Monday, September 28, 2009

Heart Lessons

Today as I was walking Bernal Hill for my daily dose of exercise and meditation two bumper stickers on parked cars seem to grab my attention. “What are you grateful for today?” and “Girls kick ass”. I love thinking about things I am grateful for and there is no short supply. I also have been thinking about all the great feminine energy that I have been around recently. One example, the Free Farm Stand has a cash crop of fabulous helpers these days and a lot of them are strong beautiful women. Not to say there are no strong beautiful men who have been helping, there are, but the women are out there in full force these days and they are mostly running the show.

On Saturday I attended the sweet memorial celebrating the life of Barbara Collier, one of the main love engines who ran the Martin de Porres soup kitchen and community. I could summarize some of that event as being about both gratefulness and kick ass women. Everyone was so grateful for Barbara for the way she touched their lives and grateful for Martin's. She also had a special deep connection with women who were woven throughout her life. Besides the 30 plus year old women’s group she was a part of (it started out as a play group for their children and is still going strong), she had many close soul sisters that she loved and who loved her. She stayed in touch with them (one with regular phone calls to Germany), and she also worked with them at Martin’s. I also came away from the Martin’s remembering the lesson she taught by example, of doing things through our heart rather than our minds.

A funny thing happened this week in relationship to the Free Farm Stand. Because of the memorial happening at Martin’s, all food donations deliveries were canceled. Thanks to Green Gulch farm I was able to get a number of boxes of extra greens they gave to me. And I got some industrial organic food donated by Veritable Vegetable brought to me by Food Not Bombs. I was also feeling that we were doing pretty good with vegetables that we harvested from our gardens. I reminded myself that I am not running a food program exactly and that I want to emphasize growing our own if we can. I purposely did not try to collect more produce to make up for the shortfall we would have, considering the number of people who are showing up these days. As it turned out at 3pm on Saturday, an hour before I was to leave for the memorial, Food Runners contacted me and had a truckload of produce left over from the Ferry Building Farmer’s market and they were even willing to drop it off at my home.

So needless to say we had a ton of produce both on the super local table and the left over organic table. I had a huge harvest from the Esperanza Garden and the trombone squash were truly spectacular. They grew the best of all the locations we are gardening at, because the heat from the concrete wall reflects into the space. I also am excited by the eggplant growing there; it is such a beautiful plant besides being a tasty vegetable to eat.

The squash from the Permaculture garden is impressive in terms of how productive they are. I also actually brought some produce from my shady backyard, 3lbs of tomatoes. And talk about local, we had 3lbs of chestnuts a bunch of us harvested from the sidewalk kitty corner from the park where we set up the stand. A neighbor brought grapefruit from her backyard Tree on Treat that she said were sour, but I took one home and it made a delicious juice. Two others brought tomatoes they had grown. Lauren brought delicious and beautiful apples she had picked from nearby. L dropped off some of her delicious sprouts that she grew. I am hoping soon that we can offer sprout kits to people so they can grow their own sprouts. Autumn brought by olives and olive spreads from the farmer’s market, samples that they gave out and were left over at the end of the day. I love these gestures of sharing and it is really what makes the stand fun and about community. Also, she played violin with a beautiful brother named Jorge that played his homemade instrument out of recycled materials, like a bow with a gourd amplifier on it and a stick that he hit it with. Did I mention the return of the figs? I guess being a fig grower it is either use it or lose it. I had another 28 boxes of figs and because of the heat they some were starting to rot before we could even give them away. I am amazed thought that we had enough food for everyone that came, considering the line never really disappeared until way late in the day.

The plant/garden table was not happening much this week. I am really behind in growing seedlings and have been getting by on donations of starts from Green Gulch. We not only still need a consistent person at the plant table, but someone to help start growing seedlings for our gardens and to give them away at the table on Sundays. I think we could be offering people seedling starter kits and encourage help starting seedlings in homes in the area. Anyone got space in a small greenhouse or sunny window or porch?

