Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We'll be back in 2012!

Note: This posting is longer than usual because this is our annual report without financial statements:-)

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s pretty awesome to look back at all that we’ve accomplished during this past year. Some highlights:
• Grew SLOW (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole) foods to share with the community
• Continued to promote garden education and build community with visiting educational, faith-based, non-profit and corporate groups as well as individuals
• Hosted MLK, Jr. Service Day and SF Refresh events
• Raised a greenhouse, hothouse, tool shed, office, terrace
• Installed sink and rainwater catchment system
• Won 2nd place in The Bay Citizen’s Citizen of Tomorrow contest
• Featured in a couple of documentary films in the making

We very much appreciate your support, and look forward to your ongoing support as we continue to “grow organic produce, foster garden education and build community”!

Get some unscented tissue before you read this announcement
As The Free Farm’s blog coordinator, I suppose I should delicately break the news about Saint Paulus’ decision to sell the land on which The Free Farm lies to a developer. According to Tree’s posting at, we will have use of the land for another two to five years while the developer completes red tape procedures before construction for housing can begin.

Everyone responds to loss in his/her own way. My reaction has been a mix of gratitude and sadness. I feel gratitude for being part of our unique experience at The Free Farm, yet sadness because I was looking forward to growing a food forest so I’ll miss the land (sob-sob), but we’ve built such a nice community that should last beyond our physical space. I love The Free Farm, which will always have a special place in my heart, but I also have other things (such as my beloved rent-controlled apartment) going on in my life. Closer to home and before The Free Farm entered my life, Golden Gate Park was my garden (though I didn't grow any food there).
The Free Farm’s closed so I’m posting photos taken from SF Botanical Garden because hey, what’s a blog without photos? Take a virtual walking tour at
“Love goes where my Rosemary grows”

We received our “Dear John letter” from Saint Paulus a few weeks ago, which coincided with my own receipt of an unsigned “Dear Tenant” letter advising me that the owner of my apartment building hired a real estate company to manage the building and that all rent checks should be made payable to this company. While I wasn’t surprised about Saint Paulus’ decision, I was skeptical about the “Dear Tenant” letter (corporate takeover?), especially when a neighbor told me that he didn’t receive the same notice.

I eventually called my landlord, who confirmed that the notice was legit because he was, in fact, retiring and therefore delegating management responsibilities, though he was still owner and I could always call him. Whew, what a relief but not only because I live in a rent-controlled unit. Since I love the freedom of a low-maintenance lifestyle, I minimize ownership (except for my extensive reading and music collection) so I really am grateful for kind landlords offering use of rent-controlled and public gardening spaces. I already miss my landlord’s personal touches like his putting up fresh pine wreaths in our building at this time of the year (sniffle, tissue please).

While my landlord receives my rent, Saint Paulus (like The Giving Tree) has never asked The Free Farm for anything. Over the past year, Saint Paulus has been transparent about offers received and invited us to several meetings discussing the possible sale of its land so it’s not like we were jilted. My understanding is the housing development will include space for their Church as well as some low-income units. I hope they consider a rooftop garden as well. At our MLK Service Day earlier this year, I was really touched meeting Saint Paulus congregants as they shared memories of worshiping (and getting married in Pam’s case) at their old Gothic church. I commiserated with them over the loss of their beautiful church which burned down 16 years ago. Later, I read some expressions of their deep loss and yearning for a rebuilt Church on their original land, in the readers’ comments section at (which include speculation like “fire was quite possibly started somehow by some homeless people being sheltered” and a few unkind words about “hippy dippy garden is no match for a great building”).

Legacy of generosity and trust

Though it’s too soon to be writing an obituary for The Free Farm, I hope it won’t be something sensational like “The Free Farm evicted after land sold for $5 million” or in the manner of “The Billionaire Who Loved Bluegrass: Financier and philanthropist spread around his millions so ‘good things will grow’” ( I don’t think net worth makes a person so why bother emphasizing it (other than to encourage the 1% to make tax-deductible charitable contributions to San Francisco Free Clinic, a cause as worthy as The Free Farm)? It’s not like one should have material wealth to be a role model of generosity. We at The Free Farm make “good things grow” without millions.

