Here is the dream. Every neighborhood has some places to grow food and flowers. Especially backyards. How about every neighborhood having some thing like a free nursery and garden resource center to help neighbors who have some space and want to grow a garden? A place that shows how to grow  a lot of food in a backyard. Add to that a secret but not too secret garden where a person can wander in from off the street and be transported to another world and dimension.

At the Free Farm Stand we have been trying to encourage urban food growing as a way to make sure no one needs to go without some good quality fresh organic vegetables and fruit in their diet. We are always looking for ways to encourage people to grow some of their own and share the surplus with others in need. Our latest idea is to create that dream of a magical space in the neighborhood that will inspire people to grow something if they have even the smallest space.

Now that dream is taking shape. We have a space on the same street as the Free Farm Stand. On Wednesday March 26th from 9am until about 3pm or 4pm we plan to take the first step in just cleaning the place up. It has become over grown and jungly since I worked there at least five years ago.

The large lot is like a blank canvas, but instead of being a vacant spot, it is a well established garden that needs a lot of work and redesign. We have a great need for people who can help us plan how to best use this spot and create a resource center. Some current ideas are to build raised beds to grow food more intensely in the sunny area, figure out where to put a greenhouse,  find the best space to hold work shops and to eat, improve the irrigation and perhaps install a grey waster system, figure out how to landscape the shady areas, incorporate art in the garden, create a meditative spot for visitors to sit, perhaps have tea, write in a journal. There are so many things that could be done. We also need to find people who commit to being there at least once a week so we can have regular hours. When we closed the Free Farm our  crew and volunteers  dispersed.

If you want to be part of this exciting new project please contact me by email right now.

In the meantime the Free Farm Stand continues rocking every Sunday. Besides the free produce and bread, a lot of other things go on there. It seems that the “free” table is becoming a permanent fixture. This week someone brought a really great bee costume (see one of our volunteers below modeling it).

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The information booth which was established with the some of the same goals as our dream for the free garden resource center gave out nice seedlings and starts thanks to Alemany Farm. I have been going there to help harvest on Fridays afternoon and that is fun too if anyone wants to join me. We continue to be so grateful for their support now that we aren’t growing food for the Stand ourselves.

Also, this Sunday was really busy at the Stand because the First Mennonite Sunday School kids returned and they were great. They and their parents have become regular crew members!

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We also had a special event, the planting of the garden tower. The idea behind the garden tower is to demonstrate how you can grow  a lot of food in a small space. I am eager to see how the plants grow. Unfortunately I don’t have any good photos from the event, although there seemed to be many photographers around.

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My almost favorite thing that happened at the Stand this week is that one of the kids who came to volunteer loved to turn the compost (with his mom’s help). He is also the boy who said he likes planting kale because he likes the kale chips his mom makes. We got the most amazing black finished compost on the bottom of the pile, so beautiful I had to take a picture. Creating rich compost and feeding it to the garden is one of the most satisfying things one can do. We love the carbon cycle!

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I have had a couple of meetings with our city government trying to get their help in long term leasing or purchasing the vacant railroad land across the street from the park where we have the Free Farm Stand and where Treat Commons Community garden is located. This land has been vacant for years and now has huge trucks parked on it and roofing equipment like tar machines and according to the railroad is not authorized use. Years ago in the eighties I actually got a lease to put a garden there but a neighbor who happened to be a lawyer got the railroad to rescind the lease because he didn’t want a garden there. I have dreamed forever of seeing this space planted with fruit trees and now maybe even our greenhouse that’s being stored. I recently thought it would be a great place to put a free neighborhood garden center, a place that would help and encourage neighbors to grow backyard gardens. The city recently passed legislation to promote urban agriculture in the city and created a new Department of Urban Agriculture to carry out several goals, one of which was to create a number of garden resource centers in different neighborhoods. I suggested to the new director Hannah Schulman, who has been very active with San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance and is very supportive and friendly, that we meet with the Supervisor’s aide (I don’t get to speak with the Supervisor directly) to create a center on this land. So we had a meeting and they like my ideas, but since they are new to all this they have to figure out how to do it and what the next steps will be. I came away a bit discouraged and thinking that it will take forever to get the city to make this happen. If the land didn’t have big trucks on it I would consider squatting the land. For now I have to go through the bureaucracy and be patient. Perhaps a huge number of neighbors getting together to put pressure on the city would help it move forward, but me organizing something like that now is not going to happen. In the meantime I have been cleaning up my big backyard and getting it ready to plant more food for the Stand. That is where the Free Farm Stand began in the first place.While weeding I had a realization that I should really apply myself to growing as much food as I could in a small and somewhat shady space. That as time goes on sunny vacant lots are going to become a thing of the past (and a large farm like we had or a food forest in the Mission is a long shot) and that the average backyard is the most likely place to grow food in the city (besides roofs). Following that logic, and after watching hours of videos from one of my garden heroes John Kohler (go to http://www.youtube.com/user/growingyourgreens), I thought I need to build some good garden raised beds or boxes. He tells you how.

