Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hobby versus profession?

How do I compare these (approaches to horticulture)? Let me count the ways.

Our environmental horticulture instructor Malcolm posed this short answer question in our midterm: “How might you compare gardening for a hobby and being involved in horticulture as a profession?” I responded that the horticulture profession means you’re hired to do what your paying client wants, while hobby gardening means you get to do what you want.
For our team project assignment, Malcolm explained that our purpose is to gain first-hand experience in horticulture and develop workplace skills. In addition to our garden table project at The Free Farm, my classmates and I have gotten our hands dirty in seed propagation and transplanting (though we don’t work in a comfortable headhouse using tools like a screed or dibble board, as we practiced in class). We also watered plants (though we don’t get to use three different nozzles for our hoses, as in class) and handed plants to visitors/customers (though we don’t charge anything, as at our spring plant sale fundraiser during class).

While The Free Farm doesn’t have the complete infrastructure and equipment of a professional nursery operation, we gain skills like resourcefulness (scavenging for garden table materials to minimize our ecological impact) and sharing (which might not seem like a “marketable” skill, but it’s how people survive). Perhaps our experience at The Free Farm is not the Real World, but I prefer our Ideal World!

“I want to be the one to walk in the sun, Oh girls they want to have fun”

Here are some of the things I love about The Free Farm experience, whether as hobby or profession:
#1 Protect possible endangered rodent (especially if this will save The Free Farm from development)
When I arrived at The Free Farm late in the afternoon, it was another warm, dry, sunny workday. It was a real contrast from where I’d spent the previous four hours doing outreach work at the Richmond Community Health Festival (crowded inside Recreation Center, foggy cold outside). Though I missed most of the workday, I wanted to check on the progress of our garden table and bring over some plants for transplanting. My timing was perfect as Jessica and Wendy showed me this rodent, wondering if it was the endangered mouse spotted earlier this year (see I can’t tell the difference between a mouse and a rat, but if any blog readers know from this photo if this is an endangered rodent, please let us know! While horticulture professionals might regard rodents as pests, we observant Free Farmers consider whether rodents might be an endangered species in need of protection—including preserving habitat!
#2 Connect visitors to food source at on-site farmstand 
When our local Veg Society was asked to “cater” at today’s Health Festival, this seemed to cause an existential crisis about our mission to promote vegetarianism as a healthful and humane way of life (including concerns for the environment and animal welfare). Though our Veg Society obtains free veggie product samples that are given away freely along with our informational brochures, we do not view ourselves as a food pantry but we seek to engage the public about making mindful food choices, like where our food comes from and how a plant-based diet promotes health.

When people ask why we freely give away organic produce to anyone who shows up at our on-site farmstand, I remind them that we always have more volunteers than we have visitors who receive food from us. Though visitors may not be directly involved in production, they can still see where food comes from.  While I understand that not everyone wishes to get his/her hands dirty, everyone should have an attitude of gratitude for what's involved in producing good food that sustains us.

I especially like giving away whole plants, so visitors gain a greater appreciation for the labor involved in picking arugula leaves or fava beans. I’m really looking forward to bringing out our garden table closer to our entrance to engage more visitors (especially seniors or those with mobility issues who have been reluctant to enter our downhill terrain) in hands-on gardening!
#3 Careful attention to small container plants + hand watering
#4 Nine people to create a gorgeous garden table
Page, Damon and I joined by my horticulture classmates Jenny, Jessica, Mary, Patrick, Wendy plus Jenny’s friend Leo! Together, taking turns for some tasks, we planned redesign from Manatee Master Gardeners blueprint, scavenged materials, constructed, painted, decorated, etc. Though having “too many cooks can spoil the broth,” it didn’t hurt to have 9 of us working together in this case. Just look at our gorgeous garden table worthy of A++ :-) 
#5 Grow what you want
Tree always finds a warm home for my seeds/seedlings at The Free Farm.  Today I brought over these ashitaba (Angelica keiskei) plants from our campus plant sale.  According to, they will mature in size to about 4 feet wide and flower to about 5 feet tall.  Ashitaba requires warm temperatures 75 to 85 degrees F for optimal growth, and least 6 hours sunlight daily to thrive.  Also known as Tomorrow's Leaf because if you harvest a leaf today, it will start to grow new life tomorrow!  Its leaves and stems have medicinal value as a digestive bitter and immune system tonic; its juice for skin healing (topical application).
#6 Drop-in visitors who end up volunteering
The Free Farm’s central location makes it convenient to drop-in to visit/volunteer en route to other destinations and activities, like next week's Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival in nearby Tenderloin/Civic Center will likely bring foot traffic. This first-time visitor declined produce from our farmstand, but literally jumped at the opportunity to harvest strawberries!
Monroe says he enjoys volunteering with us because of our larger community of volunteers, compared to the few who show up at ECS Community Garden (which Margaret and I visited last month at Here Monroe holds Wandering Jew plant, a close relative of Wandering Veggie :-)
#7 Eclectic makes us interesting
Stanley created this cool falcon pot. I love the diversity that results from the artistic contributions of many volunteers!
#8 Our lovely labyrinth (arguably most photographed spot) always makes my head turn!

CCSF training for horticulture professionals
Our instructor Malcolm teaches us how horticulture professionals cater to client preferences that usually value efficiency (including mow, blow, go), productivity, uniformity, predictability (root, grow, bloom), etc. Here he holds up chrysanthemum plant at CCSF greenhouse. He’s also taken us to fun field trips to meet working professionals at a wholesale nursery, landscape materials center, SF Botanical Garden and Filoli Estate (where we met his former student who works as a gardener there).
Jessica, Wendy and Jenny help at CCSF Spring Plant + Flower Sale fundraiser
These super uniform flowers sold quickly
Plant sale included ashitaba plants that student Max grew at SF Botanical Garden nursery (
Environmental horticulture department head Steven and gardener Pat accept payment for plants in headhouse
Wendy and I wandered over to edible garden just outside lath house, and ended up watering these vegetable beds. Golden Gate Gardening author Pam Peirce’s retirement last year after teaching Fall Veg and Herbs left a vacancy so there was no one to teach Spring Veg and Herbs at CCSF. Thomas (who made his debut in this blog at and his environmental horticulture students have been maintaining this garden left behind by Pam.
Thomas harvests yacon (“diabetic’s potato from Andes”). He will teach Veg & Herbs in Fall 2012 (OH 111E at!
Thomas’ xeriscaping class created this garden. More about CCSF training at

Slackers at farm + office?
Our volunteers from Stanford made this amusing video, “Farm life v. office life: what gets YOU up in the morning?” at It portrays idyllic farmer (chomping on job!) versus bored office worker (napping on job!) –though both humorously appear to be slackers, as they leisurely go about their day, seemingly without any deadline pressures, co-workers and clients?

At The Free Farm, you make your own experience:  hobbyist, professional or slacker.  But you won't experience nature deficit disorder :-)
Poster at my neighborhood natural foods store: I love the part that says, “Imagine a city where every 5th street is a greenway, every neighborhood holds a farm, and every river and creek is unearthed.”

Public Service Announcements:

Sat., May 19, 2012, 7:30 pm Nutrition Prescription talk by Don Forrester, MD
Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin St. at Geary, SF 
Through Oct. 20, 2012 Bring Your Own Bag exhibit
Rosenberg Library, 3rd Floor, City College of SF, 50 Phelan Ave., SF
Subtitled “It’s the Food You Put in it That Counts” Creating Nutritional Awareness/Design for Social Impact

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