Since the Free Farm closed last year, I have once again centered my activities in the Mission where I live. Last week I met an inspiring farmer named Ron Ferrel from Oklahoma who writes an online blog for Mother Earth News (here is his latest one).  We quickly saw how many of our ideas meshed. One of his lines was “don’t invest in Wall Street, invest in your street. “ We both are interested in inspiring our neighbors to grow food in their backyards.

The 23rd street Garden is a project that will help us with our goal of encouraging more food growing in our neighborhood. This week we began using the wood we rescued from the Growing Home Garden to build raised beds that we will grow vegetables in.

We could really use help not only building more beds, but we have a lot of carpentry work to do fixing garden benches, fixing the new compost bin, and setting up our hoop house that we saved from the Free Farm.  We also need help with plumbing and installing drip irrigation.  In general there is a lot of work to do to make the 23rd Street Garden a good resource for our neighbors. Please drop by during our Saturday or Tuesday work days or contact me by email.

I want to share a video that Pancho sent me that picked my spirit up. There is so much sad news these days and this is the message we all need to hear to get us up on our feet so we can walk the talk. I want to share a video that Pancho sent me that picked my spirit up. There is so much sad news these days and this is the message we all need to hear to get us up on our feet so we can walk the talk. What is said in this video reflects our thoughts and feelings too. Canticle Farm is truly our sister project in spirit.

This week at the Free Farm Stand I was so happy that we had a great selection of produce.   Pax and I helped harvest 250 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit. It is a lot of work, but we so appreciate the free produce to give away. We also could really use help harvesting at Alemany Farm right now when there is so much summer bounty. We are there around noon on Fridays . We only had the energy to pick some of the cherry tomatoes that were there last week for example.  On August 9th I won’t be available to go there myself to harvest, so on that day especially we could use help.

Here are some photos of the beautiful vegetables that we had:

P1010001 Michael grew these in his Potrero garden from Rocoto pepper seeds

from the Treat Commons Community Garden pepper plant. Also Janet brought more from her garden

P1010012she also brought pineapple sage leaves that make a mild herbal tea


P1010003cucumbers from Alemany Farm

P1010004I brought samples of the white sapote fruit that  I grew in my backyard for people to taste

P1010015I also brought lemons from our backyard
P1010009plums Kerry brought from a neighbor in San Jose

2014-07-27 12.47.35a neighbor brought nopales from his garden to share

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I don’t have a photo of the new Vegan Information booth at the Free Farm Stand that Pax set up, but it is a welcome addition to the Stand that is much needed. If you have any questions about how to go vegan ask Pax. If we are moving away from the non-sustainable culture and economic system that is so prevalent today, then we need to move away from eating habits that contribute to the violence against animals.  Like St. Francis sang “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures”.

I am hopped up on hope these days. Sometimes I feel just overwhelmed with the things I am doing, but what keeps me going is knowing that we can make a better world by all of us being generous and compassionate in the work we like to do.

These long summer days have been fabulous and I have enjoyed working in different gardens in the Mission and Bernal Heights. On Fridays I have been helping out at Alemany Farm mostly harvesting vegetables and fruit for the Free Farm Stand. I have spent time some  working at Treat Commons Community Garden.  At our workday there two weeks ago I weeded, planted marigolds and a rare white chayote, and did a lot of pruning of trees. The apricots there have been delicious!

In my backyard I am just trying to keep up the watering, plum harvesting, and various maintenance jobs. I still have honey that needs bottling, and there is a huge invasive vine that needs pulling up and removing.

The new garden on 23rd Street is moving forward.  Work has begun on creating new beds and widening the pathways. We also are regularly turning the compost and trying to break down all the massive amounts of leaves there. Thanks to the compost I bring there from Martin de Porres soup kitchen and the left over mushy fruit that I can’t get turned in jam or cobbler, I have been able to get our pile up to 140 degrees. needs pulling out and a lot of dead vine and bamboo that needs to be moved out.  Also, I still have a lot of seedlings from Green Gulch and Alemany Farm that are stored in my backyard that either need planting, potting up, or just given away at the Free Farm Stand or the new garden.

