Monday, January 25, 2010

The F Word and the G spot

On Saturday I attended a meeting held by the San Francisco Planning Department (in conjunction with Park and Recreation and PODER) the purpose of which was to "envision a new open space in the Mission". The city is writing a grant to purchase the parking lot on 17th and Shotwell/Folsom Sts. So the meeting was all about neighbors designing their ideal park. One thing I found funny is that the planning department gave a power point presentation offering some different design possibilities and I noticed that they had used a photo from the Free Farm Stand blog. Then the guy mentioned a food sharing project in a park in the city. I guess the word is out about our project. I must admit I am just a dreamer and don't know if my dreams can become real. Which comes to the F word. At the meeting everyone broke up into break away groups and we each had the responsibility to come up with our design for the space (.74 acre in size). Of course the problem with these meetings is that everyone comes to the table with their own agenda (including myself) and what they want. I don't know how the planning department figures out how to get everyone's ideas included in the design, when there is only so much room to have things happen. It doesn't always work like at Treat Commons that I helped work on. It became a children's playground more than park with lots of trees and nature. Anyway, I suggested in my group the idea of putting a farm there to feed people in the neighborhood. This is the idea I have talked about before where neighbors work together to grow food to combat hunger or to grow flowers to give to shelters and soup kitchens. What I think of as a collective or family approach to land use. I use the F word here for farm as opposed to community garden (which reinforces private property and individualism rather than community). I love gardens and the word garden (green G spots), don't get me wrong, but whenever people talk about having space for community gardens, which everyone is all for, I think of a few rectangular raised boxes like at Treat Commons Community where I garden with an impossible waiting list. So there were a lot of great ideas out there and a some conflicting ideas (the people who want more playground and an emphasis on sports and athletic activity and making it a place for children and those who want more green and gardens). I think my idea of a neighborhood farm that served the Mission might have got lost in the shuffle, though everyone wants a community g spot. Is shoveling shit as much exercise as tossing basketballs and running around a court or climbing on monkey bars? Can we change a culture that has nature deficit disorder? Climbing a tree vs climbing a play structure? I suggested in my group that we try to think outside the box. Like designing a swing set that pumped a well since the land is sitting on a creek. If anyone has creative ideas on how to get away from what we normally think of as playground and can come up with ideas for incorporating kids getting exercise into real work that can also be play, I would like to hear them and pass them on to the planners. There are probably people doing this somewhere in the world already, designing innovative playgrounds that could be integrated into a farm. On Feb 6th they are having another meeting at the site. People can stop between 11AM and 2pm and drop off their ideas anytime.

It's interesting that this week while thinking of the F word, I talked to two people that visited Cuba and visited the "community garden" scene there. Apparently there are urban gardens/farms everywhere in Havana and elsewhere. The Cubans call them organiponicos. From what I understand from talking to my friends who went there, the government pays a few people to grow food for the neighborhood which they sell at a very low rate. Maybe we could have a variation of something like that here. There are certainly a lot of people needing jobs and plenty of people wanting to be helpful and would probably volunteer. I read online that some neighborhoods grow 30% of their vegetables. Another thing I read is that "the Rotunda de Cojimar organiponico received an award for producing an average of 4.5 lbs. of produce per square foot at the 1.5 acre market garden. Levels near this were not uncommon elsewhere." My friend said the gardens grow food really intensively to maximize yields and they are mostly all organic. Here is a photo of one such Havana garden my friend Bob took:

Talking about farms and big projects happening around town Hayes Valley Farm has just opened ( They had their first work day yesterday. I have been out of the loop with this project except I saw on the Permaculture Guild Volunteer Dashboard a place to sign up for their newsletter. I didn't know they had a website until Clara who is the Garden Anchor for the Secret Garden told me she was surprised that a photo of her and a man who occasionally visits the farm stand was on their web page as a design element. I also noticed another photo from our blog too. I am glad we are available for great snaps.

