Sunday, August 28, 2011

If I can dream: The Free Farm everywhere!

Pia, Fran & Joyce aka "The 3 Graces" per Joyce ("My family calls me Branch.")
Kris signals lunchtime
Rafael & BFF Wesker
Stanley weighs in harvest that included carrots, zucchini, kale, collards, runner & purple beans, strawberries, lavender mint & basil.
Jessica & Mary are first-time volunteers who plan to return!
Plant whisperer Rafael harvests greens
Jessica holds up carrot with triple taproots. In 17th century, patriotic Dutch crossbred red & yellow carrots to produce orange carrots, which were adopted by the House of Orange royal family.
Hannah washes greens
Tom at busy produce stand which included offerings from gleaning efforts off-site: pears from Bernal Heights & plums from Vacaville.
Rafael picks up purple carrots
Tree, Brittany & Pia listen to Getup classmate Susan who does outreach for Food & Water Watch

Hecka local: growing space, trained gardeners & time

Tree, who started Free Farm Stand in the Mission District, told me he wanted to grow our Hecka Local produce in his neighborhood but couldn’t get enough growing space in the Mission’s Sun Belt microclimate, so he decided to help start The Free Farm when St. Paulus made space available 2 miles away from his home. So glad he did because look at us today!

While several volunteers live within walking distance from The Free Farm, other regular volunteers come from Berkeley/Oakland and Palo Alto/Mountain View. I live about 3.5 miles away from The Free Farm, but like leaving the Fog Belt on Saturday mornings for the Western Addition’s Transition Zone microclimate. (I love listening to our foghorn lullaby when I return in the evening!) And of course, we’ve had volunteers visiting from out-of-state to experience our precious community.

I wish/dream that The Free Farm were an amoeba so our community could multiply and start The Free Farm in every neighborhood . . . after all, “free farm” is almost everywhere in cyberspace: When I invite people to check out The Free Farm website to learn more about our activities, they sometimes come back to me asking why I’m involved with a peasant union of farmers in the Philippines? (well, I’m a member of Slow Food, which had its roots in the Italian communist party) a UK-based browser game? another online virtual game (“play the next level of virtual farming”)? – among the 2.12 million results if one searches for “free farm” without prefacing article “the” in URL.

Are we ready to build/sustain The Free Farm in every neighborhood? In, Tree writes about the need for more people to be gardening, especially to help manage a garden. In the summer issue of Edible SF (, Twilight Greenaway writes an article “Hot Plots,” about the long waitlist for community gardens, but the challenge of “sustaining” volunteer coordinators.

There’s just so much going on in the Bay Area, especially during our long summer days. For example, Roger participated in Saturday’s Giant Race benefiting Project Open Hand before joining us in the afternoon to volunteer. The Fillmore Reggae Festival took place just a few blocks away from The Free Farm, but I waited until after our volunteer day ended to attend because I’d already missed volunteering the past 2 weeks due to my nutrition education outreach work at local festivals—my other food-related passion (grow plants, eat plants!). At one health festival, free lunch included grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on white bread – with only potato chips for veggies, not even lettuce and tomato offered (most commonly eaten vegetables in U.S., though tomato is technically a fruit but classified as veg by 1893 U.S. Supreme Court ruling); the other festival offered free ribs in one booth, but fresh watermelon slice for $1.
Free Farm Stand hummus maker Michael visits The Free Farm for the 1st time before going to Burning Man for his 14th year
Kris & Eric shuck sunflowers to create sunflower chains
Rick using hose to water while Tree & Page work on installing drip irrigation system.
Kris does grateful deadheading spent flowers
Sunflower chains hanging in tool shed
Workday leader Alen got haircut for Indian summer

Eat your veggies: access & taste

Though physically away from The Free Farm, my thoughts kept returning to what we do at The Free Farm. As much as I do outreach to encourage the public to eat more nutrient-dense vegetables, I also understand access is limited by location, affordability (food prices have increased by an average of almost 100% since the end of 2005) and increasing demand. This summer, I helped administer the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which distributed 1,600 farmers’ market coupon booklets (each valued at $20) to low-income seniors in SF on a first-come, first-serve basis – lines formed hours before the distribution time so that many who showed up at the designated time left empty-handed. SF Food Bank’s struggles made front page news last week at

Outside of The Free Farm/Free Farm Stand and others who grow their own, the reality is fruits and veggies are not cheap calories because they’re not subsidized. The larger problem appears to be the U.S. farm bill that provides huge subsidies to meat and dairy, making them a cheap source of calories. Federal subsidies also apply to plants like corn, wheat and soybean – cheap enough for low-nutrient, processed fast food.

