I love this time of year, not just because I am a Scorpio. But because this is really the last big harvest time and it really is a season of thankfulness culminating in Thanksgiving Day. I get annoyed when people call it Turkey Day, because that is so much what it is not about. I was talking to a fellow gardener in the morning yesterday and I was telling her that I am always feeling grateful and that it must come from being a gardener for so long. We talked about the Free Farm Stand and she likes it because it brings people closer to the source of their food and thus closer to the people who grew it, and closer to the land and earth where it grew, and ultimately closer to the power of creation. That being in touch with that source of everything can’t help us all feel a little bit thankful. That is why we celebrate the harvest. The farm stand is a spiritual celebration perhaps in disguise and a weekly chance to feel thankful (thankful for the food that grows, thankful for the farmers who share their leftover produce with us, thankful for all angels that pop into my life like the volunteers who help run the stand or pot up seedlings to give away, thankful for all the neighbors that come and get food and feed their families healthy food, thankful for those gardeners who share their extra garden bounty with us, thankful for people who bring their stories to share, thankful for friends new and old, thankful for the ability to be kind). And gardening and growing food and flowers gives us gardeners the excuse for being a bit crazy, talking to our plants, praying for rain or a good crop, keeping in touch with the plant fairies, and knowing that we are all blessed. A woman brought some herbs to the stand yesterday and I was admiring her t-shirt. It said ” Radical Transformation”, and it showed graphically the stages of a seed sprouting. That miracle of a seed coming alive is what it all about. I am Mister Thankful!

So yesterday I guess I was feeling kind of heady. I also enjoyed meeting a woman named Grace who had two children Generosity and Clarity. And another appropriate thing happened yesterday. I met Autumn who came by later in the day and played her violin while people picked up produce and bread.

I am getting very little from the gardens right now. I forgot to pick some wax peppers that were in Treat Commons and my backyard will have some mixed greens soon. But the farmers market saved the day again with loads of greens of all kinds (kale, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, and stir fry mix). I also had a lot of organic celery. A woman who works at Marin Roots came by with a box of the most beautiful organic chard. She said her boyfriend who I met (he was an angel too and had the Om symbol sewed on his funky cool designer shirt) carried the box on his bike that he amazingly rode to the stand .

The chard was nice because Sara had written and printed out out a nice leaflet in Spanish explaining how to grow swiss chard on one side and how to cook it on the other side.

Marcus showed up with a two containers of tomatillos from a garden in a children’s playground in Golden Gate Park (I need to ask him more about the location). He said the kids husked a lot of them and they looked pretty shiny in the sun. I also met his mother and his grandmother, and the mother is a gardener too.

Christy gave me some beautiful garlic that her sister in law grew in Marin and I got some pineapple guavas from a woman who grows them in Noe Valley that works with me at Martin de Porres on Tuesdays. I also got a bag of them from a man named Luke who sells them at the Alemany and Civic Center markets. He came to help at the 18th and Rhode Island garden and I enjoyed working with him a lot. Corrine came by with the only lettuce we had that I think she grew at her plot in White Crane Springs Community Garden. I also had a small amount of the yellow currant tomatoes. I met a woman named Winter who called me who was moving to New York and was looking for someone to take her plants that were on her South of Market roof. I took all the plants and a couple of tomato plants had fruit on them which I harvested.

I picked olives from a neighbors tree with a new helper named Samantha and was lucky they didn’t have the larvae from a olive fly in them. I met another man who went around to a lot of olive tres in the city and they all had larvae in them he said. I gave some away at the stand to people who said they would process them and eventually we will have some cured olives to give away. Our Mediterranean climate is so unique and it was pointed out to me there are only a handful of places in the world where we get this weather. And with the weather comes this season of figs, persimmons, olives, pineapple guava, and pomegranates (I haven’t seen pomegranates growing here though I have rooted one and had another one growing in a pot that hasn’t fruited yet).

We also had a huge amount of bread and at the end of the day I just had some tomatillos left (all the other produce was completely gone and the bread too). On the way home I gave some tomatillos to a woman with two kids who I recognized who was going to put the fruit in her smoothies that she makes. Ok.

Sheryl from church took home the funky apples and made delicious apple sauce which we gave away. I especially love sharing it with the kids.

18th and Rhode Island report

Friday we had the best workday ever! We had fifteen people come by to help us move about thirty yards of chips and a thousand pounds of cardboard. And it is nice we take a break to eat lunch together and we get to know each other. The whole site is now almost finished being sheet mulched and the berms done (we had another workday on Saturday and a lot more of the mulch was moved off of the street where it was dropped…though we didn’t finish). We have canceled the next Friday workday though Saturday starting around 11 we hopefully will be doing something there, maybe planting.

A farm stand friend sent me an email that said Obama is asking for your input…It read “share with us [the Office of the President –Elect at change.gov] your concerns and hopes]. I thought wow, do we got some spare change available? Are we really entering another time in history like the sixties perhaps that we can imagine anything in our heads and go out and try to make it happen? Like the crazy idea of starting a Free Farm Stand and creating a neighborhood where there are gardens everywhere and no vacant lots growing weeds and collecting trash. And neighbors helping each other growing food and sharing it with each other and all the ignored fruit trees hidden in backyards getting picked.

Or how about this wild dream, a wild foods CSA? I met a man named Iso at the stand yesterday from a company he is trying to start called Forage (a wild foods co-operative). Yes you can dream up anything and try to make a go of it. He was hitting up the stand for any food that might be available for a dinner he is organizing to get local forages together (foraging the free farm stand I guess). I would just encourage Iso to step aside from the business model and make Forage a free thing, sharing the abundance of this earth freely rather than look at it as something to sell or barter and make a business around it.

Our November weather was so gorgeous and warm at the farm stand yesterday and the week before too (maybe this is global warming?). It seemed to bring a lot of people outside into the park. The farm stand was bustling with people not only getting food, but a lot of people wanting to help out in some way. Volunteers were shelling walnuts, running the stand, potting up baby seedlings, and talking to people with questions. And then some of them later in the day ran over to the All in Common Garden down the street to help out there! I can’t say how appreciative I am of all the help I have gotten recently and especially some of the helpers who have been coming regularly and during the week as well. We still need Spanish speakers to show up regularly to help explain things, like how to cook the greens we are giving out, to answer garden or plant questions, or to find out what people need to start their own garden.

The produce coming out of the gardens I am working in is coming to a trickle. I was able to harvest some kale and chard, a few hot peppers, and a few tomatoes, mostly green. It must be true with other gardeners, because I am getting less produce from them also. A woman at church Sheryl gave me a handful of tomatoes from her garden in Berkeley and she knew the name of all the varieties. She said the Black Prince tomato was a good one. Later in the day a friend came to the stand and then left and brought back some tomatoes from his garden, mostly green ones. I told a woman who was there about them because I knew she liked green tomatoes, she likes to fry them up. One sad thing is that I got a lot of pineapple guavas from a woman who brought them to Martin de Porres where I volunteer. I took what others didn’t want to bring to the stand, but I forgot to bring them. A neighbor Fred brought over a big box of Eureka lemons, some that were gigantic.

I got a lot of different kind of greens from the Ferry Building Farmers market, mustard, kale, dandelion greens, and tatsoi. Also I scored a box of Hachiya persimmons and various winter squashes.

One other nice thing that happened at the stand is that Jamie who rescues the bread and brings it to the stand had the day off and came by. She told everyone what all the different kinds of bread were…there were so many I am not sure if I will remember them all.

A Fig Tree Story and a Fruit Picking Report

Last week at the farm stand Gina told me that I could come over to her house the next week to pick figs that were ripening on her tree. Thy wanted to help, so we decided to pick on Thursday. Thy and I carried the 14′ aluminum orchard ladder about a couple of blocks away from my backyard. When Gina opened the gate to her back yard and I saw the fig tree and the green figs on the tree I immediately felt a connection with it. Like I was meeting someone I had known already.

Years ago a neighbor named Tony, an older Italian guy gave me a fig tree that he liked a lot, he said it was a Genoa fig and that he grew it too. Tony gardened at the Potrero de Sol Community Garden and he was one of my garden teachers. He really had gardening in his blood and was fun to talk to. I knew he also lived nearby and I may even walked by his house sometime. Anyway, as Tony got older his family got concerned about his health and safety and he wound up moving back to Italy. My fig tree has never produced very good figs and unfortunately I never talked to him about why, they get big and soft, but are not sweet and nor flavorful.

When I saw the tree in Gina’s backyard I recognized it as being the same kind of fig that I was growing and after questioning Gina about it, I figured out that this was the tree that Tony had planted and this was his former home. I felt his vibe coming out of the tree communicating to me! It turns out though that his figs were really delicious and had a beautiful red color inside, where my fig is white or light amber inside with little sweetness.

