Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Free Farm Wants You

During yesterday’s workday, we were treated to a surprise visit by a group from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Seattle (! Youth Minister Maggie and her delightful dozen (9 youth, 3 adults) landed in San Francisco as part of their mission trip to explore hunger, food and care for the environment. On Friday, they volunteered at St. Gregory’s food pantry and took a Precita Eyes Murals tour in the Mission District. On Saturday, they spent the morning planting and harvesting at The Free Farm, while enjoying our own murals, before embarking on a trip to Alcatraz.
Planting peppermint

Chris points out that Eric is installing sprinkler system like
this completed sprinkler system on the opposite wall
We also have two interns from Stanford joining us this summer: Brittany, a junior majoring in urban studies and philosophy, will join us on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and Tim, a sophomore majoring in human biology, will be with us on Saturdays.
Chris & Brittany plant mango in greenhouse

3-week old braided garlic Damon & Kris as American Gothic hipsters Spinster daughter & farmer from original American Gothic
Volunteer group from St. Andrew Presbyterian
Tree & Byron discuss what to plant next Rafael harvests chard
Rafael uses water hose to wash chard

The LGBT Pride Celebration was taking place a few blocks away in the Civic Center Plaza so we had several visitors/volunteers coming and going throughout our workday. We have about a dozen regular volunteers, but some have been traveling during summer vacation . . . so it’s super cool and we’re so grateful to have visiting groups and individual volunteers help out. Antonio of Alemany Farm notes that most volunteers don’t want to become farmers, but appreciate the experience of working on a farm – even if only for a day.

I can relate to this perspective as I prefer the freedom of a low-maintenance lifestyle. The Free Farm schedules regular workdays twice a week, but several regular volunteers from the neighborhood come in on other days to do general maintenance such as watering plants. As much as I love nature, I’m still an urbanite who also loves the stimulation from attending talks, museums, historical walks, fairs/festivals (very busy from May to October!), reading, etc. I’ll consider homesteading for my retirement. In the meantime, The Free Farm gives me the perfect dose of communing with nature in the City.

Shoveling wood chips into wheel barrow. The smell of the wood chips reminded me of the eucalyptus trees from my college.
Eucalyptus forest in East Oakland
Looking up at maternal eucalyptus trees
Tree's friends bring over plastic tube

Eric & Eric (Eric squared?) ready to install sprinkler system

When I’ve had a rough week (like losing PC files needed for a project), being at The Free Farm helps me unwind – like “Up On the Roof” by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, so let’s sing-a-long:

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
Let me tell you now
When I come home feelin' tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know . . .
Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof (up on the roof). . .
Everything is all right (up on the roof)

This blog was MIA for the past two weeks because I didn’t have access to my home computer. I really learned my lesson to go local, instead of relying on tech support in India and Philippines to troubleshoot my D--- PC, including four days to receive a hard drive that turned out to be incompatible :-(. Never mind the D--- warranty, I finally took my PC to a neighborhood technician who got my computer running again overnight! Yay, local! At the moment, I’m back in my pajamas posting this blog :-)

If you weren’t at The Free Farm two weeks ago, here are a few photos of our cleaning and sealing efforts to deal with a colony of rats and mice that were feasting on our organic seedlings and produce. Happy to report our efforts seem successful. (No photos from last week when I was MIA from The Free Farm because I was at a Garden For the Environment workshop.)
Friends visit Tree
Stanley between garlic braids & neat stack of wooden crates
Page & Margaret finished painting office
Hope you can come grow with us as there’s definitely room for more volunteers – even if it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you :-)!

Public service announcements:
Tues., June 28, 2011 at 7-9 pm
Fair Food: Growing a Healthy Sustainable Food System for All
Hub SoMa, 925 Mission St., SF
Celebrate the launch of Oran Hesterman’s new book, Fair Food: Growing a Healthy Sustainable Food System for All. This book is an enlightening and inspiring guide to changing not only what we eat, but also how food is grown, packaged, delivered, and sold.

