Towards the end of April of this month we will have the 1st year anniversary of the opening of the Free Farm Stand and I am starting to look back and evaluate how things have gone so far. I want to see what I have learned and if there are any changes I should be making in what I am doing.

This Saturday I had a mini-realization that I can’t always count of getting free left over produce from the farmers market (this week there was very little for some reason and there will be little next week too). I was wondering as the economy gets worse, will there be less free food to hand out? I was starting to get a little anxious like I did when I first started the stand that I wouldn’t have much to give out to all the people showing up these days. Then I thought in reality I can only grow so much food (unless I somehow manifest a small farm in the city…see the end of this article) and other people will only have small amounts of extra produce from their gardens that they can contribute. I reminded myself that I am not trying to run a food program exactly, but to be part of the movement of people encouraging local food growing and sharing (though I must admit I have that tendency to want to do serve large numbers of hungry people). One thing I am able to produce a lot of (though it takes some work) are vegetable starts or seedlings. Thinking this I went into greenhouse day dreaming mode. More on where that led me later on.

The Free Farm Stand was pretty good this week despite the lack of huge amounts of farmer’s market booty. There was definitely a lot of people and a great feeling of community. It was such a sunny day everyone was out in the park and the garden got a lot of visitors and helpers. Especially the kids were really into watering the plants. There was lots of chit chat everywhere. One woman who spoke only Spanish requested some chayote leaves to cook with. Rebekah was around and spoke to her in Spanish and got the recipe how to use the leaves for a kind of mush she makes with them. Here is the recipe:

Chile Atol….( a thick kind of porridge spiced with chiles)
Boil whole ears of corn until tender
In a separate bowl mix corn flour with water gently stir it into simmering corn stirring constantly so it doesn’t stick.
Meanwhile in a blender mix together
4 or 5 tender chayote or flor de calabaza leaves
5 or 6 epazote leaves(she says to not use too many because they can have an overpowering flavor)
1-3 green serrano chiles(depending on how much spice you like)
pour this into the porridge mixture and simmer awhile constantly stirring.

I have a new friend and garden apprentice I mentioned before, a ten year old boy name Zeus who came and helped potting up seedlings to give away. He is filled with millions of questions and I had a hard time answering them all. He is so enthusiastic about gardening and it is very wonderful to see. His family gave us two bird houses they had built and some carrot seed.

The table had some beautiful chard and greens from mostly the secret garden and a handful of herbs, some red celery stalks, and a handful of snap peas. Nosrat brought by a huge amount of herbs from his garden including fresh sage. It is nice to use fresh herbs in our cooking and for a lot of us it is simple laziness that we open jars to get our flavor instead of picking it from a kitchen garden, either from a backyard, community garden, or windowsill.

There was a lot of baby romaine and radicchio from the farmer’s market. I must admit I have a prejudice against radicchio and if anyone out there that can turn me around on this with some fabulous way of using it I would love it (I am not much into bitters I guess). We also had a lot of bread that people like.

I was most excited by the fruit on the table. We had 33lbs of navel oranges picked from a local tree that was hecka sweet and juicy. It was the first big harvest of the year by SF Glean (see web site link on the sidebar, though the site doesn’t have a lot of information on it now). Jonathan took the list of fruit trees that needed researching and lucked out in meeting the owner of the trees. He got permission to harvest the trees and we might get more in a the following weeks.

Margaret (also on the gleaning team) came by with some beautiful lemons she picked from Holy Innocents Church and a little sign that explained where they came from which was a nice touch. Steve brought not only lots of chard seeds from his dad’s garden in Sonoma County, but also a bag of big Meyer lemons.

I tried this week to put more attention into the plant giveaway table. We had a lot of tomato seedlings to give away plus cilantro and chives, plus a few miscellaneous plants like rhubarb and hummingbird sage. A friend brought over a collection of the healthiest looking tomato starts she had grown to share and the varieties were ones that I didn’t have. Our helpers talked to everyone that took plants to make sure they know how to grow it and to told them about the different we had varieties and other related information. We also put in a word about donating any surplus they grow to the stand. If we can get it together for next week we would like to have a flier in English and Spanish how to take care of the plant and grow it. We will start with tomatoes.

There was so much happening this weekend with many gardening events everywhere across town. On Friday we had a good workday at 18th and Rhode Island. Our small crew built two trellises for tomatoes and planted 12 kinds of cherry tomatoes, mostly heirlooms. We also built one more potato tower. After that, Page and I went to the Secret Garden and planted three more towers. The potatoes are starting to grow in many of the towers we have planted (I think we have about 14 towers now planted in different places). On Saturday I heard the PDC class planted more stuff on the hill.

