Monday, July 22, 2013

A New Home

An update from Tree:

Please note that soon we will be closing the Free Farm web site ( The Free Farm Stand site ( will be the place for all the news for projects that we are doing (currently the Free Farm Stand and the Free Farm). It is just too much to write two blogs on a regular basis and I think the projects are connected  anyway. Also, at the end of the year we don't know what the fate of the Free Farm will be.
In the meantime both the Free Farm Stand and the Free Farm are very active and we are always open to having more volunteers at both our projects. I think at this time we especially would like to have more help around, especially at the farm.  We want to create a big wave of excitement as we move forward into the future and I think the more we can pull together with our positive spirits the better.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hoping, Planting, Growing, Harvesting

It has been over a month since our last update and it's funny how a lot can happen on a farm in a month. Seedlings grow and get planted and things in the ground get harvested and chopped down and the ground replanted. This last month should be called the month of the zucchini, though we have had other things growing, the humble summer squash is what has ruled the day. Last week at the Free Farm Stand we had hundreds of pounds of zucchini, much of it grown at our farm (the Free Farm blog is here for the latest news there (

Our small Free Farm Stand at the Free Farm looks good with more produce than usual

new potatoes on the right

My biggest excitement at the Free Farm these days is our compost. We have been making the most wonderful rich compost and adding to our beds when we plant. I have stopped picking up the vegetable scraps from Martin de Porres  Soup Kitchen on the day I volunteer there, because it is a lot of work and I wonder if we can really move our soil or find a home for it when we leave.

I have been happy that we can help out the Tenderloin Neighborhood  Development Corporation people who are planting gardens in the Tenderloin (including the People's Garden that I visited and really liked. They are sharing our greenhouse and have planted many seedlings that will go into their gardens

We have been researching places where we might move to or places where we can work until we find a new home. I recently visited the Permaculture Guild garden on 18th and Rhode Island St. to see how that place is doing. The tree we planted are growing well and I saw my first pomegranate growing in the city. This is such a beautiful tree and the flower and fruit are lovely.

The Free Farm got mentioned in the Bay Guardian last week in an article titled "Did the Hayes Valley Farm occupation help or hurt the cause of liberating urban space?" I am not sure if I should really recommend this article to people, but it did inspire me to write a long comment in reaction to reading it.

The next meeting of the San Francisco Urban Ag Alliance is meeting this Tuesday evening and I notice that one topic of  discussion will be garden displacements in San Francisco, and the former Gezi Gardens (former Hayes Valley Farm) and the Free Farm are going to be discussed. Most of our core group will be meeting that night to talk about our move, but I think it could be an interesting discussion. Right now I am not sure  what can be done about gardens/farms on temporary spots that have to leave.
Date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Time: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Place: Global Exchange, 2017 Mission Street (@ 16th), 2nd Floor Conference Room
Please bring a favorite dish to share if you can! Treats from your garden are always especially appreciated.

Next Wednesday July 19th we are getting a visit from Assembly member Phil Ting, who is going around town visiting gardens and farms. He is the sponsor of AB 551, Urban agriculture that "Establishes an urban agriculture expansion program for counties to designate unused land parcels for small-scale food production, and make the farms financially feasible through lower property taxes." The bill is moving ahead in the legislature. I think this is a step in the right direction,giving landlords an tax incentive to temporarily lease  or rent their vacant property for ten years.  However, I think the problem is that we need more permanent spots to put gardens and farms.  I also want to tell him I am all for urban agriculture, but there also has to be more attention paid to preserving and creating housing for very low income people. In most ways I see housing as a higher priority that urban agriculture, but I don't think we need to develop vacant land to get housing for poor folks. There ire plenty of vacant buildings that can house those who need housing, but the problem is we need the people and politicians that  have the will to make things change.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Barking up the Right Tree

We had some excitement at the Free Farm last Saturday. We harvested lots of zucchini and carrots, more pulp came in from the Dirt to Dish juice business, thank you Maria, and Gustavo made more compost.  It is wonderful to see someone besides me get excited about making compost and Gustavo always tells me he is looking forward to the task.

