Saturday, January 29, 2011

Harvesting yacon (yes, we can!), planting bamboo, grafting fruit trees & more!

We enjoyed the clouds, grateful for the forecasted rain to water plants that nourish us. Here's what we did today:

Tree, Page & Kellen cover greenhouse before rains arrive Zoe harvests lettuce
Edible bouquet
Harvesting yacon root
Covering sides of greenhouse
Planting bamboo grove
Kale ready to harvest
Gratitude circle around veg lunch spread prepared by Getup grads
Bolivians treat diabetics with yacon root
Pancho is earth-friendly
Our lunch covers 4 food groups: grains, legumes, vegetables & fruits
Stanley weighs & Sophie records produce
Tree shows how to propagate his namesake :-)
Tree fuses apricot scion with peach rootstock = apreach or peacot?
Tree secures grafted tree with recycled ribbon
Ricardo holds branch in mouth while slicing plucot tree. Check out Ricardo's musical talent at &
Watering seed starts (planted just 2 weeks ago!) under freshly covered greenhouse
New bamboo plants frame The Farm's bulletin board
Dogs check out mandarins

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Scenes from Saturday's Workday

At this Saturday's workday:

We enjoyed the sun.

We harvested arugula, lettuce, kale, tree collards, fava leaves, snap peas, herbs and flowers for our farm stand.

Jillian and Lynn washed and weighed all the produce for free distribution under our new shade structure.

Griff , Page, Kellen and others continued working on the greenhouse.

And all 22 volunteers shared lunch together.

The workdays feel alive with activity and conversation and when the volunteers leave, it feels like the farm comes alive in a different way. Today, when Griff and I were closing up, a hawk came and perched up on the tall flagpole.

As she hunted mice in front of us, eating her kill on the frame of the new hot house, we wondered if she often comes here in the afternoon. It was a reminder of all the creatures, visible and invisible, and all the relationships that exist on this 1/3 acre. There are the micro-organisms in the soil that create the nutrients for plants to grow and flower, which brings the bees, who pollinate the flowers that create fruit, which brings the mice and small birds, which brought this hawk. This is the beauty of interdependence.

This hawk symbolizes how the farm is increasing in biodiversity and becoming a sanctuary for many lives, including us humans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the News: SF Weekly

Get to know S.F.'s community gardens with SF Refresh
By Karen Macklin Wednesday, Jan 19 2011

Urban environments are great places for bars, nightlife, arts, food, and culture. They are also great places for neurosis, stress, and isolation. Why? Because people in cities keep fit-to-bursting work and social calendars that often ignore the daily and seasonal rhythms of nature, are constantly surrounded by machines and artificial light, and go home to apartment buildings where no one knows their next-door neighbors. The gist of it is that people in cities are detached from the natural environment. And those people in cities are us.

But guess what? We don't have to be. There are pockets of nature everywhere in San Francisco. They are our community gardens. There are more ways for you to get involved with those gardens than you could possibly take advantage of, but most of us don't know where to start.

Enter SF Refresh, an initiative that will create all-day events in participating community gardens on six days in 2011 (see list at end). On those days, these local gardens will host free whole body care services and classes, including yoga, acupuncture, art-making, and food-making.

Inspired by Sunday Streets, SF Refresh was created by Megan Rohrer, manager of the Growing Home Community Garden in Hayes Valley. The project is being developed in partnership with the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance, a new organization created to connect the city's community gardens, and partly funded by the Mental Health Services Act, since the point of SF Refresh is to encourage stronger community and improved mental health.

"Community gardens have through scientific studies been proven to be therapeutic places that lower anxiety and help people come out of isolation," Rohrer says. "They have the ability to heal you in all of the ways you can think of. You're putting your hands in earth, so you're having a tactile experience; you're looking at beautiful flowers, so you're having a visual experience; and you're eating food, so you're having a nutritional experience. Gardens are a place that can speak to us on lots of different levels."