I also thought why wait for the city to create a neighborhood  garden resource center, I should just create one myself. If the city gets that railroad land that would be awesome, but until then I will see what I can do myself (and just check in with the city people on a regular basis). I have approached my friends who have a large garden kitty corner to the park on 23rd St and talked to them about creating a center there. I actually helped create that garden and worked there for about 25 years and then I left. At that time it was like a neighborhood garden center, though I hadn’t really quite realized it. . Right now it could use a lot of help and I have a green light to come back. I am now trying to figure out a schedule and hoping to find some other committed volunteers that could keep a neighborhood garden center open a number of days during the week. I have a serious problem over committing myself to projects and all my time gets taken up with wonderful things to do. In the last few months Alemany Farm has really saved the Free Farm Stand by providing it with our main source of Hecka Local produce, produce that is even more local and fresh than what we get from the farmer’s market at the end of the day. I have been feeling guilty that I haven’t been volunteering there to help them grow or harvest this super high quality produce, so I have plans to get over there soon, another project for me (again I am on the hunt for people that might want to go over with me on a Friday afternoon). Though recently we haven’t had huge amounts of produce like in the summer, the Free Farm Stand continues to be exciting! I love all the new volunteers that have been showing up and that they are taking on more of the responsibilities like loading the van and doing food pick-ups. Plus every week we have been having some awesome “free store” set up across from the farm stand tables (this week a volunteer brought 10 bags of nice children’s clothes that were very popular). Then there is our new information booth that is still trying to get off the ground. This week a new friend named Max brought a handmade garden tower that he wants to set up at the stand in two weeks. His idea I believe comes from a company selling these units, that grows food vertically for those with little space. Growing Your Greens actually has a video about setting up one of these towers, though the one in John’s video is a costly tower that he purchased online. And this week several people from a meet up group came and volunteered and two of them made vegan sandwiches from produce from the Stand. I don’t know if I should be sharing this here as we technically are not supposed to be doing things like this. Here are some photos:

noa patricksandwichessandwich peoplemaxmike handing out baked stuff

     Messages from India that came in my inbox:

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I might add: Feed All  Break Bread Together  Stop the Evictions Free the Land

Please contact us if you are interested in volunteering, especially if you  are interested in gardening and learning about urban food production in a back yard garden and helping to create a free neighborhood garden resource center.

 


Just after we closed the Free Farm  around January 1st I had a vision of these words “As Is”.  As is is beautiful and the words for me conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings. Like going to the As Is thrift store, where you root around for something, you don’t know what it is, and then you come up with something fabulous that you didn’t know you needed or wanted. But it is beautiful and glorious! As Is means no guarantees. You get what you got. You accept yourself too As Is….this is important for me to remember because I am often so hard on myself.

So we take the universe As Is, the same message I got a while back about the word “Surrender”.  This doesn’t mean you don’t put in effort to change things for the better, but that all we do is part of the As Is.

Since the Free Farm has closed I have been busy just cleaning up, putting away some of the things we kept for future farming projects, getting ready to go back to where the Free Farm Stand started, in my backyard and growing food there to share with neighbors. I don’t have a schedule yet for what days I will be gardening, but I am more than happy to have company and of course I will share my skills on urban food production with anyone who shows up. Send me an email if you are interested and let me know what afternoons work best.

The Free Farm Stand was closed for two weeks after Christmas and then reopened. Because of the season, we haven’t been collecting as much produce from the farmer’s market and right now there is very little hecka local produce. Thanks to a  small grant from the Pollination Project we will be soon opening our information booth at the stand to help promote urban gardening and eating a plant based diet and everything in between.  We are also in the planning stages for creating a puppet show at the booth with the idea that puppets can get across information in a fun way. Contact us if you want to get involved.