Pam, our resident bee woman organized a paper and cup making workshop. People came by and got to see how paper can be made from any fiber, in this case, army uniforms. Drew used a bicycle powered pulper and everyone got to make paper and put an image on it.
Aaron brought a small wheel and made beautiful clay cups that he gave away.
I told him though that the images he carved into them were a bit on the dark and  heavy side topic wise...skull and crossbones over bees, agent orange, Monsanto...We get the point about the evil out there and he understood what I was saying and said his next batch would be a more positive message.

Around  1pm maybe thirty people showed up at the Free Farm to attend a dialogue and discussion about the out of control development  happening in San Francisco and what can be done in response to our city losing more and more open space due to construction. It turned out that the discussion never happened and shortly after they arrived they went to the park across the street to gather for a march to "Liberate the Land" from Turkey to the Bay Area. I love this crowd for there idealistic spirit!

They wound up at the recently closed Hayes Valley Farm which they soon occupied and renamed it Gezi Gardens in solidarity with the park in Turkey that was going to be destroyed and a large mall built there. It is ironic, I don't know how these Occupiers got in the space, but originally people cut the gate to get into the soon to be Hayes Valley Farm...I found this image going to the Hayes Valley Farm website

The video tour is pretty interesting too, seeing how much work went into that place. Especially bringing in all the mulch and manure. Maybe the Occupiers should bag up a lot of the mulch that is still there and give it away so it isn't cemented over.

I think it is a brave and inspiring action these Occupiers have taken and they are about the only people I know in San Francisco who are putting themselves on the line to speak out against the loss of our farms and parks not just in San Francisco, but in the world wherever it happens.  We agree with their stand against further development in the city until all the vacant buildings are put to good use, with the priority going to converting buildings into housing that have subsidized rent for those that have very little money.

One thing that makes me sad is that it is easy to get attached to trees and any trees that are planted on temporary land usually get the ax or have to be moved. No one seems to build things around the trees.  I am glad that the Occupiers are building platforms in the trees and speaking  up for them.  At the Free Farm we will have to move all our trees, including the big avocado tree that has after only four years (one in a pot) has a huge crop of tiny avocados this year.

Before they closed Hayes Valley Farm many from the nearby Zen Center had an honoring of the trees and a goodbye ceremony. I guess they were saying goodbye to all, including the trees. I liked this closing dedication also on the HVF website:
Closing Dedication:
All awakened beings throughout space and time;
All living beings: birds, worms, plants, trees, water and air;
The living compost, sunlight, soil, and Earth;
Wisdom beyond wisdom;
Maha Prajna Paramita.
Then I think they ended with singing my favorite Woody Gutheriesong this Land is My Land. The last lyrics of the song seem appropriate to Occupiers:

As I was walking’ - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin’
But on the other side … it didn’t say nothin!
This land was made for you and me!

I also want to say that as important as it is to speak out against things that are wrong, we must also engage in the constructive program of creating the world we want. For example, I like the action of digging up a lawn at a Monsanto demonstration and making the statement Food not Lawns, but we need to be planting food on a daily basis.  In some ways, since no one was going to stick around and tend the garden they planted at Justin Herman Plaza, maybe that was the wrong action to take since more lawn will replace the kale.

There is so much good work that needs doing as part of what could be our constructive program centered around urban agriculture and feeding those in need.

Here is a list of things that help is really needed for immediately:

Right now I need help moving a large roof top garden nearby the Free Farm (someone is moving and they want to give away all their plants and pots on their large roof). We need a phone tree of people who can process excess fruit left over from the Free Farm Stand on short notice, we need schlepers who can drive or ride a bicycle cart,and the Free Farm Stand also needs a consistent driver to pick up left-over produce at a farmer's market on Sundays.  Alemany Farm has been giving us extra produce they grow that has been a lifesaver for the Free Farm Stand.  They need people to help harvest this produce usually on Fridays. This is in addition for the need of volunteers to help run the Free Farm Stand and to grow food for it at the Free Farm and other places.

