Monday, July 28, 2008

Loco Local

It was a real fun and crazy last week for me in terms of being immersed in the world of locally grown food.

Slow Food Nation Victory Garden across from City Hall

On Wednesday morning last week on the way to the civic center farmers market (I still need to buy food unfortunately), I finally dropped by the 10,000 sq ft. temporary Victory garden across from city hall. The garden was built by a lot of volunteers under the guidance of Slow Food Nation (Alice Waters is the director), Victory Gardens 08, and City Slicker Farms. Here is what their PR says about it: "It will serve as a demonstration and education centerpiece leading up to and following Slow Food Nation, an event taking place in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend (August 29 – September 1, 2008). It will provide visitors the opportunity to learn about urban food production practices and demonstrate the potential of truly local agriculture. It is the first time that an edible garden will be planted in front of City Hall since 1943".

The food is going to the food bank right now (when I was there today to be a docent we picked leaves off of a lot of the plants and had about eight plastic bags of greens and basil. Then the food bank driver showed up with their big truck to pick it up, which seemed a little crazy in a way using so much gas to carry so small an amount of food). I am still trying to score some for the farm stand (which I think would be great because then I can talk to people about where the food is grown and let them know about the what is happening down there).

I think the garden is very inspiring and everyone who is interested in gardens and growing food locally should visit it (the garden is open every day from 9-4pm). I think there should be a public campaign to talk city hall into making the garden permanent as a way to fight hunger in our city.

If you really can't go down there the web page about it is interesting (you can see photos of it being built). . Their blog is also interesting to read--

Last Friday I was given most of their unplanted seedlings to give away at the farm stand and that was very exciting. When I was there visitors kept coming up to me and asking me questions and thanking me for my efforts. People really like the garden and are excited by it too. Here is a photo of some of the seedlings on the plant give away table (some went to the Julian Food Pantry too):

One of the best Free Farm Stands so far

In the middle of the week I picked up a big box of garlic and potatoes from my friend with the connection to the Garden Project at San Bruno Jail. I brought that to the stand on Sunday as well as a box of beets and broccoli from the Ferry Building farmer's market. I also got some herbs, carrots, and greens through the same source. I picked salad greens from my backyard and the Secret Garden, and a few of our first tomatoes (I gave them away as a prize to people who brought their own bags) from Treat Commons and my backyard, green beans from my backyard, scarlet runner beans, some kale, a couple of trombone squash and yellow zucchini, a few flowers, and a few jalapeño peppers from Treat Commons.This week I grew several types of sprouts that I gave away. People are liking the sprouts and the sunflower greens.

The best part of the stand was all the neighbors who came by with fruit and vegetables. On Friday a woman left some yellow plums with the club house park director. On Sunday, one woman brought more beautiful yellow plums, another woman showed up with about six apples from her tree, and another neighbor brought nectarines. Christy brought rhubarb and purple green beans. Dan came by with a number of the most attractive large summer squash called Peter Pan that he grew at his home nearby.

I wish I had a photo of the hydrangea flowers that a neighbor who came last week brought by. It was a stunning bouquet of the biggest bunch of flowers ever. I didn't realize hydrangea flowers make good bouquets. I do love to give away flowers to people.

As I mentioned above, we had a lot of seedlings to give away and I have more plus the ones I am growing. A lot were planted in my backyard and the kids at the Secret Garden are going to plant a lot of corn and lettuce. And people take the seedlings and I guess are growing them at their homes. When I was in the park last week a young boy came up to me and said his tomato was growing tall and had green fruit on it which was real encouraging to hear.

Fruit picking and gleaning in the hood

On Saturday I picked blackberries on Bernal Hill. Some were over ripe and many were not ripe at all. Some were perfect to pick and I collected 6 cups, some very ripe and some part ripe. It turned out I thought they were too messy to give away at the farm stand so I baked a vegan blackberry pie and gave people visiting the stand a small piece each. I used agave syrup and a little sucanat unrefined sugar, and it came out delicious, though a bit tart. It was pretty popular.