Now there is another new garden on Alabama St.  I have found two people who have expressed interest in tending to it and learning about gardening in the meantime.
When I watch videos like this from John Kohler of I get very inspired: . I want the  the  garden to grow food as beautifully as John’s garden and as intensively, while at the same time maintaining  its wildness and feeling like a forest.

In a previous announcement I sent out, I talked about the Growing Home Garden being closed down.  I went over there last week with two friends who helped me rescue two big pineapple guava bushes and we planted them in the orchard at Treat Commons.  There are a lot of redwood beds there, a compost bin,  benches, and lots of soil that we probably can take for the new garden. On Saturday July 12 the Growing Home Garden on Octavia between Oak and Page Sts. will be open for people to come and take plants and trees (there are about 30 trees there  that need homes and I have the inventory of them if anyone has a place for them). On that date we can go there and take apart the wooden beds (they are nailed together), move the benches, compost bin,  and the soil if we have the people power and time.) We will be there at 10am though the 23rd St. garden in the Mission will be open at the regular hours 9am-2:30pm.

We need all the help we can get, plus a  van or pickup truck to help us move the wood.  Please contact me if you can help or send out word anyone you know.

Sunday at the Free Farm Stand was a gay day for fruit lovers. The Hecka Local table had loquats and the first apples from from Alemany farm, oranges from a neighbor who has been bringing them the last few weeks and lemons too, and apricots from another neighbor on Harrison St. that my new friend and volunteer Anthony harvested. He also picked lemons from a tree in his back yard. Then there were plums from my friend Michael Kan who lives in the Bayview, plums from my garden and some from the 23rd St.  garden.  Here are pictures of the abundance:

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On  Sunday July 13 the  Puppet Riot will perform our first ever puppet show: FPR Flyer cropped)A volunteer sent me an article about a “DIY $2 self-watering garden bed …” that lead me to a gardening project that is building these beds and is growing community and food in the spirit of the  Free Farm Stand: The Food is Free Project is similar to what I would like to see in the Mission. “We teach you how to connect with your neighbors and line your street with front yard community gardens which provide free harvests to anyone.” Since we don’t have that many front yards in the Mission, we have to utilize our back yards to grow food and community. I hope that the 23rd Street  garden will demonstrate to our neighbors how they can be part of our own style  Food is Free movement we are growing here in the Mission.


I am way over do for expressing my thankfulness on this blog. In fact everything I write should begin with thankfulness. I feel blessed to have so many great people to work with and truly the Free Farm Stand and the 23rd St. Garden is a community grass roots project that wouldn’t happen without all the volunteer hands and hearts that go into it.

Two weeks ago at the Free Farm stand we really highlighted what we are all about. Our Hecka Local “corner” had more great produce than the produce we collected from the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. Three of us at the Stand this week harvested the vegetables and fruit on Friday afternoon) We had the usual fantastic produce from Alemany Farm…chard, kale, loquats, tatsoi, and purslane. We also now have a connection with a gardener at Potrero de Sol garden and occasionally a farm in Pescadero and have been getting some really fresh organic produce. Plus fruit and vegetables from neighbors, including some plums from my backyard.

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This week we also  had more vegetables from Alemany Farm and neighbors than from the left over from the Farmers Market (though the amount of fruit from the market was huge).

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Ben holds a beautiful Caraflex cabbage from Alemany Farm. Kerry behind him made some vegan cobbler

with the soft fruit from last week that didn’t get taken. She is on a Mission to show people how we  use the challenged fruit

and prevent good fruit from being wasted. We really need more people to rescue the soft fruit at our Stand at the end of the day.

cabbages2014-06-15 13.10.25-1 plums lettuce2014-06-15 13.10.25-2

lettuce from my friend and neighbor Michael and plums from my backyard

A special treat for us all was Norma brought her 90 year old dad who is visiting from Mexico and he actually helped give out produce! He used t take care of bees in Colima Mexico and I can’t wait to share some local honey with him while he is in town.

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We have been talking among ourselves about the produce that we give out each week and I thought that all the donated produce from the hip Ferry Building was organic. It turns out that it is not, although I would say it is pretty darn fresh and tasty and at least half are certified organic. The deal is unless you grow it yourself or know and trust your farmer, you cannot really know how organic or not something is or how sustainable it is grown. That is why we are promoting backyard food growing. Even if you can only grow a little food it is worth it for so many reasons. So we are putting a lot of effort into educating people who come to the Stand. Our information table is expanding with books and literature. We are also trying to educate people about the benefits of eating a plant based diet not just for health reasons but mostly for ethical reasons.