For those who just want to play, have fun, or  want to be an artist or hacker (whatever that is) there is this event going on called Freespace:
"14,000 sq feet on Mission between 7th-8th -- an open free space inviting participation in an experiment in "hacking" for one month. What do you want to hack or art hack about? Post your ideas and make it happen on twitter#freespace"
 I ran into my friend Mike Zuckerman at Hayes Valley Farm on the last day, I was getting mulch, and he told me about this Freespace event he is organizing. He asked me to participate and help plant a garden there. They are hoping they might be able to be there longer, but they have it for $1 for one month only right now.  I can't help but balance in my mind...temporarily be at Freespace or occupied Hayes Valley Farm? Or just trying to keep up with the work at the Free Farm and Free Farm Stand. Where is the revolution happening?

Here are a few pictures from the Free Farm Stand, where a lot of the Free Farm produce goes:
 two kinds of zucchini
 lettuce from Alemany farm
carrots from the Free Farm 
 Cristina made pickles to give away from 
Armenian cucumbers from last week. They were yum!
 two of our regular volunteers who pick up the left-over produce from Stonestown farmer's market. So many people really appreciate this food that comes when we are usually out of our first load. I love all our volunteers, especially our regulars. And it is great to see our teens get involved too! 
 blessing the Farm Stand
blessing our volunteers
 we gather our team before we start 
and say thank you
 chillin' on the lawn with a little music while
 they wait for their number to be called
 a beautiful 2 month old
 beautiful produce
beautiful compost (now the farmers are
 giving us their compost

Monday, May 13, 2013

Land Lovers

The Free Farm is gearing up for a large harvest of summer squash as we have harvested almost everything else. We also have lots of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, basil, lettuce, and marigolds planted. We can almost go on auto-pilot so we can concentrate on figuring out our future.  Though we are making more compost every week...we may have to move our soil when we leave.

Beautiful people continue to stream through our farm. Two people visited recently.who haven't been around for awhile  but have been core people in starting our project and I love them a lot.

Griff stopped by visiting from Portland and he says he wants to attend a celebration party we are planing. (I am thinking it should be a celebration and work party).
Two land lovers
 Here is Pancho and Emmanuel now living in Fruitvale in Casa de Paz where they among other things run a Free Farm Stand on Sundays. Visiting with friends Juan and his sister from the part of the planet called Mexico.
Pancho and a volunteer standing in front of the same tree 3 years ago. Griff couldn't believe how fast our trees are growing and many have fruit this year
 a new visitor in the garden I discovered living under the mulberry tree
anyone know this flower?

People may want to know what the plans are for the site we are on and what the developer has to do to get the project approved. Here is the Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) put out by the Planning Department: the plan. It is interesting that one of the first things that the Planning Dept. says is that the "property is currently vacant". Is that true?

We are moving ahead exploring all options and I believe there will be good work for us to do in the future. Already we have heard from two groups wanting help putting in a rooftop garden and another wanting a ground level garden. We have more options than we have volunteer power right now. We have a beautiful community that we have grown besides growing food and soil.  Help us keep it growing.

Please read our other blog at to read more news about Urban Agriculture happenings in the city.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Keep on Growing

Last Wednesday evening I got the news that the Free Farm must vacate the property it is on no later than December 31, 2013 (we have been given one more growing season). Like Hayes Valley Farm which is closing in June or like Esperanza Garden which must be out by May 1st. We knew we were on the land temporarily, we just didn't know when we would have to leave, and we thought we  might possibly have more time than this.

Esperanza Garden, which I helped start (and the Free Farm provided seedlings for) grew produce for the Free Farm Stand and has been growing on a small vacant lot squeezed between two buildings on Florida St. It has twice  been a garden. It was originally started by people in Cell Space (which recently closed because of  lack of funds for rent) and then it closed down and was resurrected into Esperanza Garden. I think it has been there as Esperanza Garden for at least four years. We always knew that the property could be sold at any time and around the end of last year we learned of it's fate. The new owner sold it to a developer who is going to build a condominium. I learned just the other night that the short deadline had arrived to move out.