On left my fig, in basket Gina’s fig, Black Jack fig grown in Now Valley

Unfortunately the tree was in a pretty shady spot at that time and a lot of the figs were covered with the white/grey fuzz of mold on them.

We picked a lot of figs though, some were ripe and others were firmer.

Gina said they would ripen. I added the ripe ones to a fruit salad I was making for a bunch of people because I knew they wouldn’t last until Sunday. And as it turns out some of the figs rotted by Saturday, though we still had a lot to give out at the stand.

On Saturday Brother Max and I went apple picking in Noe Valley. Thanks to Cynthia who turned me on to an ad posted on a parents group email, I connected with a couple that had an apple tree loaded with apples in their backyard. They had more than they could eat or deal with. This time when I saw the tree I made no psychic connection, but felt an excitement seeing how many apples there were. I soon realized I underestimated how many empty crates we would need. There were apples all over the ground and the woman said they had fallen about a week ago.

Picking apples with a view

We spent about an hour or so first just picking up all the apples on the ground, separating the perfect ones, the ones for sauce, and the ones for compost. We were surprised how most of the apples on the ground were in pretty good shape. And they tasted good, I am guessing that they are Jonathan apples but I am not sure. In about two hours we had a lot of apples. I need to get a scale so we can document how much food we are collecting each week. Besides the figs and apples we gave away, I made apple sauce and gave some away at the stand, and again it was very popular. As I was closing up I still had some apples and a woman came over and got some and then came back for more to make some sauce with. She said her son hardly ever eats apples, but loves these and has eaten a couple already.

One thing I have learned from picking fruit trees for the free farm stand is that most of the trees need pruning. I am in a dilemma because I somewhat feel a responsibility to help take care of the trees I have picked. But that is a lot of work and right now not only do I not have all the equipment to make it possible to prune the trees, I am not sure if I have the skills (like getting to the top of really tall trees). And it would be a lot of work and a big time commitment. Even if I had a crew of volunteers, just organizing a a pruning event would take time to figure things out (including dealing with the pruned branches). I wonder what other gleaning or fruit picking groups do?

Free Farm Stand gets a donation

I just got an anonymous donation of $3,000 to support the Free Farm Stand. I want to sometime form a non-profit group, but for now I am working with a friend who runs a non-profit group called CORE that will be my fiscal sponsor. I don’t have any immediate plans to spend the money, but there are two connected projects I am working on that could possibly use some funds. One project that I am working on with some people is to extend the mini-orchard in Treat Commons Community Garden into the park (Parque Niños Unidos). I just heard that Jared Blumenfeld the interim Park and Recreation director is interested in creating more sustainable parks and now would be the ideal time to contact him about this idea. I would love to purchase trees soon since it is bare root season in less than a month. If anyone wants to help make this idea of an edible park move forward please contact me soon.

Permaculture Forest Garden report

Last Friday was a good workday at 18th Street and Rhode Island. We had two more loads of chips and composted chips dropped on the sidewalk and we brought in one more bale of cardboard. A number of volunteers showed up and we got more sheet mulching done, plus another berm built, plus we raised the level of the other berms. We also had a meeting and talked about the goal of building a “forest garden” (according to Wikipedia, “a food production and land management system based on replicating woodland ecosystems, but substituting trees (such as fruit or nut trees), bushes, shrubs, herbs and vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. By exploiting the premise of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow on multiple levels in the same area, as do the plants in a forest. “After the meeting I am a little more comfortable with what we are doing, mainly because we will be planting lots of fruit trees (and again maybe some money can go into purchasing trees soon for this). I must admit I still want to do some farming the more conventional, organic, double dig way, but will continue to work on this project since I am learning more about Permaculture and the food will go to projects like the Free Farm Stand. A lot of neighbors came by and one woman with her child wound up making it to the farm stand on Sunday and wants to get involved. We still have wood chips on the sidewalk that we have to move and perhaps next Friday we will start planting. Check out the website for more information (link on the right side of this page).

Misc. photos from Thy

I love these photos so much that I just got from Thy I am posting a lot.

the pumpkins were grown in a couple of local gardens

Whenever I open the garden gate at Treat Commons I get a lot of helpers

Walnuts from my backyard that we gave away

about a month ago