We are another step closer to that homespun American dream of being able to sell vegetables out of our own gardens — at least, those of us who get the requisite permits.

“There’s a full-steam-ahead feeling behind this,” said Karen Heisler of Mission Pie, addressing the city’s Committee on Land Use and Economic Development about agenda item # 101537 [PDF]. “You hear often that this is not the easiest city to do business in. And for a good reason. This city has high standards.” Heisler asked the committee to approve the legislation, but also to adapt it as urban agriculture develops.

The legislation has already been adapted slightly: Sellers will be able to put chain-link fences around the property they’re farming, as long as they make that chain link look attractive. The chain link exception was important, because fencing is expensive and farmers are broke.

Farmers won’t be able to sell value-added products like jams, pies and pickles if they’re in a residential area. It was something the farmers clearly regarded as a loss, but an acceptable one.

The public comment period, once again, featured not one single person opposed to the legislation. Potential abuses do loom on the horizon — opportunists who might use a garden as a front to sell produce bought wholesale from elsewhere, for example.

Could such a thing happen? Could these sweater-wearing idealists eventually be priced out of their vacant lots and weedy backyards by someone less idealistic, and more cunning? It’s been said, for example, that the explosion of expensive live/work lofts in the inner Mission is directly attributable to the lower taxes on those lofts, granted to a group of idealistic artists who petitioned for them in the late 1980s.

At the artists’ request, live/work spaces were also exempted from city design review, affordable housing laws and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. At which point developers realized it was more lucrative to go where there were fewer rules, and suddenly artists couldn’t afford to live in drafty old warehouses any more.

Planning Commissioner Ron Miguel had hinted darkly of such developments at the prior meeting, but no one here seemed worried. There’s substantially less profit in vegetables than in housing, for one.

And speakers like Brooke Budner of Little City Gardens spoke of neighbors who never complain at the occasional sound of her rototiller, and who bring her pots of hot tea. “They ask me, ‘When will I be able to buy your cabbages?’” said Budner.

It appeared that one would have to have a heart of stone to deny this group their right to sell cabbage. The measure passed, unanimously.

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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1 Comment

  1. Unanimous support at the Planning Dept, at the Board of Supervisor committee, at our neighborhood association. Maybe these people are on to something. The value-added is actually what these gardeners have given to the community.

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