 It was last year that we were notified that St. Paulus got an offer to sell their land to a developer who wanted to put market rate apartments on the farm land and they took the deal. I wrote about our feelings in a blog post August 7, 2012 and that we thought we could stay on the land maybe 2-3 more years more (that is what the church thought who has been very supportive of our work). I just stepped out into my backyard garden which I feel so lucky to have for now and the rain had cleared and the snails were happily crawling everywhere.  I was thinking the developers are like our beautiful snail friends. They are crawling all over our city now eating up all the vacant lots they can. Development in some eyes can seem beautiful, especially when it comes to housing. That is what we all want right?,  in this system it is about  growth and jobs and housing for all, but start with those who can afford it not with those who cannot. What is happening in San Francisco it has become easier for development to happen, there is a building boom happening, and with this developer they got the money (they call it an equity partner) to do this project quicker than was expected, so now things can go ahead. The one positive thing perhaps with the site the Free Farm is on is that now 100% affordable or below market rate housing is going to be built instead of market rate housing. Though it won't help my friend on SSI who just got evicted after 20 years in his rent controlled flat in the Mission, it could help someone who made at minimum $13,000.

Since like Hayes Valley Farm and Esperanza we knew we were temporary and want to be honorable with St. Paulus Church, who has not only let us stay on the land rent free for three years, they have paid an average of $600 a month for water. We will not cause a big scene and fight our eviction, but pick up our farm and move. I also learned that the developer technically now owns the land and is letting us stay for 8 more months because the church has persuaded them to, so it would be wise for us to keep on growing as much as we can and keep on truckin'.

So instead of being negative about this change we see the three years of beautiful work we have done and feel very proud.  In some ways it was  part of an experiment I started when we began the Free Farm Stand, to see how much food we could grow in the city and give to people in need. Out of the 39,667 pounds of produce that the Free Farm Stand has given away to people in need, of what we call "Hecka Local" produce, produce that we  grew or friends and neighbors grew, or we gleaned or Produce to the People gleaned for us, where we knew the farmer, 9.061 pounds of that produce came  from the Free Farm as of this date. We have always known though that the Free Farm has been more than food. We are growing soil, growing habitat for pollinators, we are growing community, and we are growing our spiritual selves. Now we have to move forward and create a new Free Farm somewhere else or perhaps a new project.

In the next month a few of us core people are going to put together a framework of ideas to plan our move and then we will call a meeting (it will probably take weekly meetings and a couple of all day retreats) to put together plans so we can show progress by September (I think the developer and lawyer are nervous that we won't leave). Our hope that people who really want to help will come to regular meetings and retreats and take home some work to do  so that we can move forward. It we are to make this happens I am very clear that we need not only a lot of help, but people that can make a big commitment  and be part of a team that builds the new farm or whatever and helps manage the project. Feel free to contact me if you want to go to a lot of meetings and help take responsibility for a new Free Farm project.

Our biggest challenge will be finding land. Some of us have already begun looking a number of months ago. I personally want to be in the Mission and have just one Free Farm Stand instead of two. I know right now we need a good detective or ferret who can do some serious research. For example, we are among many people  who have had their eye on the double lot next to Atlas Cafe on Alabama near 20th St. which would be perfect. We know the owners and where they live, but haven't been able to get a hold of them to see how much they would sell that land for. There are at least two other private properties I know of in the Mission that need more research. We are also open to finding a building that we can house farmers in and farm wherever we can find gardens or vacant lots that need farming or gardening.

Actually I haven't been writing about this because I wanted to not draw too much attention to a little bit of guerilla gardening I have been trying out, and wanting to see if we could get in a garden before the owners of a vacant lot found a squatted garden. I have been inspired for a while by the Pennsylvania Street Gardens on an off ramp on Caltrans land ( and how one neighbor just planted it without permission and then after it was planted they got the official ok and it is thriving and has inspired other garden to pop up. They are all ornamental, but beautify the neighborhood.

