Reporting San Antonio

Food Forests, Gardens Could Feed 1.2M in San Antonio, Study Says

Leer esta página en: Español

Report co-authors Mitch Hagney and Anne D. Guerry presenting on the potential impact of food forests and gardens before a San Antonio City Council committee last month. Image: Greg Harman

Councilmembers voice support for policy recommendations that could expand urban farms and forests across the city.

Isabella Briseño

By converting every scrap of “available, publicly owned, underutilized natural lands” across San Antonio to urban gardens could feed more than 1.2M residents and produce more than 926M pounds of food. Converting only a third of the open land in District 5 to farmland could meet the full nutritional needs for vegetables for every household in the westside district currently reliant on federal food assistance. 

These are two key findings of “Vibrant Land: The Benefits of Food Forests and Urban Farms in San Antonio.” The new report was produced by the Natural Capital Project, housed at Stanford University, in collaboration with the Food Policy Council of San Antonio. The report details a range of potential impacts of existing urban agriculture initiatives on a district, city, and individual level. 

Increased local food production is a goal of several city plans, including San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), which has so far seen limited progress. Recommendations to boost urban agriculture, however, were warmly received by city council members at a May 25 briefing of the City’s Health, Environment, and Culture committee.

District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told Assistant City Manager David McCary at the meeting that “hopefully it’s something that’s already baked into the [city] budget as a recommendation.”

The report advances several policy recommendations endorsed by the Food Policy Council of San Antonio that could help grow urban agriculture initiatives in the city. One requests a community tool shed expansion requiring $150,000 in initial costs and $30,000 in recurring annual expenses to help  empower San Antonians to maintain gardens of their own. Another proposal advocates for the benefits of leasing public lands to urban farmers for 10-year terms costing farmers only $1 per year. The final policy proposed would expand food forests across the city and make the City of San Antonio responsible for both maintaining and determining the most equitable placements for such forests. 

The report researchers found that District 5—located on the Westside of San Antonio—had the smallest amount of publicly owned and undeveloped spaces, totaling 237 acres. District 3, on the Southside, had the most of any district: 4,323 acres.

While urban farms like Garcia Street Urban Farm in District 2 could produce the most food, the report found that food forests covering the same amount of land could still offer over 192 million tons of fruit and nuts—while providing greater co-benefits than gardens, including urban cooling, captured carbon, and accessible green space. Problematically, urban farms were found to create more nutrient pollution of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff than food forests. 

The cooling benefits of both, especially of food forests, opens opportunities to not only strategically place these projects in areas demonstrating nutritional need, but also in or near urban heat islands.

Districts 3 and 5 have lower heat intensity scores compared to, for example, District 8, which also happens to have the second highest amount of land available to establish urban agriculture.

Residents of District 3, with a higher percentage of available land, also have a need for fresh and nutritional food, with a large number of households receiving SNAP benefits or being classified as low-income. The report states that by converting only around 200 acres of their available land to urban farms that all D3 households receiving SNAP benefits could be provided their yearly allotment of vegetables.

The report offered examples from proposed and existing food forests, beginning with a prospective one in District 3’s Villa Coronado Park. The park is located in a zip code with a high need for vegetable consumption and physical activity among children.  A roughly 9-acre food forest in this park could provide over 100,000 pounds of food for the community, as well as offer 162 tons of carbon storage in the soils.

See: San Antonio’s Hottest Neighborhoods Mapped

Also assessed was the already established Tamōx Talōm Food Forest, located in District 3 and also serving a low-income area with low access to fresh food. This new forest, once fully producing, could provide fruit and nuts valued at around $87,000 annually on its 1.47 acres. It could also offer 26 metric tons of carbon storage and decrease cooling costs for the surrounding community. 

A third case study conducted in the report was a prospective 64-acre food forest in District 7’s Garza and Linear parks. This ambitious project could have an impact of $3,7M worth of food for a census tract where 65 percent of residents are classified as low-income. 

While there is much cause for frustration on a lack of movement toward the city’s different climate initiatives, this report details how urban agriculture can provide for our communities, all while offering much needed co-benefits. 

Here’s the report:


Like What You’re Seeing? Become a patron for as little as $1 per month. Sign up for our newsletter (for nothing!). Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes or Sticher. Share this story with others.