I picked small plums at the Secret Garden. There are literally millions of them is my guess. Unfortunately a neighbor hacked away at the loquat tree I picked two times already in their yard and the tree in the Secret Garden over hanging into their yard, and so a lot of loquat fruit was lost. I guess they didn't like the fruit falling on their concrete backyard. There were some way high up in the tree that I didn't try hard enough to reach. I also picked some delicious green figs from a friend's house.

Also, a friend told me about a tree in our neighborhood that a couple of years ago that had large plums on it that all got wasted and were on the ground rotting. I was excited to try to find the tree and see if it had fruit this year. It was kind of feeling like going on a blind date, I found the street where the tree was supposed to live and I hunted around for it. In the process I discovered a park in our neighborhood that I heard about but never understood where it was (Juri Commons). I found the tree overhanging the fence bordering the park and it was love at first sight. And the fruit luckily wasn't quite ripe yet. Maybe I can pick it next week. This was one of the thrills of my week and that probably show you how crazy I am. But getting to know your neighborhood and what grows there is truly fun and a joy. I like the idea of mapping out the fruit trees and berry bushes in our neighborhoods, and this has been done in other places. I actually started doing this years ago, but don't know where my notes are for what I found.

Here are two photos. One is a group shot of some of the people who showed up at the beginning to help or get food. The other is a picture of a mother and daughter holding two of the Peter Pan squashes. I think the woman and the squashes are both a turn on. One of the best parts of the farm stand is all the great people who show up. Toña the mom in the picture has been living in Mexico for 28 years in an ecovillage (ecoaldea huehuecoyotl) and is doing some great artwork. She showed me some copies of her corn paintings that are on display at the SomaArts Gallery for a few more days Her daughter Laulin just moved here to go to San Francisco State. I told her San Francisco is a great place to meet people. My secret is to start some project that brings you into contact with a lot of people, like a garden or farm stand for example.

Update on the edible park project and the new garden on 18th and Rhode Island

Christiane and Ali came by to help with the stand and to work some on their permaculture class project of designing an expansion of the garden into the park. I think the class is over in a week. They now have a proposed list of things to plant that I am going to look at. Also, I met Dave and Joe who are also permaculture students designing a garden for the empty lot at 18th and Rhode Island. I learned that they want the garden to mainly produce food for the farm stand which is terrific. They also had the idea that if there was enough produce to possibly sell it to Whole Foods and give the money to the landlord so he can use it to pay property taxes. We got into a long discussion about my philosophy of doing things for free which I won't go into here. My inspiration though comes from the Diggers ("the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling."). For more information check out a site run by a friend.

I think that the Victory Garden across from city hall, if not made permanent, should be moved to the site at 18th and Rhode Island, soil and all. That the vision of growing local food on mini-farms and given away to the hungry and poor should be continued on a new site!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Peak of Summer?

I wonder if we in San Francisco have reached the peak of summer harvest season yet. Certainly the Treat Commons Community Garden is looking pretty green and lush right now. We are getting a lot of scarlet runner beans and the yellow zucchini are producing some squash. Some tomatoes are just starting to turn red. My backyard garden, having been neglected for two weeks looks pathetic in terms of what is growing and needs to be replanted. The Secret Garden is look pretty good now with a lot of kale growing and in maybe two weeks it will be ready to harvest. And of course the plum trees and loquats there have masses of fruit (though the plums are mostly bland and tiny and the trees need a lot of pruning and thinning).

I know when you go to the farmers markets now they are overflowing with summer produce and I am starting to feel a little frustrated being an urban farmer and not having rows and rows of foods that I am growing at this time of year. Quite frankly it is embarrassing. I was thinking I should be an apprentice at some farm. I am really attracted to the work of John Jeavons who started a project called Ecology Action in Willits that has a mini-farm. He is famous for popularizing double digging and the biodynamic French intensive method of growing food. It is truly inspiring to me. His most known book is How to Grow More Vegetables. When I visited his place years ago I was impressed how seriously he takes food growing and also making his knowledge available worldwide, especially in poor countries.

