Monday, April 27, 2009

Farming Dharma

I was feeling a bit of excitement when I came to the Free Farm Stand a little late today. I just arrived from Martin de Porres soup kitchen where I volunteer and had gotten the lucky chance to hear the Dalai Lama speak. Here is an article in the Chronicle about it: The thing that stood out in my mind is that he seemed to have a simple and clear message of compassion and respect for others (especially the poor) and other religions and faiths. And I was surprised how accessible he seemed, though I guess it took two years for this event to happen, it seemed amazing that such a celebrity would even visit a place like Martin's, and once he was there he was also surprisingly real and human. I do feel that he gave off a human glow and energy that truly spread joy and peace around him. I guess that comes from his commitment to "the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline".

I didn't take many pictures of the stand today, partly because I was not all there. I could use someone who can take good pictures to document the scene. Though one could argue that I have taken enough pictures already to get the idea of what is happening. Beautiful people and beautiful vegetables and fruit.

I just love the people who have been coming out and helping run the stand, which has left me free to talk to people and to work a little with people that want to garden while the stand is open. I got busy for a while working with my young friend Zeus who loves to garden, so we planted some scarlet runner beans. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to talk to everyone and I know some people came that I wanted to say hi to. Also, I keep meeting people that want to help. There is so much gardening to do and seedlings to propagate. I am hoping that I can help enlist some of the gardening energy that is out there so we can grow more of our own produce.

And that ties into this other thought. I would still like to get a good garden information booth set up that can help people with their garden questions and can encourage people to grow their own (in English and Spanish). We have been giving away a lot of plants, but it could be better if we gave out information on how to care for them and if we could set up a garden support network.

Well those are some random thoughts. We seem to be getting a lot of greens the last few weeks. Because I was so busy this weekend I didn't get a chance to harvest all the greens (mostly chard and kale) in the different gardens that are ready to pick. But we got so much from the farmers market there was no shortage of chard or arugula or lettuce. And we hit the jackpot with fava beans. At 18th and Rhode Island we harvested 15 pounds of beans and then I got a box more of them from the farmers market. I wrote an update on the Potrero garden on the18th and Rhode Island website. The ones we picked were larger pods with bigger beans. The ones from the farmers market were young and much smaller. A woman came by the stand and told me that the young favas could be covered with a light sprinkling of olive oil and a shake of salt and roasted in the oven in a pan (she might have also suggested garlic) and then eaten pod and all. I got excited with that idea because I have been having pretty good luck roasting other vegetables that way like cauliflower and asparagus. So I went home and tried it, but was a little disappointed. They were edible, but I didn't like the flavor all that much. I think others who have some immature fava beans should try this out and maybe add garlic.

People are still coming by the stand and making contributions. Two people brought lemons from their tree and another woman brought the most beautiful peppermint from her garden that I had to take a photo of it. A woman brought a nice bunch of chervil that she grew. It is an herb that is not as commonly grown that has a sweet licorice taste. Dave brought me some sad looking vegetable starts that came from Rainbow that they couldn't sell, but were still alive and I am sure will grow.

Perfect Peppermint in the top of the basket


I am leaving town for three days starting Wednesday and won't be around gardening that much. When I get back I want to explore starting a garden in Bayview on the land I wrote about last week. The Esperanza Garden on Florida St. next to sell space had a potential setback. The land that was up for sale is now in escrow and the possible new owner has 45 days to come up with construction loans to build on the property and then we have 30 days to vacate. People are going ahead with planting and we think we can get in one crop before the time we have to leave (the potatoes may be ready to harvest by then). On May 9th there is going to be an event in the garden with live music and some various workshops. Look on the sidebar for information about it when I get it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

1st Anniversary Report

Today is the one year anniversary of the Free Farm Stand. I started this blog in May of last here. It's a time that I can look back and say wow not only did time go by quickly, but so much has happened since I began. Here is a picture of the table at the time I first opened.
I actually had room on the table for plants. I was also able to transport the food to the stand with my bike cart. Now the produce from the farmers market is overshadowing the produce that we are growing. I usually have about a wagon full of produce that I can haul over, but yesterday I wound up bringing the produce not only in my wagon, but with a van (I had about three wagons full of produce plus flats of seedlings I had grown). I also now get one day old organic bread (maybe twenty bags this week) and a lot more people coming by. I think a lot of people are from our neighborhood, but people are coming from all over.

