Friday, June 15, 2012

Soak up the sun

I'm gonna soak up the sun
While it's still free
I'm gonna soak up the sun
Before it goes out on me
“Soak up the sun” lyrics by Sheryl Crow

Inside City Hall to support urban farms

On Monday, I found myself at City Hall supporting my colleagues at a noon press conference to advocate for Seniors and People with Disabilities in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels, and at 1 pm Land Use Committee hearing for agenda items #3 (Urban agriculture program) and #4 (Seniors living in SRO).

In the hearing room, Tree and I sat next to Alemany Farmer Antonio—dressed in green in a show of solidarity to advocate for a new urban agriculture program to better support urban farmers, including the development of at least 10 new locations on public land for urban agriculture to be completed by January 1, 2014! Though sad for The Free Farm to be losing its current space to housing development, this might be an opportunity to find growing space more accessible to those with mobility issues.

My Getup classmate Eli in suit and tie really made him look a lot more like Abe Lincoln! Most of us who came out in support of the new urban ag ordinance dressed casually, but Eli dressed more like our male supervisors in suit and tie.

Brooke looked cool wearing shorts; her Little City Gardens ( remains the only urban farm in SF utilizing last year’s legislation that allows for sale of produce from urban farms within the City. As a for-profit farm, Little City Gardens is mostly a two-person operation to keep labor costs down and it’s restricted from using interns as free labor (while non-profit, non-commerical farms like The Free Farm are allowed unpaid intern help so join us!) without running afoul of fair labor practices (see and summarizes federal criteria for unpaid internships adopted in many states including California).

My Getup classmate Susan arrives to join us as the hearing begins, Antonio gives his green thumbs up and Tree waits for Land Use Committee Chair Eric Mar to call agenda #3, Urban Agriculture Program! We heard public testimony, in favor of establishing and funding an urban agriculture program, from representatives of SPUR (Eli), SFUAA (Elan), Pesticide Watch (Dana), Alemany Farm (Antonio), CUESA (Julie), SF Landscapes (Casey), Tenderloin People’s Garden (Ryan), Kaiser (Elizabeth), Noe Valley Community Garden (Jim), Please Touch Community Garden (Rob), family physician (Dr. George), and Hayes Valley Farm (Jay). The Land Use Committee easily passed the ordinance, with a few amendments (described in minutes at The devil’s always in the details: where to house the full-time staff position and how the strategic plan will provide for budget and funding.

The spotlight on urban ag is quite thrilling, its impact spilling over to the hearing on Seniors living in SROs . . . so stay tuned to find out as I actually listened to public testimonies from over 50 individuals!

Civics 101: How communities create change
I taught civics at Lowell High (as student teacher many years ago), and later volunteered as an ESL Citizenship Coach to immigrants. But civics isn’t just academics or a citizenship test subject, it’s how communities can create change through legislation like our urban ag ordinance!

Now that the urban ag ordinance passed unanimously out of the Land Use Committee, it will go to the full 11-member Board of Supervisors for vote at 2 consecutive meetings (no public testimony is heard): 6 out of 11 votes are needed to pass, then the ordinance goes to the Mayor for signature within 10 days.

Say you want a revolution? Here’s the homework that was done before getting to Monday’s hearing:
1) Community completes a diagnosis and develops model policy (SPUR’s Public Harvest publication).
2) Community presents model policy to sympathetic Supervisor (David Chiu) and requests sponsorship.
3) Sponsoring Supervisor directs City Attorney to write ordinance based on model policy.
4) Sponsoring Supervisor introduces ordinance written by City Attorney.
Monday’s hearing on the urban ag ordinance took place at the Land Use Committee level, with at least 3 supervisors present (Land Use Committee Chair Eric Mar and member-Supervisors Malia Cohen and Scott Wiener) to hear public testimony. More about the legislative process at

