Thursday, July 29, 2010

so much growth

Yesterday we were blessed to have a large group (20+) of volunteers of all ages from Mt. Vernon, Washington. I am sure I can speak for the rest of the Free Farmers when I say that we were all so very impressed by the work they accomplished. After the morning gathering we swiftly made small teams for different tasks and projects.

First, a group joined Page in putting terraces on the slope between the community area and the bulletin board. From afar, it looked like a tremendous amount of work. In the middle they placed concrete blocks to make stairs. (It’s hard to imagine, but does this mean more room for new beds?)

Second, a team of very capable men moved half of a dozen concrete boulders, some of which likely weighed hundreds of pounds. The concrete blocks were transformed to create a staircase to the tool shed. And in the process of doing so it appears as if we have created another potential bed.

Additionally, another group amended the bed behind the labyrinth where some unhappy pumpkin plants used to be and planted new lettuce. Meanwhile, I spent some time planting more beans and amending another bed with a wonderful group of volunteers.

Every so often this summer, I have to force myself to take a step back and take notice of the incredible transformation that has taken place at the farm. I remember at my first workday at the farm back in early June, John (who has volunteered here since the very beginning) told me that the farm was only 15% complete. While of course there is no way to precisely calculate this progression, each time I step back I am in amazement at how we collectively always find room for growth, especially when we find room for new beds and new ways to beautify the farm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gray day, bright people

I guess I don’t realize that we have great weather sometimes until it doesn’t show up. Since I started working here in early June the sun has never failed to come out at least once during our farm workdays, until yesterday. It was grey, overcast, and quite chilly (especially when most of us expected sunshine) on the farm. Who knew, but I think cold affected us. Without the sunshine to photosynthesize and energize us for our individual tasks, we were left relying on each other in different ways. Instead of many simultaneous tasks worked on with a few volunteers apiece, yesterday we stayed in larger groups strategizing about the details of our projects and teaching each other along the way.

Early in the day, John took a group of us to check out the beehives. He showed us a thick layer of hundreds of dying and/decaying bees on all sides of the beehives. On a closer examination we could see them being eaten by ants. John reminded us that an opportunity to see this is usually reserved for National Geographic or Discovery channel shows.

Others spent time to find space in our existing beds to plant lettuce and mustard greens. Also, when starting to re-amend a bed for beans and mustard greens, many of us noticed that the bed was uneven and the soil was sliding down. So, it seemed like each volunteer had a different proposed solution and strategy, but rather than competition, cooperation was the guide to our problem solving. Eventually all of us easily agreed that the quickest and simplest idea was to prop a 10 foot piece of lumber against the end of the bed with stakes, and then we all got to work. The rest of the amending, prepping, planting, and watering were all done with an unusually high attention to detail.

In the spirit of sharing expertise, Griff took sometime and taught me and Susannah how to make compost by layering sticks, “brown stuff”, “green stuff”, pee’d on hay, and “cooked stuff” (very scientific, huh?) with straw laid on top.

And near the end of the day Lauren led a group of young volunteers in starting to dig out a place for an underground pipe to transport water from one end of the farm to the other.

All in all, although the day was chilly and the cold may have slowed us down, it also gave us a chance to be more attuned to the little things at the farm. It was a day of teaching, learning, and trying to stay warm. Even though the sun didn’t show, our fellow volunteers shined bright.

Free Farm

. . .

UPDATE: On Sunday and Monday two of our long-time and super dedicated volunteers opened the farm for two outside groups to see what the Free Farm is all about. On Sunday morning Shandra gave SF bikers who were on the Lots of Abundance Bike Ride ( a tour. And on Monday Griff led an Episcopal youth group from traverse city Michigan and they built a new bed, planted new collards, cleaned up, and walked the labyrinth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

circling up... with renewed purpose and community

Yesterday, we tried what I thought was a new process: to start our workday, we circled up at 10am and went over the day’s tasks. Not only did circling up clarify and organize the projects, I think it actively created a renewed sense of involvement for the whole group—veteran and new volunteers alike. After we broke the circle to start work, the day seemed to move forward with even more purpose than usual. And then to end our workday shortly after 2pm we circled up again to tour the farm and acknowledge the progress we made on each project. Too often, I forget that this place has grown into what it is today from individual volunteers coming together for a day at a time to transform this empty lot into a full-fledged farm! After touring the farm, I could very concretely see the growth that happened after just one day of work. I was very pleased with how this simple practice reaffirmed and tightened the bonds within our community of volunteers. Thus, I will do my best to give you a condensed blog-tour of our work yesterday.

First, just as you enter the farm the previously bare welcome bulletin board, has recently been transformed with lush shades of blue and green and a painting of beans. Yesterday it began its actual function as the primary place to find information and news about the farm. We posted two press articles as well as some newly found pictures of the church that used to stand where our farm now stretches out its roots in the soil.

Page and Susannah began construction on The Free Cart, which will be a mobile cart to transport and present the free farm’s Saturday food giveaway.