After we closed the Free Farm and replanted it around the city Esperanza Gardens finally got word that they needed to leave it’s vacant property by the end of January. They knew it was coming and thankfully all the trees  and plants got dug up and moved out. That was another beautiful garden that I was involved in I am sad to see it go.  Yesterday I just found out that a large farm in the city  that I adore might go away. Little City Gardens has had a month to month lease on the beautiful property it sits on and now it is officially on the market. You can read about it here  at their blog and it has a link to a realtor who is selling it. On Zillow’s site it says the sale is pending though I don’t know if that is accurate.

I would love it if the Free Farm could move there, but I would equally be happy if the land just remained a farm and was not developed. I have no clue as how to stop the development here, how we could acquire the land and take it off the market:  it seems we need an angel investor or benefactor. Someone who feels we need to preserve something so wonderful and sweet as this spot and or is also passionate about food justice like we are. Angels stand up now!

Here are a few photos from the stand last week:P1010001Thanks to neighbors like these we had a little Hecka Local from their backyard

P1010002Boobs4Food came out and helped (http://www.boobs4food.com/)

Lots of  families with kids come by:

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 Norma who volunteers at the Stand asked me to get the word out about this event:

Do you know Monsanto?

COME TO JOIN US IN A WONDERFUL EVENING OF ART, WORKSHOPS, FOOD DOCUMENTARIES, INFORMATION ABOUT THE TRUE FACE OF MONSANTO AND CELEBRATE THE OPPPOSITION OF GMO’S IN LA MISSION

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 1ST

3PM-8PM @ 24TH AND MISSION

 

 

 


The Chinese proverb says one picture is worth ten thousand words and so below are pictures from our latest work day at the Free Farm that is closing hopefully by December 22 . The idea being even though we can stay until the end of the year we would like to clear out before Christmas begins.

P1010050digging up the big avocado

P1010051 P1010052P1010054the tree will go to Fruitvale and join the community of  of love magicians there

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the multi-grafted  peach tree with plum grafts will go to the Texas garden on Potrero Hill

above the Food Bank

More love magicians at the Free Farm and at the Free Farm Stand. If we can’t grow soil and food at the moment we can still grow community and friendships:

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P1010043 P1010046P1010048 P1010049 P1010065harvesting lettuce for the Stand at Treat Commons

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bundled up for the sunny but cold Free Farm Stand

Please come by the next four workdays and be part of history. There is still a lot of stuff there besides plants and that is what people who come can do is take it all away. We also have two big trees there one that is dug up already and the other needs digging up up and then moved to a truck.

 Here is a photo of our Free Store at the Free Farm Stand. Alex sets it up most Sundays and it seems very popular.

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Last week I got interviewed by CW Nevius in the Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Free-Farm-faces-challenges-in-staying-in-S-F-5029027.php. In the interview he said to me that our operation sounded like the diggers. I told him I was personally inspired by them (but I forgot to mention that I have been  inspired by  Gerrad Winstanley and the original diggers of England of 1649). These days I think that doing things for free is a good antidote for the disease of materialism running rampant these days.

This leads into my thinking about gentrification, high rents, and evictions are on everyone’s mind these days . In today’s news a protest and blockade of a Google bus in the Mission: http://blog.sfgate.com/stew/2013/12/09/protesters-block-google-bus-in-s-f-mission/.   People are upset, but other than these kind of actions, no one seems to have good solutions.  The other day I stumbled across this video in  Mission Local comparing the prices at several  ”local foods” markets and one Latino market. The woman interviewed from the newly opened Local Mission Market claims they were trying to make their produce “as affordable and accessible as possible”. At the same time she seemed  aware and a bit defensive about being part of the gentrifying force in the Mission. I also learned from this video that a new Whole Foods opened in the Mission on Market St. near 14th.

Trying to keep positive and constructive,  recently Pancho sent me a link to an inspiring video which opened my eyes to an economic model that is not free per se, yet is centered around generosity and compassion for those in need. Perhaps  some of these new businesses could learn from this example of a business that is very successful money wise, but serves the poor at the same time.