Monday, May 25, 2009

The Hyper Local Flavor Zone

O yee of little faith. That is me at times. A worrywart. When I went over to the park with a van full of food at noon nobody was around. The Carnival parade was going down 24th Street and the park was pretty much empty. I started thinking of contingency plans in case I was stuck with a lot of vegetables and bread. All my regular volunteers were away , some having graduated from school and have taken off for the summer. I set up the stand by myself, the first time in a year I would guess. I even put our sign on the sidewalk thinking I needed to catch the attention of people walking by the park. My friend Greg showed up with a nine month old baby strapped around his waist and was unable to do much except provide a cheering section for me which I appreciated. Greg was probably the first person to help me when I first started the farm stand and I hadn't seen him for a while. He soon had to take off to put the baby who was getting cranky to bed (an aside note, have you noticed the baby boom happening right now?). Finally, one of our regular shoppers came by and realizing that things wouldn't get set up soon without me getting some help, so she started helping. Soon some other shoppers pitched in and I sort of had a crew. I wasn't really free to set up the plant stand nor snap a lot of photos, but everything worked out fine. And by the time we were set up we had the usual crowd of early birds who were nervous about getting some produce and it was a bit hectic from the start. Getting near 2pm, after the parade had finished, more people showed up and really people kept trickling in up until I actually pulled the cart out the gate. Two kids in the park asked me for some food as I was about to pull away and I had a few bunches of greens left…they seemed happy to get a bunch of red mustard. I can' believe that I gave everything away except a few onions and some greens. Towards the very end, a Chinese woman who lived in Vietnam was excited to get the last bunch of Malabar spinach. I have never known what to do with that vegetable (I keep forgetting to look it up). She explained how it is good in soup and she gave me her complicated recipe for soup involving using egg. I just looked it up and somewhere it said "The mucilaginous texture is especially useful as a thickener in soups and stews."

I had a pretty good harvest for the hyper local table i.e. the home grown stuff from the flavor zone. Besides another forty pounds of fava beans from 18th and Rhode Island, I harvested a few pounds of mustard greens and chard too, plus I got the last of the lettuce lawn at the Secret Garden. I also harvested some oregano and African Blue basil (mostly flowers), and a basket of strawberries from Treat Commons. Ruben told me to harvest his lettuce lawn too and also I picked some arugula and mustard from his bed. Also I picked a lot of sweet pea flowers and daisies. The less local left over table was really packed too, including some strawberries that I tried to save for the kids. Page came by with a boxes of oranges and loquats he picked near Stanford where he teaches (that is my guess... he was parked illegally and had to run in and out). My loquats are about ready, but I didn't get around to picking them. Needless to say fresh fruit is one of the more popular things we give away and I wish we could find more to pick and distribute. Zoe came by with a beautiful lettuce mix from her garden in the Sunset. Another friend came by with a handful of salad burnett. The leaves taste like cucumber and is pretty good tasting. Later in the day Pancho showed up and was able to talk to all the Spanish speaking people who came by. He is such a warm person and it makes me really happy to have someone like him that can carry on a conversation with people who speak little English. At one point there was an older woman that came with a cane and he helped her fill her bag and they were both chatting and laughing, it was a really beautiful scene. He learned that she came from Mexico like him and had the same name as his mother, Mary. And she new all about the vegetables and how to cook them.

the hyper local table with the home grown stuff

the less local produce from the farmer's markets

a happy shopper with an orange from our friendly gleaner Page

and loquats

beautiful salad from the sunset with flowers on top

The work day at 18th and Rhode Island was also sparsely attended, but Alvin did manage to pick those forty pounds of beans by himself. I hopped the small fence of the original squatted garden on the site and planted hot weather things in real dirt which was so exciting (as opposed to planting things in the mostly wood chip berms permaculture style). This is the spot where I harvested orange cherry tomatoes late into January of this year. I planted more tomatoes, including the cherry tomato from there that I saved seed for, eggplant, and hot peppers. This will be a good test to see if we can grow eggplant in San Francisco. Of course now I am waiting for our global warming to return to replace this cool fog. Kelvin is busy planning more lovely things for this garden including a special lentil that supposedly will grow here. Jay and David have been working on planting the "cool weather" bananas, pepino dulce (melon pear or melon shrub), and the babaco (mountain papaya) plants we have been growing for the garden.