Wednesday at The Free Farm
Since I often have to step back far to get group shots of volunteers during lunchtime on Saturdays, I was surprised when Tree said there’s been a decline in volunteers over the past 6 months. Then I remembered our Wednesday volunteer days, which usually conflict with work/school schedules. But Wednesdays are also opportunities for school or corporate groups to volunteer.  Well, after finally finding an accessible and lovely space like Please Touch Community Garden, I’m trying to adjust my schedule a bit so I can volunteer there on occasional Wednesdays and so why not squeeze in The Free Farm, too? Without the presence of greeter Joyce and the farmstand’s visitors, the vibe is different – quieter. . . but really nice because Tree found a home for my second ashitaba, which I planted next to mugworts.
Our gorgeous garden table now greets everyone at The Free Farm entrance :-)

Alemany Farmer John and Tree inside greenhouse.  Alemany Farmer Jason was at The Free Farm, too. Alemany Farmers have certainly grown into The Free Farm family. I’ve admired Alemany Farm at a distance, literally as it’s 9 miles from my home (versus The Free Farm’s 3.5 miles away from my home), so it’s very awesome for them to meet us where we are! I love their model of food sharing that encourages participation by drawing volunteers into the site, including the “surrounding community in farm maintenance activities and the cooperative distribution of produce to farm participants.” Maybe The Free Farm could do more outreach to bring more volunteers from the surrounding community on Wednesdays? I’m also thinking about emulating Alemany Farm’s frequency of blog postings, limited to 1 or 2 per month without photos, as my postings appear to be more like photos from vacation or of a first-born child? And perhaps I'll try even shorter postings--though this might actually involve more work because I have to edit instead of my usual spontaneous prose like Jack Kerouac:-).

Volunteer group from Berkeley-based ExperiMentors Nonviolence Immersion Program ( prepare to plant cardoon.

Volunteer named Root, who may be related to Tree and Joyce aka “My family calls me Branch” :-)
K shared her recipe for spiced rice and lentils, which volunteers enjoyed for lunch:
1. Make organic rice. After it is cooked, add garlic, cilantro and coconut milk to the rice cooker.
2. Soak organic French green lentils over night. Change water periodically. Bring water to boil in a pot, add lentils. Cook for about 45 minutes on medium heat. Add salt, cumin.
3. Dry toast ground cumin in separate pan. Add coconut oil, chopped carrots, salt and then a little water.
4. Toast whole cumin, add to lentils.
5. Add chopped kale to lentils, cover and cook enough to wilt. Fold in half of the coconut cilantro rice and all the cumin carrots. Add salt and cayenne to taste.
6. Add in more coconut milk to taste.
7. Bring to The Free Farm. Hold hands in circle with the volunteers and give thanks. Eat, enjoy and be nourished!

 K also took a photo of this butterfly drinking nectar. Butterflies fly only during the day when it's warm.

Watering from rainwater catchment system

Group smile
Kudos to Mike, who picked up much-needed horse manure in this red pick-up. Tree, Emma, Mike and Aaron do the heavy lifting to unload manure from truck.
Wednesday at Please Touch Community Garden
Rob's masterpiece garden door with fuchsia and raised bed with edibles. Please Touch Community Garden ( is open Wednesdays, 11-5, if you have to follow dermatologists’ advice to limit direct sun exposure from 10-2 (  

Networking with urban farmers
CUESA hosted an urban farm resource fair after Breaking Through Concrete book presentation ( 
Maggie of GFE invited everyone to June 16 Summer Solstice Party. When I mentioned to Maggie that I wish more urban farms are accessible 24/7 like GFE, Maggie told me that GFE unfortunately has experienced acts of vandalism but overall visitors respect the space. ( 
My fellow SF Botanical Garden docent Nell admired the cornucopia of Alemany produce that Jason brought to SFUAA table ( After Nell and I told Jason that we docents had the hardest time finding Alemany Farm because of the confusing St. Mary’s Farm sign (, Jason offered us produce: Nell picked lettuce head and I chose pattypan squash. Thanks, Jason, but you really ought to replace St. Mary’s sign with one that says Alemany Farm! See PSA below for upcoming Alemany community events.