Wed., June 29, 2011 at 6:15-7:45 pm
GREEN documentary film screening
100 Larkin St., SF Main Library, Lower Level, Koret Auditorium
Her name is GREEN, she is alone in a world that doesn’t belong to her. She is a female orangutan, victim of deforestation and resource exploitation. This film is an emotional journey with GREEN’s final days. With no narration, it is a visual ride presenting the devastating impacts of logging and land clearing for palm oil plantations, the choking haze created by rainforest fires and the tragic end of rainforest biodiversity. We watch the effects of consumerism and are faced with our personal accountability in the loss of the world’s rainforest treasures.
GREEN has won "Best of Festival" awards at the two most prestigious wildlife film festivals
in the world–Wildscreen and the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. After the film, you'll have the chance to meet members of Rainforest Action Network's Forest Team and participate in a
Q&A with Bay Area changemakers tackling the issues presented in this film.

Coming up:
Sun., July 24, 2011
SF Refresh at The Free Farm

Food Day will be October 24 — in 2011 and in years to come.
Food Day seeks to bring together Americans from all walks of life—parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes—to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.
Organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day will hopefully inspire Americans to hold thousands of events in schools, college campuses, houses of worship, and even in private homes aimed at fixing America’s food system and encourage Americans to “eat real”.
Find out more at

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Yesterday, several record-breaking events took place during our workday at The Free Farm:

1. We discussed money . . . for The Free Farm in my presence: specifically, how to spend $2,500 awarded to Free Farm Stand/The Free Farm for our 2nd place win in Bay Citizen’s Citizen of Tomorrow contest! Tree said that he’s slow and careful about spending so he’s researching refrigerators/coolers to purchase . . . unless we can get it free :-); donations anyone?!

2. We experienced record-breaking rainfall: According to local news reports, 1.12 inches of rain had fallen in San Francisco by 3 p.m. yesterday, smashing the record of 0.49 of an inch set for this date in 1934.

3. We harvested a record-breaking 100 pounds of produce: Farm stand managers Stanley and Sophie reported 60 pounds of garlic and onions, 15 pounds of kale, another 25 pounds of chard, lettuce, squash, artichokes, strawberries, etc.!

Despite the heavy rains, Page’s five students at the other Farm (Stanford) took a break from studying for their final exams to join us on our workday – collectively doing most of the record-breaking harvest work in the rain!

While Garden For the Environment canceled its activities, including the morning compost workshop that Getup grad Sophie was scheduled to teach, we were fortunate to work under the greenhouse and hothouse during the periods of heavy rain. . . and so happy to have Sophie and Stanley with us during our entire workday! About 20 volunteers braved the rains to join us at The Free Farm for a worthwhile experience, including participation in our first-ever workshop on making garlic braids by workday leader Page.

Workday leader Page greets his students from Stanford
Pancho & Tobias salivate over strawberry
Hannah harvests strawberries in rainAlena & Stanley harvest lettuce in hothouse
Tree harvests flowers for wedding party
Tobias harvests artichokes John holds up elephant garlic Harvesting lettuce Pancho tightens hothouse door hinge Desert dawn nectarine Glistening foliage by Ansel Adams wanna-be

Naturally Green garden designer Komita washes chard
Magenta peek-a-boo
Page's students harvest rainbow chard

Here comes the sun!

By lunchtime, the rain lifted and the sun came out a bit so we took a chance and enjoyed Page’s warming chili outdoors.

Page said he got up at 6:30 am to prepare chili for our lunch; thanks, Page!
Last photo of gratitude circle
Carolyn & Hilary enjoy strawberries
Sophie & Stanley have lunch in DIY bowls
Tobias uses his rainjacket to shelter towel-dried lunchware which Pancho places on dish rack
Sophie greets visitors with smile

How to braid garlic 101 taught by Professor Page
Page leads garlic braiding workshop in greenhouse

Gather 3 garlic stems & tie together
Braid leaves & tie end of braid for hanging
Page holds up braided garlic
Cut garlic roots
Hang braid in dry place for two weeks until leaves are brown. Moisture from leaves & stem will cause garlic bulb to increase in size by 1/3! Place bulbs inside mesh bag for hanging until ready to use.
DIY time

Close-up of Sophie trimming garlic roots

Braided garlic will keep vampires away :-)
Garlic & onion scraps added to cooking pile for use in regular compost instead of worm compost bin. Worms thrive on a vegan diet & follow an almost GERD diet by avoiding fats, very spicy foods (peppers, onion, garlic), citrus, etc.
Pruning nectarine tree
Flowers bloom in labyrinth attracting beneficial insects
Page's car loaded with harvest headed to Mission District's Free Farm Stand

Food porn (4-letter words like Free Farm)

Just as we don’t often talk about money in connection with The Free Farm, another “taboo” topic came to my attention: my photos of the circle of volunteers linking hands and announcing their names, and then enjoying our potluck lunch prepared by volunteers. Two individuals told me that this photo-taking was disrespectful of Native American culture. Woops, I responded that being disrespectful was certainly not my intention so I appreciated learning this. In my ignorance, I actually intended my photos to show how growing food together also grows community.