I always wonder where the food goes when I visit or hear about a farm or garden. It seems that with this project it isn't quite clear yet (and it may be a while until they have some harvest), and maybe that is something they are still working out. In one place it says "A portion of the produce grown on site will be donated to project volunteers and local meals programs.". So maybe the rest will be sold? As I get it all the things they plan to charge for like classes and fruit trees that they want to propagate and sell will go back into the project, which I assume will also go into paying salaries to keep the core staff running the project. I hope they at some point start saying "no one turned away for lack of funds" and keep the door open and hassle free for the person with empty pockets that comes by that wants to learn something or wants to plant a tree. I find it exciting that this project is happening and can't wait to see how it grows. They have a list of their workdays on their website and I notice they don't conflict with ours which is great.

Last but not least in the world of farms, our small partnership of non-profit groups have named our new farm at Gough and Eddy the Free Farm. I must say that one of the thing that excites me most about this project (just like the Free Farm Stand) is that I just love the people that I am working with. I feel so lucky to have a group of people that I can work and grow with. We had a nice workday on Saturday. We don't have a website up yet, but you can read about what goes on there right now by checking out this blog and or the Welcome/Urban Share Community Garden blog ( The Free Farm has the same mission as the Free Farm Stand and it is pretty simple and the same as the mission of Welcome. They say it is a "communal response to poverty". I would also say it is about growing food (and hopefully flowers) and sharing the wealth with those in need. Creating community along the way and having a joyful and prayerful time in the process. Below are photos from our last workday (a lot of photos of moving dirt to create a ramp and to level out the demonstration garden. You wouldn't know it that it had been raining on and off and we eventually got rained out). Please come out and join us and share lunch to boot (Saturdays 10am-2pm).

I haven't said much about this week's Free Farm Stand. It was truly a miraculous day! I had come dressed to the teeth in rain gear because of the 90% rain prediction. And it did not rain a bit (maybe a drizzle at the start). We had an abundance of produce including a record amount of greens and broccoli from two gardens, grapefruit from Stanford Glean and huge amounts of left over produce from the farmer's market. Wendy came by with some produce from her Urban Sprouts project. We also had a huge crowd and I must say I love all the people that come…it feels so friendly and community to me. I have become friends with two relatively new attendees to the stand. The last two weeks they brought citrus from San Jose, and this week they brought the most delicious fake chicken patties from a business they run importing these things from Germany (Tofutown).Boxes and boxes of the product. They had enough to share some cases with my friend Wayne who was visiting who works with Food Not Bombs who will use them in their soup or something. I think they were a big hit (and I didn't complain that it wasn't very local).

I also want to mention that the Access Cafe gave us their left over organic vegetables to hand out too. I unfortunately forgot to mention on last week's blog that this donation based café reopened on Saturday. I had met Kristen when I was first starting the Free Farm Stand in April 2008. She was one of the main organizers of the Really Really Free Market and had the idea of starting the donation based Access Café. She was brutally murdered in New Orleans after starting the café and now it is resurfacing again. I heard that it was pretty packed and that it was really lovely (flowers on the table and waiters), and that they didn't hit you over the head about making a donation (a jar on the table for donations). When I went to pick up some of the extra produce I saw the big sign they had made up and read that some of their inspiration came from the No Penny Opera with which I was involved years ago (and is still in existence as a non-profit that runs the Free Farm Stand). Although I am still mostly an old school free devotee, I respect everyone that is trying to make the world more beautiful and is interested in food justice and serving the poor. Donation style may not be the way I would do things, but hey it still seems to inspire people and they serve up a good thing with love.

Monday, January 18, 2010

San Francisco Dreamin' ...

on a winter's day

This week we had one of the fastest free farm stands in a while. We set up and gave away what we had in an hour. It started to rain right when we started giving out the produce and there was a pretty good line. Fortunately people didn't have to be in the rain that long because the line moved ahead quickly and it never rained that hard. We actually had a good selection of fresh produce for a winter table. We had a lot of Meyer lemons that were picked locally and oranges from a tree growing near Sebastopol. I picked some White Sapote fruit from my backyard tree that I hope people have the patience to let them ripen (it is hard to know when to pick them and they might take a long time to ripen). Our friends whose mother lives in San Jose came by with more bags of really lovely citrus (lemons, calamansi, and tangerines)."Calamansi, calamondin, Philippine lime – this versatile citrus fruit is the secret ingredient to many mouthwatering Filipino delicacies".