Here is the best new right now about backyard food growing. A neighbor approached me about finding someone to garden in his 8 X 9ft garden plot in the Mission not far from the location of the Free Farm Stand. I am looking for someone who will put in a few hours a week to grow some produce in this plot and bring some of the produce to the stand. I will even teach someone how to grow food or flowers if they commit to this project for one growing season. I have the key and there is water the landlord will pay for.

While on the subject of gardens and how the Free Farm Stand is promoting the idea of making our neighborhood a hotspot for urban food growing and sharing, we are moving forward with developing the 23rd Street Garden. Actually my dream is to connect three parcels of land that are adjacent to the old Southern Pacific railroad land. I found the map below at this link on the internet:, an interesting read.



And here is how it looked in the late 1800”s


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The train in this picture has just gone past what is now Parque Ninos Unidos and the engine of the train is crossing Folsom St. This park is the where the Free Farm Stand is on Sundays and the location of the Treat Commons Community Garden (neighbors and the block club Calle 22 organizing in the late 80’s made this park and garden a reality in 2003). The 23rd St. Garden is located between Folsom and Shotwell where the lumber is stacked in the picture.

My dream is to also to green the green the land where the railroad used to be between Treat Ave. and Harrison at 22nd St. Below are current photos from Google Earth.

957 Treat Ave arial 957 Treat Ave

Right now it is an eyesore with large roofing trucks, tar machines, a boat parking there without authorization. Wouldn’t it be grand plant fruit trees (and use this site as a free neighborhood garden resource center) and have a green swath from Harrison to Shotwell Street?

I have been trying to get someone to help me make this happen with the railroad land on Treat Ave. but it is going very slowly. Besides contacting Supervisor David Campos office I have been in touch with the new Dept. of Urban Agriculture and Recreation and Park and they like the idea, but dealing with abandoned railroad land apparently is very challenging. If I keep dreaming I would love to see the empty Delano supermarket and parking lot turn green too! It is on the original map with the J.H. Kruze lumber was stored. I live across this vacant parking lot is and it has been vacant for years. We did some guerilla gardening there in containers at one point and actually harvested some peppers and tomatoes that we brought to the Stand. We stopped when we were told that they were coming to get rid of all the stuff there, but they never came. Here is the lot today from Google Earth:

parking lot across st

Some billionaire named Ron Burkle who owns the investment company Yucaipa bought the lease from Fresh and Easy and who knows what is going to happen with the building and land nor when. I can see it in my dreams this being a beautiful orchard.

You know John Lennon wrote “You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one”. I was looking at a photo of the garden I am now working in on 23rd Street around 1975 and I can see that with hard work dreams can come true.

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See how the land was all crushed rock that we had to break up and sift and get rid of. Also you can see that there are no trees on the sidewalk and that the land where the park is today was a building materials business. Here it is today from Google Earth with the design for the new beds and greenhouse we want to put in soon:

23rd st Garden Rev Jun5 with Google Earth edit for google

23rd st garden


Patrick otherwise known as johnnyseedbomb on his blog, one of our volunteers who I am so lucky to get to work with, wrote this journal entry that I want to share with everyone, because I find it inspiring. I  edited it a lot because it is too long to share it all  here, but you can go to the original at his blog.

Tue May 27, 2014: Feeding people, feeding cats, a spiritual journey

When I arrived at the 23rd St. Garden, Tree and Irving were chatting up a tall Indian youth by the greenhouse… The mystery youth is named Sabri, he is second-generation hippie.  Back in the 70s, his father lived with Tree and Irving right here in Ye Olde Commune.  Sabri gave me an exceptionally warm nice-to-meet-you hug, and as per Irving’s imperative, we immediately set about the task of getting to know one another.