Every week I seem to connect with some new beautiful person or hear of a project that is totally inspiring. I went to Mission High School last week to talk to some kids that were involved with an environmental service learning project there. One surprising thing is that I learned that the principle of the school, Eric, who visited the farm stand there once, is the father of Asher, the energetic and enthusiastic 13 year boy who has been helping me every week at the stand. His father seems like a revolutionary guy who gave the ok to turn a parking lot at the school into a garden. After the talk I visited the garden and saw Lauren who has been volunteering there and also helped at the stand. I also learned that the fabulous Mission Science workshop is now located in the space there that used to be the auto mechanics department at the school. Dan, who is the amazingly inspiring man who started the project, was showing off these planter boxes he is going to build with his students (he is going to build sixty!). I also met the biology teacher named Susan who is teaching biology through the medium of compost. She was looking at the worm bin Lauren helped build and the idea is to incorporate worm study into the biology curriculum.

I have been a bit restless lately and feeling the tug to explore other possible things to do. Not giving up the Free Farm Stand, but perhaps putting out the desire to find more consistent help to run it…I do not want it to be a one person show. I am still day dreaming of starting a communal household in the Mission based around service (remember the Urban Kibbutz idea?). I really believe that projects like the Free Farm Stand would ideally be run by a commune. Communal living is so much more an efficient and a sustainable way of living. We should be sharing our lives more, including income sharing and living like family. The challenge is to find a building and find people with like minded ideas to come up with the money needed to get a place.

There are companion projects to the Free Farm Stand too that may be fun to start, like a Free Neighborhood Garden Center. And there are more gardens/urban mini-urban farms to start. I have also been inspired recently by my friend who has started a free advertising zine called Baitline. I so much appreciate beautiful artwork and sweet words and ideas printed on paper. So I have been thinking about a Free Farm Stand newsletter. I need a lead balloon to tie around my feet before I float away.

By the way check out the Current News and Event s column. At the next Farm Stand two friends at Bay Area Source are going to have an ice cream party in the park neighboring the stand. They will be giving away their newest zine and have equipment available for people to make their own ice cream (both vegan and non-vegan). I am still in favor of the vegan diet, but I wanted to support these wonderful women who have being doing great things for a while. Maybe they will at least have dairy from non-factory farmed animals.

It has always been my hope that the Free Farm Stand will attract others to come to the park on Sunday and share for free something they are interested in…especially along the lines of art and music and education.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Little Table that Could

I love opening the Free Farm Stand on a hot sunny day, though keeping the produce from wilting is a challenge. We tried the new method of having two tables set up one loaded with left over produce from the farmer's market and the other with produce grown more locally.

The idea being that the home grown garden produce that neighbors and the community have brought to share doesn't get lost among the commercially grown produce. I actually don't know if people really noticed the separation. Maybe with the price of organic vegetables being pretty high people just concentrate on getting the fresh produce and the fact that their neighbor might have grown it gets lost with some people. Or maybe you have to be a gardener to really appreciate and understand the effort that goes into bringing food to our tables. And it is more than that, it is almost a religious experience to be involved in growing some of your own food, it connects us to that life force and to the divine and Holy Spirit. It reminds us of the everyday miracles that occur in our gardens. I know that a lot of people coming to the Free Farm Stand understand this already, because people immediately feel some joy just being around the food that radiates good vibes. Maybe I am getting too far off the deep end here and I should go back to the practical.

Here is what was on the home grown table: fava beans (we harvested another 35 lbs. from 18th and Rhode Island), a small basket of berries picked from Treat Commons (three or four blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries), a small amount of wintergreen mint from Treat Commons, and some delicious baby lettuce from the salad lawn at the Secret garden. Later two people came by with more fava bean and one woman brought a small amount of chervil which is a delightful herb that we all should be growing more of, and a friend came by with surplus parsley that she had grown.
I was telling someone that the home grown table is the hope section because we hope we will have more produce on the table some day. It is like the story "The little Engine that Could". We think we can, we think we can (grow more food for all). I also printed up flyers in Spanish and English that explained in detail the goals of the Free Farm Stand. I saw very few people taking them, though I did hand out some. Later in the day I got around to adding seedlings to the table. There was a lot of interest in seedlings and I managed to give quite a few away.

