The Cannery series
Part 1: The history and final design (Aug. 11)
Part 2: Impact on surrounding neighborhoods (Aug. 18)
Part 3: Senior housing (Aug. 25)
Part 4: Sustainability (Sept. 1)
Part 5: Cannery Farm
Part 6: Business
This is Part 5 of an ongoing series discussing the various aspects of The Cannery project.
The City Council will consider the final design of the residential development over several meetings in October and November, after the city’s Planning Commission reviews it over two meetings on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25. The project is not subject to Measure J/R, which requires voter approval of any proposal to convert county farmland into residential use in the city.
ConAgra Foods Inc. has taken an innovative approach to how The Cannery project’s eastern border would transition from residential neighborhood to open space: They’d like to build a working farm.
The city’s municipal code requires new developments built adjacent to agricultural land to plant a buffer between the residential and undeveloped spaces to help prevent conflict between agricultural and nonagricultural areas.
The Cannery, the last large undeveloped property within city limits, is proposed as a 547-unit residential development on 100 acres of vacant industrial space in North Davis. It’s framed by F Street to the west, East Covell Boulevard to the south and undeveloped open space to the east.
Rather than some garden-variety greenbelt, the project applicant has picked an urban farm to serve as that transitional acreage, calling it a “defining feature” of the overall development.
“The intent was to have those areas be more productive than land that would be left in a natural unmanaged state,” George Phillips, a spokesman for ConAgra, said in an email. “(Based on other examples in the region) we embraced the idea from the beginning.”
At about 120 feet wide and a little more than half a mile long, the farm would be sewn into a 7.4-acre strip of land running along the entire eastern edge of the property, if the City Council approves the final design this fall.
To operate the farm, ConAgra has enlisted the Center for Land-Based Learning, a nonprofit Winters-based farm school that trains prospective farmers and serves as a business incubator through its California Farm Academy program.
At the end of the program, which lasts about nine months or 270 hours of instruction and hands-on time, students graduate and move out on their own in hopes of growing their businesses.
As an extension of the existing program, the academy would station student farmers at Cannery Farm where they would continue learning skills like farm management, vegetable production, harvesting and product marketing.
The idea for the urban farm in The Cannery, says Jennifer Taylor, the center’s academy director, would be to run a program where two or three experienced students would continue their education using machine-scale farming.
“Kind of like graduate school,” Taylor said.
Based on the local market, Taylor believes the farm likely would grow produce common at farmers markets.
The center has been working with ConAgra for several years to help design the farm to ensure that the proper facilities are built and that it features the appropriate access points and infrastructure for farmers and equipment.
In the project proposal, the farm facilities — a barn and office, a packing area and wash station, a storage cooler and a greenhouse — are found in the southernmost point of the farm.
The main access point to the farm would be on J Street near the development’s main entrance. A 10-foot gravel road would extend along the length of the farm for the students to access their individual plots.
After the space occupied by the facilities and the accompanying infrastructure, Taylor estimates the center could dig up about 5 acres of the 7.4-acre site for farming, with each of the students working on plots of land ranging from three-quarters of an acre to 3 acres.
“We chose CLBL as a logical nonprofit partner because of their existing reputation and good work both in Yolo County and statewide,” Phillips said. “The more we spoke to them and learned more about their California Farm Academy, the more we liked the concept of working with them. It has been an invaluable collaborative effort with them to translate the concept of an urban working farm into reality.”
Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director, said he and city staff like the idea of the farm, in addition to partnering with CLBL to run it.
For the center to operate the farm, ConAgra would have to dedicate the site to the city and then the city would lease the land to the center to run the school.
“The city is very excited about the opportunity to partner with CLBL,” Webb said in an email. “This urban farm is a very unique opportunity and would be the first of its kind in Davis.”
Taylor said the city and the center likely will have to do some fundraising to cover the upfront costs of the farm.
As for community involvement, aside from tours and a few volunteer or demonstration days during the year, the farm mostly would serve as a visual amenity and would not be open to the public.
ConAgra representatives say residents will have the chance to grow their own produce in community gardens in some of the commonly maintained open spaces. In addition, edible landscaping will be featured throughout the proposed community.
The project applicants also say there’s an opportunity for residents to set up a community supported agriculture program — similar to more than a dozen programs already operating in Davis — where those with a subscription to the CSA would have the produce grown on the urban farm delivered right to their doorsteps.
Phillips also says produce would be sold at the market hall that’s planned as part of the 15 acres of mixed-use/ commercial space along the southern section of the property, adding that the zoning for the space would allow for market stands to sell produce from the parking lot “when produce is available seasonally.”
Meanwhile, some restaurants already have begun contacting the city and the applicant about buying produce from the farm to serve in their restaurants, according to Taylor.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash