In a quiet valley 40 miles inland, a half dozen tenants work land owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. It’s a once-unused field above the massive pipes that transport water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to the city. Known as the Sunol Water Temple Agricultural Park, the project was conceived by the Berkeley nonprofit Sustainable Agriculture and Education (SAGE), “which pioneered the idea of urban edge agricultural parks: undeveloped plots on the outskirts of urban areas to be used both by small farmers without access to their own land and as public parkland.”
Initially an interim project when it was launched in 2006, the park has become more permanent now that SAGE has signed a long-term agreement with the PUC. The lands have proven to be remarkably productive, and tenants include the People’s Grocery, which grows fresh vegetables for the food desert of West Oakland, California; an ingenious, crossbreeding tomato specialist; and Iu-Mien Village Farms, a contingent of middle-aged Mien women with a rich farming heritage they’d been divorced from in the city. The whole enterprise is smart, inspirational, and low-cost, and you can’t read about it without wondering about all the other abandoned, underused exurban land out there.