Monday, December 29, 2008

A Little but a Lot of Local

This week I had no left over produce from the Farmer's Market and all I had to give away was the little amount of harvest I was able to pick out of three gardens right now that are within a block of the stand.. I think next week will be the same. A little bit of arugula, some salad mix, some Speckles butterhead lettuces, a few cape gooseberry fruits, a few chili peppers, a handful of greens, and a couple of Florence fennel or finocchio bulbs. Later in the day Jose and Minda came by with a couple of nice daikon roots from Potrero de Sol garden. I also gave away more honey and olives, and we shelled walnuts from our tree and gave them out.. There wasn't much bread either, mostly a big basket of raisin rolls.

I must admit besides arugula I am pretty impressed with growing broccoli plants this year, because of their ability to keep sending out side shoots (though our few plants are about dead). Also, yesterday Max came by after the farm stand was over carrying a big bunch of tree collard greens he harvested from the All in Common Garden that he was taking to the friary where he lives. I am growing some tree collards right now that I just started this year and they are all growing rather slowly (being in pretty much shade). My oldest plant in my backyard doesn't have many leaves and it wouldn't be worth harvesting. I should plant a bunch of them in the permaculture garden where they get more sun.

I have heard a story from a friend about seeing an abandoned house in the Capay Valley near Davis that had orange trees on the property and another house that wasn't abandoned that seemed to have a tree loaded with oranges that wasn't getting picked. I wonder if it would be worth driving east to check out gleaning oranges there.

Though there wasn't a lot of produce, it was a beautiful somewhat sunny winter day and there were quite a number of people who showed up. There might have been more talk than food. Sara Miles came by who is involved with Saint Gregory's Church on Potrero Hill near the 18th and Rhode Island garden. We talked about a plan that is being discussed to get a lot of Episcopal Churches to grow food for their food pantries. I am very excited about this and the possibility of working with them somehow. I think that the churches that are interested in growing food need to be visited and see what would be appropriate for their space. I told Sara that I think the Churches should be planting fruit trees if they have the space and grow them small and closely planted. She also wants to contact people in the churches to see if they have fruit trees in their backyards that could use picking ad make a database of trees that could be gleaned. Caleb a wonderful volunteer who was helping out at the table talked to her also and is interested in setting up a gleaning project in the city. I think Sara is going to coordinate a meeting of people that may be interested in this project.

I also enjoyed talking to some of our other local neighbors. It was great having Sara around who could talk in Spanish to people and I was able to somewhat follow the conversations. One guy was talking about his father who sounded like he had a great garden. He was talking about a tree that his father grows that had a fruit he didn't know the name for in English. He called it Nispero and I figured out it was loquat. Here is a link to a youtube video of a loquat fruit unpeeling I also heard a lot of stories from another man whose son helped us shell walnuts, about grwoing food in El Salvador. The man seemed to be really hip about growing food organically and using natural remedies and herbs for medicine. He said that now the young people there don't want to be farmers though and he said there were a lot of empty fields.

Last Friday we had a well attended 18th and Rhode Island work day. I brought more seedlings and we planted them all around (the other seedlings are growing though very slowly). The fava beans are coming up and also the clover has sprouted. The garlic too is growing. The crew of four or five people pulled ivy up with the goal of seeing where we are going to plant our avocado grove and as a first step towards mulching the area.

Like I probably said before, I ordered trees and I just spoke to Jim in Southern California who is generously picking them up (plus making the rounds to some other nurseries to get some more hard to get plants and trees). Tentatively we are planing a tree planting on Saturday January 10th which will be partly a hands on workshop.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Growing Revolution in Our Gardens

I just finished reading an inspiring book called Where our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov'v Quest to End Famine by Gary Nahan. I liked this book partly because it is somewhat of a biography and a glimpse of history that I love to read. This book covers so much more though, including a real world view of climate change on our planet, a glimpse into how other people and cultures grow and eat food, what corporations are doing to our food supply, etc.

