Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunny and Sharing

I am still feeling an abundance of gratefulness as we swing into the last month of the year. Also, I'm am in a reflective mood as we head towards the New Year. Things are certainly slowing down produce harvesting wise and the fava beans are coming up announcing the coming of winter. We had sunny 70° weather at the stand yesterday which seemed confusing to say the least. Despite the glorious weather it seemed we had less people than usual (though there was still a line down the sidewalk for the first hour). We certainly had less produce and because we are a seasonal program we will be having less food for the next few months at least.

To boast the produce on the table, I have started growing sprouts and sunflower greens again and I am excited that I grew five pounds of red clover sprouts. This is with only two cups of seed approximately. I grow the sprouts in five gallon buckets, though they can be grown by anyone at home with a jar and some cheesecloth or plastic screen.

We also had five pounds of greens that we grew at 18th and Rhode Island, the main garden providing food for the stand at the moment. I did harvest about a dozen Rocoto hot peppers from Treat Commons, and both those sunny gardens are producing lots of the perennial African Blue Basil. We ran out of food early, though at some point towards the end, a woman showed up with a bag of Hachiya persimmons from her tree. I love Hachiya persimmons and I hope that everyone knows that they need to let the fruit ripen before you bite into them, unlike the Fuyu persimmons that you eat when they are firm. When we have free bread it is fun to see what shows up on the table. Autumn came by again with leftover olive samples from the farmer's market and there was a jar of plum jam left over from summer. I will be bringing more summer jam to share in the last week we are open before all the big holidays. Cristina shared some kale"chips" that she made Also, Sara showed up with a bag of figs from her tree that also needed some ripening. Since we were finished early and she came a little late, I wound up with the figs, some of which I gave away.

We need a campaign to plant more fruit trees everywhere in the city…really our parks and vacant spaces should be planted with fruit that ripen at different times and nut trees on the sidewalks. Can you imagine a time when you live in the city and people recognize the time of year when different fruit comes into ripening? We are now into persimmon season moving into citrus time.

I am still on my mission of trying to manifest two projects that will help promote local food growing in the city. One is getting the orchard/garden extended in Parque Niños Unidos and the other is trying to find sunny land to start a free neighborhood garden center. I remember years ago I had friends who would keep on their refrigerator a list of things they were trying to manifest. They believed that by just keeping things in mind and putting the thought out there that things would manifest themselves given time in their lives. I believe in that myself as hippy dippy as it sounds.

Please take note: From December 19th to January 4th I will be going out of town to visit the Midwest and the Free Farm Stand will be closed during those two weeks.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Tsunami of Thankfulness

This year I have been feeling especially thankful. The Free Farm Stand has provided me with more opportunities than ever to feel appreciative and grateful every week. I am especially thankful for everyone that has helped make the stand a success, all the hours people have put into setting up and taking down the stand and giving out the produce, helping us grow food or pick fruit, people that have brought produce to share, farmers who share their surplus at the end of the day, neighbors who come to "shop", landlords who have let us use their vacant lots to grow food for the hungry, sunny skies, and neighbors who have been more than generous letting us share their water connection. I am also thankful for having the opportunity to help out in the world and for friends and family, for bees, for earth, for sunflowers, beets, and great harvests. Really this could be a non-stop tsunami of thankfulness.

Again greens ruled the day at the stand. Another field at Green Gulch got gleaned before it was plowed under and the farmer's market had tons of different greens left over too (I had left over arugala and one box of greens that I took to the food bank this morning). Also we harvested eight pounds of kale and chard from seedlings that we planted that were donated from Green Gulch and are now happily growing at 18th and Rhode Island. The other gardens are pretty shady now and are not producing much. We also had a fair number of zucchini and basil that has been growing uninterrupted for over a month or so. Pretty crazy growing these things so late into the year. Pam brought by the last apples on her tree (I still have a couple on a tree in my backyard), some salad mix, and a few herbs. I especially like the Mexican tarragon she brought: you only only need a leaf or two cut up small in a salad to give it an interesting taste. I am looking forward to the new edition of her book Golden Gate Gardening that she said is coming out in February (with a lot of changes and updates). Molly brought some fresh picked cactus fruit that looked yummy and nopales that look dangerous.

the big Zapallo winter squash that I fell in love with last week

I also gave away small jars of honey from our backyard hive and that was very popular. I like sharing the honey with everyone, it is really a taste of the Mission neighborhood we live in and it seemed like an appropriate special thank you gift to give to everyone for the holiday. Not everyone read my comic that I had posted explaining why a vegan is dealing with bees and giving away honey, but I guess we do the best we can.

