Saturday, September 10, 2011

Our spiritual footprint

K built peace sign from recycled bricks

“We seek to be an inclusive community of God’s diverse people, visible in the world. Like Jesus, we: Care about one another and all creation, Honor the poor, Tell the truth to ourselves and others in love, Encourage justice and show mercy.”
Mission of Saint Paulus (

Today’s posting begins with the mission statement of Saint Paulus, which has been generously sharing this beautiful space for The Free Farm, because we’re also sharing in this mission. As stewards of The Free Farm, Tree recently encouraged us to increase our “spiritual footprint.”

One obvious way we carry out Saint Paulus’ mission is to use this space to care for one another and all creation by building soil and community, growing food and sharing our produce to further food justice—especially with the poor. September is Hunger Action Month (, but we Free Farmers take actions to combat hunger every month. Though we hold volunteer workdays on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we’re also involved in outreach and behind-the-scenes work on other days to increase our “spiritual footprint.”
Damon builds brick terrace to make it easier to harvest strawberries Basil harvested from hothouse Duncan & Alen harvest greens & tomatoes Byron manages compost Compost is hot 146F Workday leader Hannah oversees harvest for produce stand

Jordan & Duncan wash greens

Lunch gathering
Axis of Love is a patient advocacy group
Tomo & Rick plant lettuce
Damon made jam from gleaned plums
Claire put together colorful bouquet Julia & friend harvest greens Pancho & Byron check out compost

Care for neighbors

Our volunteer greeter Joyce sent the following report on The Free Farm’s recent Make Our Garden Grow outreach event to our senior neighbors:

On Tuesday, August 30th, the Western Park Apartment Dining room crackled with excitement when Page and Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain, representing The Free Farm, treated our senior community to a workshop and demonstration on gardening on a small scale.

We seniors live in cozy-size apartments and are in need of such information. We shared a tasty lunch, people brought their gardening questions and we were gifted with all the fixings to grow our own healthy chive plants. In addition to spending a valuable fun time together, Page and Margaret donated to our community sacks of much needed soil for our garden. Thank you!

Right on Free Farm - and all the right ideas it represents!

Joyce holds up sunflower chain

Margaret mentioned that they will be returning at the request of Western Park management for a workshop on pruning the garden’s ornamental plants. Margaret and Page are planning workshops to more groups in The Free Farm neighborhood.

Show how to grow food & community

Since Fall 2010, Margaret and Page have offered a Food and Community service learning course at Stanford University. The course is based on Food Justice book (; speakers that have included the book’s authors, The Free Farm’s Tree and Lauren; gleaning fruit trees on campus; and field trips to The Free Farm, Free Farm Stand, and Julian Food Pantry. Course graduates like Brittany and Tim continued their training as our summer interns. I appreciated their contributions to keep our blog fresh!
Sally, Britt & Margaret
Today was Britt’s last day as intern. Her projects included working with Tree on “Shout Out for Sprouts!” and re-working the History of the Land for Saint Paulus/The Free Farm, which will be posted on our bulletin board near The Free Farm’s entrance.

Encourage food justice
Adam & Susan of Food & Water Watch work to support locally grown food & the urban farmers who make it happen!

If you’re concerned about high food prices, perhaps the near monopoly power exercised by agribusiness, which receives corporate welfare in the form of commodity subsidies, is partly responsible? Are you concerned that overproduction of commodity crops like corn and soybean, used to feed people, are now also used for ethanol or factory farm animal feed?

To answer these questions and more, my Getup classmate Susan, who is SF Coordinator for Food & Water Watch’s 2012 Farm Bill Campaign (, came to The Free Farm with California Campaigns Director Adam, who shared his report back on his road trip educating communities about how the Farm Bill affects all of us – as consumers, SNAP/WIC/school lunch participants, farmers, etc. – and what we can do to ensure access to safe, healthy and sustainably produced food.
Adam answers questions about 2012 Farm Bill

As I have for the past 5 years, I’ll be participating in the Hunger Challenge. (See details in Public Service Announcements listing below.) In 2006, the challenge was to eat on a weekly budget of $21, the value of benefits received by the average food stamp recipient. (In 2008, food stamp was renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In California, CalFresh is the brand name for SNAP.)