At table next to Jason, Isabel of Just One Tree wants SF to become sustainable in one food crop, lemons, because they’re easy to grow (  My relatives in Pasadena have just two lemon trees, which produce way too many lemons that they can’t even give away to their neighbors, who all seem to have lemon trees of their own (  This reminded me of my local (kama’aina) neighborhood where it seemed like every household had a mango tree, so we were easily eating mangoes like rice and SPAM®. Instead of promoting monoculture, I prefer diversity so you can truly exchange something of value . . . maybe like the hippies who came to Hawaii to grow marijuana weed (aka pakalolo) that the police were always trying to confiscate? Fortunately, a lot grows well in Hawaii’s many microclimates, so I have the best memories of coming home from school and enjoying the freedom of being able to pick from our paradise garden with trees producing mango, papaya, lime, pomelo, star fruit, tangerine, macadamia (though too much work to unshell), etc.
Plant porn pick of the week:  heart-shaped potato. This was my first visit to Richmond District Neighborhood Center’s food pantry, where I volunteered with a GGPSC nutrition classmate. We found many heart-shaped potatoes like this—apparently rejects that farmers gave to SF Food Bank. We also gave away oatmeal, rice, carrots, onions, zucchini, string beans, oranges, ham, eggs, cabbage, watermelon and assorted breads to 250 persons within 1.5 hours! Overall, very efficient operation and real community effort staffed by District residents so we also had volunteers who spoke Cantonese/Mandarin, Russian and Spanish as needed.

Please join us at The Free Farm, where we can soak up the sun and grow food security!

Public Service Announcements:

Sat., June 16, 2012 Spare the Air Alert is in effect
Residents are encouraged to drive less and reduce their energy use so pollution levels are lower, preventing health alerts when temperatures are high. To help prevent smog this summer, please: - Bike to work or around town - Take public transit - Telecommute - Carpool and link your errands to reduce driving - Avoid using gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers - Reduce household energy use - Don’t use lighter fluid on the barbecue - Avoid using aerosol spray cleaners, paints and hairspray
High levels of ozone pollution are particularly harmful for young children, seniors and those with respiratory and heart conditions. Vigorous outdoor exercise should be undertaken only in the early morning hours when ozone concentrations are lower.
To plan your commute online, visit
To monitor current air quality conditions, visit

Sun., June 17, 2012, 4 pm Learn about Honey + Bees
Alemany Farm, 700 Alemany Blvd, SF 94112
Karen Peteros of SF Bee-Cause will share samples of honey produced by hives in different locations throughout SF. Taste fresh farm salad with dressings made from Alemany Farm honey. Karen will share some interesting facts about bees and the important role they play in our environment. Directions to Alemany Farm at

Tues., June 19, 2012, 6:30-8 pm Alemany Farm Draft Plan Community Meeting
St. Mary’s Recreation Center, Murray & Justin Drive, right at the top of the Farm
Attend this meeting to review the draft management plan for Alemany Farm at before it goes before SF Recreation and Parks Commission for final approval. (TFF mentioned on page 4 and 9 as an example of collaboratively managed garden space.) 

Sat., June 23, 2012, 3-4 pm Getting the Most from Your Small Food Garden
Glen Park Branch Library, 2825 Diamond Street (near Bosworth), SF
Whether you are a beginner or experienced gardener, Pam Peirce, author of Golden Gate Gardening, will help you get the most from your San Francisco food garden. You'll learn great tips for successful harvests from a small yard, a community garden plot, or a few containers. Starting with how to use our unique microclimate, Pam can help you select crops you'll want to eat, grow them well, protect them from pests, and use them in your kitchen. Bring your gardening questions.  

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