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.

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