Sunday, June 10, 2012

Urban agriculture for everyone!

This posting highlights a couple of cool gardens near The Free Farm that meet people where they are as we continue to increase our spiritual footprint (  

St. Mark’s garden for seniors in the neighborhood
At the invitation of St. Mark’s Martin Luther senior housing community, Free Farmers Margaret, Page and Kris volunteered to help with their garden last week. According to Margaret: “The St. Mark’s garden has a long history with The Free Farm. Lauren Anderson and Case Garver built the raised beds, planted, and I think put in the watering system. The seniors asked us to help re-plant, which was really wonderful.”  Margaret also sent these cool photos:
Free Farmers Margaret and Kris with Tony and Jeri at their garden
Before picture of Martin Luther garden
Page and Kris at work in garden
Broccoli & herbs
Herbs bed
Greens & herbs
Martin Luther roof view after re-planting

Antioxidant-rich plants for vision health
Project Open Hand strawberry spinach salad: spinach Greens + red Onions + Mushrooms + strawBerries; add Beans + Seeds for GOMBBS! I’ll post anything relating to cancer-preventing GOMBBS if this brings more visitors to this blog to learn about The Free Farm :-)

Studies show that eating antioxidant-rich leafy green veggies and strawberries can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of vision loss in persons age 50+ (  People who lose their vision can still enjoy gardening . . .

Please Touch Community Garden
In 2010, artist Gk Callahan partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired ( to transform an abandoned City lot into a multi-use community space that would be accessible to people of all abilities. Named Please Touch Community Garden (PTCG) (, it’s located at 165 Grove Street near Van Ness, in the shadow of City Hall.  But you enter through quiet, pedestrian-friendly Lech Walesa Alley just across from LightHouse building, which makes it very convenient for LightHouse community to access the garden!

Like The Free Farm, PTCG is an all-volunteer effort with help from nearby LightHouse, Hayes Valley Farm and SF Permaculture Guild. For now, it’s open Wednesdays 11-5. When I was able to arrange my schedule to check out this treasure, I found Gk and Rob tending the garden, which they’ve made into such an inviting space with several visitors dropping in.

Like SF Botanical Garden’s Fragrance Garden, most gardens for the blind seem to focus on scent ( but PTCG also encourages touch. I like the human-scale of the space (growing space about the size of The Free Farm's labyrinth area), still a work-in-progress: a mix of feeling plants (no spiny cacti), with plans for food production, and tactile sculpture. I felt comfortable walking around with my eyes shut, but I really enjoyed looking. 
Gk escorts a LightHouse visitor. Letters sitting atop white wall read: “TO SEE A WORLD YOU OTHERWISE COULD NOT SEE.”
Andrew and Anna of Native American AIDS Project ( hand out condoms to Gk as part of their outreach work. The woman with yellow water pitcher dropped in to volunteer while her daughter attends class at LightHouse.
English-Spanish bilingual compost bin in lavender color. PTCG also has worm compost bin. 
Wall garden with touchy plants and beehive. Watchful owl looks in direction of Grove Street.
Potato sprout jars
Michael learns about growing fava beans as cover crop to improve soil from permaculture designer Rob. Michael recognized me from CounterPULSE Eat-In ( and dropped off outreach materials for July 15 AIDSWalk (
Rob holds up soil rich in organic matter
I volunteered to “chop and drop” fava plants without beans, but these got tangled in my chopping so I harvested them
Rob shows visitors plans for his wall garden project
Rob is harvesting pigeon poop: “the problem is the solution.”
Aerial view of the garden. Table and chairs made from recycled wooden pallets.
Steady stream of visitors enter garden from Lech Walesa alley
Bee drawn into fava mulch

Urban Agri 101
Yesterday, Alemany Farmer/filmmaker Antonio taught an Urban Agri 101 workshop at Garden For the Environment. He reviewed resources (, including The Free Farm as a place to volunteer :-), and offered advice on how to be a good volunteer: grow up, show up; follow-through and take responsibility; bring others in; and respect conditions.

As a Getup classmate of Kevin from SF Permaculture Guild, Antonio recommended GFE’s training program (applications for Fall 2012 training at before studying permaculture. He explained that many people think permaculture is about gardening but it’s really about systems design, which can be applied to gardening.

This free workshop was sponsored by SF PUC so we received publications on Water-Wise Gardening, Pest Control and Union of Concerned Scientists’ The Climate-Friendly Gardener. Antonio emphasized drip-irrigation, hydrozones, using mulch to conserve moisture, and selecting low water-use plants.

Antonio also discussed the top 10 things we need to know: 1) soil, 2) compost & fertility, 3) plants/vegetables to grow, 4) trees/shrubs/non-annual vegetables, 5) pest management, 6) garden design & planning, 7) community relations, 8) educating others, 9) animals, and 10) soil toxicity.

Finally, he invited us to attend tomorrow’s Land Use meeting on the new urban agri legislation at City Hall. Details in PSA below.

Public Service Announcements:

Mon., June 11, 2012, 1pm New Urban Agriculture Legislation & Seniors Living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels
City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 250, SF
The most recent version of the urban agri legislation is available at  Wear green! Also, advocate for improved living conditions in SROs for seniors and people with disabilities; a press conference is scheduled at the Polk St. steps in front of City Hall at noon. This is a follow-up to last November’s hearing described at

Tues., June 12, 2012, 7:30 pm Applying Food Movement Tactics To The Utopian Future
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St., near 6th St., SF 94103
Join Antonio Roman-Alcala and Amy Franceschini for an evening that will start with a review of recent/current tactics employed by those seeking a “good food” system, at multiple scales and in many venues. Using this outline as a base, we will lead a discussion on our options for applying successful strategies and tactics from the food movement to other realms of societal transformation. Specifically, we will ask participants to envision how these forms can actualize our “right to the city”.

Wed., June 13, 2012, 6-8 pm Breaking Through Concrete: A Virtual Tour of Urban Farms
Port Commission Hearing Room, 2nd Floor, Ferry Building, Embarcadero & Market St., SF
Join CUESA for a virtual tour of successful urban farms from around the country with brothers David and Michael Hanson, author and photographer for the book, Breaking Through Concrete.

Sat., June 16, 2012, 4-7 pm GFE'S 2012 SUMMER SOLSTICE PARTY
Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave at Lawton Street, SF
Celebrate the Summer Solstice with GFE in the garden! Join us for some wood fired pizza, beverages, old-time music and a gardeners potluck to start the summer! Bring your picnic blanket and a potluck dish to share. We will be hanging out, eating amazing pizza and enjoying the beauty and bounty of the garden.

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