Tree is so right-on when he says we have never made pleas for money (in contrast to the many year-end solicitations that I've received from other 501(c)(3) groups) nor sold anything—largely because we started with space and water generously provided by Saint Paulus, then volunteers generously donated time and resources to grow The Free Farm, and we attracted foundation grants, too – all in the spirit of Matthew 10:8: “You received free, give free.”

(By the way, I actually recall Hellman—not for his wealth, but because he was often jogging by my campus residence hall on a hilltop, while I was chasing squirrels and inhaling eucalyptus forest. “Better dead than co-ed” alum remember him as “Warren, Go To Hell-Man!” after he voted to admit male undergrads as President of our College’s Board of Trustees. After 16 days of Occupy Mills, he announced reversal of co-ed decision. He also pops up in my grad photos, but only years later did I even learn about his wealth because his venture cap firm was a client.) Squirrel at SF Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

During the commercial holiday season, I usually escape to a developing country that’s too poor for aggressive mass consumerism. In many developing countries, the governments are so corrupt that communities have to be strong for their survival. Where there’s less reliance on material wealth and no government safety net, people emphasize relationships based on mutual trust, caring and cooperation. This seems to ensure that people contribute to the best of their abilities so everyone’s needs are met, which promotes a more relaxed state of existence than an ostentatious, competitive, me-first, win-at-all-costs culture. And being green is a practical act of necessity and survival, rather than something political or hipster. Similarly, The Free Farm is based on a sharing economy so we cooperatively find ways to be resourceful; for example, volunteers take The Free Farm’s landfill and plastic recyclables to dispose in bins at their homes so we don’t pay the monthly garbage collection rate for the small amounts of waste that we can’t compost.

Saint Paulus has allowed us free reign to do just about anything at The Free Farm—and I imagine they’re pretty proud of how we occupiers have transformed their/our lot into gorgeous growing space! It’s really beautiful to focus on us sharing so I have moments of pinch myself, it would be so ideal to enjoy this same level of freedom and trust everywhere rather than an uptight litigious culture where people are unduly concerned about protecting themselves from liability. For example, even after I explain how the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act ( limits donor liability except in cases of gross negligence, it’s sad but real that Americans continue to remain cautious about practicing generosity with strangers because they’re worried about getting sued by ambulance-chasing plaintiff attorneys if someone gets sick eating donated food. Similarly, landlords have liability concerns over guests on their property should someone be injured in common areas like garden and rooftop spaces. Of course, we (even deep pockets) all have to be wary of greedy sociopaths who really ruin community building efforts, but they seem to stay away from The Free Farm! Quickest way to a person’s heart is through the stomach

Unlike Free Farm Stand, which attracted complaints about crowding from public park patrons, I don’t think anyone has complained about The Free Farm – especially since we’re so low-key that we’ve never attracted enough visitors to form long lines and neighbors take what they need, so we’ve remained peaceful as feeding neighbors can silence potential complaints :-). I remember this advice dispensed by SF Permaculture’s Kevin, who comes from the “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” school when he told me about raising ducks outside of his Haight-Ashbury apartment, explaining that he makes a lot zucchini bread for his neighbors so they don’t complain!

Our intentions have been to have visitors join us for hands-on experience in cultivating our agroecosystem while connecting with nature where our food comes from and then sharing in tasting our freshly harvested produce locally. Yet we harvest more produce that could feed more than the stomachs that actually show up at The Free Farm.