There were also lots of greens from Potrero Hill and Mike and Ruth cut greens and beautiful oak leaf lettuce from Treat Commons right next to the stand just before we opened. How fresh is that? We also had boxes of Earthbound lettuce in plastic boxes and organic crookneck squash from Mexico, both that were very popular. I wonder if some people noticed the difference between the just picked lettuce and the "industrial organic" lettuce or how many people understand that we are trying to promote growing your own and eating local as much as possible.

I am still amazed that the local food growing movement remains so strong in the city. It really seems like a case of collective dreaming where some of us are dreaming the same things at the same time. For example the Hayes Valley Garden Project (for lack of a better name) is planning on building a greenhouse to propagate seedlings and trees to distribute to gardeners and wanna be gardeners (though I am not sure if they want to do this for free or not). That is our dream too. I also attended the California Rare Fruit Growers Scionwood Exchange on Saturday. It was great to see so many familiar faces and talk "shop". It is also significant that more people than ever are interested in fruit trees and fruit tree propagation.

I should also mention something amazing happening in the Mission. The city is in the process of buying the parking lot at 17th and Shotwell and turning it into low income housing on one half of the lot and the other half will be for a park or open space (1 acre!). They are open to the idea of having a new kind of community garden rather than the traditional garden with private plots. In speaking to the planning department I suggested the idea of a farm that is is run by a local a neighborhood non-profit group that grows food to feed low income people or grows flowers for a hospice or shelter. They seem open to any idea and on Saturday January 23rd they are having a public meeting to get input from neighbors. I urge lots of people to attend and suggest that the Mission needs a farm. See sidebar for more info (DATE: Saturday, January 23, 2010
LOCATION: Marshall Elementary School: 1575 15th Street (at Capp)

The coming rains and storms may slow us down in the next coming weeks, but we are going full speed ahead in planning and turning an empty lot into a farm. This is the most exciting project to come along for me since the Free Farm Stand first opened. A chance to grow food to combat hunger and get people inspired to grow more food in the city. Last Saturday there was the first workday at the site and it sounded like it was quite a success. I was there today and a lot was cleaned up and a dirt ramp has been built going down to the main farm area (it needs more work). On Sunday I got lot of inquiries from people that want to help. Right now Saturdays will be the main workday from 10am-2pm and eventually Wednesday we will add another workday. One of the main things we need right now are large amounts of organic matter. Aged manure or compost would be ideal. Free manure is easy to track down but we need a large truck, like maybe 20 cubic feet bed size, to go to where it is, pick it up, and deliver it. Please keep in touch as time goes on we will be letting everyone know what we are trying to manifest for our urban farm. Our what we need sidebar will have a list. Here is a website that has some information on the project with some more photos.: We had a fantastic meeting today of our new core group, a collaboration of the nicest people I have had the privilege to work with so far, including Pastor Megan from Welcome Ministry who made the original outreach to get use of the land from St. Paulus Church. We still need a name for the farm and the front runners so far are the Free Farm and the New Digger Farm. All ideas are welcome. All dreams are welcome.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Breadbasket Case

I am back at last from Peoria Illinois and am really appreciative of our non-frost climate (though before I left I did lose some delicate plants in pots to cold). Coming back I found the gardens growing happily with kale and fava beans and white sapotes on my backyard tree. I heard that the farm stand before Christmas that I missed went well and learned that I can get away sometimes and others can take over for me. Hooray! How many times should I repeat myself for the thankfulness I feel for not only having the opportunity to be of service in the world, but to get the chance to meet such great people in the work I do. It really makes it all worth it.