Like Tree, I would like to see more people grow their own produce locally if possible – instead of transporting unripened produce that's later gassed with ethylene to artificially ripen, which is why some produce taste so terrible (especially tomatoes from Florida). I loved eating homegrown produce while growing up, so I was surprised to learn others didn’t enjoy fruits and veggies as much as I did – until they told me they ate them canned/frozen. It’s so cool to hear from visitors who taste our produce at The Free Farm that they can't believe how delicious locally grown, freshly harvested organic food is. It would be even cooler if more visitors would get their hands dirty to help grow food to share with the community!

Hanging out at The Free Farm brings out my inner hippie and wish/dream for another Great Society. Last weekend, I also managed to attend my first hackathon: Friday evening featured speakers and then multi-disciplinary teams were formed to tackle Urban Innovation Weekend on Public Health, Food and Nutrition (! Urban agriculture is one solution that addresses this trinity of issues. Due to other commitments, I was present for only Friday and just one hour on Sunday.

But I’ll save my report with exclusive photos for an upcoming blog so stay tuned! In the meantime, in recognition of today’s anniversary of MLK, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, let’s sing my favorite Elvis song (played at the end of Graceland audio tour):

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away
All the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear

We're lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there's a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now
Let it come true right now
Oh yeah
“If I Can Dream” lyrics by Walter Earl Brown

Public Service Announcement:

Tues., Aug. 30, 2011 at 10:30 am -12:30 pm Make Our Garden Grow!
The Dining Room, 1280 Laguna St., betw. Ellis & Eddy, SF
The Free Farm workshop & talk. Bring all growing & eating questions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Free Farm in summertime

The Free Farm's new welcome signs by Jet
Taking a look at last summer’s blog postings, The Free Farm looked so bare without our greenhouse, hothouse, tool shed, office, terrace, etc. Our summer harvest is still abundant: today’s harvest yielding 100+ pounds of greens (12 lbs.), strawberries (3 lbs.), runner beans (5 lbs.), zucchini (61 lbs.), squash (13 lbs.), basil (4 lbs.), garlic (2 lbs.) and cucumbers (1.5 lbs.).

Our community of Free Farmers continues to grow as there's something for everyone:-) Though I came to The Free Farm to grow plants, it’s just as fun and rewarding to build and repair structures. Damon is the ultimate Do-It-Yourself guy, with tools in hand—building, fixing and sharing his know-how with other volunteers. When I invited him to contribute to our blog, Damon showed he's also gifted behind the camera as evident in his awesome photos (with clever captions) of today’s workday.
Brittany begins her sprout propaganda

Brittany finishes her project with Pia & Mallika

Byron & Jonesey composting

Byron & sister Cassie

Byron's new
composting bins
Fran multi-tasking

Free Farm is spreading the wealth

Hannah is definitely the farm's expert harvester

Hermano hard at it

I have never seen Tree in here!

Joyce defending the moat
Kay is on her weeds
Mallika & Susan harvesting
Our resident cook

Our resident flower child

Our resident swami

Rafael & Roger (sans Wesker)

Rob & Jonesey giving Byron a break

Roger in the strawberries

Robert watering the container garden

The day's catch

The family sits down for lunch


Public Service Announcements:

Tues., Aug. 23, 2011, 6:30-8:30 pm Introduction to Carnism
Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin St. at Geary Blvd. SF
Dr. Melanie Joy, activist for social and environmental justice and animal welfare, will present her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows on how our diets evolved. Dr. Joy will focus on healthier diets based on more sustainable and humane agricultural practices, while preserving the earth and oceans.

Beginning Wed., Aug. 24, 2011, 1:30-4 pm, Healthier Living Workshops
Wed. workshops through Wed., Sept. 28, 2011, 1:30-4 pm
Richmond Branch Library, 351 - 9th Ave. betw. Geary & Clement, SF
Developed by Stanford University School of Medicine and hosted by SF Department of Aging and Adult Services, free 6-week workshops are designed to help people with chronic conditions and their caregivers improve the quality of their life. Participants learn how to manage pain, stress, and fatigue; be more fit and eat healthier; work more effectively with doctors and healthcare professionals; set goals and problem solve to make positive life changes; and feel better and reduce healthcare costs. To register, contact Shelly Glazer, City College of SF, 415-452-5839 or Details at

