This is what it is all about on Sundays at the Free Farm Stand. Though sometimes it seems it may be tough love when I am trying to keep some people in line who are being too grabby or greedy when reaching for free vegetables.

It is really about boundless love everyday as far as I am concerned, despite the sad or bitter news mixed in with the joy in our lives. Last week we heard about the senseless attack on bees at the Hayes Valley Farm, a seemingly small tragedy when considering the tragedies happening all around the planet these days, but it really hits home when  you consider that we are living in the city of St. Francis, a city of love for all species, and a certain tolerance and acceptance for those creatures in our midst who may be different or who may even sting once in a while. I balance out this unfortunate digression from peace and harmony by thinking about our friend, comrade, and fellow farmer Pancho who is in Arizona helping lead a battle against racism and unjust immigration law. Courage grows everywhere like the wild poppies that come up in our gardens. Yesterday our own Pastor Megan whom we work with at the Free Farm got welcomed back into her church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, along with six other openly gay pastors, at a ceremony down the street from the Free Farm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/us/26lutheran.html?_r=3). I was inspired by the words of one of the reinstated pastors “all people are loved unconditionally by God”.

The harvest was small from the Free Farm this week and a lot of it was given away there to neighbors. Fortunately we had a good harvest of zucchini from 18th and Rhode Island and a number of people dropped by with produce.  A woman from Bernal Heights dropped off plums from her tree to share and another woman came by with a few apples (the rest are not ready to harvest yet). Pam sent by some folks with 17 lbs of favas from City College. We also had some surplus produce from Treat Commons Community Garden. Produce to the People and Lauren showed up with her high school summer students to help out and they also brought a lot of plums they gleaned the day before. I brought by two gallons of organic fruit compote I made to share and to teach people about how to use soft and very ripe fruit. Clara brought some apricot jam to share. Mike has become a star at the bread table. He brought some homemade hummus and then at the end of the stand put on a fabulous cooking demonstration of how to use bitter melon. For some reason we have been getting a lot of bitter melon left over from the Farmer’s Market and I think we only have a small percentage of our crowd that is familiar with cooking and eating it.

Mike brought a wok and also some cooked rice and showed us all how to prepare the melons by scraping out the inside and the seeds and stir frying it with onions, garlic, and ginger and his secret ingredient preserved black beans. He brought ornamental ginger leaves from his garden and made these beautiful wraps of rice and vegetables (later he made some with other vegetables like carrots and the yard long beans we had gotten from the market too). It was so elegant and simple, and I must admit though I haven’t been converted to bitter melon love, I overcame my fear of that vegetable. Though it tasted bitter it was ok. Knowing it must have healing properties made me feel even better eating it.

The Free Farm keeps on growing. We are still learning to be urban farmers and are trying to figure out how to have a continuous harvest every week. We just got a couple of loads of manure and some rock minerals, so the best thing we are doing now is making soil. out of barren land.  Also, Griff  is making some great compost and with the new signs that Hannah made,  our composting area looks terrific. Whenever I think we are almost finished creating the infrastructure I see new areas that can be worked on. It really helps having three summer interns not only for the Farm but the Stand and I have been thinking we should be lining up some replacements for them when they leave sometime in August. We also are continuing to explore the idea of making the farm not only a place that grows food for the poor and hungry, but a place to connect with the divine and the power of creation.

The Free Farm Stand got in the news several times last week. I posted the links on our right hand sidebar under Free Farm Stand in the Media. I haven’t included a link to Edible San Francisco magazine just because that publication somewhat turns me off with their focus on beautiful food that is priced so high that some people can’t afford it (http://ediblecommunities.com/sanfrancisco/index.php?/Issue-21/urban-agtivist-cultivating-an-urban-agroecology.html). In this recent issue they write about our friends Produce to the People and the Free Farm Stand gets mentioned as a “free food program”. I would only like to be known as that by a foundation that would want to give me money. We are a simple start-up group promoting the business of love and transformation through community sharing and caring. Or something hippy dippy and unpractical like that.


The berries are ripening on Bernal Hill and yesterday on a warm sunny Sunday the line was snaking down the sidewalk for the Free Farm Stand, another sign of summer here. I counted sixty people in line just when we opened at 1pm and at 2pm there was still a line, but less people in it. We were running low on produce by then and around 2:30pm another huge delivery of leftover produce arrived and the line grew large again. Leftover produce doesn’t really describe the unbelievable amount and quality of the produce that Maureen and her sisters collect at the end of the day at the Stonestown farmer’s market. This week she told me how they might need help collecting it all there is so much. At the end of the day we served at least 150 people and all but a box of bitter melons was left (anyone know of a delicious recipe for these things which are actually beautiful to look at?).

We have already distributed over half a ton of produce that was grown or gleaned hecka locally and this doesn’t include the hundreds of pounds of leftover produce we collect and distribute from the high end farmer’s markets. And now we have a farm which is a lot of fun and it is growing a lot of food for our project. I must admit I am feeling good about all this, but at the same time it is a lot of work and I wonder how sustainable it is, especially for me. Sometimes I am feeling like I am running on empty or running on low. It really takes a community to run a free project like this that is all volunteer run. That is why I am always so grateful for the great team of helpers we have, especially this summer. The dream is that some of us will eventually pool our incomes and resources and start living communally together. I think that is the best way to run service projects, modeled in part on Catholic Worker Communities or kibbutzes or just old fashion karma yoga communes or ashrams. I see the question of sustainability as a big one, especially in projects like gardens run by volunteers.  Right now the Permaculture project at  18th and Rhode Island is a good example of a garden that could use a lot more attention, but it seems to lack a stable group of people keeping it going at its full potential.

We had a pretty good summer spread this week. It always seems to be the story that we often get in the hundreds of pounds from the farmer’s markets of the same thing we get in the handfuls from some of our gardens. This week it was peaches. One of the peach trees growing at 18th and Rhode Island was loaded with peaches (this is the second year in the ground for the tree) and I picked some that were a little hard on Friday and by Sunday a few of them were already soft. It so happened that we had boxes and boxes of organic peaches and nectarines that we collected. While I am talking about fruit I must give a shout out that we need some people we can call last minute who can come and pick up left over fruit that is soft and that needs processing (cooking into compote or jam or juice or blended and made into frozen fruit Popsicle or sorbet). We also need canning jars and lids. This is no joke , some of us have maxed out the capacity of our freezers and refrigerators processing some of the leftover soft and mushy fruit from the stand, plus it is a bit of work. Though the work is worth the delicious reward and good fruit is not wasted.

I harvested the first trombone squash from Esperanza garden and a lot of runner beans from 18th and Rhode Island and Treat Commons.  We also had a lot of zucchini from the Free Farm (and other gardens as well), plus the last of the collards for now, green beans, a handful of the most beautiful carrots, and more potatoes. We had boxes of cherry plums gleaned locally by Produce to the People and their two summer high school kids.  Griff brought by a grab bag of produce grown at Holy Innocents Church, including a most handsome cauliflower, Elizabeth brought peas and herbs from her garden,  Kevin brought some surplus garlic from a garden on Russian Hill (he said he got the original bulbs from our stand), and a neighbor brought a bag of lemons from Bernal Heights.

Our peaches

Susannah wearing bitter melon vine (I am actually not sure what this vegetable is)

The Free Farm is progressing and more and more of the infrastructure is getting finished. We can really use more manure and continue to look for a large truck that can pick up a load or two for us. The free compost we got from Recology I think is less desirable than the manure which seems to be more alive with microbial activity. We may have a slowdown in our next harvest while the new seedlings continue to grow.