Tenderloin People's Garden Battles Food Desert In Downtown San Francisco (VIDEO)

At the Ferry Building, San Francisco is a leader in fresh, healthy, sustainable food. But in the Tenderloin, options are generally limited to liquor stores. And the disparity between the two has not gone unnoticed.

In 2010, a small concrete plot on Larkin and McAllister was converted into the Tenderloin People's Garden: a community garden battling the "food desert" (the lack of healthy food options) in the neighborhood.


A project of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), the Tenderloin People's Garden is run entirely by volunteers who plant, harvest and donate produce to anyone who is hungry.

The Tenderloin is the only neighborhood in San Francisco without a full-service grocery store. The Bayview – one of the city's poorest but most populated neighborhoods – was finally granted a grocery store just last fall.

"The tenderloin has some of the highest health concerns in the city - some of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease," said TNDC Director of Community Organizing Steve Woo to ABC7. "We think that food is one way to address some of those public health concerns."

The food desert argument has been a controversial one. Last month, the New York Times released a study suggesting the absence of a connection between the food available in an area and childhood obesity rates – a sharp departure from claims made by food justice advocates like Michelle Obama.

"Focusing on the absence of supermarkets also detracts from the substantial racial, social and economic inequality at the root of disparate retail environments," argued New School professor Nevin Cohen in a counter-article.

But despite the study, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of demand in the Tenderloin.

"Last year in 2011, we harvested around 3,000 pounds of food and we distributed to around 300 plus people in the neighborhood," said Community Outreach Coordinator Lorenzo Listana to ABC7. "This is one source where residents can get their fresh produce for free."

Now, the TNDC is eyeing another plot in the neighborhood, and is trying to pull together the $50,000 needed to complete a second garden.

"It's a day-to-day struggle to find vegetables, fruit," said Woo to ABC7. With the second garden TNDC could provide access to produce to hundreds more people.

The studies may not be as hopeful as advocates would have liked. But TNDC believes that healthy food is a human right.

"The Tenderloin People's Garden was created as part of TNDC's campaign for food justice," wrote the organization on its website. "We promote a more equitable food system that prioritizes all people's access to the basic human right of healthy food."

Watch ABC7's video for more on the TNDC's plans: