Someone in line yesterday at the Free Farm Stand told me coming to the Stand was their favorite thing to do during the week. I think we put on a pretty good act. It starts out with a bang and now ends with a bang. The tables this time of year are more than overflowing when we open at 1pm. Then we get a huge crowd and a line down the sidewalk.  We usually run low on most produce by 2pm and the stand sort of fades to a close. Now with our connection to the Sunday’s farmer’s market at Stonestown, we basically start over with a new crowd of people. A new line forms and we refill the table with fresh produce straight from the market. It is a little unreal and this week must have been a peak of produce. Although at the around 2pm there isn’t a lot of Hecka Local produce, it is from Marin and super fresh: boxes and boxes of nectarines, peaches, apricots, cherries, strawberries, squash, lettuce, kohlrabi, and greens. I am so busy hauling produce and setting up the table I don’t have time to photograph it and I wonder if a photo can capture the excitement in the air when that kind of show goes on.

Some new produce was on the Hecka local table this week. We started harvesting the potatoes at the farm and brought 42 pounds of the spuds. They looked beautiful. We also had green beans and some radishes from the farm. Of course we are still harvesting collards and the last of the lettuce lawn was cut and harvested. I brought garlic from the Secret Garden and some kale from Esperanza. I had about 2lbs of yellow zucchini from 18th and Rhode Island garden. The Secret Garden and the Permaculture Garden are to me sad places to visit these days. The Secret Garden has been put on hold until Robert teaches his summer class there that lasts I think 6 weeks. Then I don’t know who will garden in the space. The 18th and Rhode Island garden I have stopped working in and just go there to harvest, when there is something.

I don’t think I can repeat myself too much in this weekly blog how grateful I feel for all the people that make this project so great. We now have two new summer interns Jacob and Susannah and a third one will be coming on board soon at the Free Farm, and their help and positive spirit elevates me so much.

Someone recently sent me an email with a quote at the bottom. I liked it and thought I would share it:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
Rabindranath Tagore

This really sums it up where I am at these day.  I am happy just quietly working with those fellow karma yogis, feeding all serving all. At the end of my work day though usually exhausted I feel joyful. Like yesterday there was a ton of left-over soft and squished fruit. With two friends who were visiting from out of town and had just come back from the Gay Pride march, we cut up all the fruit for making jam. I was really running on empty, but I had such a great day at the stand, meeting all these great people, and giving a lot of food away to people in need, it gave me the energy to do a little more later in the evening.

I am going away to the Midwest for a week, but thankfully the stand will be open next Sunday July 4th. Also, the regular workdays at the farm will continue.

Last week I sent out a special alert about an apricot orchard that needed harvesting and I got a number of responses from people that wanted to help. As it turns out the orchard which is near Davis is going to be picked next Saturday June 26 during Pride Weekend and we can still use some help with drivers and vehicles and boxes. Please let me know if you want to be part of this fun adventure.

I love giving out fresh organic fruit and picking it is just as much fun.  Right now we are just entering fruit season big time around here. One of my favorite “fruits” is the avocado. There will always be a shortage of free avocados in this city until we plant more avocado trees, and they grow here pretty well, at least in the Mission (and I suspect other warm neighborhoods too).  That is true of other fruits as well, we just need more fruit trees in the city. We need to choose trees carefully and try to plant varieties of fruit that will grow here and choose cultivars that might be the best growing and tasting. Like the Haas avocado is a fantastic kind that I have grown in the Mission.

Planting fruit trees is not as easy as you would think. I have been working for over two years to get some fruit trees planted in the park where we set up the stand on Sundays. It is an underused blighted part of the park that gets full southern exposure and would be ideal to grow a row of fruit trees. We have a line of fruit trees in the garden adjacent to this land and five years after we planted them the trees look happy and healthy and are in their 3rd season of producing fruit (though the two avocado trees we planted aren’t producing yet). What is stopping me from planting the trees is about $3,000 I need to raise to build a fence around the neglected land because Recreation and Park doesn’t want fruit trees in the parks. By putting the trees behind a fence we would be expanding the garden into the park, something that the bureaucracy can handle.

Almost as good as growing your own fruit is to pick fruit from a tree that really needs it and no one is doing it. This Sunday Produce to the People brought us pounds of oranges that were gleaned from a tree nearby and lemons.  Then a Steve a nearby neighbor brought us 20lbs of lemons that he got from his father who lives in Sonoma County.

Short of growing or gleaning fruit, being on the receiving end of left over organic fruit from the farmers market is the bomb. Our new connection to the Sunday’s Farmers Market behind Stonestown Mall, collected and delivered by 3 saintly sisters, is totally unbelievable. The selection and quality of the fruits and vegetables were fantastic; I think we all were blown away.

Actually the stand this week was amazing for the quality and quantity of produce, that included 11 boxes of hecka local produce grown and distributed. Right now most of the produce is coming from the Free Farm. I am a little sad that two of the gardens that have been supplying the stand with produce are in a funky state.  The Secret Garden won’t supply much produce until the youth summer program there gets underway and 18th and Rhode Island has some things planted but we will just have to wait and see what we get.

There is often something new at the stand. This week we gave away t-shirts from a rescued activist t-shirt archives.

For those who haven’t gotten enough wood chip moving fun in their lives, like at Hayes Valley Farm, there are more opportunities to get involved in this activity. Both at the Free Farm and Treat Commons Community Garden will be getting chips to move (this Wednesday and Saturday at the Free Farm and this Friday at Treat Commons at 10am).

The Free Farm Stand and the Free Farm has a new summer volunteer/intern from the Metta Center for Non-violence in Berkeley named Jacob. I asked him if he would write for this blog to share his perspective with everyone. He wrote the last post and below are is his second report with my added comments in the comment section:

The natural ‘high’ and sense of amazement slowly began to subside throughout my second time volunteering at the free farm stand. Although the feelings of community and abundance remain core motivating factors for me, yesterday brought up some more questions about ‘free’ that I would like to explore here. I welcome any comments on my questions and dilemmas.

As I move through what is soon to become a routine, I seemed to notice (and Tree later confirmed) that we had even more food than the week before. Yet, significantly fewer people came by. I couldn’t help but feel mildly disappointed.

Why wasn’t there a line wrapping around the block this week? Did people not know that we were giving out fresh, semi-local, healthy fruit, veggies, herbs, and bread? Do the people who are most hungry feel comfortable coming to receive our gift to the community?

Over the past two weeks I have had a number of conversations, which have spoken to, but have come short of answering these questions…

Last week, a man was walking through the park and stopped at the table to ask a couple of what I am coming to notice as the standard questions about the farm stand—“So you are giving this food away for free?” and “where were these strawberries grown? And after he got his answers and was about to walk away. Before he did I asked if he wanted any of the food. He stopped and replied that he has a job and buys his own food. This comment seemed to contradict the aims of the stand. The word, or rather his concept of ‘free’ appeared colored his attitude towards the stand and viewed this food as a handout or charity.

This week a volunteer mentioned to me that some of her low-income neighbors told her that they knew about the stand, but won’t come for fear that their friends and neighbors would see them getting free food.  Hearing this saddened me.

After the stand was closed and packed up I sat down to briefly talk with a veteran volunteer at the stand. As we talked we recounted how our mutual friend and free farming regular, Pancho believes the Free Farm Stand is not about giving away free food—contrary to its name. Instead the giving and receiving of ‘gifts’ is the stand’s central practice.

Mid-week a bright friend of mine reminded me that it is easier to decline an offer than to accept a gift and to receive it. Like when I am offered some tea at someone else’s home. It brought to mind how I have grown up in a society which has installed within me a social calculator whose job it is to keep track of worth—receiving something without ‘payment’ produces a feeling of debt. (This is what corporations bank on when they give away ‘freebees’). And on the other side the social calculator is supposed to calculate the ‘profit’ when I give to make sure it is ‘worth’ my time.

Although, I know Free Farming is about giving the gift of food to everyone, I also understand that it is a project of social justice in which feeding the hungry is fundamental. Each of these stories offered thought-provoking and differing perspectives on what Free Farming means for our community. Yet in contrast to the theoretical paradoxes of the classroom, these perspectives actually serve to motivate me to continue to serve the free farm stand.