This year’s challenge has increased the weekly food budget to $33 (increased by $5 from last year). I told Adam that I could afford grains and legumes (as Farm Bill subsidizes commodity crops like corn, wheat, barley, oats, rice, soybeans), but it was challenging to afford fruits and vegetables on a SNAP budget. (One MD advocates a starch-based diet at, while noting grains and legumes are deficient in vitamins A and C, which can be obtained from fruits and vegetables. I’d add that plant foods are deficient in vitamin B12, unless fortified.)

Can the new Farm Bill provide subsidies for “specialty crops” like fruits and vegetables? Adam responded that producers actually want a fair price, not welfare/subsidy. He mentioned that Food & Water Watch will hold a meeting with Central Coast/Monterey producers on Saturday, October 8, in Santa Cruz.

The current campaign seeks to protect programs like SNAP and support family farmers.

For more information on supporting local food systems and increasing healthy food access for all, contact Susan at or
Susan & Tree

Gough Street greening project
Gough St sidewalk
K waters succulents inside fence along Gough St

We want to make The Free Farm more inviting by increasing our visibility, while also reducing noise, pollution and runoff, along the Gough Street fence. Rev. Megan has been working on a design for a vertical garden with peep holes—perhaps a visual labyrinth—to draw people’s eyes into The Free Farm. She is soliciting input from us on several designs, including plant selection (succulents, scented herbs and geraniums, peelable edibles, flat growing trees, bamboo?). This project may involve using the sidewalk as well.

Design involves research so prior to joining today’s workday, I attended SF Department of Public Work’s Grey2Green Sidewalk Garden workshop ( for free upcoming workshops) at SF County Fair Building. I learned that planting fruit and nut trees, considered to “attract nuisance,” on sidewalks is not legal :-(. But workshop presenters Markos and Mike suggested alternative design and plant selection ideas to build soil and wildlife habitat, allow rainfall to return to groundwater, beautify our neighborhood, etc. Details at
Recycled tombstones in demo sidewalk garden outside SF County Fair Building Markos & Mike suggest planting seaside wild buckwheat to attract butterflies to sidewalk garden

Please come join us at The Free Farm to increase our collective spiritual footprint! And thank you, Saint Paulus!

Public Service Announcements:

Sun., Sept. 11 to Sat., Sept. 17, 2011: SF Food Bank Hunger Challenge
In San Francisco and Marin counties, an area overflowing with great food, there's a little-known secret: 1 in 5 children, adults and seniors struggle with hunger every day.
Most of us wonder what we'll be eating at our next meal, not if we'll be able to eat when mealtime comes around. That's why we invite you to participate in the 4th annual Hunger Challenge.
Could you eat on a food stamp budget? Just $4.72* per day? Try it — just for a week. And in the process you'll help bring attention and support to the reality of hunger in our own community.
Our Hunger Challenge this September is a chance for you to walk in someone else's shoes for just a week. And when you talk to family and friends and share your experiences with others, you'll help them understand why it's important for all of us to help support the families who can't feed themselves on a food stamp budget alone. Hunger is a challenge. Are you up for it?

Thurs., Sept. 15, 2011, 7:30 pm San Francisco's Changing Landscape
Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, SF 94114
Greg Gaar will present over 100 historic images to show the evolution of San Francisco's native plant communities over the last 200 years and efforts to preserve our natural heritage. Greg will show the transition of our oak woodlands, sand dunes, coastal prairies, tidal marshes, lakes and creeks and efforts to preserve our natural heritage.

Sat., Sept. 17, 2011 Take Back the Value Meal with $5 Slow Food Meal Challenge

Sun., Sept. 18, 2011, 1 pm, SEED
Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak St., Oakland 94607
The fourth and final Seed Circus event, "Seed" is an agrarian celebration of the bounty of fall harvest in California. Grind corn, thresh wheat, exchange seeds, and eat. The event includes live music, an experimental food project, film screenings, and a reading library of farming books and manuals.

Citizen Forester Training
Apply for training that begins Wed., Oct. 5, 2011
Each year, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) offers a series of 12 classes taught by FUF staff and premier guest speakers to deepen your knowledge and experience with trees. FUF will entirely sponsor any volunteer who commits to spending 50 hours (about one day per month for a year) volunteering in a leadership position with FUF. Details at

Sunday, September 4, 2011

We grew these for you

Roger's arms read Peace & Respect

In today’s SF Chronicle front page article, “Popularity of crop swaps is growing,” Free Farm Stand is mentioned as “sharing food with low-income families,” ( Yet, because Free Farm Stand, like The Free Farm’s produce stand, doesn’t ask for proof of financial need (as required in many bureaucratic programs), we’re actually sharing food with anyone willing to wait in line.