On Friday evening I got an email from my friend Jonathan who was one of the people who started CELL space who has started cleaning up the vacant lot next to CELL on Florida and is resurrecting the garden that was there a few years ago. His project is called the Esperanza Sustainability Center and he seems to want to do everything you have ever heard of there in terms of sustainability, including a community garden (not divided into plots but to give to the food to those who garden and maybe to sell some to local restaurants), a nursery for “Propagation of edible fruit trees, native trees, medicinals and other plant starts for Urban Dissemination” (including constructing a quick dome greenhouse), workshops, and a performance stage. I went there on Saturday and there was a big 20yd pile of Bay View Greenwaste Management fine woodchip compost piled on the sidewalk. Sound familiar? It was sheet mulching day and I went off to help get a bale of cardboard from Whole Foods (while there the FARM project people that I wrote about last week was there doing the same thing (stuffing cardboard into their van for sheet mulching). When we got back, there were a whole lot of new people that I have never met ready to move cardboard and mulch. Two volunteers went off with me to pick up a load of horse manure and when I got back the place was hopping with energy and sweat. I stuck around for a while shoveling wood chips and then I took off to check out the sight at Hooper Street where the CCA students were sheet mulching the long strip of land next to their college building.

I found the scene pretty inspiring and like I wrote to Robyn one of the organizers, to see a wasted piece of land being transformed like that is so inspiring to me. They actually got permission from DPW to do what they were doing.

I just got word of a man in San Jose that has access to an acre of land in the middle of downtown that is flood plain and can’t be built on. He wants to grow food to give away, convinced we will have 18-22% unemployment soon. His project is a week old and says he needs all the help he can get. I wish san Jose was a little closer to the city.

What a beautiful day it turned out to be at the Free Farm Stand, and I was thinking it was going to rain. It was another day that we were loaded up with beautiful vegetables and bread. I must admit I was feeling pretty good about myself that I had grown so much lettuce mix in both gardens (Treat Commons and the Secret Garden). I didn’t weigh the mix, but it was probably over 2lbs. I also felt good that I harvested a lot of lettuces that were growing in between the fava beans planted at 18th and Rhode island. I just discovered them by accident before I left on Friday. What happened is that I noticed one of the red chard plants started to grow bigger and it was being shaded by the fava beans so I decided to cut the fava beans growing around the chard. That is when I saw all these lettuces and other chard plants growing hidden among the fava bean plants.

I won’t write a lot about the Free Farm Stand this week. The table was filled with mostly wonderful vegetables left over from the farmers markets on Saturday. There were a few boxes of the most beautiful artichokes. I keep thinking when will people start growing artichokes in their newly created sidewalk gardens (and or potato towers). Caleb brought a beautiful basket of arugula and bouquets of herbs that his friend grew and they assembled. This to me is what the stand is all about, small class act gestures of sharing by friends and neighbors. And Caleb was there to give his gift away in person and could talk to everyone about it. These actions turn the world around and make my heart soar! Talk about class acts. A friend from church gave me a box of lemon and orange marmalade from her trees in the east bay that she made too much of (it is easy since our trees are so productive). It also was wonderful, from the wrapping of the jam box with a bright red Japanese cloth, the labeling of the jars, to the delicious taste of the marmalade. I gave people a taste on bread and people loved it (I also gave jars of it away). This is a great example of what to do with oranges that may be too sour to eat, like the tree down the street that I heard about that needs gleaning, but the owner says they don’t taste good. We should give him a taste of her marmalade. I also brought a jar of carob powder and pods from a local tree that I helped plant years ago, and gave people a taste of that. More on the carob pods below. I picked a few lemons from my neighbor’s tree and kept thinking there must be more lemons ready to pick now somewhere. Sam came later in the day just when we were running low on produce and brought some miscellaneous vegetables that a friend grew. I was busy giving out food because we were a bit short on volunteers and I wasn’t able to set up the “garden advice and plant give away table”, but later when it slowed down I was able to bring out some seedlings.

I actually started writing this blog entry early Sunday morning before the Free Farm Stand opened just to catch up on all that has happened this past week. I remember friends of mine saying something like that when the hot issue of the day gets written up in Time magazine it time to move on to new things. At that time it was communal living we were talking about. Now it is local food and going beyond eating organic which is now a weakened concept, and the focus is on sustainable local agriculture.

This week all the big papers have spread the news about the Obama family digging up some lawn at the White House and planting a vegetable garden. This is a victory for us local food activists and gardeners who have been involved in signing petitions to the Washington elites to get them to do this,, and to push Washington to adopt a more sane agriculture policy. This morning I learned from a fabulous article in the New York Times (called Is a Food Revolution in Season? that “In mid-February, Tom Vilsack, the new secretary of agriculture, took a jackhammer to a patch of pavement outside his headquarters to create his own organic “people’s garden.”

All this is good and exciting as local organic sustainable food because moves slowly from being the hip thing on the block to more mainstream, just like tofu can be found in supermarkets across the country. But our job as pioneers is to move on to the next revolution and to remain real. We have to get beyond the talk and move into quiet bold action. We have to continue to work for the poor and disenfranchised and make sure our heads don’t get swollen with all this attention on what we are doing. We don’t need super stars of the local food movement (I write this largely for myself: thinking about yesterday when a friend of mine was filming a documentary for a class he is taking at City College. I gave him the go ahead, hoping that he learns how to capture the real news that was happening at the stand, which wasn’t all about me). We need make to meaningful changes in the communities we live in on a fruit tree roots level. We need to create art and write poems that shake the walls of the current ways we do things, and what a better time to do it than when the system seems to be sinking.

