I have been feeling an excitement in the air and a sense of change, but it has not so much to do with the upcoming election. One would like to believe that politics really changes things on a deep level. That is why a lot of us pay attention to all that is going on in the world, and we get sucked into the election news so easily. If nothing else we wear our political buttons and hang our signs up, yes on this and no on that, and we vote for all the right things to vote for. The change I feel though comes from meeting a lot of positive people these days and that keeps me from feeling more hopeful and less cynical. I just learned something basic about the seasonal changes here in this part of California that I will write about later, but somehow being in touch with the garden and these seasonal changes is also comforting to me these days.
Kirsten memorial and the Really Really Free Market…
On Saturday I turned my trusty wagon into a traveling Free Farm Road Show and hauled a lot of seedlings and plants to Dolores Park for the RRFM and memorial for Kirsten, one the main people who helped start it and organize it. I also brought pictures of the Farm Stand, a bucket of walnuts from my backyard to shell, and a sign Free Garden Advice. I spent a number of hours just shelling walnuts and talking to people, and giving away plants. Later in the day a friend watched the stand and I walked around looking at all the stuff being given away, but wasn’t really looking for anything. It is amazing how many people haven’t had fresh walnuts from a tree and they were a big hit. A lot of people want to try gardening, but think they it is hard and they can’t possibly grow anything. I got a lot of questions about how to water plants and my general reply is don’t over water. That the most common gardening error is over loving a plant by drowning it. The other common error is neglecting a plant and letting it dry up or just death by neglect. I did enjoy meeting some really sweet people, both gardeners and wannabe gardeners alike, and connecting with some of Kirsten’s closer friends that have the same idealism that she did.
A couple of other nice things happened at my Free Farm Stand Road Show. People came by and dropped off some pretty good tasting and giant grapefruit (they could have been pomelos) and another person dropped off some seeds, some mint, and lemon verbena. And someone gave me two high quality sharp knives to use in the kitchen, because they liked what I was doing.
After the Dolores Park event I went to Clarion Alley to set up because Ivy asked me to come. I wasn’t there long because I started asking myself what am I doing trying to promote this project by having my sign up and my “informational wagon”. I really am not trying to inflate myself or what I am doing and started feeling silly being there when it was really about music (mostly loud music) and partying anyway.
The Farm Stand gets a Farm (sort of)
After being “farmless ” since we started, the Free Farm Stand looks like we will have a place to grow a lot of food to share every Sunday. We have started working with the San Francisco Permaculture Guild turning a “vacant lot into garden plots”. David has put up a website to keep everyone interested up-to-date and try to explain what permaculture is (I am not sure if I am a permaculture person or not, but am open to trying out their approach to starting a garden from scratch): http://18thandrhodeisland.org/ . We have started having Friday workdays at 10am (I plan to show up at 9:30am). We could use pitchforks, wheel barrows, and flat shovels for the process in we are in of laying down wet cardboard and wood chips. We are also on the lookout for free clean soil (vs. fill).
Season Change at the Free Farm Stand
Somehow I had one of those moments where I felt a really learned something related to growing food. I have been feeling that the air is crisper and the light has changed significantly this last month and it felt like the season has definitely changed to autumn here. Our backyards are getting less and less sun as it is lower on the horizon. But another obvious clearer sign of season change is what is being harvested now and what is on our Free Farm Stand table.
This week was such a clear example of what I am writing about. The amount of San Francisco local grown tomatoes is for the most part over. I have been talking to some neighbors whose tomatoes are just coming in strong, but they seem to be the exception. They are the ones I guess who got their tomatoes in late (and I have also grown tomatoes here into December that I planted in June instead of February). In Treat Commons, which gets lots of direct sun every ay, we still have tomatoes producing. I harvested the last tomatoes from a number of plants and Christy brought a big bag of tomatoes from the Corona Heights Community Garden. She also brought Cape Gooseberries that everyone gets excited about and they are still growing well and producing the Chinese lantern looking fruit. The one yellow zucchini plant at the Secret Garden is still producing zucchinis and I picked two of them to share. I have been saving the four pumpkins I grew this year to put out on the table for an autumn touch to the stand. I also had an unusual looking buttercup type squash to give away. The scarlet runner beans are still pumping out the beans and I had more than a handful to give away (and they have more flowers too). The basil in all the gardens is flowering and I am pulling up the plants and giving out mostly flowers from the plants. The African blue basil which is supposed to be a perennial is growing well and I keep clipping back the flower stems.
I got a ton of leftover food from the Ferry Building Farmer’s market and some of it very seasonal. There were beautiful fuyu persimmons for example and the very end of the grapes from the one farmer who had them (they were getting soft but were very sweet). I also got from them some apples, cauliflower, a few potatoes,salad mix, and stir fry mix. Next Sunday Nosrat and Allegra are going to put on a cooking demonstration showing their ideas of how to use some of the produce we get.
Figs are also ripening now. In my backyard I have a green variety called Genoa that are slowing getting soft. They never have been very sweet nor tasty, but I may try grilling them and seeing how they taste that way. A woman brought some figs to the stand and gave me one to taste. It was so beautiful inside I had to take a photo of it.
It was sweet and yummy too! Another unknown visitor left a bag of figs in a bag on the fence with a sign for the Free Farm Stand.. This is terrific!. At the very end of the day when we were closing up there was one woman who showed up late and was taking the rest of what we had left over (not much). Sarah Miles who lives nearby came in with what looked like Granny Smith apples and dark fresh figs from her garden.
I want to comment that we had a great crew of women volunteers helping me set up this week. Corrine showed up with a couple of friends from the gardening & composting educator training program (GCETP or what I have called “getup” class) they all took this summer. Also, later in the day Sara showed up who also took the class and having her Spanish speaking skills was really great. Some of our more regular helpers were there too, Jenny, Thy, Maeve, and Maria. There was plenty to do, besides setting up the stand, they were able to label plants and put them on the plant give away table and also to just hand out produce to everyone. It left me with time to talk to neighbors and answer garden questions.
Food Program or neighborhood produce growing/sharing project?
I am really fortunate to have friends who help try to keep me in line when I seemingly stray from my goals. Christy sent me this email query last week that I appreciated:
” I thought the stand was really about using what people could produce here locally (as in right in SF proper) and outside of the commercial system, not just about redistributing surplus. I think maybe if you decide to stick more strictly to making available only what people here in the city who do not produce food commercially can produce, even if that seems like a smaller amount of food, you will have more of a chance of building a real full circle between producers and consumers, and building the sense of community the stand seemed to be developing when it first started. If the stand becomes another food bank, even if the food you redistribute is fresh and organic and all comes from within a few hundred miles, then you are doing something different. Not a bad thing, probably something necessary and helpful in its own way, but different from what I thought the original intention was. “
“I have thought a lot about this issue… I have always seen getting surplus food as a form of city gleaning and as part of a strategy to deal with hunger in addition to growing food. Using the waste food in our cities.
But you are also right that the farm stand was not intended to be a food program in the traditional sense, like the food pantries I have run. I personally have wanted to be a farmer for one thing and just want to grow a lot of food to give away. I also like the idea of doing my part to make local organic food not just a thing for rich people. And part of that is to build a network of neighbors who grow food and share it with each other. I was inspired by not only the City Slickers Farm Stand in West Oakland, but this guy in Berkeley who has organized maybe a 100 houses to grow food…I am not too sure on the details. Of all my efforts so far, I think are falling short the most in terms of building a network of neighbors growing and sharing food together.”
At least two other people whom I have talked to sort of agreed with Christy and warned me about letting things grow too big. One woman said don’t give away bread let Martin’s do that. I guess I want to do two somewhat different things at the same time, and right now because the growing food part is going slower the free surplus local organic food is dominating the scene.
So I really am happy when people who come to the stand to bring something to share, even if it is not much. Maybe I need an AA group for people who like to give food away and are addicted to working in food programs
For the second week in a row, I haven’t gone out to pick apples for the stand. I know where there is fruit, but I just haven’t felt like I have had the time to go out picking or researching the trees I have heard of. I did get some fruit from the Farmer’s Market, though it isn’t the same as picking your own locally grown fruit. While I was at the RRFM shelling walnuts someone told me about a huge walnut tree just blocks from the park. That would be a self-less job to harvest walnuts for the Free Farm Stand.
Today we extracted over five gallons of honey. That makes the total of over 15 gallons of honey this year with one hive!
On Tuesday afternoon I have been meeting with whomever shows up at Treat Commons to do some gardening and then later the Jamestown Center after school program shows up and we go to the Secret Garden to do more gardening for the Farm Stand. It always amazes me that we have such great volunteers who are so good at working with the kids. And that the kids and Nicole and her teachers aid are great to work with too. Below is a group photo and some pictures of the kids in action: