Yesterday I visited the free farm stand for the first time. As Tree’s summer intern, assistant, mentee this was the beginning of what I anticipate to be a long introduction to the power of ‘free’.

As an academic for the past three years studying peace and conflict, I have spent most hours of my day learning and writing about the roots of the problems of our day. So I would have no trouble writing an analytic essay about the free farm stand. But I won’t. I won’t and can’t because the five hours I spent with Tree and the free farm stand on Sunday wasn’t that kind of experience—it touched at something lectures, books, papers, or even blogs can’t.\

The first surprise of the day was that before the food had even arrived a line of community members had already started. Not just any line but a line of people who for the most part knew each other and Tree, and were ready to help us with getting the stand ready. As the tent was raised and the tables were set, the regular volunteers arrived and did everything that needed to be done. No boss, no bossing; just smiles and helping one another. Each volunteer made me feel like I belonged here. Then it began to occur to be that this stand at Parque Niños Unidos was indeed the meaning of community, manifested in the flesh (and earth).

It was so simple yet very revolutionary.

As the produce and bread found its way on to baskets on the tables and was ready to be given away, I looked up from my place behind the five varieties of lettuce and saw the line of human beings had grown to wrap half way around the block. In my mind this stand was no longer just a small operation for a few locals to get some good free food—this was a weekly ritual, a staple bringing together San Franciscans from all backgrounds to participate in the authenticity of giving and receiving food. And about an hour later a shipment of ripe and colorful fruit showed up. It was then, that the discourse of scarcity that seemed to govern the world my life decisions outside of the gates of the park, simply dissolved into nothingness. There was enough food for everyone there. Not to mention healthy food. And, if you can excuse the cliché, the food was for the soul. As I’m sure you already know, soul food can’t be bought or sold, it must be prepared and given.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand well that this stand in itself won’t solve the big problems of our time. But in fairness to the stand it doesn’t claim to. In any event, on my walk back to the 24th Street BART station, I was reminded of the larger context of our local task at had. As I approached Mission, a woman looked me in the eye with sadness on her face and asked me for a couple dollars in order for a meal from McDonalds (which we stood in front of. My experience at the free farm stand just hours ago compelled me to stop and respond differently. I stopped, took a breath, opened my bag, and offered her the strawberries and cherries I took from the stand. To me, this seemed like what I needed to do. Yet she declined, insisting on a dollar hamburger.

No matter how much food we give or how many neighbors come to get some, at the end of the day the success of the stand is not measured inside the park, but on the sidewalk and in front of McDonalds. The task of the stand extends through the intersecting issues of the globalized industrial food system, health, local hunger, and the environment, not in solving but in trying out something different. A social interaction of giving not dominated by finance but by human beings caring for one another.

Sunday morning as I was packing the van full with vegetables both that we grew (about 8 boxes) and those that we collected from the Farmer’s markets, I started thinking that maybe I should be growing cut flowers to give away. Maybe I was exhausted from hauling vegetables around the last two days. The sustainable food movement has hit town and it is a big thing now. Certainly hunger and food insecurity is our most important priority and those issues can be approached in a holistic way. Educating people about the links between health and diet and making good choices in what we eat, promoting and fostering local food production as much as possible, and building community and supporting the movement of people getting away from the buying and selling and the private property culture and moving towards a gift giving and sharing (aka free) society.

But we need more local grown flowers in our lives. We need the colors and the aroma of flowers in our home, on our tables, in our shelters, soup kitchens, and sacred spaces. Supporting sustainability of our smiles.  Food for the soul.  I was imagining what it would be like to show up at the Free Farm Stand with van full of hecka locally grown cut flowers to give away. The bees would love them too. And we can teach kids and adults flower arranging. At a MAPP event last Saturday at Treat Commons it seems the kids that attended are already skilled at that art and made there own flower arrangements.
Last week I began working with Jacob an intern or Mentee from the Metta Center for non-violence in Berkeley. He will be working with the Free Farm and the Free Farm Stand until August. On Wednesday Jacob came with about 12 other Mentees to help us on the farm. Fortunately we had plenty of work to do and I think all of us got really dirty. With 12 extra hands plus our regular helpers, we got so much done! A large pumpkin bed was created and planted, 20 cubic yards of compost was moved, and a lot of rubble was moved too. My friend Craig who runs a vegan taco truck business at Dolores Park took a number of hours off from his business to come to the Free Farm to feed us all. He got a donation of vegan cheese from Follow Your Heart and made grilled cheese sandwiches which were a big hit!  On Saturday we had a wonderful and hot workday.  We harvested 62.5lbs of produce and gave away some there (about 10-20lbs). Also, Christy brought some surplus vegetables from her garden (in the spirit of the Free Farm Stand).

The Free Farm Stand was another beautiful event. We had a lot of local grown produce and a number of neighbors and others brought surplus produce from their gardens. Talking about flowers, Pam brought by a bouquet of edible flowers from her garden and they looked fabulous. The flowers were a great addition to the lettuce she brought. Around 2pm or so another truck full of produce arrived from the farmer’s market behind the Stonestown Mall. We got everyone that was there to line up while we put the new produce on the table. It was really amazing all the wonderful fresh fruit we had including red raspberries, strawberries, cherries, and apricots. We also had an abundant plant table with many seedlings and mature plants to give away.