Monday, July 27, 2009

more photos from farm stand July 26

Tooting Our Horn of Plenty

Summer is here and we are starting to see more fruit at the Free Farm Stand. The most exciting thing to happen yesterday at the Free Farm Stand was when at the beginning we were just about set up and ready to open when the kids from Produce to the People came walking through the gate with boxes of plums and a big bag of loquats. It was like the reinforcement troops arrived to feed the neighborhood masses with fresh locally picked fruit.

Before they came, the super local table was already loaded with fresh produce and so we had to improvise a table to put all the plums and loquats on. I brought a scale and throughout the day I weighed all the food that kept coming in so we can keep track of the amount of food we are growing and sharing at the Farm Stand. To start the day we had 13lbs. of produce from Rhode Island (11lbs of potatoes, 1lbs of greens, 1lb basil), 4lbs of produce from Eperanza (1.5lbs zucchini, 2lbs kale, 1/2lb of beans), 20lbs of produce gleaned from my friend in Oakland (11.5lbs. of lemons and 9lbs. of concord grapes), and 7.7lbs of produce I just picked from Treat Commons, including over one pound of strawberries and two huge trombone squashes. Throughout the day other people brought 118.6lbs of produce, including 73lbs. of plums, 20lbs of loquats, 5.9lbs of grapefruit, and 7lbs of zucchini. What excites me the most are not the numbers of pounds of produce on the table, but the spirit of sharing that is happening. We are up to 1,423.6 pounds of super local food sharing going on for this year.

Another highlight is that a number of people brought some jam to share that we put on the table with bread, one person brought some yummy tomato sauce, and Lyn brought sprouts that she grew in jars (she really wanted to grow some food to share and she doesn't have a garden). These things made my day. Oh and I didn't mention the great people who came by and helped out. A new friend Bill has been documenting the stand for Mission Local online news and he took these most wonderful photos that accurately capture not only the glorious looking produce, but some of the beautiful faces of our helpers. I am happy that we are getting some of the locals involved, like Raphael who gave out bread and helped set up and Abdullah a young boy who also enthusiastically helped set up and gave out produce.

This does not include the excess produce from the farmers further away from the city (nor the rescued industrial organic produce we are getting now). This week we had a summer bounty including watermelons, peaches and nectarines, cauliflower, zucchini, and red peppers.

18th and Rhode Island

On Friday a small number of us turned out to continue harvest and weeding and we also planted more kale. We harvested three potato towers that never grew that well but we managed to get 11lbs of spuds, mostly small ones. Here is a slideshow of the harvest:

Kevin turned in a proposal for funding to a local foundation focused on improving the eastern neighborhood of San Francisco and the chances are high that we will get some money. The funds will go towards funding the water at the garden, seeds and plant materials, infrastructure, and a possible startup budget for planting another site nearby. There has been talk about seeing if we can plant fruit trees on some vacant Caltrans land overlooking the freeway at 18th and San Bruno.

Growing the local garden network

I am trying to find time to spend more of my time in the garden and keeping my hands in the dirt, but also am continuing to promote the local garden/food sharing movement in the Mission. Now that we have non-profit status I am working on trying to find funding for some great projects we have dreamed up. One is that we have a tentative ok to more plant fruit trees in the park where we do the Free Farm Stand. I say tentative because after I get the money needed the project has to go in front of the Park and Recreation Commission to get their approval to change the land use from park to community garden for the area we want to expand into. It sounds like it is pretty likely they will ok the project, so I am going ahead trying to get money to have a chain link fence constructed around the area where the "food forest" will go. It may take as much as $5000 to get the fence built.

I am also working with Lauren of Produce to the People to try to get a greenhouse and free garden center built at Mission High.

If anyone knows of any people out there that have a lot of money or some foundation I should look into please let me know.

Here is a recent article from the Chronicle about Alemany Farm and the mayor's new healthy food policy: Yes we need more farms in the city!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Free Farm Share

It was another Sunday Streets day and I was bicycling down Valencia to go home to set up the Free Farm Stand. It was a blast riding down Valencia and seeing the whole street cut off from car traffic, though it was a bit chaotic and it wasn't a casual ride as I had to constantly avoid pedestrians and other bicycles coming from the other direction. When I got to the park the neighborhood seemed deserted because of the event and I decided to do some gardening until some help arrived. At some point volunteers started showing up and we got the van unloaded and food put on the different tables. Gone are the days (at least right now) of walking over with the wagon (not only because we have more produce, but because the van is used to pick up the bread that we leave in the van overnight). Suddenly out of nowhere people start flocking in like birds and before we know it there is a line of people anxious to get produce.

