Sustainable Walnut CreekJul 12, 2016 05:38PM ● By Deborah Burstyn
SUSTAINABLE WALNUT CREEK
An Urban Agriculture Movement is Taking Shape
Photography by Jessica Freels
Alongside increased housing and intractable traffic, there’s a new sustainability movement underway. Plans are in the works for agriculture in and around town, including new community gardens at area parks, produce-growing towers at local restaurants, and possible indoor agriculture operations at Shadelands Business Park.
Walnut Creek Magazine met with Economic Development Director Ethan Bindernagel to learn more about these sustainability plans. “We are in the midst of a new collaborative effort between the city, the development community and the retail community to loosen regulations and change zoning to expand urban agriculture and allow for indoor agriculture,” Bindernagel said.
COMMUNITY GARDEN PLOTS
As Walnut Creek urbanizes, an amenity the city plans to expand is urban gardens. The only existing community garden at Howe Homestead Park has a six-year waiting list for its plots, according to Bindernagel. And 70 percent of residents in a recent survey indicated they wanted more community garden space. “The City Council approved and budgeted about $100,000 to introduce community gardens at three locations that have all been vetted and approved by the Parks and Open Space Commission,” he said. The three sites designated are Heather Farm, Arbolado and San Miguel parks.
The community garden at Heather Farm is the first to launch with 50 plots in a joint effort between the City and the Gardens at Heather Farm, where the new space will be located. It will include a pergola, tables and chairs for an outdoor classroom. “It’s not just about having a green thumb,” explained Bindernagel. “This space will also be about education. Community gardens provide a wonderful place for people to find refuge from their daily work, to ponder and to learn.”
TOWER TO TABLE FOOD
Adding a new leaf to the farm-to-table movement, the City is supporting Walnut Creek restaurant’s plans to start growing food next to your table. It started with a visit to Cindy Gershen’s sustainable hospitality classroom at Mt. Diablo High School where students are growing organic produce indoors. Gershen, founder of Walnut Creek’s Sunrise Bistro and the regional Wellness City Challenge program, showed a team from the City and Walnut Creek Downtown business association her tower garden of six foot tall tubes that sprout lettuces and other greens using only air and minimal water. The aeroponic system, as it is called, uses 95 percent less water than field farming. The water is contained so it can be constantly recycled. The system can be set up on a hard surface such as concrete. Because plants grow vertically, 10 times more food can be grown per square foot. “This system conserves water. It conserves land. There is no run-off, no manure and no pesticides,” noted Bindernagel.
Tender Greens owner Erik Obherholtzer uses the technology at five of his Los Angeles area restaurants. And behind centerfield at AT&T Park, there is a vast tower garden of fruits, vegetables, greens and flowers that get harvested and used to help feed San Francisco Giants spectators the same day. Oberholtzer, according to Bindernagel, is expected to pilot an urban garden at his Walnut Creek Tender Greens restaurant. “This is a great branding opportunity for Walnut Creek,” said Bindernagel. “We will be able to promote our restaurants as offering tower-to-table fresh food.”
INDOOR URBAN FARMING
The appeal of a vertical indoor system to grow food is great in a region challenged with drought and density. So much so that Bindernagel and City staff are working on rezoning plans for some of Shadelands Business Park to allow for indoor agriculture. “This could be a real hub for innovation,” Bindernagel said, adding that hi tech businesses, like one that specializes in 3-D printing for prosthetics, are also looking at space in the business park. “Interest has been expressed by individuals who grew up here and have had success in the tech field. They would love to get a tech incubator project going in Shadelands Business Park, including indoor agriculture,” Bindernagel said. With schools and health centers located nearby, Bindernagel sees great potential for crossover opportunities. And a future for Walnut Creek that looks a little bit greener.
CLEAN ENERGY CLIMATE
Walnut Creek’s new green-friendly urban agricultural efforts dovetail with the City’s climate action plan which includes the upcoming city-wide switch to Marin Clean Energy from PG&E as its power supplier, Bindernagel explained. “These new initiatives are not greenwashing,” he said. “New community gardens, the exploration of indoor agriculture, the Climate Action Program are all part of the City’s commitment to a sustainable future.”