Sunday, February 27, 2011

This ground on which the seed of love is sown

Getup classmates Sophie and Lynn share their experiences during yesterday’s workday:

Sophie: Container gardening & inspiring visitors to grow their own!

Hello blog-readers! It's Sophie again, one of the Garden for The Environment GetUp! graduates volunteering at the Free Farm.

This not-so-snowy Saturday a brave 16 volunteers came out to the Free Farm workday hosted by Tree. When we arrived Tree ushered us into the newly finished greenhouse where he showed us a list of the possible jobs for the day. Excited to work in the container garden, I chose to fill the newly finished pots (made by Lowell High School ceramics students) with a combination of potting soil and compost.

After finishing filling each of the pots (and taking a break to enjoy a delicious lunch made by Alena), I walked down to the greenhouse to see what I could plant. Tree directed me to a huge tray of little radish plants that were ready to be planted along with a smaller tray of lettuce plants. I transplanted a mixture of each of these two plants into the three pots, spacing them each 2 finger widths apart.

Transplanting has become one of my favorite parts of gardening. Although it is pretty simple, I love being able to take plants that are so small and transfer them to a new home, where they will be watered and tended to until they are ready to be devoured. Seeing the crops that you initially planted (or transplanted) as tiny seeds (or small plants) grow to be healthy crops ready for consumption is so rewarding.

Sophie plants lettuce & radish in ceramic pots made by Stanley's Lowell High students

Even more rewarding is working at the Farm Stand where neighbors come and take produce for their week. As I volunteer at the Free Farm longer, I begin to recognize Farm Stand regulars. Every week, a woman from the neighboring apartment building comes by and tells us about her week. This week she shared with us her attempts at trying to grow her own rosemary. This exemplifies the mission of the Free Farm, getting regular customers or even someone who is just walking by to see the farm and be inspired to grow something of their own. The newly built greenhouse is advancing this mission by housing starters that will eventually be given away to the neighborhood residents.

Until next week,

Lynn: Jack hammering cement and planting Yacón

On Saturday many volunteers come to spend their morning outside. The compost was steaming, favas were happily in flower, plumbing was implemented, collards and kale were harvested, I dug a terrace for the first time, and a handful of people went home with free veggies for the day. Unfortunately, a dead pigeon found itself on the Free Farm, so we gave it a proper burial.

Aaron and I were a few of the earlier volunteers to arrive. We were listening to Tree’s instructions of how and where to plant the Yacón before John came in to steal Aaron for help with jack hammering the cement away. Plumbing was more important on this day. It was his first time using a jackhammer and, though hesitant at first, he found it to be a thrilling experience.
John watches Aaron jackhammering cement Lynn planting Yacón
I continued on with planting the Yacón as Tree tended to other new coming volunteers seeking to help out. Carmen came by and harvested collards. John buried the pigeon, I gave a short eulogy. Other volunteers helped out with the greenhouse, watered, planted new seeds, and worked on new plumbing. Stanley brought two new clay pots made by her lovely students.

After a lovely morning of work, it was soon noontime, lunch to be served. The day’s menu: buttered white and wild rice with roasted butternut squash, collards, and herbs. Banana pudding bread, freshly baked bread, and peanut butter on the side. We gathered together in our typical Gratitude Circle. We held hands as Evan lead with a Grateful Dead lyric, “Last leaf fallen bare earth where green was born.” He thanked everyone for their time here, John lead a group breath, and we were ready to eat.

Play Grateful Dead's "New Potato Caboose" at

In the afternoon, a sink was installed, people went home with freshly picked local organic produce, I dug a terrace with Jordan’s help, weeds were pulled, and a vegetable bed layout was designed for one of the greenhouses.

Aaron and I went home feeling like a morning was well spent. It was incredibly rewarding to work out in beautiful weather with good friendly people, and share a delicious meal together.

Next week, I’ll be planting those Sunchokes on the new terrace. We’ll see how theYacón is doing, and perhaps the compost will be ready for turning. I wonder what new seedlings will have sprouted? New work done on the greenhouses? I wonder what delicious meal our volunteers will have made for us next week? What new friend I’ll make? Come join us to find out!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.

The weather forecast was snow, but we ended up with “sunny skies sweeping (most of) the clouds away!”

Earlier in the day, I alluded to Carson McCullers’ short story, A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., as inspiration for a blog post if I could get a photo opportunity. Later in the day, after Getup classmate Lynn built a fortress of rocks, Tree responded in his usual good-natured manner when I asked him to pose next to a rock with a cloud above.

A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. was required reading in my 8th grade English class. (You can read it online at Tree mentioned that he liked the hyperlinks in my last post so I’ll just include a few in today’s post.) In this story, a man strikes up a conversation with a 12-year-old boy (my age in the 8th grade). Married to a woman who made him feel complete, the man was devastated when his wife left him after a year of marriage. Five years after his loss, the man figured out the “science of love”: how to progress from love of inanimate subjects (hence the title: a tree, a rock, a cloud) to love of a woman (complex human being). The man said he mastered this science so “I can love anything.” Yet, when the boy asks whether the man has fallen in love with a woman again, the man says he is cautious and not ready for the last step in his science.

Like the 12-year-old boy, all I could do was ask more questions: Was the man like Simon & Garfunkel’s "I Am a Rock" (“If I never loved I never would have cried. I am a rock, I am an island. . . And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.” View and listen to What kind of love was this man talking about? The ancient Greeks had four words for love: storge (family affection), philia (friendship), eros (passionate love), and agape (universal love). By the way, what was my English teacher thinking in assigning this short story to inexperienced 8th graders?

A Tree. Today, I wonder: Maybe the man’s science of love theory is valid—that men should fall in love beginning with a tree? I’m reminded of Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, about a selfless tree who loved a boy so much that she gave him everything he asked for. But when the boy grows older, he doesn’t reciprocate; instead, the greedy boy keeps taking from the tree and ultimately ends up cutting down the tree so he can build a sailboat. When the boy grows into an old man, the tree stump says she has nothing left to give. But the boy-man explains, "I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest." The giving tree invites the boy-man to sit down and rest, saying, "Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting.” The boy did just that, and the tree was happy. The end. But I didn’t feel this ending was happily ever after. Instead, I felt grief: Did the boy-man ever really love the giving tree, or was he just exploiting the tree’s resources? What’s the boy-man’s relationship with other creations, including human creatures like his wife and children?

(Listen to “Cruel to be Kind” at “You say your love is bonafide, but that don't coincide with the things that you do. . . Well, I do my best to understand dear, but you still mystify, and I wanna know why. I pick myself up off the ground to have you knock me back down again and again . . .)

A Rock. A tree’s roots are covered in soil, which is made of rock. John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, believes farming takes more than it gives. Therefore, he recommends that farmers devote at least 60% of planting space to growing crops as compost ingredients to build soil.

A Cloud. Clouds bring rainwater, which is free and an ideal source of water for growing plants.

Organic farming is labor of love intensive, requiring special attention and care to everything in the environment—a tree, a rock, a cloud—that affects the growth and well-being of all creation. The Free Farm is a great place to practice “the science of love”—being generous to both our natural and human communities. So come outside and farm with us!
Tree's to-do list
Jordan harvests kale
John picks up dead pigeon
My shadow taking photo of pigeon's grave; bye bye birdie
Tree goes over to-do list with Sophie, Stanley & Emily
Emily puts up clothesline; check out Emily's blog about container gardening at
Rinsing harvested collards
Chef Alena brought wild rice with butternut squash & cranberries
Multi-talented Ricardo, musician & gardener, is also a baker who brought banana bread
Ricardo’s yummy banana bread recipe:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil, then add bananas. Add water and vanilla, stirring to combine.
Add the flour mixture, stirring just until wet.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Evan says grace before lunch
Stanley's painted chalkboard-style sign attracted more visitors to The Free Farm!
Emily harvests while Hannah & Alena continue construction of 2nd greenhouse
Snail gets suntan
Stanley touches up "The Free Farm Come Grow with Us" sign
Lynn built this fortress of rocks
Vegetarian neighbor Pia visits The Free Farm Stand

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fasting teens volunteer to combat hunger

Volunteering at The Free Farm reminds me of my elementary school days, being in an open classroom and just going to wherever my curiosity takes me. Tree plans our workdays so we’re always buzzing with interesting activities, much like being part of a start-up venture, and meeting so many cool people!

