City Beat

Urban farm eyed in Sacramento’s Mangan Park

Guests mingle on the roadway before sitting down for a meal during the ‘Farm-to-Fork’ private dinner on the Tower Bridge in Sacramento on Sunday, September 29, 2013.
Guests mingle on the roadway before sitting down for a meal during the ‘Farm-to-Fork’ private dinner on the Tower Bridge in Sacramento on Sunday, September 29, 2013. RBenton@sacbee.com

It’s unlikely a lot of people from Mangan Park were among those dining on sturgeon pastrami and other delicacies on the Tower Bridge in September.

A gala on the bridge has become the social event of the year for the city’s elite, marking the end of the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival. Tickets are $175 a pop, but most of the seats are reserved for corporate sponsors of the festival. The opulence of the dinner has led some to mock it as a Farm-to-Silver Spoon event.

On the other side of the city is Mangan Park, a little neighborhood of working class families off Fruitridge Road. Planes landing at Sacramento Executive Airport on the neighborhood’s southern border buzz the homes. A gun range the city used to run sits vacant in the middle of the neighborhood park.

Next to the park is an old city tree nursery, where many of the trees that line our streets were planted. It’s been empty for years, guarded by a chain-link fence. A homeless guy has been sleeping in the greenhouse and feral cats roam the grounds.

Jay Schenirer sees it as an opportunity.

Schenirer is the city councilman representing Mangan Park and a lot of other depressed neighborhoods on the city’s south side. There are many empty lots in his district and he has plans for this one.

His vision: for a nonprofit he founded to partner with local organizations and build five or six urban farms on the 6-acre lot. The idea would be for the urban farmers to make enough money from their plots to operate the facility as a collective.

In addition to the farms, Schenirer wants groups to provide job training and teach classes on healthy eating habits. City schools – which drew criticism after a recent Sacramento Bee investigation for buying canned peaches, pears and applesauce from China – would also have access to the farm.

Schenirer said the city has twice solicited bids from the private sector to take over the tree nursery. Neither attempt yielded qualified results and the city has said it doesn’t have the money to run the space itself.

WayUp, the organization Schenirer founded, would lease the nursery from the city, probably for $1 a year. WayUp has focused most of its efforts on health and education programs in Oak Park. Schenirer has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the nonprofit, but does not collect a salary from the organization.

The farm would likely have a food stand for residents of Mangan Park and other neighborhoods to buy fresh produce. The closest farmers markets are a couple miles away, so the nursery would broaden a Farm-to-Every-Fork movement.

That’s not to say Farm-to-Fork has been elitist. The festival has done a lot to spread access to healthy food in Sacramento, including collecting 170,923 pounds of food this year that was distributed by local food banks to families in need. Organizers have also worked with local farms to teach schools how to plant gardens.

But Schenirer’s plan would create a new permanent hub for the local food movement in a neighborhood where the Farm-to-Every-Fork philosophy is lacking.

“Right now (the nursery is) just blight,” Schenirer said last week, surveying a landscape of overgrown weeds and lifeless trees. “We’re going to take a neighborhood asset that’s blight and turn it into a productive 6 acres.”

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