The crowd of people was not as large as last week, maybe because of the heat or the Bay to Breakers. I was quite busy though because we were a little short on people to be at the table.

So this is where things are at right now with the Free Farm Stand. As we move into summer some of our regular volunteers that were students are going to be away, some temporarily. One of my favorite helpers Thy has graduated and is moving to the L.A. area. So the stand is going to need more help. And I am still trying to get the garden booth up and running, where we not only give out plants and seedlings, but we are available to answer garden related questions. We are also short on Spanish speaking volunteers at the stand which is really important. Here is something I am putting out to the universe: I would love to find someone I can train that could learn the process of running the stand from start to finish, so that if I couldn't be around some week the stand could remain open.

Ending on an up note, the gardens are looking pretty good. The tater towers are green and the upside down tomatoes are looking good too. This Tuesday I want to put in more work at the secret garden which needs lots of weeding and more planting. I also get want to get my backyard garden in better shape (it is getting there after a lot of effort last week) and I plan to get a lot of seed planted for starts too. There is a lot of gardening to do and I am anxious to get away from this computer and get back into the garden. Oh and our bees have three supers of honey ready to extract and if we can get the extractor we will be extracting honey next Saturday!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beautiful Bounty

I want to start off saying that I have become overwhelmed this last week with all the amazing sweet and energetic people I have been in touch with. Besides being overwhelmed with such spring bounty of produce, the bay area seems bountiful now with local garden projects galore and people wanting to plug in somehow.

Talking about being overwhelmed Christy sent me an email about how she is overwhelmed with the produce from the Farmer's Market. Here is her words with a great suggestion that I think we can follow up on next week.:

"Hey Tree,

I had an idea after being at the farm stand yesterday. Do you think it would work to reserve a section of one of the tables for the food that the community and home gardeners like you and some of us donate to the stand? Maybe with a little sign indicating that? I think it might spur more people to bring stuff. For me it's a little overwhelming to see all the produce that the commercial growers just throw away piled up there, and it's just not as special as knowing one of your neighbors worked to produce food to share with you. It would also be a gentle lesson for folks who visit the stand on the number and variety, even if small quantity, of things that are being grown by their neighbors, and might inspire them more to grow stuff themselves."

The Free Farm Stand this week was well attended this week, and we had a good number of great helpers running it. Christy in her email also noted that the popularity is growing with the "younger, hip, diet-conscious folks" and that she saw "fewer Latino and other immigrant families". I do see the stand becoming more popular. One of my goals has been to see the stand bringing neighbors together every week and that is happening. And I continue to strive to make this local food movement accessible to all especially those on tight budgets and low incomes. I am thinking that is more and more of us these days.

The amount of produce this week from three of the gardens I work in was phenomenal: 48lbs of fava beans from 18th and Rhode Island, 6lbs from my backyard, and 7 ½ lbs from the Secret Garden. I also harvested 6 ½ lbs of greens from 18th and Rhode Island and 5 lbs of baby lettuce from the secret garden. I also picked lemons from my neighbor's tree. Other people brought more mustard greens, and peppermint and peppermint starter plants, and chamomile. One woman brought produce from a CSA box that didn't get picked up. We also gave out left over flowers that originally came from Whole Foods and sweet pea flowers from Treat Commons (it was Mother's Day and everyone loved the flowers).

We also gave out a lot of seedlings, mostly tomatoes and artichokes. It was really nice having a new person around named Pancho who spoke Spanish with people. I also brought a small camp stove and boiled up some shelled fava beans to show people how to cook them and what they taste like. People loved them and luckily we had a lot to give away (I also got a box of them from the farmer's market delivery).

Report on last week as it relates to the Free Farm Stand

Last Tuesday we had a great work day in Treat Commons ( a number of new people showed up to volunteer) and we planted some trombone squash and cucumbers, plus thinned carrots and did some weeding. Then at the Secret Garden the kids harvested 6 ½ lbs of fava beans that grew in a very shady part of the garden. We also mulched the potatoes growing in the tater towers. All but one of the towers is doing well.