How can we give/share more? Join us at The Free Farm to grow, harvest and share food. You can even join us on a gleaning field trip! In Biblical times, the hard work of gleaning was set aside for the able-bodied poor, orphans, widows, etc. Modern-day gleaning is equal opportunity so check out Braving the Labor Day weekend traffic yesterday, John and several volunteers left the City at 7:30 am to drive to Vacaville to glean more plums.

At The Free Farm, some highlights of our workday:

Roger & Tomo harvest greens. Tomo is visiting from Japan.

What lies beneath these carrot green tops? Orange or purple (the color of the original variety)? Though yummy when eaten raw, cooking (lightly steamed) actually enhances the bioavailability of carrot's beta-carotene (for vision health) by breaking down the fiber and making it easier for the body to utilize. Eat whole plant: slightly bitter green tops balance sweet carrot roots.

Rafael's Wesker plays with Evan's Princess Polly Pugsley

Jet stands beside his artwork

Pia brought these apples & pears from Petaluma

Annie records the day's harvest: strawberries, squash, cucumber, lettuce, carrots, beans, rosemary, etc.

Tom & Tree greet visitors at produce stand

3 Stooges: Jet, Tahara & Tree

Damon lays brick around strawberry patches

Pia notes lemon verbena should be harvested before it goes to seed

Margaret walks down to water broccoli

Adelaja prepared these beds for planting

K planted this smiley sunflower

Damon has conversation with squash

48-hour challenge: Fix public health problem

As mentioned last week, I attended the Summer of Smart (SoS) hackathon at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA), which brought together urbanites from different disciplines for a weekend of solving civic problems through rapid prototyping.

At the Friday night kickoff event, we heard from speakers about the problems facing Public Health, Food and Nutrition. SF Department of Public Health’s Food Systems Director Paula Jones talked about food insecurity, especially among seniors in poverty and residents who live in single-room occupancy units without access to kitchens to properly store/prepare food, the work of existing government programs and community-based organizations to increase food access, etc.

Next up was a former US Secretary of Agriculture from New York who discussed the overweight/obesity epidemic of the past 30 years, Americans not getting enough physical activity, children who eat so much processed food that they “don’t know what a banana is”, etc.

Since it’s important to define any problem before we propose solutions, I thought this speaker should’ve explained the overweight/obesity epidemic, which was born on June 17, 1998, when NIH decreased the “normal” BMI upper limit from 27 to 25, so suddenly over 30 million Americans went from “normal” to “overweight” –representing a 50% increase in overweight Americans. In addition, BMI is such a dubious measure of health/fitness because it’s based on one’s height and weight, so muscular people like we Free Farmers could end up classified as overweight/obese. Is the problem the quality/quantity of food? The problem of chronic stress creating harmful belly fat? If kids don’t know what a banana is, maybe it’s because they’re locavores and haven’t gone to tropical places like Hawaii and Florida to experience bananas?

These 2 speakers reminded me of Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, indicating the growing inequality situation where everyone’s health suffers. Paula talked about lacking access to food, while the other speaker suggested an abundance of food. Both mentioned urban agriculture to create healthier communities. Public health recognizes that healthy choices are shaped by the choices we have in our environment, including the distribution of resources.

Finally, participants were invited to stand up to introduce themselves and their project ideas. My idea was to start The Free Farm in every neighborhood! But I actually left because I was not available to participate over the weekend due to my work. Still, I was curious so I returned on Sunday to check with GAFFTA Research Director Jake to find out about the projects.

Solution: Fruit trees in every neighborhood?

Guerrilla Grafters at SoS holding Tara's chicks

Guerrilla Grafters immediately caught my attention because they addressed food security, and Jake allowed me to hang out with the group for an hour before I had to leave for work. As it turned out, one of the key members was Tara, whom I knew from Greywater Guerrillas, which led our composting toilet workshop at The Free Farm last summer! Well, when greywater became legal, their name changed to Greywater Action.