A man who goes by the name of Tree, a founder of the Free Farm community garden in Richmond, which will also be participating in SF Refresh, says that gardens remind us of how we are all connected. "When we think about soil, we are really aware of what's living in the soil — the microbes, the fungi, the protozoa — all of those things are connected in a web of life," he says. "And the people above the soil have to look at life in the same way. That's what this event is really about: connecting with other people in the city, and with what sustains us and brings about life."

Art, food, and soft edges
Head volunteer artist Ilyse Magy is recruiting other volunteers to lead art projects, focused on building community, beautifying the chain-link fences around the gardens, and creating other adornments. These group projects, she says, are a great way to try your hand at art, which can also be therapeutic. "I think self-care is about doing things that make you feel good, and I think art is just one of those things," she says. "Making art is an amazing way of being totally present. You get out of your head and are really there creating something." In the garden, she adds, nature functions as a muse for the artist: "What's more beautiful than flowers or plants?"

SF Refresh will also be offering classes in food-making, hosted by the local nonprofit Urban Kitchen SF. In these classes, which include pickling and kombucha-making, you can use ingredients grown right in the gardens and leave with starter kits to continue the process at home.

"It's incredibly empowering to learn these skills," says Kateryna Rakowsky, the executive director of Urban Kitchen SF. "You take something from the raw unfinished form, create something, and take that knowledge home." Also an environmental lawyer, she says that working with food on this level also teaches people to be curious about what's in their food and to read labels more carefully. "You're basically taking charge of your own sustenance," she says.

Other offerings in the gardens during SF Refresh will include yoga, acupuncture, massage, lectures and kids' activities. Kevin Bayuk, a permaculture designer and teacher in San Francisco, says it's the soft edges of a garden that make it the perfect environment for restoring yourself. "In San Francisco, 70 percent of our surfaces are paved over and impervious to rain," he says. "We have a lot of built environment, so we have a lot of hard edges. Gardens are mostly soft. The softness tends to harmonize with opportunities to become vulnerable or open to connecting through things like yoga or healing."

Although plans are still under way, the first event is slated to take place in April, a great time to revisit the promises you made to yourself — in January. "I think April is the time when people have given up on their New Year's resolution or realized they've failed or forgotten about it completely," Rohrer says. "Coming to a garden to participate in an event like this — or even to watch other people participate — can be the first step in an entire lifestyle change."


SF Refresh will take place in community gardens around the city on Saturday, April 16; Saturday, May 21; Sunday, July 24; Saturday, Aug. 20; Sunday, Sept. 25; and Saturday, Oct. 15. All events are free. Some offerings, like the food-making classes, will require preregistration. As of press time, these five gardens had confirmed their involvement.


Growing Home Community Garden: 250 Octavia (at Page) Hayes Valley

Visitacion Valley Greenway Community Garden: Arleta (at Rutland)

The Free Farm: Gough (at Eddy)

The Hayes Valley Farm: 450 Laguna (at Fell)

Garden for the Environment: Seventh Avenue (at Lawton)

SF Refresh is also looking for volunteers, including general helpers, artists who would like to lead art projects, yoga instructors, and others who work in therapeutic modalities. If you would like to be part of a think tank for the event and offer ideas and suggestions about what else to include, visit for more information and contact details.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Day of Service

2010 GCETP graduate Zoe reports on The Free Farm's 1st Anniversary Greenhouse Raising:

A Day of Service

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

The beaming Pancho greeted us at the gate. His magical ability to make anyone feel welcome and worthwhile immediately put us at ease. We parked our bikes, and joined a group with purple armbands led by the ever patient and laid-back Sarah, building potato towers!

On Sunday, January 16th, people of all ages, ethnicities, and faiths came together to celebrate the process of growing and building on land that was an empty lot just one year ago. Today the Free Farm is an abundant, breathtaking, communal space that serves to empower a fluid, growing community.

The day was warm and sunny, and teams of volunteers made light work of projects large and small. All day long, people worked tirelessly raising TWO greenhouses. Others built tables for the greenhouse, while even more volunteers built a new tool shed.