Last Wednesday which was the first Wednesday of the month and I went to the SF Permaculture Guild meeting. I mainly went to hear Laurence Schechtman ,"Laurence Of Berkeley" talk about the project I have heard about and mentioned in my blog last year called Neighborhood Vegetables It is a group that encourages and organizes neighbors to help each other grow food. What I learned from Laurence is a good tip on having a successful meeting: "A meeting is never complete without everyone having a job to do and someone to do it with." The meeting he organizes ends with a "responsibility circle" where people tell the group what responsibility they are going to take on. I just signed up for Neighborhood Vegetables and joined the San Francisco group. I really don't know where this will lead. I like the idea of neighbors helping each other grow food by planting gardens together and that is why I joined. Though right now I am pretty busy trying to be an urban farmer and growing food to give away to those who don't have the land to grow food or the time to garden (though I think everyone can probably make some time to grow some food somewhere). I had forgotten that whenever I go to the guild meeting now I see not only so many people I know, but meet others who are usually interesting in different ways.

Thursday I had one new friend Brian help me harvest fava beans from my backyard (6lbs from another shady garden and I realized later that I missed some). I moved a lot of the seedlings out of the garden and am ready to start planting more seeds.

The On Friday we had a great workday at 18th and Rhode Island. About six people showed up to help. We spent the morning harvesting some of the fava beans on the hill. I was really surprised that when we finished harvesting we had a big trash can bag full of fava beans. When I took them home to weigh them there were 48lbs of beans. We also harvested 6 ½ lbs of various greens, mostly Swiss chard and some lettuce. We also planted two avocado trees, a number of pineapple guava, sunchokes, stinging nettle, and some rocoto hot peppers.

On Saturday was the grand opening of the Esperanza Garden Sustainability Center. There was a great turnout and good music and food. The sound system was bike peddled generated and there was also a bike pedaled blender that made smoothies.

I had a mini-farm stand set up and next to me was a free lemonade stand made with big lemons from the tree of the dad and his young daughter who made it. The stand was sort of a bust I thought, not too many people seemed interested in the food nor seedlings I was giving away. Maybe the wrong kind of crowd I don't know. I did give a short hands on demonstration of how to build a tater tower and also growing tomatoes upside down. I met a woman there who has already tried this and she says it does work.

One last thing is that I have been corresponding with some people for a while online who are also doing similar "gift economy" work in different places. We have both been inspiring each other. On Saturday I got to meet Jeff for the first time at the Esperanza opening and then on Sunday he and two others, Pancho and Elizabeth came out to help at the stand. One of the things they are involved with is the Karma Kitchen. Read his blog about the Farmers Market comes to Karma Kitchen: I hope we can collaborate on wonderful projects in the future.

I thought there has been a lot of focus on the Free Farm Stand and less on the gardens that supply some of the food. So here is a slide show from the Secret Garden last week and the exciting delicious lettuce lawn.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Season of Garden Greens and Lemons

I am back from my three day trip out of town. It was a totally surreal trip for me to spend time in the suburbs outside Denver. I am familiar with suburbs since I grew up in one, but I still felt like I was on another planet. I started a poem when I was there:

