Imagine: A vacant lot transformed into a fruit garden. An apartment balcony repurposed as a tomato nursery. A backyard that functions as a grocery store. They’re all urban farms, producing food in the city—and literally changing the landscape in the process. Country and concrete can not only co–exist; they can also address food insecurity, nutrition education and healthy eating as well as carbon footprint reduction, all while creating and empowering community. Here are four little urban farms that are accomplishing big things in and around the farm-to-fork capital.
West Sacramento Urban Farm: A Place for Future Farmers To Learn
Sara Bernal was a social worker managing housing subsidies for homeless shelters in San Francisco when a relationship took her to a farm in Fair Oaks. Her partner at the time had landed a farming apprenticeship, and Bernal, visiting from the city, was enchanted by her first glimpse of farm life. When the relationship ended, she decided she wanted to farm, too. After an internship in Penryn and a job at Chico’s Grub Farm, she headed to the Delta to start her own farm on a leased plot of land she’d found on Craigslist. Four years later, she lost the farm, but a new opportunity arose: The city of West Sacramento was looking for someone to spearhead an initiative for an urban farm. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, that would be cool!’” recalls Bernal, who wrote a grant proposal and partnered with the nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning. Now, she works as program manager for West Sacramento Urban Farms, which converts vacant lots into urban farm business incubators that help small-scale farmers get established.
The farms, on five separate sites totaling 7 acres, grow more than 25,000 pounds of fresh produce every month. The produce is donated to food banks, supplied to local schools and restaurants, and sold at farm stands and farmers markets. Although the farms aren’t certified organic due to prohibitive costs, Bernal says they employ completely organic practices. “We’re out there at 7 a.m. squishing bugs with our fingers,” she says.
Bernal’s latest project is kind of like if a farmers market and a food truck had a baby. After securing a refrigeration grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, she purchased a refrigerated mobile market truck from a custom builder in Canada. She plans to launch the truck in 2021 and primarily serve residents in affordable housing complexes.
With enough funding, Bernal also dreams of piloting a “veggie prescription program” that would give sick people vouchers for fresh food in addition to or, in some cases, instead of a pill prescription.
West Sacramento Urban Farms operates a farm stand at the corner of Bridge and Riverfront streets 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.