I am excited because we will soon have two new gardens in backyards growing some local produce, some of which will be shared at the Free Farm Stand. It seems almost every week I meet people who are excited about what we are doing and they want to know how they can help. And a lot of people say they want to learn how to garden or just get their hands in some dirt. The sidebar on this page will list the garden work parties coming up and how people can help out and what we need. I just learned that a pile of manure on Bernal Hill is available to people who want some for their garden. I wonder if there is someone who wants to collect some for different gardens I know of that can use some?

Also, read about the fruit picking opportunity coming up next Saturday on the side bar. If anyone has a vehicle or even not, but may want to get out of the city for a trip to Clear Lake (2 ½ hours away), some guy is offering people to come up and pick his 1200 pear trees and give the fruit to the food bank or other groups like the Free Farm Stand.

I heard recently that My Farm went out of business, that they went broke (I do not know how to confirm this information though I got it from a good source). Someone described to me that their operation was run like a ponzi scheme, in that they were operating on the money that they got from installing gardens in people backyards, but they didn’t make enough to maintain the gardens or pay people. Although I have not been a big fan of My Farm, I do think that the more gardens growing food in the city the better. I hope all the gardens are kept going (I heard they had something like 70).

I also agree with my friend who told me about My Farm who says growing food to make a profit is not a good business. From my experience this last year or so, it is a lot of work to be a farmer. I know people trying to do that and live off their work, and I think good luck. Though getting $25 a pound for local grown lettuce sounds like a great way to make money, sort of like growing marijuana without the legal hassle. Time will tell with these operations how successful they can be and not getting burnt out. I know that most of us have to pay rent and that is a good question how to do that and have time too for repairing the world. The answer lies in being creative and committed to that goal, and it gets back to starting things with compassion in the heart.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pears and a New Paradigm

Here we are with the Fall Equinox approaching and I feel like I need to catch my breath as this year rushes by. Gandhi had his experiments with Truth and I have been having my experiment with planting and growing a Free Farm Stand. Every week in the park it seems like there is an incredible amount of energy present like a love bomb exploding. First there are now large numbers of people showing up, standing in a line winding out the gate of the park and going down the sidewalk. Then people hang around after shopping, tasting some jam and bread, wandering in the garden, laying on the grass, or kids running around doing what they do. Everyone seems so friendly and cheerful; maybe it is just the sunny weather. Then we have all the hustle and bustle of the great crew of volunteers who show up who work at sorting through boxes of produce and arranging the tables so they look beautiful. And they do and the food itself gives off a vibe that pulsates with life force. I think people really feel it, I know I do.

I love harvesting food that I have helped to plant and grow, I was thinking that last Friday as I picked some of the produce for the stand at 18th St. and Rhode Island. I also really like meeting so many really sweet people that I am meeting each week, there seems to be an equal abundance of beautiful produce and people.

In the Bay Area seasons are most evident at a farm stand by seeing what is locally grown. Tomatoes and squash rule the day in the approaching fall season and we had our share this week. Dave who lives next door to the Secret Garden brought 10lbs of apples from his backyard tree and I had a 10lb bag of locally picked pears that I don't know where they came from (they were dropped off anonymously at the soup kitchen where I volunteer). We also had another huge amount of figs, about 30 boxes, left over from the farmer's market. Later in the day as we were running low on super local food Clara came by with 9lbs of produce from the Secret Garden.

A couple of other beautiful things happened all on their own at the stand yesterday. Lyn gave me about ten bags she had crocheted to give out to people at the stand to put their food in. Here is the note she wrote that we put in each bag (Pancho translated it into Spanish):

This bag has been handmade as a gift for someone who is a part of the Free Farm Stand community; in other words, you.
I give away a part of me with each bag I give out. I make these bags to help spread the feeling of being nurtured and at the same time to inspire people (you) to bring this when you come for the special produce you get here. I would also be thrilled if you could use this bag as inspiration to find your own way of making your own connections with our community.
In making these bags I have only used materials from thrift stores, friends' leftovers, and other places that don't involve new materials. No two bags are alike.
Enjoy your day, the Farm Stand, the bags, and the new paradigm that we're creating.