More than anything I have read, it clearly highlights the debate about how to deal with the issues of hunger and food insecurity in the world and in our local communities. This is something I have thought a lot about and why I started the Free Farm Stand. On the one side are the people who believe in the technology intensive "modern" approach to agriculture versus Gary's approach which is to support local and traditional agriculture that fosters small scale diversity and isn't aiming for mass maximum production values. The world can seem pretty depressing while reading his book, but there does seem to be hope nestled in between the pages and he presents a lot of examples of evidence of a growing movement of people's efforts to turn things around.

Yesterday was the solstice and the days now will be lengthening. Now is a good time for us all to gather up our spent energies during the last year and get inspired again to plant new seeds come spring. We the people are the ones that have to make the changes that are needed in this world (that is what I always come back to, especially after reading inspiring books). I just ordered 18 trees to plant at our new garden on Potrero Hill and I can't tell you how exciting that is to me. Planting fruit trees is one of the best votes for hope one can make. I was thinking that we should have at least one hands-on workshop on tree planting in January and also one on grafting.

We had another cold and rainy day at the Free Farm Stand. I got no leftover produce from the fancy farmer's market, though I still had small bags of Brussel sprouts and radish left from last week (and I will be out next Sunday, but I really am not expecting to have much right after Christmas).

My surprise was that the combination of the three gardens I work in produced an ok amount of food to give away. I bought a scale recently and this week I weighed some of the produce I harvested. I picked a total of two pounds of baby greens from the gardens. With the exception of Treat Commons, the places where I am growing food are pretty shady. I would love to learn what others are growing now and it would be great if serious city growers could get together and exchange notes on what grows best for them and in what conditions (shade, sun, a little sun, etc).

My big discovery this week is to realize that arugula is a great plant to grow in a shady spot in the garden. It is so easy to grow. In a lot of shade the plants don't get very big, but I did manage to harvest quite a lot. And in full sun where we grew some too, I got so much bigger plants and the yield was terrific. Arugula is in the cabbage family and is nutritionally good to eat and I think we can throw some not only in our salads, but throw the small greens on foods that we cook, like in the end in soups or on pizza right out of the oven, or in tofu scrambles. The same with baby greens or baby stir fry mix, just throw it in with our salads or cooked dishes at the very end.

So our table, despite the lack of huge amounts of farmer's market produce had a nice display and variety of more locally grown food. Besides the baby greens and salad mix, I harvested almost the last of the hot peppers from the sunniest garden. And I also had basil from the African Blue basil plant (it 's flavor is not as strong a basil flavor as regular basil). This is an amazing perennial plant that is still growing very well in the full sun. I plan to make some cuttings to propagate it, because it is a hybrid and doesn't produce seed. I cut up a giant pumpkin I found on the sidewalk last week and tried to give it away. Some people took it. Myself I am not a big pumpkin eater and this pumpkin was very orange inside and was probably loaded with vitamins and minerals, but it was rather bland tasting at least raw. Good to throw in a soup perhaps. But twenty pounds of food in the start of winter is something not to turn away from. I was talking to Greg a neighbor at the stand and he came back later with a friend and brought some Meyer lemons from his backyard which was really great.

To cheer things up a bit, I put on my Santa's hat and gave away gift wrapped jars of honey from our bees and olives from the tree down the street. Cynthia processed most of the ones I gave out using just salt and water. I can't believe she hand slit each olive. For the ones I processed I used lye which is faster though the final taste may be slightly different. And some sad news is that Jamie the bread girl lost her job at the bakery. She showed up to get some produce. I am now picking up the bread and if anyone wants to take that project on please contact me (it needs picking up at 7pm on Saturday night and a vehicle or a big bike cart is needed…I have a medium size bike cart that would be available and another cart that needs rebuilding).