As we were closing up Jess came by with the bike cart and tools I loaned her for the garden work day at the new garden on Dolores St. She said it was a successful day, enough people came by and they mulched and made a bed and planted some different things.

I haven't heard from any ex-myfarm folk this week. Here is a blog about one woman's experience with myfarm that is interesting:

In contrast to the myfarm model of promoting local food growing, last Saturday I attended a small meeting of friends who are all on the same page about growing food to feed hungry people. We actually met to talk about fund raising, but didn't get far in that regard. The exciting part of the meeting for me was to just hang out with some beautiful and inspiring people that basically want to do the same thing together: distribute local grown organic produce to feed people in need, glean fruit trees that need picking, and helping people to start new gardens to grow food as a way of feeding ourselves and others (be they neighbors with backyards or vacant lots, shelters, soup kitchens or churches that want to have gardens). It is a breath of fresh air to focus with friends on the idea of tikkun olam or repairing the world. Believing that "the world is a common treasury for all to share" like the Diggers of England taught us.

Our first project that we want to work on together is to set up a free neighborhood garden center that I have written about before. Sort of like the Garden for the Environment with a greenhouse that will provide a place for us to propagate seedlings and trees to distribute to all the gardens in the neighborhood that need them, a demonstration garden, free garden supplies, a seed library, a place to drop off compost rather than putting it in green bin to be shipped out of the city, free worms, and a garden educational center.

Our first step is to find someplace (in the Mission is our first choice of location) to house such an operation that is visible from the street and would hopefully be easy to drive into to drop off garden materials. We are on the look out for land that we can use or rent temporarily until we find a place to eventually buy. If there is anyone that wants to help research or scout out places, or has some ideas please contact me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Greens Festival

While the Green Festival was happening South of Market, the Free Farm Stand was having it’s own “Greens Festival”, greens as in chard, kale, mustard, collards, and amaranth (and no green as in money). Here is the scoop. A field at Green Gulch Farm was about to get plowed under so a number of Zen students gleaned the greens and we scored 40 boxes of fresh, delicious and nutritious organic greens. I takes a lot of time and work to glean a field of greens and I am so appreciative of the work my friend Joanne and her fellow zen students do. I dropped off more than half of the greens at two pantries on the Friday and Saturday and a two boxes were distributed in low income neighborhoods in Oakland. We also had some chard that was gleaned from a former myfarm garden in the city (I think 4 boxes) and later in the day another myfarmer showed up with some baby chard and other greens. Because there were so many greens I postponed harvesting the many greens growing in two gardens right now. As you might remember last week, 14lbs of greens were harvested from just the Permaculture Garden and I think there are that many more ready to be picked now.

Our greens festival was very well attended and there were lots of things going on. Tom came in from Santa Rosa with a lot of different squash, including the huge and handsome blue Zappallo winter squash that was too big to put on the table. I told Lauren this squash was so beautiful I was thinking of sleeping with it (I didn’t). Tom wrote this little piece about this squash that I am sharing an excerpt with you here :

Iris and I collected the seed to grow this squash in the little
town where she was born in the Peruvian Andes. It was
grown by a friend of ours here in Sonoma Co. Like all winter
squash it can be prepared in many ways. I am including an
easy receipt for cream of zapallo soup in Spanish. …
the sharing of food and recipes amongst people

has got to be one of the most ancient and honorable ways to
build friendships and community. Sure this large squash is
intimidating, but think of it as an opportunity to share and to grow.

I have some seeds that Tom scooped out and I dried to plant next year. We also had some small kabocha squash from 18th and Rhode Island and a box of mixed squash and gourds from Green Gulch. Bryce scooped out the seeds of the squashes, many which were dark orange inside, and shared them with people to take home and roast and eat. At least one person took seeds home to plant. I told him that unless the flowers were isolated the bees will pollinate them and if other squashes were growing nearby they were cross pollinated resulting in something different from the parent. You might not get something edible, but maybe a decorative gourd like squash.

All the greens were given out except one box (people were taking home a lot of greens). I took the extras home and made a lot of baked kale, one of my new favorite ways of cooking greens. I had mostly Dino Kale (also called Tuscan or Lacinato Kale) which works best, but any kind will be good. I strip off the leaves from the stems unless they are thin and tender or I want more fiber and like to chew. I wash them and let them drain a bit. I put the kale in a bowl and mix with a small amount of olive oil (or olive oil with crushed garlic). Then I put them on a baking tray. I try to make one layer of leaves if I want crunchy “kale chips”. Or you can pile on more leaves on the tray and have baked kale. The oven should be pre- heated to about 300-350˚, the hotter the faster they bake but you have to watch them more carefully. You take them out whenever they are as crispy or chewy as you like.

I actually started eating large amounts of kale starting Saturday. I made kale salad for a pot luck, which is another good easy way to serve kale. I had some left over so I brought to the stand thinking it is a good dish to share with people and show them a way to use kale. Pancho served it right next to boxes of kale and talked to everyone about how it was made (I think he is a good saleman especially to the Spanish speaking crowd).

Here is the recipe:I just took 1/3rd cup of lemon juice, 1/3rd cup of soy sauce or tamari, 1/3rd cup of sesame oil (not toasted) and mixed with two bunches of curly kale that were washed and drained. Any kind of kale would work, but tender curly kale is our favorite. On top we sprinkle roasted pumpkin or sunflower seed. I also like to sometimes add ground toasted sesame seeds.

When the kale salad ran out Yasue who gardens in Treat Commons brought leftover salad that she had made for an event Saturday night. It was hands down the most delicious quinoa salad I have ever eaten and I must get the recipe from her. I actually didn’t know that it had quinoa in it, maybe I just scarfed it down too fast to notice, but it looked like coleslaw with red and green cabbage, carrots, seaweed in it and some special dressing mixed in. Earlier my friend Craig who has a taco truck with solar panels on it and plans to run a vegan restaurant out of it, came by and parked across the street. When all the salad was gone he pulled out another green salad with all kinds of things in it and that was soon all eaten. Then he cooked up some really yummy noodles with vegan sausage. Though it was getting towards the end of the day for the stand, somehow a lot of people came by and ate all the food. Pancho was surprised by all the local kids who were playing in the park coming by and asking for salad and then really eating it.

While the greens festival was happening, across the street there was something else going on besides the rockin' solar powered vegan taco truck. Someone had dumped the entire contents of someone's apartment in the parking lot and the site became an instant free store. Some of our shoppers went over and brought the stand more baskets to put produce in. I heard stories of good finds and saw some of the treasures people had dug up. It was a non-stop scene for hours of people picking through junk. I really believe every neighborhood should have a free store that is well stocked and taken care of.

On Saturday I went with some friends to Berkeley to attend the California Rare Fruit Growers monthly meeting. I was particularly interested in the topic for the meeting which was fruit tree propagation. Although I have had some luck grafting plums, pears, and apples, I really want to learn how to propagate avocado trees. It is easy to grow avocados by seed, but you have to graft them if you want to get reliable fruit of good quality. Also, if you want to have avocados year round you need to propagate different varieties.

This club that I am a member of is really the best resources for meeting pother fruit growers and learning the skills of growing fruit trees. If we are serious about growing more local food we have to learn these skills. I lucked out that at the meeting I was able to pick up a branch of an Bacon avocado tree and I am going to use that to try splicing or grafting it onto some young seedlings I have grown. I also got a personal lesson from one of the old timers there that has had success propagating avocados. I am going to have a very small workshop Wednesday afternoon at 1:30pm at my house where I will show a video about grafting avocados and then we will try it ourselves. I am interested in having people attend who are really serious about learning these skills so we can grow fruit trees and distribute them free to our neighbors.

Before we went to the meeting we stopped by the edible schoolyard and participated in a work day there. The school, MLK Middle School, is truly an inspiring place, and it is hard to believe it exists, it is almost surreal. Just the amount of land they have to grow food on for a school is amazing (apparently some of the land was formerly a parking lot). I was blown out that in the city they have a deer problem chewing the lower leaves of the espaliered trees. I also got to meet Wendy Johnson of Green Gulch and author of the fabulous book “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate”. Wendy told me every public school in Berkeley has a garden though I don’t know if they take the garden as serious as they do at the Edible Schoolyard. We have a lot of catching up to do with Berkeley here in San Francisco and I think that will mean digging up some parking lots just to get space to grow gardens (I don’t think we are at the point where we can dig up streets). There are a lot of locals talking the talk like the mayor, but I am waiting for the walking part. It is up to us to make this garden revolution happen in San Francisco. I know of a number of people wanting to plant a garden either in a backyard or some other place or who need help maintaining existing gardens. People are often writing me because they are excited about the Free Farm Stand and want to help. This is the way to make the stand more real, by growing more food to share with those in need.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Parking Lots into Garden Plots

Recently people with backyards have been showing an interest in growing gardens and sharing their surplus with those in need. There was a lot of garden activity this past weekend and I loaned out a lot of tools and distributed seeds, garlic, and seedlings to help support backyard and vacant lot gardeners growing food. I have been thinking for a long time that we need a free garden resource center in each neighborhood, where there would be a greenhouse growing seedlings to give away, manure, compost, worms, seeds, supplies, and tools to borrow. Also, there would also be a demonstration garden that would show people the possibilities of what grows in their neighborhood and to inspire people to grow some food. There are a lot of things people are getting rid of including redwood lumber, pots, straw bales, that could be collected and given away to people wanting to start or maintain existing gardens. Finding the land and then acquiring it for this dream is the challenge.

It is an inspiring time for me as a long time gardener and person interested in fighting hunger and food insecurity in our world. Projects are popping up all over and people are dreaming big. Already in this city more people are gardening and also talking about redesigning our cities. Making them less car oriented and more people bike friendly. So can you imagine Market Street being closed to car traffic and not only having places for people to stroll, bike, hang out and sip tea, but also to garden and grow food to feed poor people?

Just today I read a short fabulous article "Plowing Detroit into Farmland" in the NY Times:

"Already, Urban Farming, an international outfit that has made Detroit its headquarters, is said to boast some 500 small plots under cultivation to supply free food to the city's poor." I looked up the organization Urban Farming, Inc. ( ) and discovered they have similar goals as the Free Farm Stand: "Urban Farming's mission is to create an abundance of food for people in need by planting gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity, educating youth, adults and seniors and providing an environmentally sustainable system to uplift communities." I say right on!

I don't know if I want to grow as large as that organization and have such a grand advertising presence as they do, but maybe that is what is needed to get land to grow more food in cities, especially in San Francisco where there is no excess cheap land like in Detroit.

Here is a funny link along the same lines that a friend told me about that is about a proposal for Farmedelphia:

I like these images from this site:

I think it is worthy to day dream about these things, especially in context of the Free Farm Stand. Yesterday we again had a long line , but this time not so much produce, maybe because it is a seasonal thing and we are moving into winter. While dreaming this up I should include the creation of a neighborhood canning center so we can preserve some of the abundance of summer.

I was pretty excited that we did have 14 pounds of greens that we grew at 18th and Rhode Island. We also harvested the I missed last week's work day there and in just that short time the greens had really grown a lot. They are the vegetable for most of San Francisco and all gardens here should grow some. Spike brought by some mustard greens from her garden and Steve came at the end with some beautiful collards that he had grown with seedlings from the stand. It was a green day.Here are some photos from that garden taken on Friday before the Sunday stand. At the end of the slide show is a picture of the harvest on our table:

We also had very little bread and it was nice that Danny of Sour Flour brought two of his beautiful and delicious loaves of home baked bread. He is teaching bread making classes for free and from my talking to him he knows a lot. I am always picking up tips from him, like how he gets the pattern on his round loaves, by putting the dough in a floured round basket to rise.

On the sidebar under Volunteer Opportunities and Upcoming events there are lots of places that need gardening help. It is a way you can be more than a consumer and help grow some of the food we are sharing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kissing Cousins

My original idea for writing a blog was to keep in touch with people and let them know what is happening each week with the Free Farm Stand. I have been documenting my experiment with promoting local food growing and to give a report each week of what is growing in our gardens, how much we have been harvesting, and what is happening in general in our city with the local food growing movement. At this point it is starting to feel like I am repeating myself when I'm publishing photos of the same stacks of beautiful organic locally grown vegetables each week or describing what happened at the stand.

So I only took a handful of photos this week (if I do document this weekly event with photos I need someone with fresh eyes to do it), but here are two photos that are different. As I was hanging out at the end of the day in the garden, totally exhausted, an intense orange butterfly decided to hang out in the garden too (maybe she was tired too). I called some friends over to check it out and we all were amazed at how beautiful she was.

Then someone else pointed out another handsome (though destructive) visitor to the garden, chewing happily away on some parsley.

This caterpillar I know will turn into a monarch butterfly and that they like to live in parsley patches before their transformation.

We have all heard this said before, but when I was just chilling in the garden at that moment with all my animal and plant friends I felt a real connection with them all. If anyone got a chance to see the PBS documentary last week on TV called the Botany of Desire (a video version of the book) they might have been inspired like me, for it really made this point clear. That there is a relationship between man/woman and plant and non-human animal and that relationship goes both ways. We are kissing cousins.

So the point being that we need to learn to live in harmony with each other, we've got to work it out. The Free Farm Stand itself is an experiment in trying to build the networks that will sustain us as neighbors and community.

I must mention that some really cool things happened imho this week at the stand. One thing is a neighbor showed up with a big bag of meyer lemons that he just harvested from his tree and then later he came back with more of them. I also was tickled by a woman that brought some beautiful Granny Smith apples (and some red ones) from here tree just down the street. Another great thing that happened is that a woman sent me an email saying that she had spent $1500 to get a garden installed in her backyard by My Farm. Then that business folded and she had this big backyard that was overgrown and there was a lot of produce that could be harvested. She was feeling pretty lonely working in the garden by herself and she didn't know what she was doing. She wondered if we had people that could work with her and share the surplus at the stand. I really lucked out seeing that I knew two people that lived near her. I thought they might want a bigger space to garden in since they just had tiny plots in the community garden in that neighborhood. So I contacted one person and she contacted the other and now I think they are working together and rejuvenating her backyard garden. What surprised me the most is that she showed up with a few bags of greens to share right when we were getting a little low on super local produce. I think she told me there were 50-100 My Farm backyard gardens and that a lot of the people that paid for the service are in the same boat as she and that they may want help too. Plus there are all the people who signed up a year ago to get a free Victory Garden in their backyard that never got one. I am overwhelmed thinking how can we get all these places growing food and sharing the surplus?

I just realized that what was wrong with My Farm right from the beginning is the name My Farm. I think we need to move away from "my" this and that, because that is such a hoax and brings false security. On Sunday at the stand I also met an ex-myfarm gardener and he was also aware that there are a lot of gardeners that need volunteer help, that the gardens are all setup with drip and good soil, but the gardens need garden care and maintenance and guidance.

The work day in our backyard on Halloween was mostly a bust. I did wind up gardening mostly by myself, though Christina showed up to help me get all the palm fronds I pruned into green bins. Maybe I didn't get the word out or just because it was Halloween no one was available. Well this Saturday I will be extracting honey from our hive and maybe if enough people show up we can also get some gardening in too.

Here is a link that I got from the permaculture group called What's on My Food: . It is helpful in getting us to think about the choices we make when purchasing organic or non organic food. It also made me appreciate the organic produce we have at the Free Farm Stand. How lucky can we be that as bottom feeders we can eat a little more worry free.