Right across the street from me is a big empty parking lot that is connected to a vacant super-market that has been empty for years.  A couple of years ago Fresh and Easy was supposed to move in but now they are backing out and the land will probably be vacant for more years. My  neighbor who lives next to the lot has walked through that parking lot for years to get to his house and claims he has easement rights. He has also maintained the property and fence that is adjacent to the parking lot and has recently started building planter boxes and doing edible landscaping along the edge of the property line. It is a south facing wall that would be ideal for planting and Fresh and Easy said at community meetings that they would include edible landscaping in their final design of the parking lot. At some point I figured I needed to be part of this and told new young friends, who are connected to the "Space Transformers" who took the brave action of defending the closing of the Hanc Recycling Center and Garden. It eventually got evicted. I let them know about the vacant lot and they got involved and started moving the rescued garden beds from the Hanc Garden and soil from Hayes Valley Farm  onto the lot. We actually got two sunflowers planted in pots and a number of beds built but not filled with soil, before the locks to the gates were changed by Fresh and Easy. Now my neighbor has been given a hand delivered note that Fresh and Easy is planning on clearing the lot at 10am on Saturday. I think on Friday the beds without soil will be moved out, but  on Saturday the beds with dirt in them will be planted. It may be a very short lived garden.

We really need to be dreamers here since not only do we not have land we have no money to buy land. The good news is that the Free Farm was really created more with tremendous volunteer energy and creativity than with a lot of money. So we are totally open to collaborating with other groups with a similar mission of service to the poor and building a beautiful loving and compassionate community.

Here is a dream that should be planted in San Francisco. A Free Food Forest like they are planning in Seattle ( Will the Free Farm morph into a Free Food Forest? That takes a permanent location...already we have a lot of trees to move...maybe they can be the first trees in the next project.

Here is an article I read called Beyond Money and it reflects the philosophy that is behind the Free Farm and the Free Farm Stand.
Last Saturday we had a group of college students from Hamiline College in Wisconsin volunteering with us as part of their Volunteer Service Spring Break. We love these kids who come to San Francisco to help out in not only in soup kitchens, but on an urban farm. So much got done and the the farm is looking so good.  One thing that was exciting is that some of the crew volunteered at Martin de Porres  the previous day that I was there. That got to see the connection between the kitchen and the farm because I saw all the vegetable scraps from the kitchen and brought them to the farm to make compost. They got to help in that process.

Talking compost, we have been making the most wonderful compost recently and I keep praising it. Mainly that is due to the large amounts of juice pulp that we have been mixing in with fine wood chips, vegetable scraps, weeds, and prunings from the garden. We also add it to our worm bin. The juice pulp is dropped off at my door by a fabulous woman Maria who runs a non-profit called Dirt to Dish ( that who we met while picking unsold vegetables at the stonestown Farmers' Market. "Our non-profit raw juice cooperative acts solely as a fundraising vehicle with the goal to launch an after school program in a Family Childcare Licensed urban garden and home in the Bayview-Hunters Point District, San Francisco."  Now I am wondering are we going to move all the soil and compost we are making?  Should we stop making soil? Hayes Valley Far is trying to move all their wood chip compost before they close.

The compost pile above was started around Feb. 25 (check the post The Revolution will be Compost published  that date to see what we started with)

We continue to offer free yoga when we can at the Free Farm and what better time to stretch and relax when all this stress is flying our way? Monique will be leading us all for 45 minutes starting at 9am this Saturday April 6th.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Farming Friendships

I thought I would do something different this week. I want to write about the Free Farm Stand and the Free Farm since both projects are so connected. And both projects are a blast, though this week it was especially fun being at both places. Both projects are about making and keeping in touch with friends.

To me it is pretty amazing how much produce we have been harvesting at the Free Farm this last month. I knew we put a lot of greens into the ground at the end of last year, but I didn't realize how productive they would be. We have now grown about 9,000lbs of produce at the farm. It has actually been a bit frustrating that we have had so many greens that we haven't been able to get them all harvested yet.  Between keeping the greenhouse well stocked with new starts/seedlings and planting out things that are ready go in the ground, we have been a bit shorthanded on Saturdays when we harvest things.