Thurs., Aug. 25, 2011, 5:30 pm-7:30 pm Artist reception for “Faces of Hunger”
Oakland City Hall Rotunda, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland
Exhibit from Mon., Aug. 22 to Fri., Sept. 2. The work of renowned photojournalist David Bacon, the exhibit is a collection of stories and images from Alameda County Community Food Bank clients, member agency staff and volunteers. RSVP by Tues., Aug. 23 to knzewi@accfb. org

Thurs, Aug. 25, 2011, 7-9pm, Living Wild: Native Plant Tasting & Book Signing
Ecology Center Store, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
An evening with Alicia Funk, author of Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada, to enjoy appetizers made from local native plants and sample wild fermented beverages. Learn how to process oak nuts (acorns) and other fall edibles, discover easy-to-grow native plants to add to the backyard this fall, and view original functional artwork from native plant materials. Growing native plants for food and medicine can help our own health as well as that of the landscape around us. It offers a way to deepen our relationship with the land we inhabit, support local biodiversity, and fundamentally shift the way we eat, garden and heal so that we can truly live sustainably. .

Sat., Aug. 27, 2011, 8 pm Ten Dangerous Nutrition Myths
St. James Community Room, 4620 California St., betw. 8th & 9th Ave., SF
Dr. Janice Stanger, author of The Perfect Formula Diet, will discuss common diet myths. If popular ideas about nutrition were correct, why would so many adults and children be overweight and sick? This no-myth-left-untouched presentation will transform your understanding of six whole foods you should eat and the processed foods, animal foods, and supplements you should never consume. Exactly how much do you need of key nutrients - and what happens if you get too much? Enjoy whole food feasts without guilt or worries about deficiencies. Discover the secrets to sustaining strong bones, unobstructed arteries, and youthful vigor - all without dissecting your food into protein, carbs, and fats.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturday's fruitful & veggieful volunteer day

Britt sent this terrific write-up with photos of Saturday’s volunteer day:

This Saturday was a very fruitful (and veggieful) day at the farm, with the volunteer crew harvesting an outstanding 186 lbs of produce! This bounty included over 6 different varieties of squash, strawberries, kale, collards, tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of flowers, and basil.

This week, instead of using primarily words, I am going to document all that went into Saturday’s massive harvest with a listing of photos. These photos chronologically show what went into Saturday’s volunteer day. Each photo has a caption with it that will give you a bit of background information about how the workday evolved.

I hope you enjoy the photos!

Kevin, one of my friends from Missouri, came to visit San Francisco this weekend, so he stopped by the farm on Saturday to check it out. Being a pretty smart guy, Kevin started his volunteer time at an ever-popular location: the strawberry patches.

Kevin’s little sister, Katie, joined Kevin in the strawberry patches and happily ate/harvested her time away.

Just this week, Damon brought down a large panel painting of some strawberries. This panel is now adding color to the farm’s southern fence.

Throughout the day, our lovely Joyce greeted volunteers and visitors as they came into the farm. This Saturday, she looked particularly stylish in her straw hat, cute glasses, and Trader Joes shirt (that she somehow managed to convince Trader Joes to give her for free).

RARE SIGHTING: Damon without tools in his hands! Take a good look at this photo—it is quite a rare sight indeed.

Hannah, my friend from college, came up to the farm this Saturday as well. Looking super cute in her shades, she helped to wash the ridiculous amount of greens that were harvested.

The various types of kale that were harvested. Who knew kale could come in so many different shapes?

Just a sample of all of the different varieties of squash that grow in the farm. Talk about diversity! I could not even name half of the squash I found in this bucket.

Rafeal brought the farm’s youngest member with him: Wesker, a 4 month old Terrier/Chihuahua mix. So, so, cute!

Hannah prepared a lovely lunch for the volunteers of a quinoa/garbanzo/zucchini mixture along with bread. Evan brought some homemade pickles to add to the lunch—delicious!

Freshly picked strawberries served as our lunch's desert. Amazingly, our strawberry patches are still producing about 15 lbs a week, and it’s August!

My friend Hannah taking a break with Caroline (another one of my friends from school). Aren’t they cute =].

Susannah, manning the produce give away. With such a big harvest, the stand was hardly able to give everything away in the hour that it was open.

To complement the produce giveaway, Tim and I gave away some “sprouting kits.” These kits contained a glass jar filled with clover seeds and topped with a secured screen. The kits also came with a comic designed by Tree that details how to grow sprouts and a “Why Sprout?” information sheet made by Tim.

Sunflower of the farm #1.

Sunflower of the farm #2. I am constantly amazed at how diversity is integrated into ever part of the farm.

Volunteers in Action: This photo was taken from the northwest corner of the farm. That corner is my favorite place to watch the farm and its volunteers move and grow.