The Show Goes On

Another shady performance

The Free Farm Stand is really a bit of theater, it’s a good show. It is even under a tent and generates a kind of carnival excitement. The truth is, I am a wannbe farmer in the city, limited to whatever land I have to grow my rows of food on. Right now it is mostly my backyard and some space in Treat Commons community garden that I work in and the Secret Garden, another community garden of sorts. Treat Commons is very sunny and the fruits and vegetables really grow fast and well there. I love trees in the garden, especially fruit bearing trees. The fruit trees that are in Treat Commons are trained into growing flat against a south facing fence, so they don’t take up a lot of space and don’t shade the garden beds. That is what I am excited about is high density fruit growing in cities. But my backyard and the Secret Garden are shady because of a lot of old trees there, some that are ornamental and some that are fruit or nut bearing. And the Secret Garden has a lot of plum trees that have been neglected and need pruning badly, and I hear the fruit they over produce is small. So what I can grow right now is pretty limited and my dream of driving a tractor down the street to a small sunny farm in a once vacant lot, my front or back forty, is just not happening right now.

What is needed besides more sunny land to grow food and flowers on is a Sun Liberation Front. A group of tree climbers, athletic, stretchy & strong men and women who are up to the challenge of pruning some large and overgrown and neglected trees in peoples backyards. I have the chainsaw and hand saws and pruners (and an orchard ladder). Contact me if this seems up your alley.

Looking for Land

Some good news about our land search. At the permaculture guild meeting last week we learned of two possible gardening spots that look like like they will open up in the future. One vacant lot is on Potrero Hill and owned by a doctor who contacted Kevin because of the write up of him in the Chronicle about farming on vacant lots ( It is a corner lot that has been sitting vacant for 17 years, and the doctor is open to it being used for food growing. Then there is a garden on the roof of the Chronicle building that it looks like we will be able to use for the Free Farm Stand. I have also sent out another letter to a landlord of a vacant lot on the corner of 15th and Dolores St. There used to be a garden there, what happened to it?


The Free Farm Stand is such a pot luck kind of affair. At this point I don’t know exactly what I am going to have to harvest to bring to the stand to share and I don’t always know what others will bring. This week Molly who gardens at Treat Commons told me she was going to bring Nopales or cactus (you can eat the leaves or paddles as they are called). She cut off the spines of the cactus and cut them up and put them in bags. It was beautiful! Here are some pictures of Sara holding the last bag of Nopales and a close up shot:

They were very popular and were given away pretty quickly. I asked two people how to prepare them and they both had the same information and similar recipes. Basically boiling the cut up despined cactus in salted water (maybe with onions and garlic in the water too). Then after about ten minutes you pour off the water and rinse well. Put them in a bowl with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and onions, and salt. A cactus salad. I haven’t tried it yet. I learned that Nopales are very nutritional and especially good for diabetics. There is a lot of information on Nopales on the web, how to take off the spines (even videos on youtube), recipes, and nutritional content. I thought this blog entry on Nopales was interesting and informative with a good link to the nutritional value of them (and it is a vegan site): Look under the entry for May 8, 2007 for Nopales or read their whole blog for a lot of interesting vegan talk.


A woman who came last week from the group of people who just moved into the neighborhood brought a bunch of extra oregano and Hyssop from their CSA. That always just makes my day, people who go out of their way to do a small but powerful thing. It’s great. So I got the opportunity to taste hyssop which I never have tasted before. It has a pretty strong taste and is somewhat bitter. Maybe it is better for medicine than cooking with it (it is a medicinal herb). I like that it is a mint and that it is a plant that is found in the Bible (apparently it was used to protect Jews from the Angel of Death by mixing it with blood and putting it on doorways). I have always liked to grow Bible plants just because I think they make the garden more sacred. I also feel that way about magic plants, like certain poppies or salvias, that it is fun to grow plants like them in our gardens. Unfortunately the powers that be have determined that some magic plants are illegal and they want to censor what we grow. But everyone that comes into our community garden now loves the purple poppies for their power and beauty, and that is the way it should be.

Secret Garden

Starting June 22- August 1 Robert got a grant from the Mexican Museum to do gardening and art in the Secret Garden with kids. I don’t know too much about it, but I am for now not doing much in that garden except watering what is planted. He may want the whole space for his program so I am waiting to learn how it will develop.

I am doing a lot of gardening in my backyard and Treat Commons and can always use help, especially if someone wants to be an apprentice and learn gardening. Also, I will be out of town July 2-13 so the farm stand will have to close for two weeks unless I can find help to cover for me.