Much of our food grown actually travels to Mission District’s Free Farm Stand on Sundays ( explains why food is handed out to hipsters who probably can afford to shop at Whole Paycheck). Does giving away food liberally to anyone who waits in line create a sense of entitlement? Should we target needy populations by donating our food to nearby community soup kitchens and the homeless, even if this means people will miss the connection to nature? As a Getup student, I helped Garden For the Environment prepare its weekly CSA box that Food Runners takes over to Larkin Street Youth Services located just three blocks away from The Free Farm.
Garden For the Environment’s CSA box containing 10 lbs. of onions, celery, carrots, chard, kale, mustard, radish, lettuce, basil, squash, tomatillos, apples and flowers


When Steve Jobs died a couple of months ago, I loved his last words which I like to think are words of gratitude for an examined life that was worth living with passion and integrity. With announcement of his passing, the media often quoted excerpts from his 2005 speech delivered after his cancer diagnosis: “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. . . .Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” (

One upside to knowing we have a limited amount of time is developing humility and focusing on priorities; this process can lead us to be more thoughtful and appreciative (our eternal gratitude to Saint Paulus) for whatever precious time is left to make the best of circumstances before we leave a place. Since The Free Farm’s not going to be around for eternity at Eddy and Gough, what’s truly important for us to accomplish in the time remaining? Perhaps it’s time to make a bucket list? I used to plan trips to places after they landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger List, so hurry and visit us soon before we leave!

I have a special fondness for our labyrinth—mainly because I love herbs and appreciate their healing properties, so I hope to plant some medicinal herbs in the Spring and create materials on herb applications.
I heart patchouli . . . scent gives me a natural high like eucalyptus and pine :-)

What are your New Year’s Resolutions for The Free Farm? See you next year soon :-)!

P.S. Hopeful ending

While food shopping earlier this evening, I bumped into District 1 Supervisor and Land Use Committee Chair Eric Mar (who made his initial appearance on this blog at When he mentioned efforts to get an organic farmers’ market in the Richmond District, I told him I didn’t think one was needed because our district (like Chinatown and Mission) is already oversaturated with affordable produce markets open 7 days a week, and Clement Street even has several shops offering organic produce so I can avoid the “dirty dozen” ( (Low prices result from oversupply without increase in demand.) In addition, our City has a glut of farmers’ markets ( that are hurting farmers because they now have to set-up at several smaller farmers’ markets in different neighborhoods (with associated travel and time costs) just to reach the same number of customers that used to shop at a larger farmers’ market like Heart of the City or Alemany ( If people want to buy direct from farmers, they can subscribe to a CSA. Always the diplomat, Eric is a role model of active listening (using techniques like encouraging me to say more, clarifying, restating, reflecting, summarizing, validating) without ever opining because I’m just one of his many constituents.

When I mentioned getting more people involved in growing their own organic food would be a better way to promote public health, Eric said his assistant is looking into vacant lots for another community garden as he understands over 50 people are wait-listed for Argonne Community Garden ( notes wait-list is “approximately one year”). Then I blurted: a community garden is not the same as The Free Farm, which we’ll lose in another two to five years. The Free Farm is like family ( because it’s a big shared space, not allocated plots like apartment units. Like Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time and place for every event under heaven: a time for privacy (especially in the bathroom) and a time for collective effort (like communal gardening). If you’ve been following this blog, you’re probably thinking yada yada. Eric, who’s actively concerned about public health, mentioned again that his office is looking into vacant lots. . . so we’ll follow-up to see if we can get some growing space for The Free Farm! No pressure, but we’re counting on you, Eric ;-)!

(Disclosure: I respect Eric’s position as Supervisor, but just very accustomed to being on a first-name basis with him because we go way back to my college days – interesting how I met Hellman and Eric while at a “women’s college without boys, not an all-girls’ school without men”!)
Singer-colleague Greg gave me this photographer box because I love photographing food (as you can see in this blog) and I thought posting this photo would be a cheerful way to sign-off :-) Happy new year!

Public Service Announcements:

What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?
Learn about the history behind the Government’s involvement with food. Some interesting facts: During World War I, the Food Administration under Herbert Hoover promoted “Meatless Mondays.” With canned goods in short supply during World Wars I and II, people ate more fresh fruit and vegetables—many from their own back yards. During World War II, the U.S. government recommended eating from the butter and fortified margarine food group daily for health!

Tues., Jan. 3, 2012, 1 pm Pissarro’s People Docent Talk
Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave. at Clement St., SF 94121
Pissarro’s paintings of townspeople, peasants, and farm workers stress their individuality rather than their mythic qualities, which so preoccupied Millet, his predecessor in the agricultural figural tradition. The cast of characters Pissarro represented reflects his unique engagement in contemporary political, social, and economic issues. The exhibition reconsiders Pissarro’s people within this rich contextual setting.