Now Roots to Fruits ( co-founder Tara and Margaretha helped start Guerrilla Grafters on the ground with about 2 dozen other guerrillas on a mission to “reclaim the commons for productive use” by returning sterile fruit trees back into production through grafting! Jesse, Beth, Curtis, Jeff and Ian got on board to pioneer the social software application expanding the reach of the project exponentially.

Tara submitted online the project for Guerrilla Grafters. After introductions were made on Friday at SoS, Tara found web developer Marcus and Zoey, who joined the existing team of advocates, designers, researchers, and developers. There is an ongoing need for volunteer grafters, tree stewards, and neighborhood organizers to find support to ensure that trees are always cared for. A website,, has been created so the public can offer to volunteer or nominate trees on a database.

Guerrilla Grafters’ fruitful solution won 1st place so they will be presenting their winning proposal to SF mayoral candidates next month! Details at and

Chicks rest on Margaretha, Tara & Jeff

Street trees to share & care

Fruits help address part of the food insecurity problem because they’re one food group in a balanced diet that should include vegetables, grains, and legumes/lean protein source. While in Tunisia during Ramadan (fasting takes place dawn to dusk), I actually survived on dates from street trees.

Earlier in the summer, when faced with closing a budget deficit, SF Mayor proposed shifting the cost of caring for the City’s street trees to adjacent property owners who protested – after all, previous Mayor planted street trees without funding for the trees’ long-term maintenance. As far as maintaining fruit trees on public sidewalks, there are concerns about the potential mess resulting from fruits squishing on sidewalks. Tree suggested nut trees might be more appropriate for streets, and fruit trees in parks with soft ground for any falling fruit to land.

Public Service Announcements:

Tues., Sept. 6, 2011, 10 am-4:30 pm Conservatory of Flowers: Free Admission Day
100 John F Kennedy Drive, SF 94118
Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins

Wed., Sept. 7, 2011 at 1:30-3:30 pm SF Food Security Task Force Meeting
City Hall - 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Rm. 278, SF 94102

Thurs., Sept. 8, 2011, 7:30-9:30 pm, The Great Sunflower Project with Gretchen LeBuhn
Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, SF 94114
One of every three bites you took probably came from a plant pollinated by wild pollinators. We know that pollinators are declining in certain wild and many agricultural landscapes. However, little is known about urban pollinators. Our recent data on bumble bees in an urban setting suggests that urban bees may also be declining. While the loss of these pollinators is important, it is more important to understand what effect these losses have had on pollinator services.
We do not know much about how healthy bee populations are maintained in an urban environment. Because natural habitats are uncommon in urban landscapes, they may not provide enough resources to support viable pollinator communities. However, if other habitats, such as urban gardens and restored areas, are sufficiently connected to natural habitat, then native populations may thrive.
The data you collect from your sunflower will be a start. It will provide an insight into how our green spaces in the urban, suburban and rural landscapes are connected as well as shedding light on how to help pollinators. For more information, go to

Mondays, Sept. 12-Oct. 10, 2011, 4-6 pm Physical Science Applied to Global Climate Change
Greenhouse Cafe, 1722 Taraval, SF 94116
Concepts from physical, chemical, and biological science applied to current environmental issues, e.g., electric power generation alternatives; radioactivity and human health effects; global climate: natural and anthropogenic factors in climate change; water, soil, and air quality; ecosystem structure, function and biological adaptation; safety and risk; other issues including those raised by student discussion. No math or science pre-requisites; math will be taught as necessary to understand the science. For a full course syllabus including dates and subject matter of subsequent modules, email the instructor, Barbara-Ann G. Lewis, PhD,

Mon., Sept. 12, 2011, 7 pm Kickstart Your Health talk by Dr. Neal Barnard
The Hub SoMa, SF Chronicle Building, 901 Mission St., SF 94103
Dr. Barnard will discuss how to boost metabolism, lower cholesterol, and dramatically improve health. He is also the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the author of 14 previous books on diet and health, including Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes and Breaking the Food Seduction.

Summer Still Life

At The Free Farm last week, I noticed first-time volunteer Michael taking photos so I invited him to share them as it’s cool to view The Free Farm through fresh eyes. Michael sent me these mahvelous photos with his sweet note that he had been following The Free Farm blog for a while, and finally getting a chance to see it for the first time was more than he expected. Hope these photos inspire you to “come grow with us”!