Monday, December 17, 2012

Hawks and Fungus Among Us

Things are growing slowly at the Free Farm with less day light and cooler weather. In the greenhouse we are not planting as many starts, but last Saturday we planted many trays of lettuce, an experiment in growing trays of baby lettuce greens.

We had a nice turn out of volunteers last week, including a group of teens from Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC... ETC  "opens the beauty and challenge of the great outdoors to people with disabilities and disadvantaged youth. Every year, more than 2,000 people join ETC to raft whitewater rivers, ski alpine meadows, kayak the waters of the Golden Gate and Tomales Bay, and build leadership skills. "  They also have visits to farms and last year they stumbled upon us and volunteered then.

We also had some other visitors, members of our congregation I like to think.
Early in the morning I was checking out all the mushrooms of different kinds at the farm (I would love it if we could find someone to helps us identify these beautiful creatures).

As I was looking on the ground at mushrooms someone from the sidewalk above asked me if that was m bird. I didn't know what he was talking about, but I looked behind me and up to see one of long term members of our church without walls, Mr. or Mrs. Red Tail Hawk :

Soon it took off headed for the flagpole and it opened it's huge wingspan right in front of me.
Here are some photos of the garden on 18th and Rhode Island that I worked at when it first got going. I visited there on Interdependence Day (12-12-12)

White Sapote tree

with fruit!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hallelujah I'm a Farm!

On Saturday we had ten volunteers show up, which was a big jump in the numbers coming lately. Maybe because the weather was crisp and sunny, unlike previous workdays when it rained some of the time. The first thing I saw when I went to the gate to unlock it was our one of congregation, the hawk (I am not sure which kind he or she is) swooping down to the labyrinth to catch something (maybe a rodent). 
the tree white dahlia was in glorious bloom
the mushroom coming out of the log so spectacular and amazing
some unknown being put this sign on our fence
I checked out their website
I am trying to figure out the name of this fig
maybe Black Jack?
some are finally getting ripe now in December
 and they taste delicious

The Free Farm is wonderful right now is all I can say and we are getting a lot of greens and lettuce to harvest and to give away. The only challenge is everything is growing so there is a lot of weeding to do and deadheading and getting the garden back in shape after a long season of great production. We also have most of the farm planted though we have more fava bean seeds to get in the ground. 

This Wednesday workday is a special one. 2/12/12 Interdependence Day Celebration is happening around the world and below is a listing of events around the city:  We will be doing a lot of weeding and some work in our greenhouse, hopefully planting lettuce to grow on trays inside.

Also I wanted to let people know about a rally on Tuesday tomorrow to protest the eviction of Kezar Gardens and Recycling Center. The Free Farm support all gardening and recycling efforts in the city and especially like to see gardens torn up (even in this case the garden is taken out to put a new one doesn't make sense). Here is the info:

RALLY: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, NOON, CITY HALL STEPS Sponsored by: Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council