Wed., Jan. 4, 2012, 1:30-3:30 pm SF Food Security Task Force
City Hall - 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Rm. 278, SF 94102
Presentation by the Food Guardians from the Southeast Food Access Working Group.

Thurs., Jan. 5, 2012, 5:45-8:30 pm One Bay Area Public Workshop
UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center, 1675 Owens St., SF
Let’s plan together for a future that enhances the economy, environment and social equity, and our communities’ livability.
Last spring nearly 800 people attended public workshops in all nine Bay Area counties to learn about Plan Bay Area and offer feedback about future land development, housing growth, transportation investment options and policy initiatives.
It's time to talk about trade-offs. We have prepared several scenarios for what the Bay Area could look like in 2040. Now we need your help in selecting desired features among the alternative planning choices, and your help in prioritizing transportation investments and policies.
Plan Bay Area — one of our region’s most comprehensive planning efforts to date — is led by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
MTC and ABAG will be hosting public workshops, one in each Bay Area county, to hear your opinion.
Space is limited. You must register to attend at

Wed., Jan. 11-Feb. 15, 2012, 1:30-4 pm Healthy Living with Diabetes (7-week workshop series)
Community Room, Curry Senior Center, 315 Turk St., SF 94102
Pre-Registration is required by calling: Christian Intemann 415-346-6380 x111 or Jane Lev 415-255-3614

Food Justice: Conference Highlights

OH WOW, I’m still processing all the information presented at Community Food Security Coalition's 15th Annual Conference in Oakland last month. Attending the four-day event with over 1,000 like-minded food justice activists nationwide was an incredible experience packed with film screenings, tours (see my posting about Black Panthers Legacy at, awards ceremony, march to support human rights for farmworkers (with snacks provided by Chez Panisse restaurant, though I missed this to attend Oxfam luncheon described at, soap box at Occupy Oakland, workshops, forums, networking and committee meetings, exhibits, etc.

OH WOW, it was so challenging for me to select sessions to attend because I just wanted to absorb it all; fortunately, some of the materials are now posted at so we can see what we missed. (Unfortunately, I missed Monday evening’s A Taste of Oakland Reception featuring local foods--major foodie highlight!--because I decided to take a mid-term that could not be rescheduled.)