I didn't make it to the last work Friday workday at 18th St. and Rhode Island, though others showed up and pulled ivy and built stone retaining walls. We are trying to determine now if anyone wants to come out after Christmas this Friday to work. I will probably show up to visit the garden in any case and see how things are doing. Last week there was some frost on the berms that David photographed with his telephone camera. No real damage was done to anything is what I heard.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter for Sure

The days have gotten really short and the air is cold and we have gotten some rain finally. For me it is hard to spend time in the gardens and I prefer to sit indoors and look out my window at the garden than to spend time gardening right now. We have to have faith that spring will come and all the excitement it brings. But it is true we have to eat and what do we have stored up that we harvested this summer? If we were in the country maybe we would have something, a root cellar filled with vegetables or jars of homemade jam or pickles. All I have are some olives that I picked late in the year and some honey. We need to get our act together here in the city if we want to eat more local.

I can't believe we set up the Free Farm Stand yesterday in the cold and rainy outdoors. Some people may have missed us because we moved the stand to the sidewalk on 23rd, partly because the garden was too muddy and wet and partly because I am sure no one would have known we were there. I had only a small amount of produce that I harvested from the secret garden, some broccoli and greens from the failed kohlrabi plants (they didn't grow and form bulbs). There was some lettuce there but I didn't get around to harvesting it nor did I harvest the stir fry mix that is in my backyard. I am growing sprouts and sunflower greens again just to feel like I am growing some of my own food. So the stand was mostly unsold produce from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. I don't understand how we wound up having some grapes this time of year. We also had lots of Brussel sprouts, various herbs, various greens, leeks, and carrots. And lots of Acme bread.

I was surprised how many people came by and that we gave away all our produce. Because of our being on the sidewalk we got some new people too. I plan to continue setting up throughout the winter, but in January sometime I want to take 2 weeks off to slow down and breathe and evaluate how we are doing. Because it was so cold and rainy I didn't take a lot of photos, but here they are, including some recent shots of 18th and Rhode Island.

Last Friday I was at 18th and Rhode Island garden and helped pull up ivy with four others. The weather was ok, there was a little sun at the beginning and then it clouded up. The berms are greening up with the clover and fava beans coming up, the garlic too is peeking through the chips and the arugula lawn is growing. The seedlings we stuck in the grown are growing larger too.

I pray that everyone stays warm and healthy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bare root season

It is the time to think about purchasing fruit trees and other fruiting plants because now is when they are available more cheaply. You get them without any soil around their roots instead of coming in a container (bare root) and put them right into the ground. The last few days I have been refining my list of fruit trees for two sites that we are planning to plant within a month or so. One is maybe a bit of a long shot, which is to expand the small urban orchard that is in Treat Commons out into the park (Parque Niños Unidos). We need to get permission from Recreation and Park and I am not sure how long it will take or what kind of bureaucracy we will face. At the permaculture farm on 18th and Rhode Island I think it is a little more straight forward. A few of us have been trying to figure out what trees we want to grow there and where we want to put them, then we have to get the trees. It has been fun to spend almost a whole day thinking about varieties of fruit trees and trying to design a high density plan for fruit trees in a public park.

One thought that has come up in my mind is that we as consumers are so controlled by the corporations and even the farmers who grow food for us to eat. They decide what kinds of apples we can chose to buy or avocados or potatoes. A lot of times it is based on how easy it is to ship (you don't see a lot of mulberries for sale) or what foods people are used to (maybe based on marketing). People now want Haas avocados even if they have to come from Chile because they don't make fruit year round here. We are really limited in choice when we buy food and the only way we will be able to have more choice in what flavors we taste will be if we grow food and share it among ourselves. Some fruits we may have to go to other neighbor's trees to graze because they are hard to transport even to a free farm stand. Just running the farm stand I am learning more about local varieties of fruit. For example, I have learned l lot about figs this year from people bringing me samples of figs from their trees and also by picking them. This week we had two varieties of figs that two different people brought from their trees. Brown Turkey figs grown on Capp St. and Black Mission figs grown in Visitacion Valley.

I dream of finally learning to graft avocado seedlings and other fruit trees and giving them away at the Free Farm Stand. We need to establish some mother trees of different cultivars that we can collect scion wood and use to graft the seedlings.