Bring your support to the steps of City Hall this Tuesday and demand that Mayor Lee take responsibility for the negative impacts set to occur once Haight Ashbury Recycling center is evicted. *We need people, signs, and voices* to be heard to achieve the following goals. - Retain HANC recycling and Kezar Gardens Center within the Convenience Zone it serves - Issue a Hold on Eviction until a Task Force can determine best course of action for all parties - Prevent Small Business from Footing the Bill for NIMBY politics - Preserve the sustainable economic model: recycling = green jobs + native plants + community gardens in one space - Preserve 51 community garden beds and their 100 gardeners - Create a task force to find a suitable location to house this important ecology center - Reinstate the citizen advisory board to advise Recreation and Park on plans to build a new garden with taxpayer money. We gather to call attention to a mounting crisis for San Francisco small businesses, consumers and gardens alike. The system for taking back bottles and cans for California Redemption Value (CRV) is broken and may be on the verge of collapse. The California State Bottle bill requires small markets in the City to accept recycling (bottles and cans) in store if there is no supermarket or recycling center nearby. Stores of any size may opt out of this requirement by paying a $100 a day in lieu fee. While this may not be much for a large grocery store, smaller establishments will be hard pressed to pay it. *Impacts on Small Grocers [or Markets] and Beverage Stores* - All small stores that sell beverage containers with a CRV deposit must also take those containers back - If there is a recycling center nearby or a larger grocery store with recycling services, the store becomes exempt. - When HANC recycling and Kezar Gardens closes, there will be no recycling in the area - Big Business (Whole Foods) will afford the fee and small business will have to pay up or accept recycling in their stores. - The fee is $100/day and up to $36K per year. *Need for Recycling Centers* - The Small Business Commission is holding hearings to discuss the shortage of recycling in the city now - Suspending recycling services in the area will have a negative impact on recycling rates-50% of recycling in SF goes through a recycling center - Without a local recycling center, all small businesses will pay high fees or have to accept recycling in store The existing recycling centers in SF are well utilized but dwindling in numbers. Numbering 30 in 1990, now there are only 21. Statewide, there is one recycling center for every 18,000 residents while there is only one for every 38,000 San Franciscans. Recycling centers in the City receive half of all CRV bottles and cans recycled. Of the 21 recycling centers in the City, only about 12 are conveniently located at neighborhood supermarkets or nearby. The rest are hard to get to or only consist of reverse vending machines that slowly receive bottles and cans one at a time. As a result long lines are the norm at most City recycling centers. The City’s eviction of HANC sets a terrible example for supermarkets. HANC has served the Inner Richmond, Inner Sunset and Haight-Ashbury Bottle Bill requirements since the law went into effect in 1987. Other recycling centers are rumored for shut down in the near future, following the lead of the City. The HANC eviction will have a domino effect leaving thousands of San Franciscans and hundreds of stores without a place to recycle. The Mayor needs to address this crisis now by placing the HANC eviction on hold while a task force is appointed to develop and implement solutions.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Green

I have been feeling a little lonely these days at the Free Farm as we seem to have less volunteers these days. Though some of  the loss of volunteers recently has been the weather. I am hoping that we pick up some more consistent volunteers that can help lead others that come and want to help. As you may now, we applied for a grant to help us put on a year long course in Urban Food Production  that will help us train people to farm. Even if we do not get the grant I am thinking about how to pull off such a free course.

One of the best things about the farm is that one can work in the greenhouse or hothouse even if it is raining (having some waterproof shoes or boots would be good in the greenhouse because it gets pretty wet on the floor when it rains a lot).

Damon our wonderful neighbor who is also a great volunteer, gave me his used fisherman rain gear and last week I had a blast working on the farm and harvesting greens in the rain. His outfit really works well!

John our hero, who is one of the key people at Alemany Farm, has been so helpful getting our greenhouse up to speed, and as a result we have been turning out tons of seedlings that get planted everywhere and I feel really proud that we have been able to help so many gardeners in the city get free seedlings. I am crossing our fingers that John will be back next year, I guess it depends if his farm can get a greenhouse set up at Alemany. That would be best for them, though there might be political issues involved. We are now slowing down our seedling production for now and I want to start growing trays of greens and lettuce in the greenhouse, and maybe even some sunflower greens.

Here are some pictures of the farm today.  Again I can't say enough about how good I feel about our work at the Free Farm. Our crew is fantastic though a bit small at times and we have a lot of work to do to become a mightier group. Though we have accomplished a lot, and we have now grown over 8,000 pounds of produce!

 our fig tree,  an unknown variety, maybe Black Jack, 
has a few figs that miraculously ripened and they were so sweet and delicious
 tree dahlia flowering in December

 greens happy and growing well
keeping lettuce under cover because of the birds that have 
been eating the leaves
the hoja santa is taking off and  I gave away
some leaves at the Stand on Sunday. Here is a link about the plant
Stand said it was very rare and it was very popular

Here are just a few of the large number of photos Patricia took at the farm a while back (actually only a few weeks ago still in sunny November):

 harvested the beets last Saturday
 harvested now planted with fava beans
 David one of our best volunteers
 our laybrinth
 Gustavo harvesting kale
 Joyce greeter extraordinaire
red leaf lettuce gone to free market

Monday, November 19, 2012

Prayer for Peas

The Free Farm will be closed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21) and then the Saturday after the holiday (Nov. 24).