The Free Salad Bar,albahaca, water, and more

Free Salad Bar

As I was washing the salad mix Saturday night, I was thinking I should have called this project the Free Salad Bar. If I can provide people every week with the fixings for a locally grown organic healthy salad I am doing good, really good. Anything else is extra exciting and wonderful! Some lettuce or salad mix, baby greens, a few edible flowers, maybe some herbs, and some home grown sprouts or baby sunflower greens and there you have the basics of a nutritious meal right out of the garden.

Ye of Little Faith

That is me plain and simple. The Free Farm Stand is helping me cultivate faith and grow hope. So again it seems to me the gardens are pretty sparse these days. Things are growing slowly and I am behind in planting with all this blogging on my part and other distractions of trying to do a big project. So once again I was in my corner worrying about what I was going to have to harvest. I repeated my mantra that things will work out. And they did and this week’s free farm stand was a big successes, I am truly amazed! First off, I heaved a big sigh when I heard that the MVS House (Mennonite Volunteer Service House with five volunteers) had grown too much lettuce and baby greens and was going to bring some over for the stand. Then I picked fava beans, a few green onions and some kale from the Secret garden, mint, kale, pansy and nasturtium flowers for the salad, a few leeks and carrots from Treat Commons. From my backyard, I was able to find some more lettuce and kale to harvest. I picked big funny mutant lemons from my neighbor again. Then Lyz brought some arugula, lettuce, mint, and parsley from her garden on Potrero Hill. And a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time showed up with a couple of Meyer lemons (I am not sure how she heard about this). Christy came through again with produce from Corona Heights garden (a couple of artichokes and some rhubarb from her bed and extra lettuce from Dave’s bed). And Margaret who I just met yesterday on the Neighborhood Empowerment Network tour (NEN… more about this later) came by as she said she would with extra oranges from her tree. All the amounts of stuff people brought were small, but put all together and it was impressive. And I had enough to give out food to at least fifteen or more people. I was too busy to count. And a lot of seedlings were given away on the free plant table outside the gate to the garden.


That is the new word I learned a today. I still could use help with someone who can speak Spanish being at the stand, I think it would improve things a lot. Anyway, this morning I was helping at Martin de Porres soup kitchen and they got a big bag of organic basil donated from the Embarcadero Farmers market on Saturday. They didn’t think it would be used, so they said I could have it for the stand. Whoopee! It was really beautiful fresh basil, all types, lemon basil, regular basil, and Thai basil. People were happy. And I asked a woman in my poor Spanish what the word of this vegetable is, and she didn’t know, but her friend did. Albahaca. When others came to the stand I was able to show off as I offered them basil.

Feeling less alone

When I got to the stand a number of neighbors showed up and helped me set up. A few of them just moved into the neighborhood and live together. Here is a group picture just before we opened:


I have been thinking about water recently. It started when a friend who lives in Oakland came over two weeks ago and mentioned that water rationing began there. Then I was interviewed by another friend who is making a film about water and wanted me to talk about my digging a well with the people I lived with in 1975 during the drought we had in San Francisco then. But things really hit home when a third friend brought over a bunch of nice seedlings for the Free Farm Stand, tomatoes, flowers, and some other things. She had gotten them from the edible school yard in Berkeley. She said they were giving them away because of watering rationing there. She is down to two showers a week and mulches her in Oakland garden and waters carefully at the base of each plant. She is supposed to cut her water use by 19%. I have started getting worried that it may happen here and have started saving non-soapy kitchen water in a plastic barrel I got from Urban Ore and watering the garden with it. Too bad they don’t give you a break on water use if you are growing food. What I need now is a deep stainless steel sink with a drain board to wash all the vegetables and sprouts I am growing and harvesting that I can put in the garden, so the water goes right to the plants.

NEN Clean and Green Summit

Saturday I had signed up to attend the NEN Clean and Green Summit at Cesar Chavez School, right across the street from the Treat Commons Community Garden. On Friday I was asked last minute if I would be a host for the neighborhood tour that was part of the summit and talk about Treat Commons and the Free Farm stand. I said ok and spent the whole day talking really fast (being given 10 minutes to talk about the garden and the stand and show people around). I got to put in my pitch about planting nut trees on sidewalks and fruit trees in parks, among other things. And I met a lot of great people, including Margaret who came by today and not only brought oranges, but watered the garden.

One of the best things at the summit sounded like the talk on rain water catchment that my wife Angie attended. She thought both women who did the workshop did a great job in explaining how it can be done rather simply. She and Dave (who lives next to the Secret garden) think we should collect rain water for that garden.