Talking about fruit trees. Jo picked some wonderful fruit that she called Asian pears somewhere in Pacifica that looked delicious. I only tasted one that was slightly under ripe, but the fruit was in perfect shape and I can't believe they are so late in the season. I want to get grafting wood from that tree for sure, and it would help if we knew positively that it was an Asian pear. From my tasting one it seemed like an Asian pear. Besides the figs that both Marcus and Sarah brought, Christy came up with a couple of pumpkins from Corona Heights Community Garden and more Cape Gooseberries. Rory pointed out that these berries when dried are what they sell as Inca berries. I got more feijoas (pineapple guavas) from my friend in Noe Valley and Stephanie brought some from Southern California (she actually drove down here with two plants and a banana tree and found some fruit at the nursery that she brought for us to taste). The small rounder ones from the nursery were somewhat sweeter which would make sense). A woman brought some rosemary from her garden and some Haichiya persimmons from her grandmother's tree in Millbrae. I really wanted some food at the stand that I grew (while our garden sits in shade and things grow so slowly). So I ordered more sprouting seed and grew sunflower greens and clover/brassica mix sprouts. Do people know that San Francisco is home to the ultimate sprout seed selling business, Sprout People, a family run internet business ( How local can we get, though they have to get their seeds shipped to them. I am not so much pro business, but they really help people a lot with free sprout growing advice on their web site. Growing sprouts is so empowering! People love the sprouts and I need to put out a how to flyer to encourage people to try growing sprouts themselves. I just don't have time to do all the wonderful things I can think of doing!

We also had carrots, salad mix, lettuce, bok choy, and turnips from the ferry building.

We had a lot of great volunteers helping set up and run the stand. And we had at least two Spanish speakers that really make a lot of people more familiar with the scene. Recently while collecting horse manure I was talking with two new friends that go to San Francisco State about another component of the Free Farm Stand that I would like to get off the ground eventually. They have a lot of students who want to volunteer to do some work related to gardening and improving our environment.

I want to have one day a week, maybe Saturdays, that the Free Farm Stand helps Mission neighbors put in gardens in their backyard (or plant a fruit tree or some berries). And if they have some surplus they can bring some to the Free Farm Stand or share it with friends. I was talking to Blair at the fabulous end of the year open house party for Garden for the Environment and The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance. This was a night for networking with other garden folks and I started talking to Blair who is involved with the Victory Garden Project. With some grant money they are putting in 15 backyard Victory Gardens in the city. He said there were 1000 people that applied. I thought that if we had a core group of volunteers we could possibly contact some of those people who applied for a garden in the Mission and offer to help them put in a garden of some sort. There seems to be a lot of people that want to help out and this would be the perfect way.

I also learned some news about the Project Homeless Connect Garden. The site is that was donated to project is where the old Glidden paint factory was and has verified levels of contaminants that exceed hazardous waste levels for human health exposure. It is actually the road between the two buildings of the old factory and is one of the original streets now classified as a "unaccepted roadway". It is big (.8 acres). I also heard that it may belong to the Port Authority. So it sounds like the garden will have to be built in containers. Blair thought that if the city were to remove 8 inches of soil on the whole lot, using permaculture techniques and bio remediation it could possibly be cleaned up within a year. I think more research could be done also about planting fruit trees in the soil and whether the contaminants would wind up in the fruit.
Well I guess after thinking about that site, the 18th and Rhode Island land sounds like paradise. Last week I think we finished planting all the fava beans (I was only there on Friday without a camera) and we sprinkled granite rock dust everywhere for minerals. I am not sure what is next to do there, deal with the ivy for sure and I am trying to move forward with getting trees planted soon. The seedlings are growing larger every day!

