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.

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