Today, I met the coolest, admirable group of teens from Alameda's Christ Episcopal Church. They were participating in World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine, by fasting and volunteering at The Free Farm. They began their fast at noon the prior day, yet still had energy to perform farming tasks (as shown in the photos posted below), including harvesting in the rain!
Converting window blind slats into plant signs
Transporting dirt from greenhouse to pipeline ditch
Pulling weeds from container plants
Shoveling dirt to cover pipeline ditch
Adding potting soil to containers
Shoveling dirt off ground inside greenhouse
Transporting new shelf to store seeds
Passing plants to weeding group
Tree places plant over mycorrhizae in container
Preparing fish emulsion mix
Tree shows how to pour fish emulsion mix to base of plants
Filling buckets with rainwater
These boots were made for catching rainwater!
Harvesting in the rain
They also impressed me with their willpower when they resisted Kris’ delicious chili quinoa and chips. While eating lunch, Kris told me about meeting Warren Beatty during her Hollywood days; now how cool is that?! More people might be inspired to go into farming if they saw Warren Beatty playing Bud Stamper—probably the most irresistible farmer portrayed in film! Check out “Splendor in the Grass” DVD at
Warren Beatty as farmer Bud Stamper in "Splendor in the Grass"
Kris brought chili quinoa with chips for lunch

At times, the teens said they were starving and their chaperones reminded them that they were only hungry, not starving. The teens told me that they also participate in 10-day trips during the summer to build schools in El Salvador, where they witness real starvation. They also told me how much they were looking forward to breaking the fast at 6 pm with their favorite foods.

Tree collects rainwater for plants
Planting and labeling seed starts
Planting beans
Sipping hot water to stay warm Tree with terrific teen volunteers

Tree thanks volunteers
With about 25 energetic teens and their chaperones helping out, we accomplished a lot. I was so grateful for their generosity of time, work ethic and sense of fun, and I felt their personalities warmed up an otherwise chilly, rainy day. At The Free Farm, we like to share our hospitality so I invited them to return next week for lunch, scheduled to be prepared by professional chef Alena—of Scharffenberger chocolate chip cookie fame from our MLK Day of Service. Imagine how much more we can accomplish after being nourished with food! When these amazing teens told me they already had plans for another outreach event, I told them they were always welcome to return on any of our workdays—and to bring more friends! And I extend the same invite to you blog readers!
Tree sets up sprinkler system
After 4-hour workday
Pile of compost for another workday
The world is like an open classroom so I’d like to share some local resources to those interested in getting more involved in building local food security by growing edible plants. In fact, I missed last Saturday’s workday because of my involvement with Garden For the Environment ( and Permaculture SF (

While attending last week’s GFE workshop, Executive Director Blair Randall gave me the scoop on GFE’s exciting new membership program, featuring discounts to garden shops and even Arizmendi Bakery, so come to the membership launch party at GFE, 7th Ave. & Lawton, on Sat., Mar. 19 at 3 pm. (Blair’s photography appears in SFPUC’s 2011 Gardening Calendar, still available free at

I also joined Permaculture SF and Transition SF for a work party to prepare for our new Seed Library at

The SF Food Security Task Force’s “Hunger and Food Insecurity On the Rise in San Francisco” report dated November 2010 ( mentions “the thriving urban agriculture community in San Francisco has also contributed over 17,000 lbs. of fresh produce and honey to needy San Franciscans in 2010.”

Join us for our next open classroom at The Free Farm to help combat local hunger and food insecurity! Fasting not necessary:-)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Adventures in Free Farm Land

Lynn from GCETP sent her report and photos of last Saturday's workday:

Last Saturday was another beautifully sunny day of volunteering. We were lucky enough to get the last bit of sun for that week, as Tuesday until now have been in constant mist or downpour.

Tobias and I built a new compost pile next to the old one, and the whole thing is lumped under that big blue tarp:

Progress was made on the shed:
Harvest of collards:
Stanley offering the free bounty:
Finn tending to the Container Garden (you can start one in your apartment too!):
Tobias waters the fava plants:
The magnificent view of greenhouse and shed:
All in all, it was a beautiful day of connecting with the earth, with my community of neighbors, getting some sun and exercise, and engaging in real meaningful work.
Thereʼs so much to learn here, my adventureʼs just begun. The Free Farm is a place full of magical possibility, and I canʼt wait to come back again next week!

More adventures at