I missed the boat a long time ago to be normal

at an early age I got off the path

As soon as I got home I was anxious to get out into the gardens. First I went over to the Esperanza Garden where there was going to be a work day preparing the garden for the grand opening next Saturday May 9th. Like I said last week this garden might not be around in two months, but people are planting things in pots and annuals in the ground. I planted some lettuce and a yellow zucchini and will come back hopefully in the middle of the week to plant some pole beans. I think if we can get one crop of something edible out of the garden before it gets developed that will be great. At the opening I think I am going to be there doing a workshop on growing potatoes in towers and tomatoes upside down in pots. I then went over to Treat Commons and harvested a big trash bag full of chard and kale for the free farm stand.
Our greens
I guess it has been raining a bit which is great news. It was raining a little when we set up the stand, but for the most part the day was clear and we had another large crowd with a large amount of food that I brought over in a van from the soup kitchen where I work the first Sunday of the month. We are still in the season of garden greens which filled our table.
We again had large amounts of basil which should be out of season now and were probably grown in a green house since it is supposedly locally grown. Nosrat, our neighbor who lives around the corner and is an excellent cook, took a sample of the different things we had on the table, including basil, walnuts, young garlic, and some cilantro and went home and blended up some tasty vegan pesto. He brought it back and shared it with everyone served on some bread. Ashly came later and brought some fava bean spread made with curry that we put out for people to taste (the fava beans came from 18th and Rhode Island…I plan to go there Friday for the workday and will probably harvest more for the stand). Later a gardener in Treat Commons came by with her young daughter to bring some cookies to share. It was her daughter's idea who just got some cookies from a new cookie shop on Valencia to bring some over to share at the stand. I didn't say anything about them not being vegan and just gave them away any way becausethe gesture was so sweet (the cookies I am sure were too).

A couple of people came by with lemons from their trees or neighbors trees. One woman brought both Meyer lemons and Ponderosa lemons that are big and round and have a thick rind.
Can you tell which one is the Ponderosa Lemon?
Page and Margret came by with some offerings from their garden (actually I am not sure which garden things came from since they grow things all over, including a garden at Holy Innocents Church in Noe Valley, a rooftop garden where they live also in Noe Valley, and a garden in Stanford where they work). They brought one bunch of celery, a few carrot thinnings, some lettuce and arugula, and a bag of gigantic ponderosa lemons from a neighbor.
Page told me that the gleaning project he is organizing at Stanford is going ahead. Page teaches a course in sustainability there and has gotten interested in getting the fruit trees growing there (in the area where the faculty lives) picked by his students. Apparently they have identified 140 fruit trees and have them located with a GPS unit and have put them on a Google map. They are going to eventually harvest the trees and Page will bring the fruit in his truck to the stand.

I wanted to report that another reporter came by the stand who is doing a piece for KALW radio about farmer’s markets. He interviewed me for maybe five minutes and other people too. The popularity of local food growing continues. I just got a link to a four minute video made by students at City College about the farm stand and I have included it on the sidebar of this blog. My hope that what grows out of all this talk (especially on my part) is that we can find the energy and people with the time to grow more food so we don’t have to rely so much on the left-over’s from the farmers market (though it is itself a great way of gleaning organic relatively local food).

Every week I learn about some new cool local gardening event or project taking off. Here are two:

From an email:

“I just learned that the City of Lafayette formed a Sustainability Committee and that East Bay Municipal Utility District is allowing the City to utilize about 2 acres by the Lafayette Reservoir for their community garden sustainability project, which may interest you. The citizens there are very interested in this and you may find partnerships there with the many wealthier organizations in town. They are also building a gazillion dollar state of the art Library which will be completed I believe this year or early next year.”

From the permaculture list serve:

food forest for food first

Posted by: "wildseed christopher" wildheartgardens

Sun May 3, 2009 9:40 pm (PDT)

Who wants to help create a mini food forest at Food First?!
Our goal is to create a high profile permaculture garden that will be seen by hundreds of visitors who come to Food First from all parts of the world. The food produced on site will supplement the lunches that FF provides for its staff and interns. The installation will be only us volunteers so please come out and help if you have a few hours to spare over the weekend – It will be a lot of fun!
The plan:
We will remove much of the existing ornamental and invasive bushes and shrubs, create rainwater catchments, earthworks with swales and infiltration basins, spread a heavy layer of mulch, and plant a bunch of food producing plants, natives and insectaries.
398 60th St. at Colby (near the Oakland/Berkeley border)
For those of you unfamiliar with the organization, Food First is an amazing Non-Profit organization working to change the global food system. "The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First shapes how people think by analyzing the root causes of global hunger, poverty, and ecological degradation and developing solutions in partnership with movements working for social change." Check it out at
May 8-10 (Fri, Sat, Sun) 10am -5pm
Come whatever day(s) you can for as long as you want!
Please let me know if you are interested in bringing this project to fruition so I can organize enough tools and materials.
Vegetarian lunch will be provided :)
510 717 1299

I find things like this are very exciting. Wish I could get involved in everything!