Besides construction, the farm was bustling with other activities from weeding and mulching with Hallie, to sign making with Susannah from Stanford Glean. The hand painted signs will mark the newly planted potatoes and help identify plants in the labyrinth. Jonathan ran a team seed starting. The flats will sprout in the new greenhouse. Many of the seedlings will find homes at the Free Farm in a few weeks, but others will be part of a new initiative to provide seedling donations for more community projects. Sarah led potato planting in two ways, potato towers and the old-fashioned trenching in a row style.

Since we worked on potatoes, I will provide some information on how to construct your very own potato tower.
The magic of this method is that for those who do not have much space, or any accessible earth to speak of, the towers can be placed anywhere. They have been known to produce 50 lbs of potatoes from one tower! The container can be made from any wire big enough for a plant to grow through. We used chicken wire and fencing wire to construct a round, three-foot high cylinder. As for the filling, most soils will do, but here is the way we did it.
At the bottom we put about 4 inches of compost, then 4 inches of manure. The potatoes are placed near but not at the edges, growth facing out, about eight around the perimeter of the tower. The potatoes should be organic and pre-sprouted. They don’t need to be whole, you can cut your potatoes as long as each section has an “eye,” but let them heal before planting or else they will rot. Above the potatoes we sprinkled a bit of manure and topped the layer with 4 inches of straw. We repeated this two more times for 3 layers total. Each layer is a foot or so thick.
In two weeks, you should see the plants growing out from the tower. Water it if the leaves look wilted. After around 3 months, or when the leaves start to get yellow and fall off, it is time to harvest!

Numerous individuals and regular volunteers were present, as well as strong showings from noteworthy groups. St. Paulus Church, whom we have to so humbly thank for use of their land, is a driving force behind the Free Farm. The Congregation Emanu-El chose the farm as their annual service project in recognition of MLK day. (See the blog post below for a video of the lunchtime speeches of Pastor Dan Solberg of St. Paulus as well as Rabbi Bauer from Emanu-El). Stanford Glean was also present, and brought gifts of citrus and fresh homemade breads.

The crème filling on the workday cookie was a special free lunch prepared by Yasue Aruga of Pacha Mana Café and J. Allen personal chef, with assistance from Carmen. (See Carmen’s blog post below for more details on the menu and the cooks contact information). As is the custom, we held hands in a giant circle after a gong signaled that it was time for lunch. Everyone said their name and we all recognized each other for our presence and labor. The food was hearty, vegan, and delicious. To top it off was the best vegan cookie I’d ever had.

There are endless thanks to give and activities to mention, but one final happening of note must be spoken of. Emily, in the morning, and Kris, in the afternoon, led silent walking meditations through the spiral of the labyrinth. It was a perfect opportunity to reflect, to stop and observe, to clear one’s head, to find your own personal enjoyment in a meaningful day.

Scenes from 1st Anniversary Greenhouse Raising

Tree with Chefs Yasue and Alena
Zoe places sprouted spud on potato tower
Gratitude circle
Tree chats with St. Paulus members Ana, Pastor Solberg, and Pam (who was married 24 years ago at St. Paulus Church!)
Rev. Griff, Rabbi Bauer, Rev. Megan, Pastor Solberg
Ricardo and Amanda perform
Constructing toolshed
Constructing greenhouse
Planting spuds and building greenhouse
Freshly painted signs Sign painters
Rev. Megan says labyrinth walk is good for soul and soles
Jonathan shows how to plant seeds
Griff thanks everyone at closing

Speeches from the MLK Greenhouse raising event

See video of the speeches:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In the News: The Sacramento Bee

At Free Farm in S.F., all veggies are given away

Published: Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

SAN FRANCISCO – There was one common reaction when the Rev. Megan Rohrer said she wanted to start a farm in a weedy, glass-strewn vacant lot a few blocks from the Civic Center.

"People told me I was crazy," Rohrer said. "They said it was the wrong kind of space, you'll never be able to weed it, no one will come to work on it."

