Someone at the Free Farm Stand yesterday asked me why I started this project and I stumbled around for words to answer her. Last night in a bit of a sleepy state I remembered one of my first inspirations for the stand was harvesting a lot of kale in my backyard and washing it and tying it up with an reused organic label wire. I was thinking how exciting it was to grow that large amount of kale; and to be able to give it away in a classy and beautiful manner to people that could use some free healthy produce. Peace Pilgrim spoke about us all having a personal calling in life and that we just need to look inside ourselves and figure out what our calling is and start following it. I know I have always had a calling to deal with food, to give it away in some manner or growing it. So my early inspiration for the Free Farm Stand was to grow a lot of beautiful food (and flowers too someday) and give it away as a gift to those in need.

I was reminded this week that I have been having a hard time fulfilling that original dream of growing a lot of food and giving it away. Last week I visit the Pe’ah Garden in the Home of Peace cemetery in Colma (it is really an acre farm). I have written about this farm in the past that grows food that is donated to the San Francisco Food Bank. Also, Jonathan has been teaching free gardening classes every Sunday out there that I having been putting on my events column for the last month. I knew I would be totally jazzed visiting this farm and I wasn’t disappointed. I tell you something is genetically wired in me to get excited when I see large amounts of food being grown to feed the hungry. Thinking about it, I could see some possible improvements that could be made there in terms of the way they were growing things, but all the same there were rows and rows of beautiful organic broccoli, chard, tomatoes, and a big strawberry bowl with sweet strawberries ripe and ready to pick. I was literally overjoyed and feeling a definite pull towards that project. Plus Jonathan has use of a fabulous greenhouse. While I was there we planted two big trays of lettuce for the Free Farm Stand.

I started thinking that with my current situation of working in a number of small gardens, it is challenging to grow a lot of food like that (at least for the numbers of people that are coming these days…see below). I must constantly remind myself it is ok to not grow massive amounts of food. That I am doing the best I can with the space I have. And I have gardens that are small but still need a lot of attention (like my backyard that I have been trying to focus on recently). Anyway I am still meditating on this and am thinking about whether I should take Jonathan up on his offer for me to do some farming there at Pe’ah Garden or to stay more local. The advantage to gardening in the Mission or even Potrero Hill is that I can get volunteers more easily (Colma is a little harder to get to or at least more expensive if you take Bart which is only blocks from the garden/farm).

People lining up for produce seems to be the normal thing at the Free Farm Stand these days. It got really busy fast and I realized how spaced out I got. Fortunately we have some great volunteers that have been helping and I think things ran pretty smoothly, though it gets very hectic at the beginning.
On the local table I had 21 pounds of sweet purple plums that Erin and Asher gleaned in the Mission on Saturday. They also picked some lemons. I picked some lettuce and kale from the Secret Garden and yellow zucchini (also kale and zucchini from Esperanza Gardens and I think someone else brought some). From 18th and Rhode Island I picked about a pound of African Blue basil (which I left in my refrigerator hopefully for next week) and some chard. Page brought by a cauliflower and some spinach and a few artichokes from Holy Innocents. A woman brought some mint from her garden. The farmer’s market table was loaded with produce and the bread table which we moved further away from the produce table had more than the usual amount of yeasty delights. The plant table was a little skimpy though we did have some seedlings to give away. I still would like to see us have one person to staff that table and be able to be there full time, offering garden advice and information. I am thinking I could do that if I could just train someone to take charge of the produce table. What happened this week is that we had a lot of helpers at the produce tables, but no one person taking real charge and making sure all the food was being put out. At the end we had a lot of basil left that fortunately Maggie took home with her to distribute somehow.

On Saturday night I happened to be walking near Dolores Park where I ran into the Free Tea Party Bus ( I met Guisepi who started the project and a friend Sarah who was helping (she had come in from out of town). They had been serving free tea all day and were packing up (it was a busy day with the Pride Weekend bringing a lot of people out in the hot sun). Whenever I see something like a free project I like to check it out. It turns out that they had just heard about the Free Farm Stand by people who came by to get some free tea. I thought it was a beautiful project and then he offered to come by the Free Farm Stand and serve tea. When I got home I looked up their website and found it also very inspiring and it seemed we were on the same wave length. Here is some of what they say on the tea party web page:
The Free Tea Party cultivates community and encourages dialogue about peace, environment, and health through actions like serving free tea.

To bring people of all classes and colors, shapes and sizes, political beliefs and philosophies together in order to foster a connection between those who normally would never have connected in conversation. In this way valuable ideas can be shared and a human face can be put on people who one may have never related to before
They did show up and serve tea and it was very wonderful. We also had a preview taste of apricot jam from the apricots from last week, served on bread. And the herbal tea was not only cool and refreshing on the hot day it was, it tasted great. I gave them some fresh picked herbs and some honey for further tea parties. Can you imagine meeting a young man who realized that his calling in life is to serve free tea? It only confirms my belief that the “times they are a changing” again. That there are a lot of great things happening all over the world and we all need to continue the revolution/evolution by doing what we can to beautify the world and serve the poor.

