´╗┐Assemblyman Phil Ting: Looking for 'green thumbs'

´╗┐Opportunities for west side residents to get a green thumb through community gardens have been limited. But that will soon change because San Francisco is set to become the first location in California to implement a state law I authored to expand urban farming on empty lots.

The City has 38 community gardens on publicly owned land managed by the SF Recreation and Park Department.

Unfortunately, the demand for a plot far exceeds the available supply. And, none are found west of 19th Avenue. That's why San Francisco's new Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone ordinance is so exciting.

Currently, we have a sprinkle of vibrant gardens on private land. According to 49 Farms, an advocacy group seeking an urban farm in every square mile of San Francisco, two of them are found in the Sunset. We have the Far Out West Dune Community Garden at 43rd Avenue and Judah Street, and the Sunset Community Garden at Sunset Boulevard and Pacheco Street. There are also plans to develop a garden in the Richmond, on Balboa Street near 32nd Avenue, but that's it.

The west side has so much untapped potential for the growth of community gardens. It can be realized by taking advantage of my legislation and allowing owners of undeveloped land to receive reduced property taxes if their parcels are exclusively dedicated to urban agriculture.

The financial incentive is real. Property taxes on land zoned as commercial or residential typically cost thousands of dollars each year. The property tax bill on an urban farm may be less than $100 because the value of urban farms is assessed at $12,000 per acre - the same amount of all irrigated farm land in California.

Imagine the possibilities that await us once this new financial incentive takes root. We can take the "far" out of farming by fostering agriculture in our neighborhood. We can also confront an unfortunate contradiction: many west side residents are unable to access healthy, nutritious food because of poverty. Last year, San Francisco's Food Security Task Force found almost 21 percent of Sunset residents and almost 24 percent of Richmond District residents are at risk of food insecurity.

Little by little, as vacant lots are transformed from blight to bounty, concrete jungles will be tamed with green spaces where neighbors gather. An urban farm can be an oasis, bringing fresh and healthy food into the heart of a community. In the process, we will see an economic boost to our neighborhood, reduced crime, and an opportunity to mentor those in need. All of this will make the growth of urban farms a source of tremendous pride. The best reward of all may be the pride of sharing what we grow with our friends and family.

If you own a vacant lot and want more information about how to transform it into an urban farm, please contact my office for help at (415) 557-2312.

Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes portions of San Francisco, South San Francisco, Daly City and Broadmoor.