Monday, December 1, 2008

King Cole

It is hard for me to believe I am able to grow anything in the gardens where I am working that are in so much shade right now. For this week's farm stand I harvested some lettuce and mixed greens from my backyard to make a lettuce mix. And the Secret Garden had some kale, broccoli, and chard that I picked. The Cole family rules! Over in Treat Commons where there is a lot of sun, the baby greens and the lettuce grew much bigger and I was able to harvest enough to make my salad mixed look great. In total I had one big bowl full of salad mix all from the three gardens. I also harvested a number of yellow wax peppers and some Rocoto peppers, a few snap peas (I am not impressed with the dwarf snap peas I grew, Sugar Ann variety, that grew well but the peas were pretty small compared with the standard tall variety Sugar Snap and not so productive). Sheryl from church gave me the last cherry tomatoes from her garden in Berkeley, yellow, red, and dark reddish black kinds with different shapes too. I had some left over tomatillos from last week from Marcus's children's garden at the botanical garden in the Golden Gate Park. The ferry Building Farmer's Market supplied us again with most of our produce: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, many kinds of greens including mustard, collards, kale, bok choy, and chard. We also had some winter squash, turnips, and various herbs like cilantro and parsley. And there was a lot of bread too. Ellen came by with a few bunches of grapes from the farmers market where she works.

This is the man who pushes one of those ice cream carts

who has been coming regularly to shop

our latest gardener convert

Update on the Food Forest Garden on Potrero Hill

The weather has been crazy warm as we enter the month of December and I am excited that I have the opportunity to work with the San Francisco Permaculture Guild in creating an experimental garden to grow food for projects like the Free Farm Stand. The guild is having its 1st Wednesday of the month meeting at the Red Victorian Peace Café (1665 Haight St. near Cole) this Wednesday the Dec. 3). It starts it starts 6:30-7pm. That is where a lot of talk about that project goes on and other projects as well and if you like the meeting aspect of permaculture, I would encourage you to attend. On Fridays and Saturdays we are having a workday at the 18th and Rhode Island site. The work day on Friday starts at 10am and goes until about 3pm or longer and Saturdays it starts at 10:30-11am. is a website dedicated to the project and the last update was nice in that it included what is going on astrologically which I rarely cover here. Not that I don't believe in it. After ready David's explanations of the heavenly influences on us now, I think it is all true. It is a glorious time right now and getting connected with the earth underneath our feet and the activity above our heads is such a great thing for us to all to do. Especially during this season when the days are shorter and it seems more dark, cold and dreary.

The garden got its first write up in the Potrero View newspaper in the December issue that can be picked up in Potrero Hill stores and coffee shops. The article is online and you can read it here at . Newspapers often don't do a great job covering something, but I thought they did a good job with this. There is an interesting interview with the doctor who has offered his empty lot for this project and an explanation of the plan for the space. By the way, we were thinking up some new names for the 18th and Rhode Island garden (it is little cumbersome writing that all the time). One night I had a stream of names come to me in a sort of dream, including (do) No Harm Farm or No Til Hill, Bermed Out Farm, and Potrero Urban Food Farm (PUFF), but some more serious permaculturists among us thought those names wouldn't do. Maybe it will be the Potrero Urban Farm Project (PUFP) so we won't be associated with pot or dragons. I guess we are still searching for good names if any permaculture poets are out there.

We had our first planting on Saturday and we got a lot planted. I brought seedlings for chard, lettuce, and some kale, and seeds to plant a mostly lettuce lawn. Then a lot of fava beans and red clover was planted everywhere. It is a major first step and we will see how things grow in compost and wood chips. I have been gardening for about 28 years, but have never grown a garden exactly like this. It is also exciting because the site gets so much sun and a lot of space! I have just sent off a letter asking a wholesale nursery for a donation of trees, but soon we might order some as well. Flash! Stephanie just emailed me and said she on the way back from San Diego she picked up some 2 Pineapple guava plants and a Dwarf Banana from Exotica Nursery! How she got them in her small car is a miracle.

garlic and lettuce lawn planted

I am also working with a few others on planting fruit trees in the park where we have our farm stand. Can we really imagine a San Francisco that has fruit and gardens growing food in our parks? Talking about creating more sustainable cities, the farm stand was featured in an radio show put out by the National Radio Project . The program was called Food For Thought ( Someone yesterday told me the heard it on KPFK. I am not really impressed with the interview with me, it seemed edited too much. I mainly agreed to the interview to talk about a possible alternative to "My Farm" style of local food production (the urban Community Supported Agriculture model). The interview with Kevin is really great and unfortunately the vacant lot we are currently transforming wasn't a reality then.