested in applying for an urban agriculture incentive zone contract should contact the city's Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator
- Watch a KPIX news piece about the ordinance
Eli Zigas is the Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research).
- Author: Rachel A. Surls
It's National Farmers Market Week! And here in California, we're celebrating and enjoying our 764 farmers markets-more than any other state. Since many of these markets are in cities, they are an option that urban farmers often consider when deciding how best to market their products. Knowing how to get started, though, can be a challenge.
First, farmers should do some research, including visiting local markets to see the displays and gather ideas about what they might sell. It's important to contact market managers to find out if they have space available, what it costs, and talk about what products they are looking for. It's not always easy to get a spot at a farmers market, because the manager is trying to ensure the right mix of farms and products.
The manager also needs farmers who have a consistent harvest and enough volume to sell every week, and this can be challenging for urban farmers, since they are often beginning farmers and typically have very limited growing space. Even so, some market managers are happy to give urban farmers a try, and some even actively recruit them. For example, the staff of the Altadena Farmers Market in Los Angeles County has sought out and encouraged local backyard farmers to participate in their market. For more ideas on how to get started selling at farmers markets, check out the New Farmer's Guide: Cultivating Success at Farmers Markets.
Another mandatory step is for the farmer to contact their County Agricultural Commissioner's Office. In order to sell at a California Certified Farmers Market, growers must have a Certified Producer's Certificate (CPC). This certification process is part of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Certified Farmers Market Program. An inspector will make an appointment to visit the growing area to find out what and how much the farmer is growing, and how much they project they will have available for sale. There is a small annual fee for certification. After the inspection, and paying the fee, the farmer receives a certificate to display when selling at a market. Growers can only sell what has been grown on the farm, and specifically, what is on the certificate. New crops can be added by amending the certificate. Some counties use an on-line application for the Certified Producer's Certificate.
The Certified Producer's Certificate has one main purpose. It simply certifies that a farmer is in fact growing what he or she is selling at the farmers market. At a California Certified Farmers Market, the consumer is assured that everything has been grown on the farm and has been brought to the market by the farmer, their immediate family members, or their employees. The inspection and certification process helps to ensure the integrity of this system. The CPC will not be the only requirement to sell at a farmers market. There may be other local requirements that farmers will learn about through working with the Agricultural Commissioner's staff and the farmers market manager.
Selling at farmers markets can be great for some urban farmers, but doesn't work for every situation. Drawbacks include the commitment of time each week to prepare for, travel to, and staff the booth, and challenges competing with the volume, prices and diversity of products offered by larger growers. Urban farmers have to work hard to build their customer base and find products that will appeal to the market's customers.
Farmers markets are one form of direct marketing, or selling straight from the farmer to the consumer. See our UC ANR Urban Agriculture Marketing page to learn more about marketing strategies.
As part of our UC ANR Urban Agriculture project, several team members visited urban farms around California and interviewed urban farmers. We wanted to know about their operations, their challenges, and especially, what our organization, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) could offer that would be most helpful. Here are a few of the insights we gained.
California's urban farms are usually small, but not always.
Among the 27 farms we visited, the median size was one acre (in other words, half of the farms were larger than an acre, and half were smaller). And the range in size was wide. The smallest was 3,000 square feet, while the largest was 1,000 acres! Excluding the 1,000 acre farm, which was an outlier, the average size was 2.8 acres. Compared to the average size of a farm in California, which is 328 acres, per the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, urban farms are very small.
Some experienced farmers, lots of beginners
Two farms were multi-generation family farms started in the 1950s by the current farmers' parents or grandparents and these farmers are highly experienced. Although their farms now operate in urban environments, they didn't start out as urban farms. “The city came to us,” as one farmer put it. The other farmers we interviewed have been learning farming from the ground up.
Diverse products, focused on vegetable crops
All 27 farms produce vegetable crops, 21 produce fruit, and 13 produce ornamental crops. Many of the farms have chickens and bees. Value-added products are common, with 14 of the 27 farms producing jam, dehydrated fruits or herbs, or other items.
Not-for-profit models are prevalent
Among the urban farms we visited, most are part of a non-profit organization or government agency with a larger mission. Urban farming is used as a vehicle for reaching the organization's goals, for example, teaching business skills to youth, or improving healthy food access in underserved communities.
Many challenges starting up
When asked about challenges in starting up their urban farms, the most common issues farmers mentioned were business and financial planning, marketing, and accessing land. They also struggled with production issues such as crop planning, pests, and irrigation. And many were challenged by confusing zoning issues and regulations.
Urban farmers dive into policy
Of the 27 urban farmers we interviewed, 19 were also involved in advocating for local policy change to facilitate urban agriculture. As one interviewee said; “In order to start the urban farm, we have had to jump into policy work to get it off the ground.”
How can UC ANR help?
One clear theme throughout our study of California's urban agriculture is that urban farmers need a ready source of information on everything from starting a farm to production to local regulations. With experts around the state, UC ANR has access to research and information on a wide variety of farming and related topics. This website has been created as a resource for urban farmers in California, where we'll continue to add helpful material, urban farm stories from around the state, and updates on policies in our metropolitan areas. We encourage urban farmers and urban agriculture advocates in California to connect. Suggest ideas for blog articles, share information and photos about your urban farm, and ask questions, either via our on-line survey or our Facebook page and Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you!