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Here is the dream. Every neighborhood has some places to grow food and flowers. Especially backyards. How about every neighborhood having some thing like a free nursery and garden resource center to help neighbors who have some space and want to grow a garden? A place that shows how to grow  a lot of food in a backyard. Add to that a secret but not too secret garden where a person can wander in from off the street and be transported to another world and dimension.

At the Free Farm Stand we have been trying to encourage urban food growing as a way to make sure no one needs to go without some good quality fresh organic vegetables and fruit in their diet. We are always looking for ways to encourage people to grow some of their own and share the surplus with others in need. Our latest idea is to create that dream of a magical space in the neighborhood that will inspire people to grow something if they have even the smallest space.

Now that dream is taking shape. We have a space on the same street as the Free Farm Stand. On Wednesday March 26th from 9am until about 3pm or 4pm we plan to take the first step in just cleaning the place up. It has become over grown and jungly since I worked there at least five years ago.

The large lot is like a blank canvas, but instead of being a vacant spot, it is a well established garden that needs a lot of work and redesign. We have a great need for people who can help us plan how to best use this spot and create a resource center. Some current ideas are to build raised beds to grow food more intensely in the sunny area, figure out where to put a greenhouse,  find the best space to hold work shops and to eat, improve the irrigation and perhaps install a grey waster system, figure out how to landscape the shady areas, incorporate art in the garden, create a meditative spot for visitors to sit, perhaps have tea, write in a journal. There are so many things that could be done. We also need to find people who commit to being there at least once a week so we can have regular hours. When we closed the Free Farm our  crew and volunteers  dispersed.

If you want to be part of this exciting new project please contact me by email right now.

In the meantime the Free Farm Stand continues rocking every Sunday. Besides the free produce and bread, a lot of other things go on there. It seems that the “free” table is becoming a permanent fixture. This week someone brought a really great bee costume (see one of our volunteers below modeling it).

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The information booth which was established with the some of the same goals as our dream for the free garden resource center gave out nice seedlings and starts thanks to Alemany Farm. I have been going there to help harvest on Fridays afternoon and that is fun too if anyone wants to join me. We continue to be so grateful for their support now that we aren’t growing food for the Stand ourselves.

Also, this Sunday was really busy at the Stand because the First Mennonite Sunday School kids returned and they were great. They and their parents have become regular crew members!

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We also had a special event, the planting of the garden tower. The idea behind the garden tower is to demonstrate how you can grow  a lot of food in a small space. I am eager to see how the plants grow. Unfortunately I don’t have any good photos from the event, although there seemed to be many photographers around.

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My almost favorite thing that happened at the Stand this week is that one of the kids who came to volunteer loved to turn the compost (with his mom’s help). He is also the boy who said he likes planting kale because he likes the kale chips his mom makes. We got the most amazing black finished compost on the bottom of the pile, so beautiful I had to take a picture. Creating rich compost and feeding it to the garden is one of the most satisfying things one can do. We love the carbon cycle!

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I have had a couple of meetings with our city government trying to get their help in long term leasing or purchasing the vacant railroad land across the street from the park where we have the Free Farm Stand and where Treat Commons Community garden is located. This land has been vacant for years and now has huge trucks parked on it and roofing equipment like tar machines and according to the railroad is not authorized use. Years ago in the eighties I actually got a lease to put a garden there but a neighbor who happened to be a lawyer got the railroad to rescind the lease because he didn’t want a garden there. I have dreamed forever of seeing this space planted with fruit trees and now maybe even our greenhouse that’s being stored. I recently thought it would be a great place to put a free neighborhood garden center, a place that would help and encourage neighbors to grow backyard gardens. The city recently passed legislation to promote urban agriculture in the city and created a new Department of Urban Agriculture to carry out several goals, one of which was to create a number of garden resource centers in different neighborhoods. I suggested to the new director Hannah Schulman, who has been very active with San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance and is very supportive and friendly, that we meet with the Supervisor’s aide (I don’t get to speak with the Supervisor directly) to create a center on this land. So we had a meeting and they like my ideas, but since they are new to all this they have to figure out how to do it and what the next steps will be. I came away a bit discouraged and thinking that it will take forever to get the city to make this happen. If the land didn’t have big trucks on it I would consider squatting the land. For now I have to go through the bureaucracy and be patient. Perhaps a huge number of neighbors getting together to put pressure on the city would help it move forward, but me organizing something like that now is not going to happen. In the meantime I have been cleaning up my big backyard and getting it ready to plant more food for the Stand. That is where the Free Farm Stand began in the first place.While weeding I had a realization that I should really apply myself to growing as much food as I could in a small and somewhat shady space. That as time goes on sunny vacant lots are going to become a thing of the past (and a large farm like we had or a food forest in the Mission is a long shot) and that the average backyard is the most likely place to grow food in the city (besides roofs). Following that logic, and after watching hours of videos from one of my garden heroes John Kohler (go to http://www.youtube.com/user/growingyourgreens), I thought I need to build some good garden raised beds or boxes. He tells you how.

I also thought why wait for the city to create a neighborhood  garden resource center, I should just create one myself. If the city gets that railroad land that would be awesome, but until then I will see what I can do myself (and just check in with the city people on a regular basis). I have approached my friends who have a large garden kitty corner to the park on 23rd St and talked to them about creating a center there. I actually helped create that garden and worked there for about 25 years and then I left. At that time it was like a neighborhood garden center, though I hadn’t really quite realized it. . Right now it could use a lot of help and I have a green light to come back. I am now trying to figure out a schedule and hoping to find some other committed volunteers that could keep a neighborhood garden center open a number of days during the week. I have a serious problem over committing myself to projects and all my time gets taken up with wonderful things to do. In the last few months Alemany Farm has really saved the Free Farm Stand by providing it with our main source of Hecka Local produce, produce that is even more local and fresh than what we get from the farmer’s market at the end of the day. I have been feeling guilty that I haven’t been volunteering there to help them grow or harvest this super high quality produce, so I have plans to get over there soon, another project for me (again I am on the hunt for people that might want to go over with me on a Friday afternoon). Though recently we haven’t had huge amounts of produce like in the summer, the Free Farm Stand continues to be exciting! I love all the new volunteers that have been showing up and that they are taking on more of the responsibilities like loading the van and doing food pick-ups. Plus every week we have been having some awesome “free store” set up across from the farm stand tables (this week a volunteer brought 10 bags of nice children’s clothes that were very popular). Then there is our new information booth that is still trying to get off the ground. This week a new friend named Max brought a handmade garden tower that he wants to set up at the stand in two weeks. His idea I believe comes from a company selling these units, that grows food vertically for those with little space. Growing Your Greens actually has a video about setting up one of these towers, though the one in John’s video is a costly tower that he purchased online. And this week several people from a meet up group came and volunteered and two of them made vegan sandwiches from produce from the Stand. I don’t know if I should be sharing this here as we technically are not supposed to be doing things like this. Here are some photos:

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     Messages from India that came in my inbox:

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I might add: Feed All  Break Bread Together  Stop the Evictions Free the Land

Please contact us if you are interested in volunteering, especially if you  are interested in gardening and learning about urban food production in a back yard garden and helping to create a free neighborhood garden resource center.