I forgot to mention that I gave away some of the honey we took from the bees (I had brought about 20 4oz jars). I still need help putting the rest in jars. I must admit I still have mixed feelings about being a bee keeper. I became a vegan probably 30 years ago because I thought it is best to do as little harm and violence to other creatures as possible. So if we don’t need to eat animals then don’t. Being a bee keeper it is impossible not to harm bees every time you open the hive. I try to be gentle and am organic in my practices with the bees, but still I wind up squishing bees or killing bees. And then there is the question of whether you are stealing the honey from the bees or whether they make more than they need. If you have a hive and you don’t take their honey, the bees won’t have a place to store more honey so they will divide and half will take off and swarm. In cities you ideally don’t want that to happen.

Bees though are wonderful to have in a garden just to watch and see them work. They pollinate our crops and trees and as we know they are in great danger now. There is also the issue of trying to have our own sources of local food. I am definitely not into raising my own meat (which takes probably feeding them grain which needs to be grown else where on land that could be used for food for humans). I don’t think I could learn butchering, though I do kill rats and mice and snails and aphids.

The bottom line I guess is that I feel comfortable raising bees right now and am willing to take on the karma of beekeeping. The problem with having bee hives is they make so much honey and so my solution is to share it with others.

An interesting and beautiful story

One of the best parts of the Free Farm Stand is how it is becoming a place where people can meet and talk. A place to meet new people or connect with neighbors, ask questions and learn something new. Today I enjoyed seeing a friend that lives near me who came by towards the end and we chatted. She told me about a Jewish Synagogue that she recently visited who owns a chunk of land in Colma in a cemetery where they grow food and give it to the San Francisco Food Bank.

One more photo

Carnival meets the Free Farm Stand

It was Carnival last Sunday and more people were out and about and our street was blocked off.So I hauled out the bicycle cart and moved everything to the park in two loads. I love using the bicycle cart rather than driving the car a block to move all the produce and things that I need. The cart needs to be modified to carry more or a new cart built (flat bed) if there are any bike cart builders out there.
More people showed up than usual because of Carnival happening down the street. I met a woman named Lauren who is starting a new pantry in the North Mission area and she wants to get locally grown organic produce to give out. She was talking about offering money to buy produce from local gardeners in San Francisco. Wow! I offered to grow seedlings for her to give out to her clients.

Here are some photos of this really cute kid and her mother that came by. The mom said the child only likes to eat carrots. We were lucky to have some.
I said last week that I thought I was running out of food to give away. My garden and the secret garden and Treat Commons didn’t seem to have much food ready to harvest. But Ruben who gardens in a common bed in Treat Commons said I could harvest all the baby lettuce and tatsoi in his bed and some snow peas so I had a huge amount of salad mix and peas to give away just from one bed! Here is a picture of all the produce I had ready to take to the farm stand Sunday morning:
Loquats from our backyard tree, garlic from Treat Commons, strawberries from Treat Commons, a small amount of carrots and mint from two gardens, lemons from our backyard and a neighbor, and salad mix and greens (kale and tatsoi) from Treat Commons, the Secret Garden, and a very little bit from our backyard.

Then the greatest surprise is that Caitlyn showed up with a huge amount of food from the garden she is working at on Guerrero St. Caitlyn started gardening at Treat Commons and we are friends that haven’t seen each other in a while. Turns out she has been gardening at this fabulous garden that another friend Brooke started. The story is Brooke climbed up on her roof one day and looked around for a place to garden. She found this big sunny backyard behind a big apartment building and asked the landlord if she could garden there. And the landlord said yes. I think she started gardening there and put up a sign at Rainbow looking for others that wanted to garden with her.

So Caitlyn not only brought all this food, it was so beautiful the way it was presented (is that the word?). Brooke and Caitlyn just have the greatest style! I knew this when I first met Brooke and she was wearing farmers overalls plus I discovered she built the most artistic compost piles I have seen in a long while. She didn’t use a funky wood bin or plastic type like I have, but she built a pile that looks like it is part of the garden, with straw and whatever in a round shape. Those are examples of style that just turns me on and I think free projects must be classy.

I wished I paid more attention to how she got everything on her bike. She did come with a friend who probably helped her carry it all. And not only check out the big pile of the freshest and tastiest snap peas in the world, but look at the cool handmade box that the food came in. And I didn’t take a picture of the two bouquets of flowers she brought, but they were great. My special thanks to both Caitlyn and Brooke and whoever else helped to grow that food and flowers from their garden. It made my day!
Monday we extracted honey with Bryon our beekeeper mentor and friends. Being a vegan, I like working with Bryon who is really gentle with bees and goes the organic beekeeping way. I don’t use a lot of honey myself, mainly I use it in tea when I am sick with a cold and I think it has medicinal value. And I don’t cook with it because most vegans don’t want to eat honey and I cook vegan. But it is a local source of sweetener and honey bees are wonderful to have around in a garden for pollination. I think if we eat honey we should just be conscious that like all food it is a precious thing, so we want to be moderate in it’s consumption. Here is a picture of Bryon removing a capped frame of honey from the super: