SACRAMENTO, Calif. — West Sacramento is using technology to cultivate more interest in urban farming.
The city is unveiling two new apps that officials hope will help citizens connect with local agriculture: Acres, which uses an algorithm to identify areas where urban farmers could lease land, came out earlier this month. Farm Stand, which lets users view what each urban farmstand is selling, will be released in mid-November.
The apps were created by three fellows in the Code for America program, which posts civic-minded developers in cities across the country for one year to find ways technology can promote efficiency in government. The West Sacramento fellows spent the first few months of their term speaking to citizens, grocers and food distributors to determine how to help residents better access local food.
“They try to find opportunities for civic tech to unclog barriers in all kind of systems and processes,” West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon told StateScoop. “What they discovered was that [there] were two areas in the farming arena where there was this bottleneck. They get more specific, and by spring they had identified this kind of urban farm focus.”
Cabaldon said the Acres app aims to create a marketplace for farmland. More than ever, he said, children of farming families are choosing alternative careers, while city dwellers are increasingly interesting in doing their own farming.
“There is [currently] no market match to connect urban farmers,” Cabaldon said. “The idea that someone might come onto your property and farm on it for a few years doesn’t match the commercial market.”
The second tool, Farm Stand, creates a crop list from each stand that updates as items become available or sell out. The app automatically sends residents text messages about availability changes.
Natasha Fernandez-Fountain said the fellows focused on urban farms because the city already had a strong urban agriculture program and offers urban farming classes. Even so, the fellows felt there were ways that citizens could better engage with the program.
“It does seem clear that there was a disconnect between the urban farmers and the residents of the community that we were supposed to be serving,” Fernandez-Fountain said. “The farmers didn’t know about what the residents wanted or needed and the residents didn’t understand how the farms could even meet their needs. There were misconceptions about what was being grown at the farms and how much it cost.”
Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which sponsored the fellows in West Sacramento, hopes other cities will take advantage of the apps as well.
“The idea to limit it to one city is to kind of keep the geographic scale something the three fellows can control for,” said Raef Porter, a senior analyst for the council. “Working with the entire region was something new. The idea was to still focus on one city but to look at how whatever came out of the fellowship can easily be deployed to other cities.”
Cabaldon said that efforts to support urban farming, like the newly released apps, are critical. They’re a way to transition communities into a more sustainable and economically vibrant future.
“Urban farming is a key element for us in the city because it provides a multi-benefit approach, taking pieces of property that are abandoned or have nothing but illicit activities happening on them, that happens in developed urban communities like ours, and transitioning them,” Cabaldon said.