Here is a good news flash. The project of planting fruit trees in the park where we have the Free Farm Stand is moving forward. I met with three big shots from Park and Recreation today and they ok’d a plan to fence off the unused and neglected part of the park for the mini-orchard (extending the garden into the park). And they will support me in applying for a grant that is coming up to put in the fence. I do believe that any urban revolution must include planting more fruit trees. I was really happy this Friday to see a small round avocado fruit on the Lamb Haas tree we planted at 18″th and Rhode Island.

Early Saturday morning six of us packed into our van with ladders, pole pickers, buckets, a tarp, picking bags, shallow cardboard boxes, and a cooler and a box of food. We were headed to the church of 100 apricot trees in Winters near Davis (about 73 miles from San Francisco). We were invited there to participate in a day of fruit picking and picnicking. I imagined that we were traveling on the Sabbath to the church of apricot trees, because I know what a graceful experience it would be.

When we got there we were all immediately hit with a wave of awe and excitement. There were others there already picking the trees, friends of the sisters whose parents own the property. We had all been invited to pick as much as we can use, including a man who inherited two pigs (under the agreement that he wouldn’t eat them) who was getting all the smashed apricots off the ground. He mixes the rotting fruit with grains and some other waste product to make fermented buckets of food for his pigs that love it. They eat the slop and then flop down in drunken bliss.

Picking so many trees for a number of hours was truly a religious experience and it makes one not only feel grateful but it is a direct connection to the power of creation. All that magic and beauty in a simple red orange yellow fruit warmed by a hot sun! The sweet taste of the apricots was also divine. As was the warmth and generosity of the people we met. In our own way we were all high and drunk with the vibe the trees were singing out. Man we’ve got to be planting more fruit trees everywhere, especially in the city, so we don’t have to drive to get that high feeling…plus we got to feed the masses with more than grasses.

At some point we took a break and had a lovely picnic under a large oak. Sharing food together is another holy act and being outside on a somewhat hot day under the shade of a tree with friends was great. Lauren with Produce to the People and her friend Sarah showed up and joined us. Then we all went back to picking, actually shaking and catching (at that point we figured out that shaking the small trees and having four of us holding a tarp worked better than hand picking…it also was a more communal activity like praying together rather than by oneself. I guess they both are good.

When we got back to the city I weighed the fruit and we had collected approximately 428 pounds of apricots, some that went to Martin de Porres and the rest mostly to the stand. Another magical thing that happened is that we saved a lot of the soft fruit that was on the ground for jam. A woman at our church that has made jam for the stand in the past agreed to make jam Sunday and took 30lbs of apricots home with her to do just that.

It turned out that we didn’t get a lot of left-overs from the farmer’s market. I had some produce I picked from my backyard, Treat Commons, and Rhode Island garden. It was the apricots that made the day exciting. Besides apricots, we had beautiful carrots from Treat Commons (Purple Haze and a fat orange kind…thinning the carrots is the secret to successful carrot growing), oregano, marjoram, mint, chard, kale, flowers from Treat Common and also African Blue Basil. A woman came by with a bag of beautiful lemons, another brought some purple plums, and Erin brought plums that she helped pick on Saturday. A couple of people brought rosemary. Rosemary and oregano are both herbs that we seem to have no problem getting a lot of because they grow so well in our Mediterranean climate. I also should mentioned that I still could really use someone to come and take photos at the Free Farm Stand. This week I totally spaced out in taking pictures of the produce, which was so beautiful on the super local table. The photos here were taken after a lot of the produce was gone and I finally found the camera.

This week was the first time I actually noticed a line of people forming to get produce. I must admit I started getting a little scared that the Free Farm Stand was going to have the feeling of a bread line vs. a community gathering of neighbors sharing their surplus home grown. I did notice around 2 or 2:30pm there was no line and it seemed less busy. We also didn’t have a lot of bread at the get go so we limited the number of loaves a person could take to two. That seemed to cause some tension at times, especially when a Russian couple came and took five loaves and wanted more and he didn’t understand English. I am thinking next week moving the bread table away from the produce section and also possibly move the plant table too. Maybe this will help mellow the scene. Also I wonder if the crowds are due to all the publicity I have been getting. With the digital age it doesn’t even matter if you give an interview, word of mouth is not what it used to be with the internet.

Talk about links on line, there is a link for the Free Farm Stand on my friend Christy’s online journal What If? Journal of Radical Possibilities ( When I first met Christy she told me she once published a journal that had an article about the Diggers in it and she gave me a copy (at that time it was in real ink). I enjoyed reading it and now she is putting What If? online and is looking for “wonderful sources of information on transformative projects going on here locally (and elsewhere!).” In this issue she explores permaculture.

Recently I have been reading a lot of email discussions about the idea of people living together like we did in the sixties and seventies. The idea of intentional communities, service ashrams, gift economy villages. I agree that is what is needed now more than ever. I lived in a communal household for 24 years where we shared income and were pretty communal and it was the greatest experience ever. I wrote previously of an Urban Kibbutz or a urban communal house of hospitality and farm located in the middle of the city. That is the dream I will put out in the universe today. Did everyone enjoy the summer solstice?