I assigned Pancho the difficult task of distributing the bags since there were only 10. At the end as Pancho was giving the last bag to someone and another woman asked if she could have it , and Lyn offered to make her a bag to give that she would give her next week!
Another outstanding gesture of sharing happened when my friend Steve pulled up with his home made bicycle refreshment stand. He set up an umbrella and served aqua fresca with melon juice and ice. An act that was hard to beat considering it was pretty warm out there in the park and the line for that was almost as long as the line for the produce. He ran out pretty fast and he said he needed another large glass jar to store more aqua fresca in.

Things are moving ahead with two new backyard gardens coming to life. I think we have found Garden Anchors for the gardens and garden workdays/parties are being planned (see sidebar under volunteer opportunities and events). Yesterday a man who has lived in the neighborhood forever and actually helped us make this park a reality years ago told me he needs help with his garden too. He has an orange and avocado tree in his yard that he wants help picking too later in winter and he'll share his surplus. And a friend just wrote me that he is moving into a place in the Haight where there are four backyards and no fences and the neighbors are into making a big garden and he is looking forward to doing just that.

Last week was an emotional week for me. The previous Sunday (the morning it rained shortly) a friend of mine name Barbara died totally unexpectedly in her sleep. She was one of the core leaders at Martin de Porres (the Catholic Worker soup kitchen I have been helping at for years). Her loss is going to be tremendous. Two things I was reminded of was how sweet and wonderful having a loving, caring community is that an individual can count on for support. It is probably the most important thing we can have in life and it seems worth it to put the time it takes and patience developing that kind of community. And again I am reminded that our time in this world can be very short so we need to make sure we don't get caught up in distractions like dramas that can ruffle our feathers and make us sad or angry. I need to remind myself of this all the time, to take a deep breath.

At our Friday work day at 18th and Rhode Island Lyn brought some apples from Golden Gate Park and honey from our bee hive for us all to eat to celebrate the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and so that our New Year will be sweet. Already things are moving in that direction.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Free Fig Stand

The Free Farm Stand is generating a lot of excitement these days and I can understand why. The quality of the produce that we are giving away is fresh, beautiful, and healthy. Now we are getting a big line and when the weather is nice like it was yesterday the park fills with people and it becomes a real social scene. A lot of people wind up sitting or laying on the grass, talking to friends, and yesterday there was someone drumming and another person playing a beautiful didgeridoo. From my perspective the scene is not quite sustainable, because I think I need more help in running the show. We seem to have plenty of volunteers the day of the event, but I am still trying to figure out how to get help dealing with all the produce I collect. Maybe it is just a summer phenomena, but the amount of food that we had at the stand was so incredible, it must have been a record amount. I didn't even bring the winter squashes that we had grown or collected because we had so much. This includes a 39lb. pumpkin that we grew at the Permaculture garden that I don't know how to give away and it is too pretty to cut up. So the story is, tons of food I pick up in different places and sometimes different times, put in the van, unload at my house to make room for the bread pick-up, and then I reload the van with the same produce I unloaded earlier. It seems like the way I am doing things is a bit crazy, but it works for now.

Both tables were full: on the super local table we had the summer harvest of zucchini, tomatoes, basil, green beans, Rocoto hot peppers, and mint. Also, my friend Tom from Santa Rosa was in town and brought by 108lbs of apples he gleaned in Santa Rosa and 18lbs of tomatoes he grew and a few cucumbers too. Forest brought zucchini, tomatoes, apples, lemon, and green beans from his father's garden plot in Stanford. Lauren gleaned apples in Golden Gate Park. They were smaller this year than the ones I picked last year. Also, I brought applesauce to share from the apples I picked last week and Christina brought some too, and there was also some hot pepper jam that someone had brought to the stand a while back and I finally put it out to share. Nave brought apples too. Early Saturday morning I picked up from the Farmer's Market 14 boxes of chard, kale, beets, broccoli, and zucchini that were gleaned from the Green Gulch Farm. Later in the day I got over fifty boxes of figs left over from the farmer's market (plus a lot of other produce). By the end of the day everything was given away except two boxes of greens that I took today to the food bank. A number of people took boxes of soft or mushy figs home to make jam. Stay tuned and get ready for great bowel movements.