When I started the Free Farm Stand I had a some ideas about what I wanted to do, like to grow a lot of food and give it away and to promote local food growing in our neighborhood. Since we started a lot has been accomplished that I feel great about. A community has been growing and a lot of networks of people have been formed. The Free Farm Stand has been a good place for people to meet each other and share interests together. We have a new gleaning project started and we will see if it really takes off this year. New gardens have been popping up and there is plenty of gardening to be done.

One crazy thing about me is that I can think up a million great projects to do and I can set out doing them, but without people whom I work with closely that can help curb me a bit, at some point I get overwhelmed and over extended. The "free nursery" idea is one of those projects for example. This year I have grown hundreds of starts (with a lot of help too) and have started distributing them at the stand and brining them to the different gardens I work at and giving them to other gardeners I meet. At this point I feel I have to either get someone to help take over that project or cut way back on how many seedlings I start. I didn't realize how much space and time growing seedlings can take. One central greenhouse and a lath house would help, but the plants would still take a lot of attention. I would also like to start growing sprouts again, something I did at the beginning of the stand, but I have temporarily stopped doing because I am focusing a lot of space and time on the starts.

Another thing I am thinking about is that I remember at the beginning of the Free Farm Stand I got so excited about is being an urban farmer and growing and harvesting food that I could give away. I still share that excitement. All the free local organic left over farmers market produce I collect will never make me as happy as the food I am able to grow myself. Or fruit from an urban tree that I picked. At the same time I love to be able to help people have access to free organic healthy produce and it is hard to turn down all the wonderful produce that I get, even though it makes it seem like I am running a regular food program instead of a program to empower people to grow their own food if they can as a way to provide food security. People tell me all the time how much they appreciate the stand and the food they get. Yesterday at the stand I brought some non-local probably non-organic apples that was at the bottom of a box of produce and they were so popular. At first I thought about not bringing the politically incorrect apples (and some endive and onions I also got accidentally), but I figured that it was better than the stuff getting composted. Well I will have to continue thinking about this and perhaps cut down on the amount of free produce I collect and bring to the stand, hoping that we can grow more food to give away.

Yesterday was a great Free Farm Stand day in spite of the heat and the crazy amount of greens we had (a lot of lettuce, baby beet greens, bok choy, mustard, chard, and kale) and the big crowd. I was really excited that at least three maybe four people showed up with lemons from their trees. Christy also brought chamomile from the Corona Heights Community garden (it is growing everywhere up there) and people really enjoyed it. Another person brought the most handsome red celery plant. Another thing the stand does is introduce people to the world of vegetables. We get so many things that people are not familiar with and often they come away liking a new food. Like last week we had stinging nettles. This week there was endive and fava beans. The 18th and Rhode Island garden is at the peak fava bean harvesting season now. We picked 12 1/2 lbs on Friday workday and then on Saturday a woman in the permaculture class harvested probably 12 more pounds of beans and brought them to the stand. We also brought some more fava bean leaves which have become popular.

Two other great contributions to the stand this week was a man named Brady brought some homemade Ancho Chile jam to share (inspired perhaps by the strawberry jam Molly brought the previous week). It was very popular and he sent me his recipe. I suppose if one were to grow any kind of hot peppers they could duplicate this recipe though the smoked chilpote peppers gave it a good taste. And Nosrat brought some of his homemade vegan pesto for me to try out and I shared that too with everyone on bread. Both the jam and his pesto were delicious (the pesto was made with basil that Nosrat got from the stand last week).