Farming is a lot of work there is no doubt. My two friends at Little City Gardens talk about this on their blog (  and how they are scaling back their efforts this year and focusing on growing less variety and more perennial crops. Of course they are trying to make a living farming and they sell their  stuff,  a pressure we fortunately do not have.

Farming  and growing gardens is something that is so needed in cities right now for all kinds of reasons that most of us know about. The challenge that we all seem to share is how to find time to get soil on our hands and under our fingernails and at the same time live in a city that has too high of rents and everything costs a lot.

My solution has been to create real community like churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples do.  Ideally I think we need to live together and share income, but perhaps we can start moving in that direction by moving away from engaging in commerce among each other, sharing resources, helping friends and strangers when we can. We need to build a community based around generosity and compassion.

 my two little friends who came out to farm
 perpetual chard doing great

 lettuce, collards, and chard oh my!
 the sweet peas planted in October are delicious

the labyrinth needs attention
we have been using the solar oven more now that the sun is higher in the sky
Here are some pictures from the Sunday Free Farm Stand:
 the red kale was really beautiful
 super sugar snaps
 this lettuce was from Alemany Farm
two of our lovely volunteers with oxalis flower bouquets

Yoga is coming to the farm starting this Wednesday. One of our volunteers is going to lead those interested in getting stretched out before we begin farming.  It will start at 9am in the morning and end around 9:45am. Bring a mat if you can.

Here is a link to an inspiring video that a volunteer sent me."Gardens build community. Period". Last week I posted on the Free Farm Stand blog a TED Talk featuring Ron Finley that was was also great (I enjoy his one liners).

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Revolution will be Compost

I am excited about our compost pile  among many excitements at the Free Farm these days. Thanks to dirt to dish raw coop and Maria we have been getting tons of raw juice pulp and we have been making some awesome compost. Compost is really the heart and soul of our farming efforts and I love it. I love the compost and I love the soil we are making at the Free Farm. I have been watching free online lectures on permaculture here and learning a lot. I liked the lecture on Vermicomposting and one on Soil Ecology. We should all sing praise to soil life and photosynthesis, and the wonderfulness of the carbon cycle.
 I am getting our worm bins in better shape by adding some of the pulp to feed the worms and also adding the pulp to our growing compost pile (in addition I have been adding horse manure, compost which is mostly fine wood chips from Bay View Greenwaste management, vegetable scraps for Martin de Porres Soup Kitchen, and compost from a couple of neighbors who don't have a green bin or choose to give us their scraps rather than to Recology.

 making layers
 our goal is 130 degrees
stacking it high
 I can't do justice to how beautiful our red kale
 looks... you have to see it in person
 ditto the prepetual chard
 more prepetual chard that looks better in person
 we have been getting some great tasting oranges
 the Lamb Haas is in flower...avocados soon?
 handsome lettuce in containers
We have been getting some great help these days though most times it seems  our help is down, but we seem to get a lot done. John from Alemany Farm may soon be working more at Alemany Farm since they now have their own greenhouse and we are trying to train some new folks in plant propagation so we can continue growing lots of seedlings (we are giving them out to gardens across the city).  Already we have hundreds of seeds planted and the seedlings are coming up. I think things are looking really beautiful probably because of this warm spring like weather.
Becca with harvest of greens

I discovered that we have a yoga teacher among us whom I think will teach a free yoga or stretching for gardeners class at our farm if we can create a space to do it.We once had the idea of building a platform but that never happened. Now we are thinking if we could get some large carpets that were bug free and clean or large gym mats we could be in business so we are trying to manifest this by getting the word out. We wouldn't mind a large deck or platform either.

We are also in need of more six packs or similar cells for starting seeds in.

Please check out our other blog at where you can see where some of our produce goes (there is also a picture there of a sweet potato from our small harvest of taters grown in a large pot in the greenhouse...another one of my excitements).