We filled the very local table with 37 pounds of produce this week. Right as we were setting up a neighbor showed up with a bag of small cherry plums that I think came from her tree. It made me happy that people are starting to understand what we are all about. I like to use the word food sharing as one way to describe what we are doing. We are learning to share (we hear that all the time if we hang out with kids and parents). It does seem like a food giveaway most of the time, but the message is really that we have the power to grow some of our food and to feed ourselves, just as we have the power to change our neighborhoods and get to know our neighbors. Some people think all they are doing is getting some free food and that is one way to look at it, but they might not know they are involved in a grand social experiment/scheme to make the world better by people getting to know each other, sharing food and some community time together. It is funny that now there is a Nolo press book out about sharing (The Sharing Solution) and talk about Sharing Law and the Sharing revolution. There is a blog too at . I must admit this really overwhelms me and I don't know what to think about it. I come from the old school where sharing seemed a lot simpler and we didn't need all the laws or contracts or technologies to share something with another person. We just get out in the world and do it. And some of us believe that the "Earth is a Common Treasury for All". Yo, just share the love! But it is all cool sharing any way you have to do it (I may even need some legal contract to get some landowner to share their vacant land with me). I wish I could do more sharing in my own life.

Anyway a number of people brought by produce to give away or share (depending on how you look at it) throughout the day. Margaret brought by some beautiful red potatoes from Holy Innocents from the tater towers that Page and I planted. She also dropped off some huge zucchinis from the Stanford garden, some green beans, and grapefruit. Later in the day Sam came by with some ripe plums and then another friend showed up with grapefruit from down the street on Treat. Nanda whom I have been corresponding with by email, brought by dragon beans that she grew, some lemons, and a number of plants to give away and some seeds. We also had produce from four gardens that we are working in, Treat Commons, Esperanza, 18th and Rhode Island, and the Secret Garden. Of course the left over farmers market table was loaded with summer vegetables and I also had some "industrial organic" gleaned from Veritable Vegetable. I must admit I was offered a box of non-organic tortillas both flour and corn that I gave away that seemed very popular among our crowd.

At the very end of the Free Farm Stand while cleaning up a bicycle caravan with reggae musicians came riding down the street. I asked them if they wanted some bread that we had left over and they all came in the park and we had an impromptu reggae concert that was great. This is what I have been wanting for a while, some culture mixed with the stand. And I loved that it was sound system was powered by a bicycle.

We also had over two gallons of fresh plum jam that Eli made for the Free Farms Stand that we gave out in baby food jars and we had some on the table for people to taste. He actually thought it needed some improvement and gave me some in sealed mason jars that he added more sugar and ginger to and offered to do the same to the rest he gave me, but I thought it was delicious as is (and everyone else seemed to agree). Now I have some plum jam and apricot jam to give away around the holidays when fresh fruit is harder to come by.

I just heard that the possible new owner of the vacant lot that Esperanza Gardens is now located on has two months or more to grow food, because the he hasn't been able to secure the loans yet to build on it. So that will give us time to plant another crop of greens and other things there. I am getting a lot of volunteers at all the gardens and that is great. We just have to keep planting as much as possible. I would like to see someone help coordinate a seedling program where we give seeds, soil, and trays to people to grow seedlings to give away. That way we would have seedlings to put in the ground when we have "vacancies" and I think then more people could grow food and share the surplus. Here are some pictures of our last workday at 18th and Rhode Island. Like I think I mentioned in a previous posting, more people have time on their hands because they are out of work, so lucky us getting all these great helpers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Food Movement

Last week I did something I have not done before. I started writing a list of things I wanted to write about this week, because the exciting news ­­­­­­­­­­­­­related to local food growing kept coming to me fast and furious through my email in-box. It started with a link Christy sent me to a New York Times article about an urban farmer dude in Milwaukee named Will Allen: I have heard of this guy before and have checked out his inspiring web site with information and pictures about his non-profit: Another friend Nanda sent me the same link to the NY Times article earlier, but I didn’t check it out for some reason. She mentioned he is in this documentary movie called Fresh which I haven’t seen. The New York Times has a way of writing about these saints in such a way as to get a person like me totally worked up and it is like an Urban Farmer’s Wet Dream reading about this project. I almost thought of traveling to the Midwest to learn all I could from him about growing large amounts of produce and making tons of worm compost in the middle of the city. Though a lot of what he does is run a business and they have become quite big (I still believe small is beautiful), they donate food to organizations that serve families that are struggling or homeless. On his web site they say: “We believe that no one should have to choose between rent and food. Neighbors should help neighbors. We are always looking for partners who can utilize our excess bounty to support people in need through meals and prepared produce bags.

Guisepi from the Free Tea Party sent me a link that he ran across on Craigslist free section:> He said we are doing similar things and he was right: “The Marin Open Garden Project organizes weekly meetings of backyard gardeners to exchange excess fruit, vegetables and other goodies from their gardens in Mill Valley, Larkspur, San Rafael, and San Anselmo. Have a tree full of fruit? The Project will harvest unwanted fruit from your garden and distribute it to other neighbors and community food banks and soup kitchens. Let us harvest your fruit trees with our trained volunteers. Need a plot? Let us introduce you to a gardener with land to share. We are also working to expand the number of community gardens in Marin County and create a seed library tailored to Marin's distinctive microclimates. We are also creating a garden tool library from which residents may borrow tools at no cost.” I got the title of this week’s blog from their blog where they mention the NY Times article as well and say he is part of the “good food movement”. I sort of like that name for a movement to describe all these great projects going on that mixes the ideas of growing healthy, sustainable, local food and neighborhoods and care for those people who are struggling to make ends meet. The local or slow food movement for me leaves out the poor in my opinion.

Last week I also learned that the Free Farm Stand got a mention in Buy Fresh Buy Local newsletter (put out by CAFF or Community Alliance with Family Farmers). Someone sent me the newsletter and there I read about another fabulous project in Concord, the Lemon Lady: “Fruit Harvesting For The Hungry & other Non-Profit Gardening Adventures. One-woman Campaign Against Hunger. 8,000+ pounds of local fruit harvested in only a few months! Meeting true angels along the way.. I feel the same way about always meeting angels in the work I do. I like it that besides harvesting fruit, she is also distributing seedlings and growing them, and giving out seeds to others who want to grow them too: . She also has another great project which is to distribute cups with soil in them that she gives out to schools for children to grow.

Then if that wasn’t enough overload for the week, I started getting emails about Mayor’s Newsom’s recent announcement: “All city departments have six months to conduct an audit of unused land - including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips - that could be turned into community gardens or farms that could benefit residents, either by working at them or purchasing the fresh produce. Food vendors that contract with the city must offer healthy and sustainable food. All vending machines on city property must also offer healthy options, and farmers' markets must begin accepting food stamps, although some already do.” This from the July 9 Chronicle: The mayor traveled to West Oakland to visit City Slicker Farm, one of my early inspirations for the Free Farm Stand, to make this announcement. Maybe he doesn’t know about all the wonderful local food growing happening here, like at Alemany Farm (I just heard they arenot selling at the Bayview Hunters Point Farmer's Market and are now doing a free/donation CSA to residents in the community and have 18 families so far). Or how about the efforts of our Free Farm Stand? Maybe this is all politics and getting attention in his bid for governor, but hey I like the ideas. I think we need to get someone’s ear and eye at city hall to help us get a mini-farm in the Mission so we can carry on the “good food” movement. Free Local Food for the Hungry grown in our neighborhood! I also heard that Project Homeless Connect is getting a garden on Octavia between Oak and Fell and I don’t know much more yet.

Here are some facts that we can use in our bid for land. I am working on putting a local produce counter on this site. andI have already created a spreadsheet, thanks to Daniel who just moved out here and visited the stand recently, and is helping me with technical issues. I calculated that we have collected and given out 1,231 pounds of locally grown produce since the beginning of this year (I don’t have the records for the first year). That includes all the produce we have grown or people have brought to the stand every week and all the fruit that has been gleaned and brought to the stand. This does not include the thousands of pounds of fresh, locally grown organic produce that comes from the end of the day left over’s from the two farmer’s markets, nor the bread that we give out. Two gardens are on lots that were vacant and were turned into mini-farms. These two vacant lots have grown 240 lbs. of produce so far (the Esperanza garden might be closed soon because the property has been sold and is in escrow). We need to tell the mayor we are doing the work now to make our neighborhoods more sustainable and food secure and we just need help getting some land (I understand that is a big need).

Farm Stand Update

Getting back to the world of the Free Farm Stand, we had another beautiful day out in the sun with lots of fresh local produce, great volunteers, and sweet shoppers. We had about 120lbs of super local food on the table including lots of summer vegetables…green beans, greens, a few tomatoes that went fast, plums (two kinds), loquats, lemons, herbs, and zucchini. Produce to the People provided the loquats and brought their 3 person crew of high school students to help. Two of them that came last week I think are enjoying the work of giving away the produce and one person noted that they seem to be developing a sense of empowerment and authority. At least two people came by with lemons. A fellow that went on the Neighborhood Fruit gleaning trip to Golden Gate Park did manage to bring a bag of cherry plums to the stand. It sounded like they got hassled by park rangers picking the fruit (I guess there were a number of them who showed up attracting attention). Here is the mayor on one side saying we need to grow more food, but the park rangers saying no…not in my backyard literally.

The other produce table was looking good also. Here is a new development. Last week I made a connection with Jack from Food Not Bombs. They have started reconnecting with Veritable Vegetables and getting food from them on Fridays. I guess they can’t use it so they asked me if I wanted it to give out at the stand. When I first started the stand I contacted VV to see about getting a connection with them for their donated produce. At that time they were all filled up with people they give surplus produce to. I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get more free produce so I said yes, since they have a sister who delivers it by bike cart. So the produce from them is what I call industrial organic, at least some of it coming from big farms and some of it quite a distance away. I got organic cherry tomatoes from Mexico, organic sprouts from Sacramento, both packaged in plastic, some lettuce, and a few red peppers. I realize it is a slippery slope I am tripping on, but I see it all as gleaning and putting good food that would otherwise go to waste feeding people. I have drawn the line from dumpster diving the food that the supermarket across the street from me throws out and bringing it to the stand (though I put it in my compost). Most of it is non-organic and pretty funky, though I did score some organic bananas there once that I gave away to friends for smoothies. At the end of the Farm Stand day Maria brought by some rice and beans that the volunteers and a shopper ate. A number of us sat on the lawn in the gorgeous sun and Maggie brought out this beautiful steel drum she got in Switzerland.It had the sweetest sound ever and it really made me high listening to both her and Jeremy play it. Next week she might bring it again and Jeremy said he would bring a flute and jam with her.

I again want to say how much I appreciate the great help we have been getting. Most of the photos this week came from Cristina and that takes a load off trying to document the scene and what comes in every week on the table. I also was glad that Maggie has started managing the plant table and I hope that will expand in the future, offering more advice, seeds, seedlings, and information. And Asher did a great job at our bread table.

Potato Towers Update

I forgot to mention that we had a few potatoes that were harvested this week from my back yard and the Secret Garden. From my backyard I harvested 2lbs. of potatoes from two towers (one a trash can and the other a 5 gallon black plastic pot). The other potatoes (4lbs) came from three trash cans and one wire tower. I feel pretty embarrassed to admit that the potato towers that I have grown so far were a total failure with very low yields. I suspect it all has to do with what I put in the towers to grow the potatoes. I basically used stuff that was easily available like fine wood chips form Bay View Greenwaste, straw, some compost, some manure. It seems like with this method you need a lot of something good to grow the potatoes in like maybe good dirt. Whatever you use it seems like it was a lot of trouble gathering the materials either to layer the potatoes as they grew or to make a tower using the lasagna method, covering the layers of potatoes with soil and other stuff in layers to the top of my container. I am waiting to hear results from other gardeners and then I have more tater towers that we will harvest soon. The kids I worked with at the Secret Garden had a lot of fun though looking for potatoes, though we didn’t have very much to find.

Plum Picking and Work Day at 18th and Rhode Island

On Friday we had a great turn out for the garden work day. We pulled weeds (actually pulled up nasty but beautiful bindweed and chopped and dropped other weeds for aesthetic reasons mainly, and watered. After we had a lunch break we harvested the plus from the yard neighboring the garden. I think humans have built in wiring to enjoy harvesting fruit. Everyone gets the most beautiful smile on their face when they pick fruit, sweet or sour. They jump for joy! We picked 90lbs of plums. My friend Eli made jam with about 30lbs of the fruit, but I didn't get it until today so I will bottle it and give it away next week. It is really a shame that so much fruit growing on trees gets wasted. When I looked at our harvest yields, a lot of the harvest weight is do to the large amounts of fruit we have picked. The conclusion is simple. We have to plant more fruit trees everywhere and then learn to maintain them and pick them too. And to not get greedy and to share. Look for the fruit tree planting party in the park where we have the may take more months to make it happen but it looks promising.

