The Free Farm Stand is now supposedly legit.  Yesterday we had a surprise visit from an Environmental Health Inspector from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. It was a surprise because I was told that they would call before coming out according to the head person in Environmental Health at the SFDPH. The woman who came out spent over a half hour writing up a 3 page report and gave me a carbon duplicate which was a bit hard to read. She said this report was the equivalent of an interim permit. At some point I will get the real copy which I will have to post in a conspicuous location. I assume I still have to get a permit from Recreation and Park  which will come automatically after this permit from DPH.

I must admit I got pretty upset with the visit as I thought it would be a simple matter of doing two things that I were told would satisfy the health department. To not put boxes of produce on the ground (so we got pallets to put things on) and have a bathroom available (which we do). Instead the inspector had several other things we have to do to comply. What upset me is the Kafka nature of the process where no one can give you a list of the rules you must obey and the boss says one thing and then the inspector comes out and says something different. It also just totally annoyed me that the city is spending money on inspecting activities like ours when the money could better spent elsewhere. It is pathetic that  we are just barely being tolerated by the city rather than being supported for the work we do. Below are some of the things we have to do to meet the conditions to get a permit to give away produce and bread in our public park:

  1. Provide overhead protection above all foods (originally Recreation and Park told me not to have any structures like canopies but we have been using the two we have anyway). So the question is shall we try and get another canopy to put over the bread and do we have room to store another canopy?
  2. No sampling allowed
  3. No cooking demonstration allowed
  4. No distribution of value added products (eg honey, jams, jellies, and etc.) allowed except donated bread produced from a permitted facility if the following conditions are met: a. distribution of only whole loaves of bread or bread sliced/cut from permitted facility allowed. We may not slice bread at time of operation. b. maintain make shift handwashing station which includes a; a container capable of producing a continual stream of water from approved source that leaves both hands free c. catch basin (e.g. bucket) for liquid waste d. liquid soap

All bread must be displayed in approved manner and properly covered from contamination. Use of reusable utensils not allowed. We have to discontinue displaying the different kinds of bread we have on a linen tablecloth since we have no sneezeguard or cover.


I am still trying to decide what we are going to do about complying with everything requested of us. The inspector did say she may be coming back before the end of the year when we have to apply again.

Other than that and my getting upset (which I mostly got over by working in the garden next to the stand and planting perennial leeks and strawberries), the Stand went off without a hitch. Again we didn’t have much produce (nor bread which is why we were cutting loaves in half). We did have some nice greens and leeks from the Free Farm, a neighbor brought by a 5lb bag of greens, and Pam dropped by some produce from the City College garden. Pam  who has retired from teaching gardening for over 20 years at City College, told me there would probably not be much more produce coming from that garden because the college is not replacing her. In fact it sounds like the college is getting some big cuts by the state, who wants city colleges to replace the State universities…so that the middle class will have more affordable places to go college and pushing out those with less money. So vocational jobs like gardening are on the chopping block. Pam sent me a link to a youtube video where the Chancellor of City College explains what is going on: Someone else dropped off fliers for a free university that is happening in the neighborhood. Also there is an Occupy Education happening on March 1 455 Golden Gate Avenue 3-6  teach-in and a rally in support of the “Millionaire’s Tax” to fund education and social services at the Civic Center 4-6.                                                                    Aloe is always popular

Flowering bok choy…you can still eat the baby leaves and flowers

Strawberries and perennial leeks

I have more leeks if you want to try growing some

beautiful creatures

When the second load of produce from Stonestown Mall Farmers Market arrived friends from Produce to the People showed up with 93lbs of lemons they harvested from two trees in the neighborhood (and I believe the trees have more lemons on them).

Today is the Global Day of Action to Occupy the Food Supply. In San Francisco among other things there will be workshops and skill shares and a march. Then “Starting April 1st, Occupy SF plans to expand Occupy the Food Supply actions with occupation of empty lots, growing organic community gardens, connecting gardeners with land owners and renters to start growing nutritious food for our community, occupying a farm, and preparing to grow food everywhere.” I like the spirit behind this, but to grow a garden or a food forest, to really challenge the food system takes a big time commitment. For things to grow roots must be put into ground. It takes more than a one day demo to be a digger. Here is a link to a news article about an inspiring project happening in Seattle that has been three years in the making so far:   We should be doing this here in San Francisco in conjunction with any Occupy action.  Also, I know of at least one project in the Mission where the city is changing a parking lot into a park and it needs some serious  radical design input.  Like making it an agricultural park/farm instead of your normal San Francisco Park with lawns and a token community garden with private beds.

It was funny yesterday at the Free Farm Stand I was approached twice by people wanting to start Free Farm Stands in San Francisco. They asked me how we started and wanted to get more information. The truth is any project is not hard to start, but what I have been saying all along is that one needs to be stable and consistent to make things successful and to last. I am obsessed and passionate you might say about the work I do and I show up every week to make it happen. I decided to retire when I was in my youth and devote myself to service.  It is a challenge in the city right now to do this, because rents are so high, everyone supposedly needs to work and most people find it hard to volunteer a lot of their time to projects that really need it. That is why I often encourage communal living and income sharing as one solution to getting by and having time for service and creating alternatives in our world.