The table looked good though despite all my grumbling. We had scarlet runner beans from Treat Commons and purple and green beans from my backyard. There was a ton of salad mix from my backyard and the Secret Garden, and some from Treat Commons too. There were beets from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market (I am pretty happy that beets are so popular!). From Treat Commons we also had a couple of yellow zucchini, some carrots (also some from my backyard), white sage (for incense), African Blue basil, a couple of cucumbers, some flowers, a few artichokes. I also harvested a lot of loquats and plums, and I brought some Cape Gooseberries from my backyard (see below). Also, Ariel (who put together the youtube video for the Bay Guardian) and her friend whose name I have forgotten brought by some herbs and some shiso seedlings that were a great contribution.

Kale from the Jail

I got a huge donation of organic kale from the County Jail Garden Project. Rita who runs the Mission Reading Program on 24th Street was looking for someone to give a lot of zucchini and tomato plants away to and I was alerted by a neighbor about this. So I picked up at least 20 plants in gallon pots and I found out they were grown by the Garden Project at the San Bruno jail. I have wanted to contact them for a long time and mentioned it to Rita. Then she called me on Friday and she had two big boxes of fresh delicious kale (my favorite vegetable) for our program. I managed miraculously to put it all in my refrigerator (plus giving away some to friends and neighbors) and brought it to the stand Sunday. I may be on the lookout for a free or cheap working and energy efficient refrigerator if this keeps up. I still had a lot of kale left over despite having given away a lot. So I cooked up a bunch of kale the way I like it best. Chop up the washed kale small. Chop up about two or three big cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a wok and when the oil is hot throw in the garlic. The oil will soak up the flavor. Toss in the kale and stir fry for about five -8 minutes until the greensare soft. I add a dash of tamari and serve. Anyone know the name for kale in Spanish?

Cape Gooseberries

I brought a basket full of a fruit I like a lot that I have always called ground cherries or husk tomatoes. I learned they have other names like Cape Goose Berry (Physalis peruviana).
They seemed to have roused a lot of interest among farm stand attendees. One thing about the free farm stand is I realize how much I have to learn because people ask so many darn questions about things. I know that these fruits are easy to grow and that they are delicious, that they are related to the tomatillo, that they seem to be perennial around here and they reseed easily, and are in the Chinese lantern family, because of the lantern look of the fruit with it's papery lantern like shell around the fruit. I looked up the fruit online and learned so much more.

The article mentions different cultivars that sound wonderful. I want to get seeds for them and try them out.

Good Neighbors

I really appreciate the opportunity to meet my neighbors and friends at the Free Farm Stand. It is hard to put it in words what community is and the value of it. But it certainly is a lot of fun and makes one feel good to get to know those people you live near and to have a chance to see friends in such a busy world. I liked getting the chance to hold Valentino yesterday, a tiny baby that is so cute, as cute as a cucumber. And it really is needed to feel positive in the city these days. For example, last week could have been a total bummer. Reading about some guy that was blasted away by a shotgun blast on Mission and 20th St. and then my slum landlord neighbor for some unknown reason hiring a nice guy to chainsaw our beautiful stand of rare bamboo down in front of our building (plus he did in the bougainvillea, jasmine and trumpet vine tree). It may not be on his property (I now have to research the property line). It makes one angry and sad and if it wasn't for all the great neighbors who I meet over the years and my friends that I sometime get a chance to connect with, I would want to climb out of my clay shell and go somewhere else.

I also was so happy to work with Corinne again who opened the stand last week. I am really a guy who likes to work with others and not be a one man show, so it is great to slowly build a team to run this project. She is moving to the city and I think she may be looking for some great non-profit job. I would recommend her for sure. Hopefully her new job will give her time to continue working with the farm stand.