A woman who had hip replacement surgery hobbled over to the stand and was really excited about getting the chamomile and other things. She wanted to help so we set her up potting up tomatoes and giving them out. She seemed too be good at giving out garden advice and she seemed to really have a good time. We gave out a lot of seedlings and still have many more to share.
Talk about sharing garden produce there is a lot of talk going around about the SF Victory Gardens project called the Garden Registry. Here is a link in the Sunday's Chronicle someone sent me and here is the link to the Garden Registry . And here is another group that is promoting yardsharing clubs, an idea I am fond of
The idea of "yard sharing" is something I have been working to bring about alnmost since we started, but it hasn't happened yet. The idea being people form a club or group and work together in their neighborhood growing gardens and sharing the produce. The website is I guess an organizing tool for these clubs that are forming worldwide. These clubs would share their labor and resources and everyone helps each other grow food.This would certainly help me out with all the gardens I am working in. I still think it is funny that all these groups are working towards the same goal, but we seem not to be working with each other exactly. I wonder if I should sign up in the garden registry?

This lead me to another topic that is related. I was just turned on to a piece of land that is owned by the city that is vacant and gets a lot of sun. The neighbor contacted me about growing food there. I would share the water from her house to water the garden. The only hitch is that it is in Bayview, which isn't that far away, but not within wagons distance. Maybe if there was a yard sharing club we could include this property as one of the gardens. Here I go talking about being over extended but thinking of these new projects.

Tater Tower updates: On Saturday I went to the Esperanza Sustainability Center garden on Florida and 19th St. with all the stuff to plant some tater towers. We planted four towers and tried out the two different styles. The most fun experiment we tried was planting some spuds in a beautiful basket I found at the free estate sale a few weeks back. We hung it up against the concrete wall next to the garden.

We also planted two lasagna method wire mesh towers and then planted some taters in a black 15gal plastic pot. There is so much heat in that garden due to the concrete wall, it will be fun to see how they grow. All the other tater towers are rockin. All spuds have sprouted and some are growing lush amounts of green sprouts that we are covering with mulch. I can't wait for harvest time. I still have more spuds and stuff to grow more taters.

On a related note, on Tuesday the Jamestown kids and I installed the first I hope of several hanging upside down tomato plants. At first we built a tripod but it wasn't tall enough so we hung it on an already existing arbor. We filled the two and half gallon buckets with soil (I had poked a hole in the bottom already and put a piece of newspaper in the bottom to hold the plant). I also punched two holes at the top to make a handle with scrap electrical wire. I pushed the tomato seedling into the hole after cutting the newspaper open a bit. It seemed to work and the tomato is still in the bucket. It is has started growing upwards as someone told me it would. If this works it is a great space saving way to grow tomatoes.

The thing is you need some place in the sun that you can hang the buckets from. A very tall tripod might work like the one we tried to build out of rebar.

Over at 18th and Rhode Island on Friday we planted more seedlings and a few more trees. Like I said we harvested a lot of fava beans and there are more coming. It is a pretty hot site and with this hot spell I hope things get watered well. I think with gardens all over we need to set up drip irrigation systems. If anyone knows where to get tubing and parts for cheap or free let me know.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Holy Week Farm Stand

Every day is holy like every day is an unbirthday and we can celebrate and break bread together. On Sunday I was sitting in a synagogue listening to an Easter sermon next to a two week old baby and thinking about how perfect a thing she was.

When you think about it we are really blessed to have such a perfect world that at the same time is so imperfect.

And gardening is the perfect thing to be doing in these times. It makes you see the perfectness and patterns and helps you appreciate the miracle of it all.

The Free Farm Stand was pretty good this week though I felt like I was too busy and I didn't talk to all the wonderful people and friends that came by. It was a little like a hugfest and it included a kiss on the cheek from a curvy woman named 13 with an interesting piercing on her lip wearing a tight bunny suit . Ok that helped make my day as well as seeing my friend Harrison who she came with.

Piles of farm fresh organic produce and several pounds of lettuce from our gardens. What else is there to say? I was surprised that we got a lot of basil (two kinds) from the farmer's market; I wonder where that is grown so early in the year, probably greenhouse grown. Yeah greenhouses!

Several people came by with produce from their gardens which is the really exciting part to me! Pam Pierce who is one of the wisest gardeners around (and we are lucky to have her in San Francisco), brought by some surplus vegetables from her garden (really beautiful chard, red mustard greens, and leeks), other people brought lemons, and another woman brought some spearmint. I got to ask Pam some garden questions and she got me worried about late blight in tomatoes, which I haven't seen yet in any of the gardens I have worked in (as far as I know). I read her blog on a regular basis and there is always something I learn from it ( Molly a gardener in Treat Commons came by with some delicious homemade organic strawberry jam that she made and I served it on matzoh. Sara brought the two biggest artichokes from San Francisco State (the garden that students planted there) and some greens too.