OH WOW, there were a lot of sessions about 2012 Farm Bill (covered in past blog postings) and food sovereignty (which probably should have been conference title instead of Food Justice). Instead of providing a play-by-play account of the sessions that I attended, I’ll just post some photos and then focus on one Voices from the Bay Area workshop that really stood out for me—“The Elephant in the Room: Food Access and Health Outcomes.” In other words, does provision of healthful food ensure consumption? How can we ensure food-insecure individuals receive and consume healthful foods, and have positive health outcomes? At The Free Farm/Free Farm Stand, we give away fresh fruits and veggies, but are recipients actually eating them?
Joined Getup classmate Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (, in breakfast buffet line: scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, roasted potatoes, wheat & gluten-free breads, almond butter, pears & apples, persimmons, granola, dairy & soy milk, orange juice, coffee & tea. CFSC Board President Young Kim welcomes 1,000+ attendees to Conference.
Former CFSC Board & Staff members share stories of past conferences from 1st gathering in 1994 in Chicago to present day, the largest and most diverse in its history.
Honoring the Roots of the Food Movement in the Bay Area panel: Susan Clark of Columbia Foundation ( discussed philanthropy from 1649 Diggers to present day; Larry Cohen of Prevention Institute introduced video,"We're Not Buying It: Junk Food Marketing to Kids" (view at; Food First Director Eric Holt-Jiminez translated for Luis who provided history and working conditions of Mexican farmworkers in U.S.; and Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm talked about the challenges of maintaining a healthy and affordable supply of food with fair prices for farmers and farmworkers.
The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities author Peter Ladner talks about regaining control over our food supply and quality by growing food ourselves foremost, and next buying it from someone we know.
Gavin Raders co-founded Oakland-based Planting Justice ( as an income-generating nonprofit to make permaculture "relevant, accessible and affordable" for low-income urban residents. He shared his work at a free community workshop on Socially Enterprising Urban Agriculture Nonprofits.
Communities Putting Prevention to Work panelists talked about food access strategies such as farmers markets, farm to schools, healthy vending policies, healthy corner stores, etc.
Lunchtime march to support Campaign for Fair Food, led by Coalition of Immokalee Workers ( and Just Harvest USA (, to demand fair wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
Occupy Oakland's Garden Supply Drop-Off Center
Took a break from power point presentation sessions to join hands-on cooking using Center for Ecoliteracy's Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools ( Our group prepared broccoli raisin salad. I've been so inspired working with Cheryl Davis (standing while holding walnuts) to deliver nutrition education through Network for a Healthy California's African-American Campaign; her former students will spot her on the street and thank her for showing them how to reduce high blood pressure and control diabetes through diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits.
5 quick & easy salads: asian cabbage, cucumber & jicama lime, broccoli raisin, tabouli, zucchini fettucine
Raul Lozano founded La Mesa Verde ( to help low-income residents of San Jose grow their own organic vegetable gardens. His idea was to provide raised beds so people will garden. His 3 goals for participants: learn how to grow food, eat healthier and save money ($240-$720+ annual savings). 3 phases: empower people to create self-sufficiency, neighbors help neighbors, and seed saving.
San Jose State University Nutrition Professor Marjorie Freedman and her students conducted studies of food intake patterns of community soup kitchen clients to see if nutritional needs were met. They found that fresh fruits, vegetables and bread were mainly discarded. Protein was rarely thrown out. She said this might suggest that waste is a function of palatability so further research will be done on food preparation and menu patterns in relation to consumption patterns. She said findings are cause for concern because food is not nutrition until it's eaten. She raised the question: Can we talk about food security without talking about nutrition and health outcomes?

Freedman’s plan to study the “palatability” of prepared foods really intrigued me because of the Bay Area’s diverse population. Her presentation showed fresh raw salads, oranges and breads thrown out at the soup kitchen. Based on my experience working with senior congregate meal sites, here are some of my thoughts on why some foods are not eaten:

1. Preparing foods that are culturally appropriate. For example, traditional Chinese and Indian peoples don’t eat raw salads (other than pickled form; Chinese Chicken Salad is American-Chinese food, not authentic Chinese) but they believe in cooking high-fiber vegetables with some healthy fat to improve digestibility and nutritional quality. According to George Mateljan’s The World’s Healthiest Foods, the following foods should be cooked to enhance nutritional quality: carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green and red peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. In addition, cooking helps prevent foodborne illness by killing salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other pathogens.

2. Respecting dietary needs, especially food allergies and sensitivities (“One man’s food is another man’s poison”). FDA’s top eight foods accounting for 90% of allergic reactions (adverse immune system response to protein) are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. Common food intolerances can be due to enzyme deficiency (e.g., most people other than those of Northern European ancestry have lactase deficiency making it difficult to tolerate lactose in milk) or chemical sensitivities (e.g., salicylates found in orange and other citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, etc.).

3. Considering health issues such as tooth problems (e.g., raw apples may be too hard to bite), less sensitive taste buds (possible zinc deficiency), drug interactions (limit garlic if taking blood thinners, limit grapefruit if taking cholesterol-lowering drugs), and depression (which suppresses appetite for some people).

Congregate meals remind me of airplane food, served to the masses with little customization for individual preferences, so uneaten food is wasted. To minimize waste, perhaps menus should be planned to avoid offending ingredients and to follow traditional food preparation methods? At The Free Farm, several regular volunteers have gluten sensitivities so we always try to provide gluten-free alternatives like rice or quinoa.

In addition to the problem of food-insecure people not eating fresh fruits and vegetables at community kitchens, let's examine the extent that they’re eating food provided by food-based safety net programs. And do they have refrigeration for storage and cooking equipment to properly prepare foods?

We already produce more than enough food for everyone to eat, but the poor go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food ( In the Bay Area, we have a safety net of community kitchens, food banks, food stamps (CalFresh), etc. to provide food to the food-insecure. However, some recipients aren’t eating what’s provided. For example, some elderly recipients are selling donated food from food bank pantries and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (, and some food stamp recipients are converting food stamps to cash, to purchase non-food items (sometimes to meet other needs such as rent or medicine)( AB 828 proposes to lift the lifetime ban on convicted drug felons from receiving food stamps ( but some are opposed due to concerns that they might resort to food stamp trafficking to support their drug habit (

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which distributes coupons to low-income participants to purchase fresh food/seeds at farmers’ markets, has redemption rates averaging below 60%; some barriers to participation are inconvenient market hours, location and lack of transportation (

As experienced by Lozano’s La Mesa Verde clients and we at The Free Farm, possibly the best way to ensure that people receive and consume healthful foods, and have positive health outcomes, is for everyone to grow and harvest produce (great exercise) at their peak of ripeness for the best flavor and nutrition. . . so let’s grow plants, eat plants! Mission accomplished :-)
Ally Akon, editor of Cultivating Food Justice, and grad student Megan Carney facilitate Food Justice Research networking forum. Eric Holt-Gimenez, who focuses on participatory action research, proposed forming a Society for Researchers of Food Justice. U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance ( Forum: While food security is about how best to get food to those who need it, food sovereignty aims to address the root cause of hunger--poverty--by breaking up corporate control in favor of the people's democratic control of the food system.
Food First ( Director Eric Holt-Gimenez wears his message: Join the Revolution Eat Local. Check out his backgrounder on "Food Security, Food Justice or Food Sovereignty?" at He also mentioned that Food First will present People's Food Conference next year--definitely look forward to attending! Access to Healthy Food for Underserved Populations panel: Sara Padilla of Community Food Security Coalition ( discussed urban agriculture barriers (seasonality, labor intensive, land tenure and access, skills and cultural barriers) and benefits of urban gardens (builds "social capital" aka community contributions, recreation, revitalizes neighborhoods, nutrition and environmental education); Autumn Saxton-Ross of District of Columbia Department of Public Health mentioned rule dating from 1980s for Enhancing Food Production and Urban Gardening to use vacant lots to produce food, but its implementation hampered because of policy language ("devil's in the details"); Alison Hagey of Policy Link's Center for Health and Place mentioned some resources online at relating to Healthy Food, Healthy Communities, Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens; and Laila Goldberg of The Food Trust ( discussed healthy food financing initiative.
Future Directions for Community Food Movement Closing Plenary
Raj Patel said food sovereignty means ending all forms of violence against women because one-third of households are headed by females and 60% of hungry population are female. He added that we need to get used to Slow Politics because good decisions take time. Mills College student Maya Salsedo is youth advisor to Rooted in Community ( which helped create a Youth Food Bill of Rights. Some RIC students perform at conference closing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Diggin' & jammin' at The Free Farm

Talented pianist and volunteer K sent these awesome photos of last Saturday’s volunteer day.

Digging trench for electricity to greenhouse

Trench digging close-up

K jammin' with volunteers from InSPIRE

Earthworm wiggles to music :-)

Friendly reminder: The Free Farm will be closed the next two Saturdays, December 24 and 31. Thanks for all your support, and see you in the new year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

We're made of Star Stuff

I wanted to add some more news about the Free Farm. For one thing, I have been wanting to share this information for a while since Meg, a new volunteer, generously brought us a solar oven a while back and showed us how to use it.  I have been converted to becoming a true sun worshipper. Now part of my routine when I come to the Free Farm is that I set up the solar oven and start some water heating up for tea or to wash our dishes in.  We have been lucky that for all the last workdays we have been getting a lot of sun and even though the winter sun is low on the horizon we are still able to heat up the oven with that nuclear power plant in the sky. Now I feel connected not only with the earth and the soil, but with the sun.  Actually I feel I have been feeling I am totally connected with everything. When we installed the rain barrels in November I felt connected to the carbon cycle and the water that is recycled daily on our planet.