The rain came and freshened the farm and we are getting all the vegetable starts in for the winter. There is plenty more to do, but we have been a little short on volunteers for the past few months, so it feels like we are a bit behind.

We have rows of snap peas that have been under attack from birds (and our lettuce too) so we have covered all the rows with those crops with row cover cloth. We pray for our peas (and lettuce), but I seriously also pray for peace (I wrote about this on our latest Free Farm Stand blog that in the near future will be combined with this blog).

One of the most beautiful things for me at the farm these days are the cardoons that have flowered and are filled with white seed heads, so when you are walking around or just sitting, their lightweight seeds travel through the air and you can watch them floating before they land. The miracle of the seed is so tremendous and inspiring, and when I seed these seeds traveling around the farm, I wonder if we will have cardoons coming up next spring in the oddest places.

Our produce right now is especially beautiful:

 Bolivan Sunroot

Bok Choy

There is a tree planting being planned for the end of January to celebrate
Tu B'Shevat or New Year for Trees. We are not sure where we are getting our trees from yet, but here is a wonderful opportunity for others:  

Friends of the Urban Forest and SF Environment is organizing the first-ever citywide Fruit Tree Planting!
What? 200 bare-root fruit trees to be planted throughout San
When? Trees will be planted on Saturday, January 26th 8am-2pm

Where? Any publicly-accessible space in San Francisco where trees can
be planted in the ground. For example, front yards, community gardens
and schools.

Cost? Thanks to funding from the Carbon Fund, each bare-root tree is
$25 or $250 for a 10-tree orchard, installed! Trees will be planted by
volunteers with one support stake. The cost includes visits by FUF
staff/volunteers for "treecare" for the first 3 years.

How? For now, contact Doug Lybeck at
or 415-268-0773. The property owner or garden
manager will have to approve the trees and sign the FUF Letter of
Agreement by December 1st - forms are still being developed, but there
will be available here

FUF is looking for tree stewards to help us plant and maintain these
beautiful community resources. Ideally these trees should be planted in
mini-orchards of 6-10 trees, which will promote cross pollination, as
well as ease of maintenance and fruit gleaning. We'll need your
commitment to help prepare the planting site, plant the trees, and water
and care for the trees. Thanks!
Karla Nagy
FUF Sidewalk Landscape Program Director

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Learning to Do

Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph I wrote for the October 22nd blog at (View From the Free Farm):

"There is planing going on to combine the Free Farm web site with the Free Farm Stand. Right now I am trying to keep both sites up-to-date and sometimes I am more inspired to write about what is going on at the Farm than at the Farm Stand and vice versa. So having just one place where people can go to find out about either of our projects I hope will be better.
Today, for example,  I am thinking about our last workday at the Free Farm where we had a number of guests and Urban Ag celebrities visit us...."

One of the fabulous things about our Free Farm are the new people who always show up either to lend a hand or who just come to see what's up.  These guests are like our pollinators and they bring stories to share from their travels elsewhere. Vipul came by who is a friend of Kachan who is part of the network of friends of Pancho and Casa de Paz. Kachan helped out at the farm a number of times before she moved to Portland. So Vipul stayed in Portland with Kachan before he came here.  Among the things I learned from Vipul about his visit to Tryon Life Community Farm  (, a group I had heard of and got a some good ideas from in terms of organizing our farm. The story on their website on how they managed to save their farm from being bought by developers (they had to come up with 1.4 million dollars in a short amount of time) is pretty interesting.

We have been having warm weather and have been hustling to get our winter crops in. One row of peas that we put in as established seedlings got their leaves eaten and we had to replace them (fortunately we have a lot of them...see below). David who is one of our best gardeners thought it was birds that did the damage so we covered the plants with row cover cloth.