Esperanza Harvest

I must mention that I got excited by the great yield I got from the Esperanza garden this week. I can’t believe I harvested so many greens (9lbs.). We could have planted the area much more densely and gotten hecka more produce, but I was working with people that wanted a place for a stage and for the audience to sit. I also haven’t put a lot of energy into the space because it has never been clear where the food goes that is being grown there. When it seemed that no one was doing anything with the crop that was ready to harvest, I got the ok to bring it to the stand. Now I am waiting to hear if the property is still in escrow and how much more time we have there, which will tell us if we should put in another crop.

My cartoon about bees and honey is now up (Beegan Beekeeping). Scroll down on the sidebar to the cartoon and click on the drawing to check it out. You can right click on the hive sounds and open in a new tab to hear the hive sounds and listen to our bees while reading the comic. Lyn has been helping me bottling honey to give away and I will also be printing up copies to give out with the honey at the stand (I have to finish the Spanish version). I just wanted to try to explain why a vegan is messing around with bees and honey. Also look at the "Dream To Do list " of projects that I would like to see happen someday. I thought I needed a place to keep them until they come true.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Plum Awesome

A number of months ago I was talking to a couple of people whose opinions I trust and they both told me that in July is when we will really see the effects of the economic downturn. This was when all the bail outs were happening and the idea was that we would see a trickle down effect of the economy collapsing and more and more people losing their jobs. Well here we are in the beginning of July and I can't say I have seen a major meltdown yet, though a lot of people I meet these days either at the Free Farm Stand or coming out to help grow food and garden are out of work. I read volunteers have increased 35% in some places in the U.S. I have been unemployed my whole life and I wonder if I even have marketable skills. So to me this crisis is not something to be afraid of, though I understand that people are going to have big problems paying their rent if they don't have some kind of income.

Right after the earthquake here in 1989, a lot more people were outside and talking to each other. It felt like neighbors were friendlier with each other and it was a brief moment of togetherness coming out of crisis. The Free Farm Stand provides a place not only for people to pick up some extra produce and bread, but is good for networking and making connections. I loved it this week when the sun was out and so many people were sitting on the lawn talking. An instant town square feeling. I would love it if we could see more people coming out Sundays to share something with neighbors and new friends, a Free Farmer's Market.

This week I met a man named Sam who sits at the desk at Yoga Kula and we talked yoga for a while. I think we both agreed that yoga classes should be made available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. He seemed to know about the free yoga classes available, including the Yoga to the People classes available in Berkeley and now San Francisco They ask for a donation but supposedly don't check to see how much you put in their donation box. I had the idea that we should have some stretching and breathing sessions at the stand on Sundays, a good fit with getting healthy produce and it would be available to people in our 'hood.

The Free Farm Stand table was especially beautiful this week. Lauren from Produce to the People brought two high school students to the stand to help out. They had harvested about 100 lbs of plums and loquats, and lemons from local trees and brought it all to give away. I would love to put a produce counter on this site that would track the totals of produce that winds up on the table each Sunday. I am thinking we are probably giving out more than it seems, because every week the pounds of produce adds up.

Both Burton and Kevin were really helpful and I think they both had a good time (and it is cool that they are getting some money from the Mayor's office to help them out this summer). We also had at least one new volunteer named Cristina who helped out and was really wonderful.

Besides the plums and other fruit, I harvested 3 1/2lbs of greens from 18th and Rhode Island, 4 lbs of carrots from Treat Commons, 2 ½ pounds of zucchini fro 18th and Rhode Island and the Secret Garden,1 ½ lbs. green beans from the Secret Garden, and about a pound of fava beans from 18th and Rhode Island. Steve our neighbor on Treat Ave. brought by some of his dad's beautiful produce from the country…a bag of big Meyer lemons, kale, and spearmint. Margaret brought cauliflower from Holy Innocents and some other things too. I like having the very local table filled with things we grew or that people bring separated from the left over produce table. We also are separating the bread table now which is working out great.

Our plant and garden table was pretty weak this week and I am still looking for someone to staff that table while the stand is open, to give out seedlings, answer garden questions (perhaps having some gardening books available), and to take people's names and contact information if they need help with their existing garden.

Other news:

I am working on taking over the No Penny Opera non-profit organization which was just turned over to me. I worked with this group for years and the core group of us who ran it did a lot of fun projects, including CRUMZ soup kitchen and the Comida del Arte Food Pantry. The non-profit has been in hibernation for a while and recently I realized I needed a non-profit sometimes to get funds for some of our projects.

Here is a new development on the fruit trees in the park project.The Challenge Grant that Park and Recreation said would become available in July has been delayed until who knows when. So if we want to plant the fruit trees we will need to come up with a chain link fence around the area. It also sounds like they want to use green plastic coated chain link, instead of something creative, beautiful, and cheap.