Yet the Free Farm will celebrate its first anniversary today, a year in which it grew and gave away more than 2,500 pounds of vegetables, making it the most bountiful of six gardens planted on Lutheran church-owned space in the Bay Area.

In an age when farmers markets are sprouting in every urban California neighborhood, the Free Farm is an unusual tale of success. Its "Hecka Local" brand produce, from tomatoes and zucchini to dwarf kale, pineapple sage and watermelon radishes, is prize-worthy, but is tended by volunteers and donated, no questions asked, to anyone who wants it.

"We want to provide an example of how to live based on generosity and sharing, instead of everything being seen as a profit," said a farm manager, who calls himself Tree.

He is joined Wednesdays and Saturdays by a dozen or more willing workers who mulch, shovel, weed and eat a communal vegan lunch. The volunteers come from all corners. There are students, teachers, members of a local temple, gardening mavens, food justice activists, the unemployed and people who describe themselves as living off the economic grid.

"We have eatings instead of meetings," said volunteer Pancho Ramos, as he sat with a bowl of bean stew and rice at the farm one day recently.

Ramos, who says he lives "without traditional currency," has watched the lemon and fig trees start to bear fruit and neighbors come by to get vegetables, surprised to find they are free.

"One woman took some zucchini and came back an hour later with empanadas," he said. "That's what a church should be."

Rohrer, executive director of Welcome, a faith-based nonprofit that works on poverty issues, saw the farm as a way to bring quality produce to inner-city residents. She had worked with the chronically homeless for about a decade and saw them struggling not only to keep housing, but also to afford good fresh food.

"The city wanted community gardens, but there was all this red tape," she said. "Everything was taking years, so I started talking to different Lutheran pastors about getting space."

One of the available spots was the lot on Gough Street, one-third of an acre that had had been unoccupied since a fire destroyed St. Paulus Church in 1995. Like much of the city, it sat in close proximity to wealth and poverty, blocks from the ornate Opera House, expensive condos and public housing.

Rohrer, who grew up in South Dakota, knew backyard gardens and had learned community organizing, but she turned to local experts for farming help. Tree and Lauren Anderson, founder of Produce to the People, which harvests food from backyards and community gardens, joined her.

Together with volunteers they built a ramp from recycled Christmas trees. They scrounged for old pallets, buckets, concrete and hardware. They fertilized the sandy soil and built a labyrinth with bricks salvaged from the burned church.

Today's scheduled celebration includes a greenhouse-raising. Tree hopes to use the structure for seedlings to plant and give away.

"I want to inspire people to pay attention to where food comes from," he said.

The Free Farm continues the work he's done since the 1970s, when he first started gardening and planting avocado trees in the Mission District. He took his name because of his connection to trees, he said, but prefers not to talk about himself. ("It's not about me. It's about the work we can do," he says.)

He started the Free Food Stand in the Mission District in 2008 to give away vegetables from community gardens and surplus collected from other farmers markets. The stand, which has given away more than 12,000 pounds of produce in the past two years, now also gets vegetables from the Free Farm. "Hecka Local" always goes first.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Healthy Eating for Winter

According to Chinese Medicine’s Five Element system, the winter season is associated with water (element), fear (emotion), salty (taste), and kidney and urinary bladder (body organs). Winter is the strongest yin (cold, dark) time of the year and its climate (rain, fog) makes us seek inner warmth so it’s time to conserve energy (hibernate) and eat warming foods.

Instead of heading outdoors to The Free Farm, I stayed indoors at Yasue’s kitchen to participate in my favorite sport—cooking!—and help prepare lunch for tomorrow’s Greenhouse Barn Raising and One Year Anniversary Celebration. For winter seasonal eating, we prepared soup and salad featuring miso (fermented soybeans, high in protein and especially good for the circulatory and digestive organs) and radish (which helps dissolve fat and mucus deposits). Tree obtained Seasonal, Local, Organic and Whole (SLOW) food donations from Bi-Rite Grocery: thanks!!!

Like Water, For Stone Soup

Without food, we can survive for weeks, but without water we die of dehydration in a few days. Our body’s water needs vary, depending on our physical activity and diet, but an average 10 cups a day is recommended. We get about 80% of our water from beverages, 20% from foods.