We also had a group of five beautiful women transplanting newly sprouting seedlings into larger temporary home all day.
I continued the ever-evolving project of organizing and cleaning up the so-called ‘outdoor shed’ in the bottom left corner of the farm that was bravely started last Saturday. Next Saturday Hannah will help us start labeling the sections, which will help to keep the area neat.

The outhouse also went through quite the transformation. What started out the day as just a bare structure, gained a colorful door (painted by Jason and Jamie), a window to allow for some ventilation near the roof, and half of a covered wall.
 Hannah and Coco have been working hard recently on painting colorful stakes to label what is growing all over the farm and when it was planted. This is all a part of Hannah’s ambitious project of creating a crop plan for the farm to monitor the plants.

Lastly, for the past week John and his team have been working on remodeling and extending the plastic covering over the tomato plants and the new beds to their left.

That is all I can recall for the moment. I hope this gave you an update on how much we (the community and the farm) are growing each day. Yesterday confirmed for me how the beauty of the farm doesn’t just grow over night; it is planted, painted, transplanted, watered, cleaned, fed, built, and cared for with the hands and hearts of our volunteers each day. If you haven’t been by the farm in awhile, do yourself a favor and drop on by to see for yourself.

Until next time…

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carling's Post

It was on Wednesday of February 3rd, 2010 that I first experienced the giving spirit and passionate vision of The Free Farm. During my visit, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize so many friends that I had met through other avenues such as the Free Farm Stand, the Metta Center and the Mobilization for Climate Justice. Upon cycling up to the soon-to-be urban food oasis for the first time, I knew instantly that this was not only just a project that I wanted to be a part of, but also a community and a movement with which I was ready to connect.

I've been regularly volunteering at The Free Farm ever since my first experience there. Every week I'm lured in by the thoughts of getting my hands dirty, harvesting a bounty of beautiful produce, meeting new volunteers and enjoying a delicious home made vegan lunch.

This past Wednesday was my first day on the farm in a month and a half. I just returned from a bicycle journey along the Pacific Coast starting in Vancouver, British Columbia and finishing back home in San Francisco. The pedal powered tour was an opportunity for me to explore the northwest without relying on a fossil foolish machine. In addition to experiencing the stunning scenery and meeting wonderful people, I was able to visit a few food production projects along the way. In Olympia, Washington I spent an afternoon at GRuB (, a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to nourishing a strong community by empowering people and growing good food. GRuB has an amazing youth education and employment program and a well-developed internship program with Evergreen State University. Last year they grew over 12,500 pounds of fresh produce at their farm and donated more than half of it to the Thurston County Food Bank and the farm volunteers. While taking a rest day in Arcata, California I stopped by Deep Seeded Farm (, a 2 year old farm which runs a 160 member Community Supported Agriculture program on only 4 acres. I was welcomed by a family style farm fresh lunch with Eddie, the head farmer, and 6 interns. We spent the meal discussing how to deal with snails and slugs in the garden.

Both GRuB and Deep Seeded Farm were full of positive energy and inspiring people, which made me miss The Free Farm even more. After only one day since returning from my bike tour, I visited The Free Farm eager to see how it had evolved and blossomed in the past month and a half. What a transformation! While I expected to be shocked and refreshed by the beauty of the farm, I was amazed by the bounty of food and dedication of the community. It was great to share smiles with old and new friends and as always lunch was superb! I can't wait to return on Saturday.

[this was sent to me by Carling...Tree]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crop Planing and Bee Swarming

 [Jacob, one of our summer interns from the Metta Center for Non-violence in Berkeley, is going to be writing about the farm every Thursday. Just before I published this I was sent this article in Mission Local about the Free Farm:  Tree]

At our regular weekly Wednesday workday our volunteers had plenty to do and to help with. Hannah, one of our two super cool interns from Standford, began to prepare for building a comprehensive crop plan. The crop plan will map out the existing beds and label their crops with important information and statistics. This should make our farming much more efficient and improve transparency between volunteers. The other intern, Susannah has been painting our soon to be bulletin board, and very quickly she has given the wooden structure color and life. When finished it will be the primary location for information and news on the farm for new visitors and returning volunteers right when they walk in. In addition we planted broccoli where our recently harvested bed of potatoes used to be [thanks to Green Gulch Farm for supplying us with starts]. We also built a new bed (right when you thought there was no more room for a new bed we found one!) in the walkway behind the vines and at the end of the protruding old pipes.

For those who were not at the farm last Wednesday, we had a very exciting event. Our beehive in the back corner of the farm swarmed at about 2pm. According to our beekeeper the hive was looking to split and form a second hive with a new queen. The swarm was a sight to see. The swarm ballooned to over 20 feet high and extended the length of our farm. Some estimated there were about 300,000 bees flying over our farm [more like 30,000 bees]. Luckily after a few hours, they calmed down and began making a new hive by the raspberries bushes. By this week, the temporary hive was relocated into a more permanent box and location next to the original one.

Lastly, just after we finished up our tasty vegan (as always) lunch, a resident from our next door building came into the farm and in gratitude for the produce we had given her in the past, she give us a box of crackers, a bag of vegetable chips, and many grocery bags to use at the farm stand.