Tater Towers update

I just came up with the name tater towers and I am happy to report that most are doing their thing…green potato shoots breaking through the mulch and growing well so far (a few of the newer ones haven't sprouted, but the ones planted March 20th are well on their way.

Tater Towers at !8th and Rhode Island planted March 13 a month ago

I have been adding mulch to the ones that you cover as they grow. I have just scored a lot more sprouting potatoes and want to plant more towers. I could use more wire mesh as I want to try some more lasagna style tater towers. I have talked to a number of people that are trying this out and I think this method is suddenly becoming very popular. Jim Bishop sent me a link to his blog Yards for Farms where he wrote about potato towers too I am still looking for someone to let me put a tower on their sidewalk garden. But if anyone has some odd sunny space even with concrete that wants to try this out and bring surplus potatoes to the stand let me know and I can help set you up. Maybe this Saturday we will plant some tater towers at Esperanza. By the way I am trying to grow these in various containers, including the terrible compost bins that SLUG used to distribute. They come in half and I have planted potatoes in the top half.

Just planted

Last week Allegra sent me an article about growing tomatoes planted upside down in some kind of commercial product called the topsy turvy. That caught my interest and I googled growing tomatoes upside down and found that there is a lot written on the subject. One of the advantages of growing tomatoes this way is that you can grow them where you don't have space otherwise just like we do with the tater towers. Check out this photo from (they have other pictures too).

Here are some photos of a vegetable tower from Kevin who with Starhawk built it with a class they were teaching.

I met a woman yesterday at the stand that grows tomatoes in hanging pots which is almost the same thing. Anyway tomorrow I want to try it out with the Jamestown kids and I will report back on the how we did it. With all these space saving methods garden soil and mulch is needed and it would be nice if we could have free neighborhood resource centers where people could pick up these things. The centers could be stocked with all the free stuff around for gardens off of places like freecycle or craigslist or stables. I am not a big advocate of going out and buying soil and manure unless one has no other easy option.

Esperanza Sustainability Center update

On Saturday I helped dig some beds in the peace mandala at the new garden next to CELL space on Florida at 19th Street. Earlier in the week I attended a meeting about the garden and what people's visions are. Jonathan actually got a written agreement from the owner to use the land for free until it is sold.

I am not sure how much time I have to contribute to this project though it is very enticing for me to get sucked in. They have a nice space that can be transformed into a beautiful garden and education center (and they are also building a greenhouse). I am trying to be open to other ways of doing things and when the idea of having a business component to the project came up I tried to just listen rather than give my standard do it free rap. I guess they plan on buying insurance because of the arrangement with the owner and they will have other costs like water and some materials. There idea is to have workshops and other things which will cost money, but that no one will be turned away for lack of funds and they are going to go light on bugging people to pay…like maybe a contribution box in the corner. If they did that I could hardly object to capitalism light. There is a new movement now to bring back barter and make it fashionable again (the Time Bank is an example) and I am still uncomfortable with that compared to just trusting the universe to keep you going. If I wind up teaching workshops there I am going to give this more thought and whether I would be stretching my ideals too much by have a fee (though no one would be turned away or made to feel guilty). It sounds like Saturdays there will be ongoing work happening there.

Common Vision Tree Planting Report

On Friday afternoon at 18th and Rhode Island Common Vision people showed up to plant a apple/pear tree fence. They brought 21 donated trees and they dug holes and planted them at a 45 degre angle. The idea is that they will grow together and make a fence or hedge of fruiting trees. The event reminded me of going to a Rainbow gathering. A few of the people I talked to were semi-nomadic and had no one place they lived. There all seemed like rainbow people and I liked there energy and idealism. And they plant fruit trees like a band of Johnny aAppleseeds. From February through May they travel in their buses planting trees in schools and other places. They brought their drums and made some nice sounds and there was also portable mural painting and popcorn. It was a fun and inspiring day.

The Free Farm Stand got in the news last week after Africa Jones came around and interviewed us for Free Speech Radio News for a radio show on growing food in the city. Again I am trying something new here and have been reluctantly accepting interviews (I mostly like to remain anonymous since the project speaks for itself). You can listen to the interview by scrolling way down the right sidebar and clicking on the play button. I could really use some technical web help here because the way I got this on the page took some effort and I would rather have an audio player that was smaller and less of an advertisement.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dreaming of an Urban Kibbutz

This week I have enjoyed the time I have been able to stay at home and get my backyard garden in shape. It is actually going rather slowly and I could use more help. I have been daydreaming of an Urban Kibbutz Farm or a House of Hospitality with an attached farm where a people live together and have a service project of growing food to give away and taking in seekers. I have been feeling overwhelmed trying to be a mobile gardener and growing food in different gardens, even though they are within blocks of each other. I have been wondering if I might be stretching myself too thin by getting involved in the Esperanza Sustainability Center (see last blog and sidebar for link) and managing the new greenhouse they are building. The funny thing is it seems once I start thinking about something these days things start to happen. I was thinking of how we need shelves for the greenhouse and on Saturday I accidentally ran into an estate sale where an 85 year old man used to live who was an avid gardener. The man running the sale said I could have whatever I wanted in the backyard for free, so not only did I get a lot of outdoor plant shelves from the deck, but a lot of large pots and other garden related things, including some greenhouse plastic (a step backward in some ways for getting my backyard in shape).

Anyway, I am still pondering all these wondrous things happening in the universe around me and trying to figure out how to simplify my life a bit so I don't get burnt out.

I was told not to expect much produce from the farmer's markets this week, but that turned out wrong (the table was filled with greens, artichokes, a few beets, and big purple cabbages that we needed to cut up). I harvested a lot of vegetables from our gardens thinking that would be all I had. The Secret Garden gave us over two pounds of baby lettuce mix and a bag of greens (mostly chard). I also harvested a lot of snap peas that the kids had planted.

While there on Saturday I noticed that the zucchini we planted on Tuesday had got totally eaten and were gone! But the potato towers have potatoes that are growing well and the newer ones haven't sprouted yet. Treat Commons had snow peas and some greens, chard and tree collards and some kale. My backyard garden is more of a nursery these days and that is where a lot of my time has been going, trying to raise a lot of starts. I am just starting to get some things in the ground (I installed three potato towers) and planted some seedlings from Jonathan.

The SF Glean team scored again this week with Jonathan and Ashly picking 36lbs of meyer lemons from one tree in Noe Valley. Two other neighbors came by with lemons they picked from their trees. Someone else brought some nice oregano from their garden and Steve and Shelly brought some rosemary. Fresh herbs are so easy to grow and they often produce more than we can use, so it is a great thing to share. We really can get free from having to buy some store bought herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, etc.

I must admit that the Farm Stand gets a bit crazy busy at times with all the people showing up especially at the beginning. I am trying hard to make it a fun and mellow scene, which for the most part it is. We have a great crew of volunteers which helps, though we are still in need of some people to help run the garden advice and plant give away table. A lot of people are showing up not just for the produce, but to check out the garden and I love talking to people and answering their garden questions.

Alvin came by with a big bag of sprouting potatoes that he got cooking with Food Not Bombs. I am still excited about growing potatoes and am looking for a sidewalk garden to try growing potatoes on. When I was putting things away at the end of the day, I noticed someone had brought by some pretty baskets that we can use for the stand. I feel blessed that there is such good energy around and it feels like we can transform things if we try.

Here are some events coming up that are pretty inspiring. Next Friday April 10th at 4pm Common Vision ( is going to be planting an apple/pear fence at 18th and Rhode Island Sts. There will be drumming and tree planting and tree planting education. Another event later in the month is the Bay Friendly Garden Tour happening Sunday April 26 in the east bay. I love visiting other gardens as a way to get ideas and get inspired and this self-guided tour is free (and there are some gardens selling interesting seedlings), but you have to register online by April 16. Go here to check it out and register .