Yesterday I swung by the 18th and Rhode Island site where the new PDC course was taking place (Permaculture Design Course). It was real encouraging to see so many people who joined this class and have an interest in learning how to build sustainable cities. There seemed to be about 25 people there in the slight drizzle learning about sheet mulching. And it was funny to see that I knew a lot of these people and have worked with them in connection to the Free Farm Stand. People are paying $500-$600 to commit to 100 hours of time learning permaculture with an urban focus, which the teachers who started the class say is really fair and half the price of other similar classes (which it is). The teachers say are not trying to make money, but to get more permaculture designers working in San Francisco to make a better city.

My dream and I know Kevin (one of the teachers of the course) shares this vision that eventually these classes will be free. I would say why not now? I would like to see the classes being more like the sharing of skills like the Free Skool movement in Santa Cruz. I know there are costs and such that need to be met, but if we are designers of a new society can’t we come up with a different design than the current capitalist model? John Lennon said “I may be a dreamer, but I am not the only one.” I also share David and Kevin’s goal of getting more trained people with the skills to transform our neighborhoods into more sustainable places to live, which includes growing more gardens and fruit trees that feed us. The question or challenge is how to get these people that are enthusiastic that are taking these courses to continue the work after the classes are over. I am still working on trying to get fruit trees planted in my park which was a PDC project from last year.

The other day I was writing to my friend Nicole and I think I was being a bit too critical of some people I was working with. She pointed out to me a slightly different perspective to things, that people were just trying to do the best they could and saw things differently than me. I appreciated her saying that to me as I need to be reminded not to be so judgmental all the time. “It is all good” is my current mantra right now.

On Friday we had a small turnout, but everyone who came by was really helpful and we got a lot done. We planted more strawberries first. Then we finished the potato tower we started last week and worked on two more. We finished building one more tower using the lasagna layering method and started one where we will cover the potato plant as it grows. I brought some old wet straw that we used and mixed it in with a little bit of soil and a lot of composted woodchips and clippings and a smaller amount of older manure (also we added some cut up green fava bean stalks and leaves.). On Saturday apparently one of the potato towers started leaning over and Ryan pushed it back up an stabilized it. Maybe we didn’t level the ground enough or perhaps it is unstable because it is sitting on a hill of sheet mulch which is somewhat springy.

Two types of potato towers

On Friday night I attended a local Forage Feast that was free (kind of like a forage pot luck). It was a sweet event and I enjoyed seeing friends and meeting some new people. I brought a camera, but I think I got a bit too tipsy on the nettle beer or was it the honey wine, and didn’t get into being the role of an investigative journalist. There were some great vegan dishes that people made, including some great bread stuffing made with local herbs, some kind of ollalaberry crisp made with some local (foraged?) ingredients, a great creamy nettle dip, and an artistic and surprisingly flavorful miner’s lettuce salad…just the handsome round miner’s lettuce leaves in a light vinaigrette. Just seeing the salad made me want to eat it and this was before I got high. The nettle beer was subtle and delicious, made with nettle teas, sugar, and bread yeast (I was told you can also use champagne yeast). There were also some nice teas and lemon aid made with local ingredients. One exception, the rosemary tea with mint that I had high hopes for because of all the rosemary around, was a bit too intense for me.

I brought carob pods from down the street and some homemade carob powder. I also made some little sweet balls out of dried chestnuts from also down the street (boiled and ground up), walnuts from my back yard, and carob powder. I told people at the Free Farm Stand that I would explain to people how I made the powder from the pods here. I got my information on how to do this from the internet with my own modifications.

First I made sure all the pods were clean and free from dirt or not rotted, I pulled some out that I had collected that looked a bit funky. The pods are pretty tough and leathery and have seeds in them that you need to remove (I read that the seeds could be ground up and used to make a vegetable gum). To make it easy to remove the seeds I used a pressure cooker and steam cooked the pods for about six minutes. Then it was not too hard to take a sharp pointed knife and cut the pods lengthwise to open them and remove the tiny black seeds. Then I partially chopped up the pods with a coffee grinder (a food processor would also work). I turned on the oven to the lowest temperature (around 200- 250 degrees) and slightly roasted the pods for about ten to fifteen minutes. I ground up the roasted pods in the coffee grinder and sifted the ground up pods with a very fine mesh strainer. It doesn’t come out quite like powder, but is pretty fine.

The pods can be eaten raw but that is sort of a chore because they are so chewy. Besides the local sustainable agriculture movement going on, foraging has become a popular thing too. I am not sure if picking a tree that I planted counts as true foraging, but it is nice to eat the things growing around us if they taste ok and especially f they are nutritional. It is a bit of work though with carob pods.