Here is a picture of two sisters that I have met relatively recently. Fillipa on the left works as the director of the clubhouse at the park and does such great work with the kids who go there for her programs. Andrea is her sister whom I am getting to know. Siblings like plant relatives are so much fun to be familiar with.


Fillipa suggested I put up a sign in the neighborhood saying that I am available to pick people's fruit trees. She knows of two neighbors with fruit trees that don't get picked. I think I will do that and let people know that the farm stand will take any fruit as well as pick it. I decided to wait on the berry picking on Bernal Hill until the berries get more ripe. Anyone want to join my fruit gleaning team?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hooray! Free Farm Stand Goes on Without Me

Hot off the computer…Email from Corinne about the Free Farm Stand

I am back from my 12 day trip to Peoria and last night Corinne sent me great photos and an email describing yesterday's farm stand. I am really happy that everything worked out so great! Here is an excerpt from her email:


today was a terrific day at the farm stand. a woman named brooke came about 1245 and brought a bunch of herbs and veggies. she harvested apricots with two of the children in the first picture. then a woman whose name was-

i think- sigrid. she brought a bunch of vegetables, as well. a woman names liz dropped off some plastic pots.

the two woman in the last pic are sunny and candace. it was there first time to the stand. they took some kale and beets. then candace came back a half hour later with parsley and tomatoes from their garden!

…i picked lots of plums (see pic) at the secret garden.

i tried to keep count of folks who stopped by, 43! i gave away a few cayenne plants, a chamomile (or cosmo?) plant and a basil plant. i gave away everything but a handful of herbs.

i also potted up some chive seedlings. and at home now i have cilantro, basil and chive seedlings to give away in a few weeks as plants.

what else? maria and carolyn stopped by. a couple, matthew and jenny, he said he had a rare plant for you. i thought he intended on leaving it, but then i didn't see it anywhere. lots of children, yeah!

see you soon!


Here are some photos Corinne sent:

Also, I would love to charm some of those volunteers who showed up to help on planting day, to come help on a regular basis with our free farm stand.

The big pile of apricots was the only mistake made...because of miscommunication they got picked when they were being saved for the Treat Commons Gardeners. A lot of people come into the garden thinking all the food is grown there and that it is for the farm stand. Actually some comes from Treat Commons, but I try to give the gardeners there the first priority since they help grow it. I am still trying to find a lot to start a farm for the farm stand.

And Brooke wrote me also…

"hi tree,
i went to drop of some produce at the farm stand this morning. how great!... i can see how the generosity sparks community.


Report on the planting of the garden in front of City Hall last Saturday

I missed the Victory Garden planting at city hall on Saturday. A friend sent me a link with some good photos of the event and a short review Sounds like 150 or more people showed up!

I would love to charm some of those people who showed up to help plant the Victory Garden in front of City Hall to come help on a regular basis with the free farm stand. I also wish that there could be more communication between all of us people doing a lot of the same kind of work of promoting local foods. How can we work together and help each other out? I am especially interested in making local food organic food accessible to people without a lot of money.

The Secret Garden Report

I dropped by the Secret Garden after I got back and Robert and Corinne have been doing some great work with all age kids. They have dug some new beds and planted some of the seedlings I gave them. I plan to work there probably on Friday if anyone wants to join me.

Farm skyscrapers

My son sent me this article from the New York Times:

Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest

I hope I don't have to go this route out of desperation for lack of an empty lot to farm in.

Help still needed

Now that I am back it seems I am behind in everything. I can use help planting...I have a lot of seed and now is a good time to plant for fall harvest. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are best for me right now. Also, if anyone is interested in learning more about growing food in the city, I would love a garden apprentice or intern.

I discover the Patron Saint of Bees

I spent my time in Peoria with a very Catholic family. There is always something to learn from any religion. Here is something from the Magnificat that Angie's dad saved for me which I thought was very sweet.

