No Farmers No Food

This week’s blog title comes from a bumper sticker someone gave us this Sunday. It comes from a group in the Midwest that is “Fighting to keep family farms on their land”. I was thinking that all the foreclosures happening everywhere are like the family farms disappearing. My friend Christian came by and told me he is working with Homes not Jails again and that they plan on squatting some of these foreclosed properties. Apparently it is easier than ever now finding the properties, there are lists online and you can even see the inside of the house. Maybe they describe the outside land around the house too and whether it has fruit trees or any landscaping. Some of these squatters should consider “Digger style” digging up the vacant lawns and yards around these foreclosed houses, and planting gardens and fruit trees. Bring back the family farms to our cities and suburbs.

Of all the gardening activities I have been involved with this past week, I think I have enjoyed working most in my backyard garden, propagating plants and slowly getting the garden in shape, ready for a spring planting. It feels meditative just being an urban farmer in my back forty and slowing down a bit…not that I have quite done that yet. Do other people feel like I do that there is so much going on these days around local food growing and other “green” activities? I get so sucked into it and have a hard time not wanting to get involved in it all. Then I get overwhelmed and have a hard time staying grounded.

Thy took so many beautiful photos of the great spread of vegetables on the table this week. I would prefer it if it was all food that we grew ourselves as neighbors, but it is free, fresh, pretty much local within a 100 miles, and organically, sustainably grown. It is a bit harder to capture photos of the colorful people that come every week, we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable or feel like they are going to a camera shoot. I think the group of people that show up every week is truly what makes the event wonderful…a place where neighbors can gather and hang out with their community.

We really did have lovely produce this week…artichokes, leeks, shelling peas, so many greens, especially chard (3 cases), carrots, turnips, herbs, young garlic. From our gardens I harvested 2 1/2lbs of baby lettuce and 2 1/2lbs of greens including a big bunch of Oriental spinach. It’s wild that I can now guess what the farmer’s market will have when I harvest what we have been growing…it is the same kind of vegetables. Like right now the chard growing in our gardens is so handsome and perfect, free of all signs of leaf miner damage. I also found one Jalapeño pepper on a plant that has become perennial. Three people came by with Meyer lemons they harvested. That was a special treat. It was a busy cloudy day and as usual when we were ready to go home there was very little left but a sack of turnips and some rosemary.

During part of the Free Farm Stand I took off to go to a meeting in the park with people who are interested in SF Glean, the new fruit harvesting project we have started. Some new people came who were not at the first meeting and we talked about the project and came up with some next steps we can take to move the project forward. And on the plant table we had flyers on the table to alert us of any fruit trees in the neighborhood that may need picking. We also gave away strawberries and cilantro and edible chrysanthemum starts.

Like I said there are so may many garden related activities happening now and I keep meeting new people that inspire me in different ways. Zeus is a young boy about 10 I am guessing who started coming to the farm stand last week who loves to garden. I have met a number of kids recently who love gardening too, but Zeus is super enthusiastic and now I have met his whole family, his dad, sister, and mom. He has been really helpful, last week planting strawberries and this week potting up seedlings and putting them on the plant give-away table. I love sharing with him little things about plants and he just soaks it all up.

On Tuesday the kids from the Jamestown Center came by Treat Commons and they learned about transplanting seedlings. We made paper pots and transplanted tomato seedlings into them. We now have over 200 tomato seedlings that need to grow a few weeks before we can give them away. And we still have a lot more seedlings that need potting up. We need more six packs, small 2″ or cup size pots, or trays to put seedlings in.

The Friday workday at 18th and Rhode Island was very productive. We put in more strawberries, some comfrey was planted and other seedlings, and we got a real good lesson in building potato towers from Kevin. We built the tower using the all at once or lasagna layering method. Kevin taught us some things about growing potatoes in towers that resonated with what I already knew about growing potatoes in the ground or from my observation of them volunteering in my garden. In particular they like to grow in soil that has a lot of not completely finished compost in it, made of partially composted leaves or straw. He thinks that for towers you need a fluffier material with more air spaces to make the layers less dense and to prevent compacting do to the weight of the piles. I have been using just composted wood chips which are black and rich, but perhaps too dense. On Friday we didn’t have all the ideal materials to fill the tower we started, so this week I am going to bring some rotted straw and mix it in with the composted chips and plant material. We used all the fava bean plants that we cut down when we planted the strawberries and some rotted manure because that is what we had. Here is how we made the layers: Sprinkle a couple of inches of fine potting soil on the ground (lay down cardboard if doing it on concrete). Put nine potatoes on top of the soil (we cut the big sprouting ones and usually we would let them heal first before planting them).The small whole sprouting ones we just laid down on the soil. On top of that we put some chopped up fava bean leaves and plants (ideally they would be partially composted). A minimum of 5″-6″ of mulch goes on top of that (we used some composted mulch and manure and soil that we used for planting the strawberries…on one layer we used just manure that was lightweight with a lot of composted sawdust and straw bedding material in it instead of mulch). Then we repeated those layers.

Kevin and I share the same crazy dream of seeing these towers of potatoes planted on sidewalks that have had their concrete pulled up (maybe his vision is to see them just sitting on the concrete sidewalks, but I like the water going into the soil). Anyone out there who wants to try this on their sidewalk?

I also met Robyn at the site when I first got there in the morning. She is a student at the California College of the Arts at Eighth St.and 16th St. She is part of a group of students that have formed a group called FARM (The Future Action Reclamation Mob) who are planning on dealing with the toxic strip of land outside their school. It is a long 66ft by about 8ft long strip of mostly shady land they want to tackle.

They plan to detoxify the soil which is high in lead and build raised beds and plant food for the hungry. They are going to use permaculture techniques and they are not getting permission from the city to do this, using non-violent direct actions instead. Their web site is Depending on how much sun they actually get maybe they should be planting potato towers. Anyway I was tickled to meet her and I just love these people that want to make our world a little more just and beautiful. I think they are having an action Saturday March 28 if you want to join them in their fun.

I just got an email from my friend Joanna with whom I gardened with over a year ago at the All in Common Community Garden. She has been farming last year in Nevada City and wrote a beautiful article in Poor Magazine ( about her experience there as an intern. But it is also a rallying call for us all to take up farming and to grow food in our backyards . Here are a couple of snippets that I love “Every person, child, mother, father, sister should have the opportunity to experience life on a farm. The daily routine; getting up with the sun, feeding the chickens, watering the plants, playing in the dirt, weeding, and weeding, the repetition, and meditation. Shoveling compost, preparing beds, transplanting and fertilizing. Watching as seeds germinate and take root…In the Bay Area, with so much talk about local foods and green products we have to actually start living in a radically different way. As Frank Cook says, it’s not about food miles, but food feet. We have to eat from our backyards. Let’s celebrate the seasons, the harvests and moon cycles. Demand that all communities have farmer’s markets- farm stands, and gardens. What’s the point in elitist style clubs that only talk about organics for the people who can afford it. Every home needs a space to grow herbs and roots, tomatoes, and lettuce. The sidewalks could be turned into a farm.” I can see that not everyone may want to live on a farm; some of us may be called to beautify the planet in other ways, like with art and music. We need that nourishment just as much. But I agree with Joanna that we can all still plant something somewhere and take care of it. That we need that connectedness to the soil.

2 thoughts on “No Farmers No Food”

  1. Excellent documentation Tree. We’ve been eating more potatoes lately. I wonder if you can build some of these in the secret garden.

  2. Excellent documentation Tree. We’ve been eating more potatoes lately. I wonder if you can build some of these in the secret garden.

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