I have been back a week and already I have been caught up in a whirlwind of activity. Some things are going fast forward as I will explain later. There was a great work day at 18th and Rhode Island on Friday. Last week David and Kevin planted a lot of new fruit trees and that made me happy. Apples, pears, jujube's, and persimmons. Plus Golden Rasberries. There are lot more trees coming and I think the plan is to have 100 trees planted total, all planted close together and kept small. So Friday was the day to plant two cherry trees and a pomegranate. Besides our adult volunteers we have been getting now a number of parents with kids showing up. I enjoy working with them and especially getting a chance to plant a tree with a young child. It is a real blast. The gardens were growing fairly lush and hadn't been picked in a while and we harvested 25lbs of kale, chard, collards, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. The broccoli was so sweet I think due to the cold weather.

I also picked 5lbs of the most beautiful and tender kale from Esperanza Garden. And delicious.

The Free Farm Stand was another lovely event. Someone has been dropping off an Eatwell Farm CSA box at my house every week and that is such a beautiful gift to share with people. We also continue to get a shipment of "industrial organic" left over produce from Veritable Vegetable that this time of year is especially welcome…organic organs, mandarins, avocadoes, and mangoes. Though the amounts of produce are decreased, we had a nice selection, including some handsome Brussels sprouts on their stem. A woman came by with citrus from her mom's trees in San Jose including Calamansi (the Philippine name for Calamondin fruit) and tangerines. It is a small round orange or lime like fruit that tastes mostly sour, with a touch of sweetness in the skin. She said her family uses it a lot in cooking, throwing it in everything and also making juice with it. The tangerines were very sweet and juicy. Nosrat who lives right around the corner came by with a bag of Rocoto hot peppers from a plant I had given him and some sorrel. I really get tickled when I find out that a plant I gave away is growing happily in a new home and then to get some surplus produce from that plant is double the excitement and really what the stand is all about. I noticed when loading pictures this week how man kids there were. Wayne and Cristina who took the photos did a great job, and especially Wayne captured all the cute babies I can't help but share.

We also had a fairly good plant give away table and Mike showed up and took over potting up seedlings and giving them away. We mostly had lettuce and chard seedlings (the different colors of chard came from seed that another neighbor gave me from his father in Sebastopol. He actually came by later in the day and I told him I was giving away plants grown from his seed. I am looking for people that may like to grow seedlings for the Free Farm Stand and the gardens where we grow food to give away. Please contact me and I can provide seeds, soil, and some lessons and seedling care.

The best local garden news is that the Free Farm Stand may have a farm in the city. On Saturday I looked at a vacant 1/3 of an acre lot on Gough and Eddy Sts. that is owned by St. Paulus Church. Megan from Welcome Ministry and Case who is a Lutheran Service volunteer are working to develop the site to grow food for people in need. They have a 3-5 year use agreement from the church and there are plans to talk to them further about their plans (none for the lot right now). They have invited us to help them out to grow food to give out at the stand and to people in the neighborhood (mostly seniors and low income families). I am working with several people to see if we should jump right in, even though it is not in the Mission. It seems like an opportunity not to be missed especially since it seems so far like we are on the same page together. On Saturday we came up with some preliminary plans and they have already begun some volunteer work days on Saturday (this weekend they will be making a ramp to access the garden area more easily. I won't be there but probably in coming weeks I will be shifting some of my time there). One great thing is that there is a lot to do there and we can employ a many volunteers who want to learn how to grow a lot of food. We will also be in need of a lot of things like tools, wheelbarrows, glove, plumbers, electricians, handy persons, etc. Here are some pictures of this lot that has so much potential:

This lot is not far from the Hayes Valley farm that is supposedly moving ahead. This is the vacant lot at Laguna and Oak (where the freeway was torn down). I have heard they (I know some of the people involved but I don't know if they have formed a group yet or have a non-profit organization) got approved for a big chunk of change from the Mayor's Office and they will be building a greenhouse and developing an educational site (permaculture oriented?), besides growing food eventually. I was told that there are different ideas of having some sort of Farmer's Market there. One idea is having a conventional farmer's market there the other is an alternative market of some sort (I even heard the idea of having all economics represented). Sunday I was asked what I thought about setting up Free Farm Stand Two there.

There is also a Homeless Connect Garden that I is being developed on Octavia and Lilly ( So that part of town may soon become a breadbasket of the city.