I am reading an inspiring book that was given to me as gift from the Leader's Quest group that I wrote about in our previous blog. The book is called "What Out Walk On". In the sixties it was sort of a similar idea "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out"  These are stories of people who have "walked out of limiting beliefs and assumtpions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities". I am reading about the Zapatistas in Mexico and Unitierras, alternative schools  that the communities are creating for themselves. "The learn to do, then learn to learn, then consider the other in his or her entirety." I love this approach to learning! There is a great article online here from Yes! magazine that tells same story well about this radical approach to education. "We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world....The most dramatic lesson we derived from the exercise was to discover what we were really missing in the urban setting: conditions for apprenticeship...Our challenge thus became to find ways to regenerate community in the city, to create a social fabric in which we all, at any age, would be able to learn and in which every kind of apprenticeship might flourish."

These ideas are making me think how this applies to the Free Farm. I have been thinking of how we can get more trained people to help run the farm because we are short of "team leaders". I was thinking of doing something like Alemany Farm does is to have a course on urban farming  next year with the idea that the course would be free, but that after graduating there would be a requirement to give back to the community the skills one learns. The Unitierra approach makes me think we should offer apprenticeships where people come to learn something they want to learn and figure out what skills they need to learn to do it.

Here are some recent wonderful photos from the farm taken by our volunteer Liz:

 our friend the hawk is back
 lettuce seedlings
 snap pea seedlings
 ground cherry
also know as Cape Gooseberry

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Free Food Forest

Last week I attended the monthly Permaculture meeting where the guest speaker Toby Hemenway author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture spoke. Most of what he talked about is here on his website: He also quotes Jared Diamond who wrote the article "The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race" referring to the "adoption of agriculture" by humans (

Toby Hemenway was making the argument that the development of agriculture was a big mistake. "Agriculture in any form is inherently unsustainable. At its doorstep can also be laid the basis of our culture’s split between humans and nature, much disease and poor health, and the origins of dominator hierarchies and the police state. He was proposing something in-between hunting and gathering or foraging and agriculture. He calls this horticulture or gardening, "using simple methods to raise useful plants and animals." Horticulturists use polycultures, tree crops, perennials, and limited tillage, and have an intimate relationship with diverse species of plants and animals." In other words, permaculture is the way to be growing food according to Toby.

His talk resonated with my own feelings, though I have never thought of myself as a permaculturist, I have always liked the idea of planting trees and more perennials. I started thinking that we should go further in that direction at the Free Farm. Even though we don't know how long we will be on the land at Eddy and Gough, we should plant more trees anyway and perennials, and make our Free Farm more of a Free Food Forest. We have already started already moving in that direction as Ross went to the Merritt College plant sale on Saturday and brought some perennial plants to the farm that we will be planting after they grow a bit more.

We have had some wonderful visitors to the Free Farm in the last few weeks. One day we had about 14 people visiting from a company called UBM (United Business Media) who were on a "quest" with a group called Leaders' Quest. They got their hands dirty as well as learned about the Free Farm. The purpose of their quest was ".... when we expose people (especially younger managers) to inspiring leaders working in different sectors from them, we can have an impact by causing them to think differently about the impact of their work, how they do more good and less harm, how they affect communities, and so forth." Last Saturday we had two women visiting from San Palo Brazil who are working on a project called Cidades para Pessoas (Cities for People). "we travel around the world with our folding bikes looking for good ideas that improved the cities for its inhabitants." They were a lot of fun to meet and work with and some of us will be in a short movie posted on their website (in Portuguese). Here are some nice photos from Julie who is one of our really helpful and always cheerful volunteers who is a great artist and vegan to boot. You can see all her photos from last Saturday here: Her blog that she writes is here has a lot of good information about vegan cooking and next week she is going to write about the Free Farm:

Juliana and Joyce who retured after a few weeks of illness
 still getting strawberries

 Natália and Juliana from Brazil harvesting
Yacón root

our seed collection

Monday, September 24, 2012

Turning Over a New Leaf

The Free Farm is changing seasons and and most of the summer harvest is gone (we are still harvesting the summer tomatoes) so we are having less to harvest. Here is a photo from the Free Farm Stand in the Mission of the one large onion we grew and a big zucchini from our second planting of summer squash. In the photo there are also some small trombone squash that we are still harvesting.

