Food Forests: From Vacant Lands to Vibrant Lands (San Antonio, TX, USA)
Working with the Food Policy Council and the San Antonio Office of Innovation to explore the multiple benefits that could flow to people from further investment in vacant lands in the city.
After the flood of October 1998, the City of San Antonio quickly enacted one of the nation’s largest buyout programs, ultimately receiving nearly $10 million to help buy out over 400 structures in the affected floodplains. By law, structures must be demolished and properties purchased under this FEMA program must remain as open space in perpetuity. They can be used as parks, wildlife refuges, camping areas, etc., but cannot be developed or sold to private individuals. Indeed, the City of San Antonio has created public spaces such as parks and trails on some of these lands. However, others remain vacant.
In the fastest growing city in the US, where land is at a premium, thinking creatively about how to use these lands can help address multiple urban challenges including food insecurity, urban heat islands, equity in access to green spaces, and climate change mitigation—alongside flood risk mitigation. The Padre Park Food Forest, soon to be created along the San Antonio River, represents a small-scale innovation that could be scaled up to other city-owned lands, such as those that were part of the buy-out program.
NatCap worked with leaders in San Antonio to explore how alternative future scenarios might improve the equitable flows of benefits to people throughout the city. In May 2023, NatCap presented a report to the San Antonio City Council, a result of this collaboration between NatCap, the Food Policy Council of San Antonio, and three San Antonio city departments (Innovation, Metro Health, and Sustainability). It estimated the amount of food that could be produced by urban farms and food forests, as well as some of their additional benefits: urban cooling, carbon storage, flood retention, and green space.
The report is being widely disseminated and cited across Texas, and was used as part of a successful bid to allocate $60,000 for three new urban farms on public lands in San Antonio.