The solar oven arriving at the Free Farm has connected me with the idea that we are all made of starstuff. I picked that up from a talk I attended at the Casa de Paz house a few weeks ago where I heard Rev. Michael Dowd talk about the marriage of science and religion. Check out the videos at Symphony of Science and especially the one We are all Connected.
                      " The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
                        But the way those atoms are put together
                        The cosmos is also within us
                        We're made of star stuff"

warming up rice (last week we cooked some potatoes but they unfortunately were not ready for lunch)
I learned that the secret to getting the oven to work is to make sure the angle is correct

Also, our star stuff inside us, that great warmth and beauty radiates all the time outward in the great number of volunteers who come and visit us and help out at our workdays. Here is something I wrote at another blog "An example of this kind of love work happened at the Free Farm  last Saturday and really made my day.  Rahul and Asha, friends through Pancho, brought 9 people they have been hosting who are involved in the west coast InSPIRE retreat. They put on “5-week immersion trips in India where the participants interact and work with a wide range of organizations and leaders in social change-- starting with Manav Sadhna at Gandhi Ashram. “ They were some of the best volunteers we have attracted at the farm and not only did they work really hard, but they took a break after lunch and played music, that filled the air with joy and celebration.  Also, my long term friend David came by and worked with some of them, bringing electricity to the greenhouse. It was so great to be connected with all these people.
Also, another smaller group of people showed up, I can’t remember the name of the group, who works with troubled teen girls. They were on trip learning about farms and our watershed and helped out for an hour or so." Here are some pictures from the work day:
 Pancho reminds us to connect with the inner stuff inside us by  practice of receptive silence. It is such an important part of daily lives and service work.

 seed planting
 harvesting broccoli leaves
 building a new box for our container garden
 getting seeds for planting hothouse

Joyce radiates her star stuff all the time 

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can't figure out the bag I'm in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah
There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For bein' such a rich one that will not help the poor one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh sha sha-we got to live together
”Everyday People” lyrics by Sly Stone

Superstar Stanley volunteered at The Free Farm last weekend – both on our usual Saturday workday plus 1st Sunday of the month with Congregation Emanu-El! Busy as she was, Stanley also took some time to take these photos for our viewing pleasure :-)

notes on the pepper plants

K with persimmons gleaned from Stanford

sunchokes and peppers at the stand beautiful day pic Sunday morning members of Congregation Emanu-El transplanting lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse

It really takes a community to keep The Free Farm running beyond our Saturday volunteer days that are usually documented in this blog. And it takes wonderful volunteers to contribute photos covering our Wednesday (thanks Tree) and 1st Sunday (thanks Stanley) volunteer days for this blog.

And thanks to dedicated volunteers from the neighborhood who care for The Free Farm. . . like John, who has a busy work schedule so he tells me that he volunteers mainly outside of our regularly scheduled volunteer days, with occasional appearances when he can on Saturdays. While at the Bay Area Senior Health Policy Forum last week, I barely recognized John who was wearing a tie at this event! In addition to being near-sighted, I’m just so used to seeing him dressed in comfortable casual wear at The Free Farm that he actually had to identify himself for me. Seeing him out of The Free Farm context, doesn’t John appear to be separated at birth from Moby ( Like a good paparazza, I made sure to capture this rare appearance :-). Universal design

At the Forum, I enjoyed discussions about health care coming from our homes, communities and environment—not doctors, prescription drugs or insurance. Our environment should make it easy for everyone to make healthy choices: access to whole foods to eat, safe spaces to increase physical activity (which also provides mental acuity), etc. Since fatal crashes increase with age, we should support public transportation, walking and biking (see – by making these safe and attractive options. We need to promote universal design that benefits everyone – for example, curb cuts help people in wheelchairs and toddlers in strollers.

Since I work with the elderly, I’ve wanted to share the experience of The Free Farm with them in-person. I learned much about gardening from my grandfather, and I always thought gardening (and eating fresh produce) kept him alive through nine decades. His legacy has been passing on love of gardening/food which is so life-affirming and yummy.

Elders often acquire disabilities as they age, and their limited mobility makes it challenging to visit The Free Farm in-person. Saturday’s stand is set-up close to the flat, paved sidewalk so it’s accessible, but the downhill slope leading to our farm appears steep – and potentially slippery on rainy days. As people age, they have slower reaction time, muscle weakness, diminished vision, decreased ability to orient themselves, etc. that makes it more likely for elders to lose balance, fall and injure themselves. While one solution is interdependence (holding on to each other for dear life!), some people want to maintain their independence.

Gardening for everyone!

I’ve been exploring ways to make gardening more accessible to elders and persons with disabilities ( If they can’t come to The Free Farm, I need to reach them where they’re at, but this hasn’t been easy because I’ve had to let go of being such a groovy-wild-in-nature snob. I always loved Bill Mollison’s “designer turns into the recliner” by just letting nature be ( I was completely won over the idea of growing plants in wild conditions to produce the best medicine, while doing my internship with Peg Schafer of Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm ( in Petaluma. Now, instead of judging gardening in open spaces as superior, I’ve shifted my perspective to appreciate the diversity in gardening (even in contained forms) to accommodate the spectrum of human differences – though I still maintain organic is superior!
As part of my gerontology studies, I participated in service learning at 30th Street Senior Center (, which has this terrific garden with raised beds on the 3rd floor and concrete pathways – setting for tai chi classes and very accessible to people using wheelchairs, walkers and canes.
Though The Free Farm has a container gardening area near our entrance, I find it somewhat cramped like a plant zoo. As an apartment dweller, I really should be more receptive to container plants. It’s embarrassing that I’ve actually managed to kill houseplants for unknown reasons, but I grew up believing that plants are happier outdoors communing wildly with other plants and bugs . . . or, maybe I’m just projecting my own preference not to be stuck indoors?

Finally I forced myself to register for a container gardening class, which opened me (food obsessed person that I am!) up to ornamental plants like drought-tolerant succulents. For my final project, mainly to amuse myself, I created this yin-yang piece held in a bowl atop a rice cooker (broken, but has sentimental value as my going-away-to-college gift from godparents). My PG-rated explanation: Echinopsis lageniformis (looks like phallic symbol) represents yang (mountain, sunny, south slope, daytime, hot, dry, hard, male) and Lithops represents yin (valley, shady, north slope, nighttime, cold, wet, soft, female). They seem to complement one another and they’re still alive after two months in my kitchen! Can this be the beginning of a new, more loving relationship with container gardening?

Make it real: everyday gardens for all abilities!

This past week, I received an email message from the Director of UC Botanical Garden (check out who related how much he missed the garden because he was homebound for three weeks recovering from knee replacement surgery. Well, universal design can help bring the outdoors in . . . get inspired:

The Garden Incorporating Principles of Universal Design:
Madison’s Inclusive Community Gardens:
Universal Design for the Garden:
Universal Design Gardening from a Wheelchair:

And check out this insightful article, “Occupy Your Food Supply,” with cool artwork, at

Winter break at The Free Farm

The Free Farm will be getting some rest with Saturday closings on December 24 and 31. In our absence, consider volunteering to make gardening accessible at our senior centers that will be open (!

Public Service Announcement:

Wed., Dec. 14, 2011, 5:45 pm Taking Root film & Resource Fair
SF Main Public Library, 100 Larkin St., SF
Screening 5:45-6:45 pm
Resource Fair 6:45-7:30 pm (The Free Farm will have a table!)
Free tree seedlings for those who RSVP on Eventbrite
Please join The Free Farm and a host of local organizations involved in urban restoration, farming and community gardening at this free event!
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai tells the story of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and follows Maathai, the movement’s founder and the first environmentalist and African woman to win the Nobel Prize. Maathai discovered her life’s work by reconnecting with the rural women with whom she had grown up. They told her they were walking long distances for firewood, and that clean water was scarce. The soil was disappearing from their fields, and their children were suffering from malnutrition. “Well, why not plant trees?” she suggested. Maathai soon discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change and the Greenbelt Movement found themselves working against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, embedded economic interests, and government corruption; they became a national political force that helped to bring down the country’s 24-year dictatorship.