Volunteers arrive at The Free Farm at different times, check-in with the workday leader who has a list of activities for us to choose what we’d like to experience and off we go! Around noon, the gong or cymbal signals lunchtime when we all gather together to form a circle so we can all see eye-to-eye: Tree and/or the workday leader thanks everyone for volunteering and explains the tradition of each volunteer stating his/her name out loud. (We don’t wear “My name is . . . “ tags.) The volunteers who prepare lunch disclose what they’ve brought, so anyone with food allergies/sensitivities is forewarned.

When I see a group of people smiling and enjoying food, I just want to freeze the moment and share the beauty of camaraderie . . . with blog readers like you to encourage you to join us! I also admit that it’s just easy for me to take photos when I’m holding my camera with clean hands, just washed before eating, rather than the usual dirt-covered hands trying to multi-task photo-taking with farming tasks. As noted in my April 23 posting, not having to take photos because my camera batteries died that day was so liberating because I rather like being of one-track mind when gardening – sort of like being at one with nature :-).

Apologies if my photos of our circle and partaking of food offended anyone. Today’s posting includes my last photo of our circle at The Free Farm so please cherish it in the same spirit in which I took it!

However, I’ll continue to photograph plants/food as I’m such an Ansel Adams wanna-be. Some plants are so lovely, and their lives cut short when we harvest them for our own nourishment, so I honor their memory in photos. In my travels, I love photographing food, which seems to speak to me more so than physical landmarks or even people unless food is part of the picture!

Finally, please let us know if you’d like to contribute to our weekly blog as fresh perspectives are always welcome!

Public Service Announcement:

Tues., June 7, 2011, 10 am to 4:30 pm Conservatory of Flowers: Free Admission Day
100 John F Kennedy Drive San Francisco, CA 94118
Paralysis, strangulation, derangement – these are just a few of the misdeeds of the plant kingdom as chronicled by award-winning author Amy Stewart in her 2009 New York Times Bestseller, Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. And now, something wicked this way comes. It’s mayhem under glass, as the Conservatory of Flowers transforms its Special Exhibits Gallery into an eerie Victorian garden full of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations. Building on the fascinating plant portraits in Stewart’s book, the Conservatory introduces visitors to living examples of dozens of infamous plants that have left their mark on history and claimed many an unfortunate victim.

As visitors enter the exhibition, they find themselves in a mysterious, untended yard behind a ramshackle old Victorian home. Peeking through the window, it’s clear that a crime has just taken place. A man is slumped over on a table, a goblet in his lifeless hand, as the lady of the house flees in the background. Crows caw, and a rusty gate creaks. In the overgrown garden, moss covered statues rise up out of an unruly thicket of alluring plants. Beautiful flowers and glistening berries bewitch the eye, but consider yourself warned – these plants have names like deadly nightshade, poison hemlock and white snakeroot. Here lurk some of the greatest killers of all time.

The exhibition features over 30 species of wicked plants from those with famously scandalous histories to those that grow “innocently” in millions of gardens and homes today. Visitors can enjoy corresponding excerpts from Stewart’s book full of bloodcurdling tales and fascinating facts on signs throughout the gallery.
"I'm very drawn to storytelling as a writer, and I love it that the plant world is full of such drama and intrigue," says Stewart. " Plants nourish us, they feed us, and they provide the very oxygen we breathe – but they also have to defend themselves. I hope people will come away from the exhibit with a new level of respect for the power of the plant kingdom – but I also hope they will be really entertained. The Conservatory exhibit staff turns out to have a very wicked sense of humor, and they've created an exhibit beyond anything I could have imagined."
"Consider yourself warned: 3,900 people are injured annually by electrical outlets, while 68,847 are poisoned by plants."