Here is a rather long write-up of the meeting I attended with Park and Recreation and below that is a short write up of our Stand on Sunday:
My much anticipated meeting with Park and Recreation finally happened last Friday to talk about the fate of the Free Farm Stand in Parquee Niños Unidos. I already knew in my heart that Park and Recreation was not going to evict us from the park because of the overwhelming support from neighbors, and earlier in the week, Eric Anderson, park manager for our neighborhood already assured me that they were looking for ways for this to work out that satisfied us both. Eric called me in the morning before the meeting to confirm that I would be there and he told me who would be coming, another person from Park and Recreation, Dana Ketcham the manager of the Permits and Reservations Dept., a representative from David Campos office, and Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain who works with me with the Free Farm Stand and the Free Farm.
I was feeling pretty good about things and like I said in the last blog post, so grateful for all the support the Stand and I personally had gotten. I was still receiving emails from neighbors and park users an hour before I left for the meeting and had printed out 57 letters of support to take to the meeting. Plus a friend I know named Alana who is a new mother, on her own put together a petition supporting the park as an appropriate use for our program. She had spent that last two days collecting 82 signatures and brought them to me an hour before the meeting. I am so grateful for everyone’s support and good wishes and emails.
While waiting in the park for everyone else to arrive, Pat Delgado joined us. Pat is, a neighbor who lives across the street, who I have been in meetings with before about the fruit trees I wanted to plant in the park
I wasn’t surprised actually, though I wasn’t told she was going to be there. I purposely didn’t inform the gardeners of Treat Commons in an email I sent out to them mentioning the time or location of the meeting, because Eric was clear to me he just wanted to meet with me and maybe one other person whom I work with. Also, I had learned from the Mission Local article earlier in the week that Pat was in favor of the Free Farm moving out of the park which totally surprised me then, because when I had last seen her, in one of the few times she has visited the Free Farm Stand, she was seemingly supportive and had no complaints about it.
My main thought going into the meeting was to hopefully learn more about the four complaints I had heard and to try to learn more details about the complaints so I could figure out better what to do about them. Eric Anderson and Sheila Chung from Supervisor David Campos office arrived and Dana was stuck in traffic from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival going on.
We began the meeting without Dana and I said that it would be hard to talk about anything without Dana since Eric was always telling me to talk to her to get more details. Eric said “we have become a very sizeable event” and that the accessibility ramp going to the gazebo had been blocked, the entrance too had been blocked, and “the family atmosphere was being impinged upon”.
Pat said that the Free Farm Stand has a negative impact on the park due to its success. That “it is a worthy and wonderful endeavor, but there are better places for it to be at”. The two places she suggested it be at are at the Cesar Chavez school parking lot across the street and the big empty parking lot in front of the closed Delano’s supermarket (Fresh and Easy is moving in). I pointed out that I would love to put a garden there since it is across the street from where I live and had already approached them a month ago about that and they wrote me back saying they are just starting to think about the project. I didn’t say that the idea that Fresh and Easy grocery was not likely to let me set up a Free Farm Stand there giving out for free better local and organic produce than they will be selling.
Shelia said that “from our office most people are supportive of the Stand and understand the connection to the garden and farm… that is what we are hearing..” She didn’t know of what impact it would be to the community to have it offsite.
I said that the issues that Eric brought up can be easily addressed by us like not blocking the ramp or entrance or walkway.
At some point Dana arrived and she asked some questions about where we set up and our new system of handing out number. I asked her more about the complaints and I never got much of an answer and I didn’t learn who these complaints came from. I asked about the one specific complaint I had read about in the online article that people renting the clubhouse felt that we had “disrupted a children’s birthday party”. She said that was that was by someone going to the party being “overwhelmed by the line outside”. We all got up and looked at the space and talked about where we set up, how we were asked to move further away from the gazebo and the children’s playground and be right in front of the garden, and to leave 4 feet in front of our table so there is a clear walking path for people.
We sat down and continued the talk. Dana really feels that she is ok with us having the Free Farm Stand in the park if we meet the requirements that Eric mentioned, but that she still didn’t feel like the project was appropriate for a park. She said that even with other events that happen in other parks no one gets to use the park regularly more than to times a month. That every Sunday was too much. She said “you need to compromise a bit to balance the different interests people have for park use”. She suggested a long compromise having the event two times a month here and two times elsewhere. Like ”odd and even days having them at different locations one at the park and one somewhere else”.
If we deal with the accessibility issues and the crowd situation, she will give us a permit to give away unprepared food only because of health code issues. She included no bread specifically in what she wanted to see.