Water makes up 60-70% of our human body, 80% of brain tissue, and 90% of blood. Water is needed to digest food, transport food’s nutrients to tissues, eliminate body wastes, circulate body fluids, lubricate joints and internal organs, and regulate body temperature.

Yasue, who has her own catering business (, showed us how to make a long-simmering miso-root vegetable soup. She explained that the traditional soup recipe includes pork, but omitted since only vegan food is served at The Free Farm to accommodate most people’s dietary needs (e.g., observant Jews and Muslims do not eat pork). In the absence of pork, the soup stock was rich in protein from miso (fermented soybeans), minerals from kombu (kelp) and heat-generating from sake (rice wine). Yasue also added shiitake mushrooms, which help the body discharge excess salts and animal fats. Here’s Yasue’s soup recipe:

Soup stock: water, kombu (pre-soaked), shiitake mushroom (pre-soaked), miso, sake
Chopped vegetables: burdock, carrots, daikon (radish), yellow onions, satsumaimo (sweet potato)
Hand crumbled konnyaku (jelly from wild mountain yams)
Sliced ginger root & scallions

SLOW Food Menu

Alena (, a personal chef who has been volunteering at The Free Farm since last April, came over to make a colorful salad of baked delicata squash in miso-harissa sauce with kale, radishes and almonds. Kale, along with collard and mustard greens grown at The Farm, score highest on the aggregate nutrition density index (ANDI from

In addition to soup and salad for tomorrow’s lunch, Alena plans to bring home-baked vegan chocolate chip cookies and Yasue plans to make musubi with shiso (beefsteak plant or perilla, which is used in Chinese medicine to boost the body’s immune system).

Yasue, Alena and I were taught cooking by the best teachers—our Mothers! Yasue focuses on traditional Japanese and macrobiotic; Alena specializes in health recovery, dietary needs, allergies, organic baby foods, vegan/vegetarian and locavore; and I like SLOW food cooking with Chinese herbs. Traditional foods are our best medicine, having survived the test of time.

Like Salt, For Minerals

Most water is actually salty: in our bodies and in sea vegetables, water contains many mineral salts. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for salt intake is 1 teaspoon of table salt per day, which includes all salt and sodium consumed, in cooking and at the table. Most Americans, who consume a highly processed Standard American Diet, eat too much salt.

According to TCM, too much salt will “injure the blood,” which relates to the Fire element and heart, directly affecting the kidneys. Kidneys function to maintain water balance and acid-base balance. Studies have shown that too much salt causes water retention, high blood pressure, kidney and heart problems.

Eat SLOW foods that support kidney and bladder functions: whole grains, beans, root vegetables, mineral-rich greens, small amounts of salt fermented foods (pickles, miso, sauerkraut; tamari/shoyu should be used only in cooking, not added to foods at the table). Avoid too much salt and fatty foods (red meat, hard cheese), which cause contraction of kidneys and can lead to high blood pressure or depression.

Finally, the American Dietetic Association has noted that foods such as soybeans, cruciferous vegetables and sweet potatoes contain natural goitrogens, but these foods have not been associated with thyroid insufficiency in healthy people provided iodine intake is adequate. So remember to eat iodine-rich sea vegetables (kelp in soup, nori wrapping in musubi) as part of tomorrow’s lunch!

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”--Hippocrates

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Scenes from 4-Hour Workday at The Free Farm

Tree and Page watch Griff fill bucket with concrete

Stirring 80 pound concrete mix in 4 quarts of water

Griff makes concrete without wheelbarrows behind him

Griff and Tree measure out 20 feet distance for greenhouse

The Free Farm gave away over 20 pounds of free produce

Volunteers enjoy vegan lunch

Stanley keeps record of produce given away

Bolted lettuce for compost or salad?

Harvesting in labyrinth

Sam and Julia harvest lettuce

John and Zoe work on greenhouse to be built over bed of bolted lettuce