Sacramentans are getting creative — and the city wants to help. City officials believe that arts and culture add not only to the quality of life in the city, but also to economic growth. Last January, City Council approved the Creative Economy Grant pilot project launched by Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s office in the summer of 2017. Five hundred submissions poured in for projects in the city, requesting $7.6 million, but only $500,000 in funding was available. Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood brought in the bulk of the winning food-related projects, including a mural that will direct CalFresh (food stamp) beneficiaries to shop at their local farmers market, a high school sidewalk beautification project, and an urban farming training and demo garden. Here’s the projects getting a boost:
Sacramento Food Policy Council’s CalFresh Mural
The Sacramento Food Policy Council, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve healthy food and sustainable farming, won a $5,000 grant to create social awareness through art. The group plans to commission an artist to build a 10-foot mural in South Oak Park at the corner of 14th Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The mural will target local CalFresh recipients — low-income individuals who are at highest risk for diet-related disease — encouraging them to shop at nearby farmers markets where their benefits can be used and will be matched by additional free food vouchers, benefiting local farmers as well.
Adrian Rehn, an organizer with the policy council, said the group wanted to approach art through a social benefit lens. “We wanted to redefine how the region sees public art,” says Rehn. “A big opportunity for this pilot project is to address core social and economic issues using public art.”
Several community partners came together through the policy council to identify a shared concern: Many CalFresh recipients don’t know their benefits can be used at farmers markets, let alone that they have the chance to receive matching dollars. By increasing awareness, the project hopes to close this information gap among the 17,000 people who reside in three zip codes nearest the sign’s location, providing them with greater access to regular fresh, nutritious food in their neighborhoods.
Once the grant contract is signed with the city, the Sacramento Food Policy Council will hold a call for artists.
V Street Garden
Anne Fenkner lives on V Street in Oak Park, across from Sacramento High’s athletic track. She received a Creative Economy Grant to beautify the school’s fence line along her street. Fenkner believes nature is a conduit to a higher quality of living, and her proposal will expand an existing “skinny garden,” as she calls it, growing along the chain link the separates her neighborhood from the high school.
“I believe that academic success doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of teachers and administrators or even parents,” says Fenkner. “To make deep significant changes, we as a community need to start operating differently.”
The garden started as a passion project of Fenkner’s neighbor, who planted a few flowers for fun. Eventually, Fenkner took over, and has nurtured a trellis of color the community appreciates. Neighbors and high school students often stop by to tell her how much they enjoy the garden.
As a certified Master Gardener, Fenkner has a way with plants. Through the grant, she plans to enhance the soil’s organic matter to grow vegetables for the community in addition to flowers, to upgrade the irrigation, and to add more plants. She also plans to hold two community barbeques in the space. Most of all, she looks forward to seeing the joy she spreads among students and neighbors.
Urban Farm Demonstration Garden
Oak Park Sol executive director, Randy Stannard, wants to see residents take greater advantage of the city’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance (passed in 2015), which allows homeowners to sell food they grow through farm stands on their property. The ordinance was replicated by Sacramento County in 2017, and Stannard wants to take advantage of the momentum. He received a Creative Economy Grant to provide business training and build a demonstration garden to encourage more backyard farming.
Stannard says there is a lack of community participation in urban farming. He was part of the coalition that worked with the city to improve its urban agriculture laws, but says regulations aren’t the only barrier. He believes residents need training to get started. His classes will focus on creating a viable — and practical — business on a small urban yard.
Grant funds will be used to build a model farm plot focused on herbs at the existing community garden run by the nonprofit in Oak Park. Stannard believes herbs are a perfect space-saving crop that can generate revenue. He wants to showcase what a typical quarter-acre farm could look like, and will focus on making the plots profitable for the grower.
Oak Park Sol will launch a series of five micro-farm classes, build the demo garden, and create a coalition of local urban farmers to provide a social network of support.
The Future of Sacramento’s Creative Economy
According to Ash Roughani from the Mayor’s Office for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, city leaders want a creative economy, because arts and culture improve quality of life. It can also build economic activity, as food intersects with arts and culture at a financial level. Roughani plans to collect data from projects throughout the grant process to learn from it and hopes results will demonstrate a return on investment that will encourage the city to make future funds available for more creative grants. What might that return look like?
“We have a hypothesis,” says Roughani, “that these investments will lead to greater economic activity in areas where they’re located, or social impact on underserved communities, or create foot traffic by activating areas.”