I explained why it was important for us to give away sample tastes of homemade jam and prepared spreads, that we were basically not just a food giveaway program. I explained that we were trying to educate people, especially parents and children, about the importance of eating healthy, to understand where food come from (that is why we planted the fruit trees in the park and like being next to a garden), and to understand the environmental implications of our food choices. To inspire others to be compassionate to people in need in our neighborhoods. That our Stand helps to strengthen our community by encouraging people to come to a park every week and get to know their neighbors (like a big potluck party) which we believe will chip away at the violence that happens here. So being in a parking lot will not work nor not being able to give away tastes of jams on bread. That we would like to explore getting a permit to do that.
Eric pointed out that I was looking at a different set of rules and regulations to do that and to keep it simple we should stay with giving out unprepared foods.
So there was an agreement to make some changes to the way we set up and that we would contact the Health Department. Dana said let’s stick with the original date of Oct. 15th to get a permit so Park and Recreation could issue a permit to us. Shelia said their office could help us expedite getting a permit if needed. Dana said “I don’t want you to think we have solved the problem and then you are done”. I think she wants us to find another place to be, at least part time. She said they will issue a permit for 6 months for every Sunday unless there is a backlash against this. Other quotes from Dana: “It is a beautiful place; we don’t want the food thing taking over”. “This is happening during prime hours for people who want to recreate” (she was saying for people who may want to sit on the lawn and not have to deal with a large crowd). Margaret and I both pointed out that parks are for recreation but also for people (including the vulnerable and poor people among us) to find a place to sit in the shade or otherwise rest.
My reaction to this is that it is pretty messed up that one needs a permit to give away free unprepared vegetables and fruit in a park. Though I guess if they say they will waive the fee because I am non-profit group and it is easy to get the piece of paper, maybe it is no big deal. It also seems wrong that I need a permit to for someone to make jam at home to share on bread with a bunch of neighbors in a park or to share some honey from a local backyard beehive. Or to have a cooking demo how to prepare bitter melon or to give out roasted sunchokes on toothpicks or beets (like Agnes from the San Anselmo Crop Sharing group that visited us a few weeks back and shared her version of roasted beets with us (http://freefarmstand.org/2011/09/12/pears-and-people-a-plenty/).
So I have called the health department to see what is involved in getting the permits needed by Oct. 15. A volunteer named Carmen who blogs for our Free Farm contacted Janelle from the Sustainable Economies Law Center about our situation and I learned about a topic that I didn’t know existed. Laws and Lawyers involved with legal issues around sharing and sharing food. Janelle Orsi wrote this interesting article: http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-shareable-food-movement-meets-the-law. I found out the Free Farm/Free Farm Stand and my name pops up in this publication: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness. I just hooked up with a lawyer named Phil who is just beginning a practice in Sustainable Food Law (legal support for conscious food business) and he offered to do some pro bono research to help with our situation (http://www.sustainablefoodlaw.com/).
Sara Miles just sent me this New York Times article about the Food Truck Revolution in San Francisco: Food Truck Revolution. It talks about a company called Off the Grid that”gives vendors a way to bypass, or at least expedite, the city’s byzantine permitting…Mr. Cohen said San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department, which had tentatively been considering opening park spaces to food trucks, was heartened by Fort Mason’s success Off the Grid soon began securing spaces in city-owned parks. ” Say what is with this? A tiny non-profit educational and service oriented group being hassled for giving away slices of bread with homemade jam while the revenue stream clients get treated differently?
This Sunday it was another bit of a crazy day for me at the Free Farm Stand. The main challenge we have is that at least during this intense abundance month, it is so hard to minimize the impact we have on the park with all the food that is coming in. There was a great improvement with our numbering system and in general things were more calm and there was a lot less crowding in the entrance way to the park and on the walkway.
It is definitely apple and pear season in this area. Produce to the People picked 561 pounds of apples and pears just from trees in the Mission, Bernal Heights, and Potrero Hill. I also had 16 pounds of apples dropped off from a neighbor, a guy that comes to the Stand who is living in the Excelsior brought 29 pounds of really beautiful pears (he also brought a gallon of fresh squeezed pear juice that we served at the Free Farm workday lunch), and Bilkis gleaned 22 pounds of apples from Marin. There was a total of 648 pounds of apples and pears that we gave out…two boxes were left, but someone is going to process them today. I also got 17 pounds of produce from the Permaculture Guild garden on Potrero…many thanks to the volunteers who harvested the greens and tomatoes and then dropped them off. I know there is food to harvest from the Esperanza garden, but I haven’t been able to get to it.