Sabri’s story went like this: six months ago in LA, he got totally burnt out on money.  He trekked up a mountain, fasted for two whole days, and meditated on the suffering that had settled around his heart like so much smog.  When he came down from the mountain, he abdicated a toxic business partnership, his apartments, furniture, and materialistic lifestyle, and has been on a freewheeling spiritual journey ever since.  I reply, “What a coincidence, I plan to go on a similar journey, sometime next week!”…

Feeding people is a powerful practice, with the right intent.  You look upon a person with love, see their humanity, and give them whatever it is they need without considering the cost.  Sometimes, they will need food.  But then other times, they will need something else: empathy, affirmation, advice, laughter.  If you practice giving food every day, you open the door to nourishing people and making them strong in all these other ways.  As David Graeber, my favorite anthropologist, would say: sharing food is the very bedrock of human societies across time and space; it opens the door to mutual love for all people, in all matters.  No community, indeed no civilization can exist very long without it.

When you share food with someone, you invite them into your family.  You spin threads of Love out of thin air.  They are nebulous, fine, as fragile as silk blowing in the wind — but with enough threads, you weave a web that can bind all of us together.  I learned this from Sabri, and I practiced it first on my cat.

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I am not sure if we have hit the peak of artichoke season or not. The artichokes that I have planted have been flowering for a month or so and also the cardoon I have planted on the sidewalk. We certainly have been getting lots of them left over from the farmer’s market and handing them out.  We have also been getting artichokes from Alemany  Farm. Some of those have been a small beautiful purple variety. Yesterday Zack brought  large  round globe artichokes  some from his garden and he says there are at least fifteen on his plant in the outer Mission. They were so beautiful and the fact that he shared some of his surplus produce  at the Stand inspired me to whistle for the thistle!  Talking thistles I need to know the best way to cook or eat cardoon. We get them at the stand and I grown them and I have tried  reading recipes, but it still seems challenging. Has anyone got their favorite  vegan cardoon recipe to share?
0ne artichoke

Zach’s artichoke grown locally


selfie with artichokes

articholes from zack

sartichoke plant.

growing in front of our house

cardoon flower

I planted this cardoon just  about 30 feet from the artichoke  plant above

cardoon plant

Talk about tough. This plant got too tall before I staked it and it fell into the street and then got run over by a car. It is still making some beautiful flowers.

I love the two descendants of the wild thistle tribe, the artichoke and cardoon, which are member of the sunflower family (I also love sunflowers).  We should all be planting them on our sidewalks and in our parks.  They are a great source of nutrition and the only dilemma is whether to harvest them to eat or let them flower for beautifying a garden or  harsh concrete sidewalk  environment.

Maybe I have a thing for thorny plants. I love stinging nettles too, they are also very nutritious, and I have been harvesting some them from my backyard and bringing them to the stand. Not everyone wants them, but it seems more people are trying them out. I also picked the popular  loquats from my backyard (picking them standing on a 14ft ladder).  Besides the produce mentioned above, we were blessed with more avocados from the 23rd St. Garden plus someone brought more avocados from his mom’s  backyard   tree. Plus we had local lemons to boot.

Here are more pictures from the Stand:

P1010013our hecka local corner with Naomi



fruits from the Andes Pepino dulce and rocoto peppers


non local organic free trade bananas


 If I were not opening the garden on Saturday I would go to this event, since no one is turned away for lack of money. Jason Mark knows a lot about farming!

Join us next Saturday, May 10th, for the first in our series of spring/summer gardening workshops:

It Starts with the Soil:  Composting 101 and Soil Fertility for your Garden
Saturday, May 10th, 11 am – 3 pm
Alemany Farm, SF, CA
Instructor:  Jason Mark
If you want to have healthy plants, you need healthy soil. This workshop will cover the basics of maintaining soil fertility, including annual cover cropping, compost building, and soil testing.
Jason Mark is a co-founder of Alemany Farm and a veteran urban gardener.

To register, send us an email at
There is a suggested donation of $20 per person; no one turned away for lack of funds.

No matter the size of your garden or level of experience—or even if you just want more insight into what it takes to grow the food we eat—this soil basics workshop as a great place to start. Jason co-led the popular ecological horticulture apprenticeship program at Alemany Farm and has lots of knowledge and experience to share.

Visit us at for more information on our workshop series.  Thank you – we hope to see you there!

Erik Rotman
Friends of Alemany Farm