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

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