Antonio brought over his students from the Ecological Gardening course he is teaching and I spoke to them about the stand. I talked about my early inspiration gleaned from the diggers ( and fast forwarded to today and the local food growing movement and my involvement in it. I still read a lot of stuff on line and get emails about all these hip events centered around eating fresh, local, wild or organically/sustainable grown foods or even politically correct meat, that one has to pay a pretty penny for. To me (being perhaps a bit judgmental here), that is not what this current revolution is about. I hope I got that point across. Then they all went to the Secret Garden and helped prune trees and plant snap peas. Fantastic!

Last week I went over with two people to check out Lisa's garden on Guerrero and 26th and talk to her about what she would like to see happen with her garden space. It was very exciting and I think all three of us went away excited about this new gardening opportunity. Then yesterday another woman approached me about her backyard garden space on 18th and Dolores that she wants help with. I want to start to train people to not only learn how to grow a garden for the Free Farm Stand but be "Volunteer Garden Anchors". I even wrote something up about it that I might add to a volunteer section of this web site someday, though I am not sure if this seems a bit stuffy:

(4 hrs per week) Volunteer Garden Anchor:

  • Learn how to design a small backyard garden, maintain it, and grow food and flowers to share at the Free Farm Stand
  • Learn how to work with and keep volunteers happy and busy

The volunteer garden anchor will work with me and a team of other volunteers and the tenant whose backyard garden we will be working in the Mission. My approach will be very hands on and hopefully I can step back and let the garden anchor learn by doing. We will use all appropriate approaches to sustainable organic gardening including permaculture and bio-intensive techniques. The anchor will be responsible for general garden upkeep, planting, harvesting, and bringing the surplus to the Free Farm Stand.


Must be responsible (the volunteer garden anchor will have a key to the backyard) and some familiarity with gardening. The ideal person for this job would hopefully be passionate about growing local food and making it accessible to all, especially people on low incomes and tight budgets. 3 month commitment necessary.

Say are there any web designers out here that may want to design a real web site for this blog?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pictures from Eat-In and Free Farm Stand

Here are some photos from the Eat-In at our 18th and Rhode Island garden:

Here are pictures from the last Free Farm Stand:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Orchard Love

I started writing this blog on a notepad (no computer) while sitting on the bench under a tree in the Permaculture Garden at 18th and Rhode Island. I was there for the "Eat-In" or potluck in support of healthy school lunches (Slow Food. USA came up with the idea of having these national events everywhere today including one at Civic Center and one in Dolores Park). I was feeling pretty slowed down after a hectic weekend of apple picking, soup kitchen cooking, farm standing, and applesauce making. Then as soon as I started writing people I knew started showing up and I got involved in the "Eat-In". More on that later.

Last week a friend whom I trust a lot and reads my blog sent me a note saying that in my last blog I didn't write from my heart (he said it seemed like I was just writing for housewives). Someone then told me what is wrong with writing for housewives? But now I am nervous because I thought I always write from my heart, and I agree I don't want to just write fluff, but want to talk about things that are important to share with everyone. Here are some random thoughts before I give a short update on Free Farm Stand happenings.

One is that on Sunday afternoon I had an experience that felt so good. I had the chance to be reminded that I still love an old friend whom I am pretty upset and disappointed with. It is good to know that love can live in ones heart and surface at unexpected times, making you feel warm and tingly for a short while.

I have been thinking of all the things on my long to do list. At the Permaculture Guild meeting I attended last Wednesday I joined a small group meeting about volunteers. Various people talked about the successes and challenges they have getting volunteer help. There were a number of approaches groups have for working with volunteers and for a while I was thinking I need to move in a more mainstream approach to getting volunteer help. Some of the people at the meeting had me thinking I should write out job descriptions for all the things I need help for, like I should publish internship applications. I actually started writing some job descriptions up. Then I even went so far as to thinking that my non-profit should start hiring people, like a lot of non-profits do. Following that line of thinking and where that would lead, I realized this is not where I am at.

Actually I don't know where I am at; I am running the Free Farm Stand by the skin of my teeth. But I will never have a main stream approach to what I do. I would like to figure out a way to train others to do some of the things I do, like Pancho called it, to be anchors. I come out of living in a commune living situation for years and that is the best way I know of getting things done: by living, working, praying, meditating, serving the poor and disinfranchised with an intentional community or family. How do we grow something like that?