We have also been harvesting Pepino dulce and the last of the rocoto peppers (we love perennial plants from the Andes)
I didn't photograph the over forty pounds of leeks we harvested nor the raspberries or strawberries that are going strong. Nor did aI get a shot of the beautiful Brussels Sprout plant we pulled in about 6 plants had large enough to harvest sprouts. In fact , I didn't take photos at all at the last few workdays, because I get too busy trying to keep all the volunteers busy.

The leaves haven't started falling off our trees yet and in fact we still have unripe peaches on our late peach John Muir. Also, the fruit on our fig hasn't ripened yet and the sunchokes are getting close to harvesting. But fall is coming or maybe it is here and it's time to turn over a new leaf.

Please come by and help us get the the winter vegetable plants in the ground. We have a lot of cabbage, beets, lettuce, and carrots that need planting.  In October we will plant garlic and fava beans too. Plus the greenhouse keeps us busy as well growing the seedlings not only our farm and Alemany Farm needs, but we support  other gardens and gardeners around the city. 
Here is a notice from Esperanza Gardens whom we grow seedlings for:

Next SUNDAY, SEPT 30th from 12pm to 5pm...... We will be having a beautiful gathering at Esperanza Gardens. There will be musicians from Zambaleta performing, the cob oven cooking up pizzas with garden grown veggies, and fall/winter seedlings to put into the Earth. But the most important thing is that you will be sharing and participating in all these activities with new and old friends, out doors, in the lovely mission district. As we transition into fall and winter we need to be reminded of our community, our friends, our support! This is an event not to be missed.  Check out the flyer for this event on Facebook. If you would like to perform or volunteer with set up, cooking, break down, please contact me directly at ESPERANZA GARDENS Florida ST btwn 18th and 19th SUNDAY, SEPT 30th 12pm to 5pm .....Also, the garden is open to the public every Wednesday from 3 to 5pm. Come on by. If you would like to garden other days please just let me know!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Going Steady

We are going steady at the Free Farm with Mother Earth, Sister Soil, Brother Bug, Bee, and Bird. At the same time the Free Farm is going steady. This picture of our seedling collection sitting outside the greenhouse,  baby plants toughening themselves off for the real deal of life in the farm fast lane says it all. Plus one of our Free Farmers, Pancho who is in the photo completes the story of  what makes the Free Farm tick, it is the hands of many great volunteers with a passion to grow food for those in need.
This is going to be quickie in terms of writing this week. I am about to take of for the The National Heirloom Exposition being held in Santa Rosa ( It is being held in conjunction with the California Rare Fruit Growers Festival of Fruit which I love going to when I can. These kinds of events are where I learn the most, by meeting other plant enthusiasts, especially on tours of quirky gardener's home gardens and orchards. Last year I also scored some really beautiful squash that we gave away at the stand.

The Free Farm is growing well and we seem to be in transition. There are a lot of beds opening up and we are working hard to get plants in for the winter season.  So the greenhouse is busy as well as outside the greenhouse as we plant, plant, plant, and prepare beds.

Last week we had a wonderful visit from the Thomas Wang and his City College students He is the new City College teacher of horticulture who luckily replaced Pam Pierce and kept her class going.  It was nice having him around, I learned a lot walking around with him and his class, giving him a tour and the same time learning the names of flies and weeds. Here is a weed I have been wondering about...he called it horse weed:

I looked it  up it's scientific name is  Conyza canadensis (in the Sunflower Family: Asteraceae). Also know as mare's tale. I love knowing what is growing in our garden. While looking this up I found this guy who has made all these cool and educational videos and he made one about this:
Herre we are checking out the lovage:
Here are some pictures from the week before...we had a huge harvest:
 Stanley weighs it all
 some of the stuff on our cart to give away
 a handsome cabbage
Two announcements:

My friend that teaches at USF and is a wonder woman in all the great things she does in promoting urban agriculture and homesteading sent me this flier. The meal has vegan options and she thinks it is vegetarian too. The Farm Stand is "by donation and covers the ingredients not available to us in our garden and needed to cook the fare at our farm stand and the free dinners. No one is ever turned away for lack of funds."

Then there is the Human Be In:
Pancho and I are doing a skillshare and despite the title ( I like it  but is only part of  what I want to share), I will hopefully be talking about how to start a karma yoga type project and make it work.)