February 13th is Saint Modomnoc's day "As a monk in Wales, Modomnoc was assigned to tend the garden and to keep the bees. When subsequently he departed for his native land, the bees he had tended are said to have followed him onto the boat, settling in a swarm upon the vessel and setting sail with him for Ireland."
There is a wonderful story here about Saint Modomnoc and it goes into more detail:
I can see celebrating this day right before St. Valentine's day (not the commercial version of it though). Thinking about bees, I plan to open our hive soon to see how the bees are doing. Contact me if you want to join me as I learn to know the bees.

And talking about Peoria, last week I wrote about lawns and I was wondering to myself how did this lawn thing come about. Here is the answer in the New Yorker just last week.

Berry Gleaning Anyone?

The black berries on Bernal Hill are ripening and I was thinking of checking them out in more detail and possibly picking them if they are ripe enough on Saturday possibly in the morning. Please contact me if you are interested. I will also harvest plums and loquats in the Secret Garden the same day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Report from Peoria

Land of Lawns

This place Peoria is a funny town. I am here for Angie's family reunion. It seems a lot of people here in the Midwest have a connection to land and farming. Farming is in a lot of Midwest blood. At the reunion I learned that a number of people grow some food in their backyards. It seems a common thing for people to have a few tomato, green bean, and or pepper plants that they have put in the ground at their homes. Even the idea of canning isn't unfamiliar. But here is the funny thing to me: The houses in the neighborhood where I am staying all have big lots compared to cities like San Francisco, and everywhere I look I see lawns. There are also a lot of beautiful old and huge trees everywhere, and because of all the shades of green, it is very beautiful. For someone who has become obsessed with being an urban farmer and thinks about neighbors growing more local food, this lawn love drives me crazy. It doesn't help that I am reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about a family's year long experiment with growing all their own food and eating locally.

The lawn look does give one a sense of comfort and security in some ways, a feeling like things are under control. The question is whether this lawn life style is really sustainable in the long run. I am not a doom and gloom guy, I just want to be a farmer and grow some local food for myself and to share some with others, and do that where I live which happens to be the city.

I do know that the prairies are gone, replaced with acres and acres of subsidized corn and soybeans. Driving in a car yesterday I saw a small patch of a restored prairie (that is what the sign said) and it looked nice, kind of like a lawn actually, at least as I sped by.

The bottom line is these lawns don't give me hope, but speak to me about the landscape of our society staying static and the same. There is hope in the trees though, and I wish I could bring some back to San Francisco with me next week.

Farm Stand News

I am happy to hear that friends opened the Free Farm Stand last Sunday. Here is something from Christy she just emailed me:

here's the wiki page on loquat, with a lot of interesting properties and the Spanish name so many folks gave us yesterday: nispero

interesting that so many Latino folks immediately recognized this fruit that gringos consider "exotic"

It's also exciting to know that we are getting more plums and loquats (I must be missing the apricots now).

I wonder if we are getting scarlet runner beans yet or trombocino squash, or chili peppers.

Next Sunday Corinne said she will open the stand and said she would welcome any help that shows up. Also, next Saturday there are going to be people planting a garden in front of city hall. I unfortunately won't be around to participate in the excitement, but I encourage anyone interested in growing more local food to check it out (see sidebar).

Edible Park

I forgot to mention in my last post that the idea of extending the mini-orchard in Treat Commons Community Garden into the surrounding park is moving ahead. I talked to two of the three women who are working on a design for their permaculture class and we had a lot of possibilities to explore. San Francisco is ready to have some edible plants especially trees planted in her parks. I am also curious to learn how progress is going on the other two permaculture class projects, the roof-top garden on the Chronicle building and the empty lot on Potrero Hill. I was told by someone visiting here who live in Chicago that they have a lot of rooftop gardens there and that the city sells honey from bee hives located on top of City Hall.

More Photos

In the Secret Garden learning double digging...