I also started going crazy starting to work on a challenging grant application for a Challenge Grant from the city to get our community garden and our fruit orchard expanded. This week at the Farm Stand I may have met an angel who offered to do the work needed for free, meaning I won't need that grant. I have also been thinking about money more than I should. And I have had many conversations in the last week about economics with various people, about how to get money to support the work all of us are doing. I am still in the minority of people wanting to just do things for free, but I have to admit I have been thinking about the idea of holding a benefit to raise money vs. writing grants.

I really feel the Free Farm Stand is running on auto-pilot these days. At least on Sundays when I go there we (a lot of great volunteers) set up and I zone out. Things are going pretty smoothly. It was interesting this week because we had less food from the farmer's market (and may have less next week too). I heard there were fewer vendors at the markets perhaps because of the Labor Day holiday or the Bay Bridge being closed. So it was a great thing to remind us all that we have got to be learning how to grow more of our own food. We also have to be making it more of a priority in our cities to leave more space open for sky and air, and places to plant beautiful food forests and gardens.

If there was a highlight to the stand this week it was all the apples and peaches we had to give away (though the honey dew melons and 2 eggplants from Esperanza were up there on the excitement level for me). Erin picked apples and peaches on Wednesday and I picked an apple tree on Saturday. By now everyone must know how much I love fruit trees and planting them in the city. Just this one old tree I picked is a great example of how much fruit we can get from one fully mature tree: Betsy and I picked 217 lbs of apples and we didn't get them all. This number also includes apples that I picked off the ground, a lot of which went into apple sauce. On weeks that we get a lot of fruit from gleaning our pounds of local produce skyrockets. This week we added 430lbs of local produce! Again the universe is telling us something…plant more fruit trees!

Of course when I was picking the apples high up on a ladder I could see all the neighbor's yards nearby. Right next door there was an apple tree with branches loaded with red apples laying on the roof of a funky shed that some neighbors were living in. I was pinch hitting in terms of picking apples that day, Erin's car had broken down and Lauren was out of town, so it was just me and my friend Betsy picking the apples, and I had been there almost two hours. I didn't get all the apples on her tree, let alone picking more from a neighbor's tree. It is really a shame to see this good fruit not getting picked. I know there are a lot of people who say they want to help pick fruit. But often it seems that because of the logistics involved in arranging with someone to pick their tree we still need a group of gleaners that can help pick fruit at a late moment's notice.

Talk about food going to waste, I often hear reports of community garden plots with produce not getting picked. Here is another project I am hatching up that I would love to come to fruition: I met a woman from a community garden that will put signs up at all the gardens suggesting that if they have extra produce there are groups like the Free Farm Stand that will put their produce to good use. We need people perhaps to pick up the produce and take it somewhere, like to the Free Farm Stand or the Julian Pantry on Saturday. I even have bike carts that could be used for this project.

This week I am going to look at a potential garden space in the Mission and we might have an opportunity to help someone get into the fun of growing food and sharing the surplus. We may need gardeners in the future for this new garden. And there are other gardens to work in too.

About the Eat-In/potluck. The event was well attended and I enjoyed meeting neighbors and new visitors to the garden, as well as running into some friends I haven't seen in a while; it seemed just the right number of people drifted in and out. And I love all the kids that turned up with their parents. Serving healthy lunches in schools is one political issue that I can really get behind. I heard recently that it was Reagan who got rid of all the school cafeterias. I actually heard that few schools even have them anymore, they were simantles? Actually I am not too in favor of schools as we know it, but if we do have schools we should try to make them less like jails serving jail food.

There were a few a few vegan dishes that people brought which was nice for us vegans in the crowd (I realized too late that the kobacha squash dish I ate had clarified butter in it). One of the best dishes was a raw squash salad that David made with the unknown squash from the garden. These are the massively overgrown squashes that we have been giving out at the stand, cut up into reasonable size pieces. He sliced the squash really thin, added rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, some pumpkin seeds, chocolate mint from the garden, and I think that is it. It was really yummy. Jeremy brought some juice that rocked with apples (of course), celery, beets, and ginger.I also enjoyed the apples and plums that Jim brought from Clear Lake. I wonder what the other Eat-Ins were like.