Again I want to report about the excitement going on over at the Free Farm.  On our last work day we had a massive seed planting day and got around 400 tomato seeds planted. Plus we planted a lot of greens and some flowers. There are plenty more seeds to plant. Check out for photos.


What  is most exciting to me these day is happening over at the Free Farm more so than at the Free Farm Stand. The Stand is now in the season where things are slow and the amount of produce we have to share is limited.  We are still in the citrus season and thanks to neighbors we have been getting small donations of lemons,  and this week students from Stanford with Stanford Glean came by the Free Farm with an offering of oranges, tangerines, and kumquats that they picked on campus.   Fortunately for the Sunday Free Farm Stand the fruit was accidentally not distributed at the Saturday Stand so on Sunday we got it all.

This week we had a visit from my friend Tom from Santa Rosa.  When he comes to San Francisco to visit his daughter and granddaughter he often brings us some fruit or vegetables that he has gleaned from that land of plenty. Yesterday he came by some large banana squash and he also brought his exhibit about  his shovel project in Tijuanna. He collects used shovels from poor families there and gives them new ones and then he repairs the broken ones that can be fixed.  The ones he brought with him were too worn out to fix  and for me it was very powerful to see how much these hard working people use their tools…they were really worn down. Tom had to move from the place he was staying and is looking for a permanent home for this collection of tools or at least another place to display them.

The Free Farm Stand, even when we don’t have a lot of produce or bread, continues to fit in with the park scene really well, especially on sunny days. There is a real sense of community and neighbors hanging out with each other. Yesterday a young man named Roger who is my neighbor on Shotwell St. came by with another neighbor with a flier about the Fresh and Easy supermarket that wants to move into the empty storefront across from where I live.  I didn’t quite recognize Roger who I knew twenty years ago when he and my son hung out together. He is organizing a neighborhood discussion this Tuesday night at 6pm at 1050 South Van Ness #201 (through the parking lot). His complaints and those of PODER who is also involved with the Fresh & Easy issue, is that they don’t accept food vouchers known as WIC for poor women and infants and children and they aren’t union. I told Roger what I would like is for the parking lot turned into a farm with it’s own Free Farm Stand which isn’t going to happen. Short of that I think we need to get them to plant edible landscaping  along the perimeter and in the parking lot.   I also don’t know what the alternative would be for that lot and storefront if Fresh and Easy didn’t show interest in it. Since we live in a land where private property rules it seems it could continue to sit vacant for years or would condos be built on it?   Fresh and Easy is actually more easy than fresh, since most of their produce will be packaged in plastic like Trader Joe’s, their idea being you can tell it is fresh by the date on the packaging. At our circle that we have been holding before we open the Free Farm Stand, someone joked that we are Fresh and Free.  The question that is important is not whether we want want Fresh and Easy, but what alternatives do we want to create. Once we know what we want we need to start creating those alternatives.  On Wednesday there is a free online movie that tries to address an alternative to our current economic system.  The movie is called The Economics of Happiness and you can check out the trailer and how to view it online  here

Over at our Free Farm at Gough and Eddy we have been gearing up for a lot of great farming activity this year. We are collaborating with Alemany Farm and will be sharing the greenhouse with them and hopefully churning out lots of starts, not only for both farms, but to share with other gardeners in the city. Today I got together with Dan from Spiral Gardens in Berkeley and gardeners from Alemany Farm. He us a generous and legthy consultation on growing seedlings on a large scale and I learned so much! I can’t wait to start planting. At our last Saturday working day it was like a bee hive there with all the activity going on. I pretty much finished an accurate map of the farm and Monisha and I and Christina have calculated the square feet we have to plant in and entered information on what is happening with each bed in a newly designed log/chart.

There was the buzz of saws and drills as Byron  worked with John from Alemany Farm in building more greenhouse benches. We also had a large crew from Stanford (some of our wonderful students and interns from last year including Brittany and Timothy who also helped a lot at the Stand). Not only did they bring gleaned citrus fruit, they helped harvest and also dug trenches to bury the rest of the electrical pipe we were installing to finish the electrical to the greenhouse.  We had our first real harvest of snap peas which were planted in October (I think about 4 pounds) and the hot peppers in the hothouse are still producing peppers.

One of the most exciting things happening at our farm/sanctuary without walls is the continued appearance of new congregation members…besides the stream of human visitors we have been blessed with the visiting of a big fluffy hawk. We have seen this hawk coming down from the tall building next door or the flag pole and hanging out in the farm itself, sitting on the potato tower or on the  scarlet runner bean trellis. In other words, the bird is becoming friendlier. Here is a picture of the hawk flying just over head as it took off from the potato tower on Wednesday.