Sunday, June 24, 2012

Value of free + being present

Plant porn pick of the week: Tree behind rhubarbs photo by Stanley

On Wednesday afternoon, I arrived at The Free Farm to learn that a volunteer had her backpack stolen from her car parked at our entrance and Tree noticed our big curry plant in the greenhouse was missing. Sadly, these security breaches aren’t first-time occurrences. In this year alone, our stove and several tools have disappeared after locks were removed. Tree reported finding an unfamiliar couple, a man (who was about to light a cigarette!) and a woman, hanging out drinking in our greenhouse on a Tuesday.

Until about last fall, TFF had a sign that clearly stated our mission (see last photo posted at but it was vandalized with graffiti and replaced with the current psychedelic-looking sign without our mission statement. I think we need to restore TFF mission sign (which states, in part, “The food grown will be offered to the community for free in an effort to combat hunger and increase resource sharing and care for one another”) so people won’t misunderstand “free” as an invitation to take anything you want from a communal farm.

I wonder if calling us The People’s Farm or The Community Farm would be a better way to describe our community sharing mission. We live in tough economic times, so if people are in need, I wish they would ask—like how Rev. Megan asked Saint Paulus to share its land that we needed to grow TFF. And we have enjoyed such a beautiful reciprocal arrangement.
Flower photo by K
Value of free
Just because something is “free” doesn’t mean it has no value so it can be taken for granted. For example, the air that we breathe is free yet it has tremendous value because it sustains our lives. At TFF, the food that we grow represents valuable labor of love by many volunteers, including SWAN (Sunlight, Water, Air, Nutrients). And subjects of value deserve respect.

It’s funny how people think “free” means no-cost, oblivious to its origins. According to the etymology dictionary (, the adjective “free” originally developed from “beloved, friend, to love”—which aptly describes our community.

In the 1580s, the notion of “free of cost” appeared with the sense of “given without cost.” In 1850, “free lunch” was originally offered in bars to draw in business. Webster’s defined lunch as “a large piece of food” ( At TFF, we offer free lunch during our Wednesday and Saturday volunteer days to provide a break during the middle of our workday to nourish ourselves with food and camaraderie.

During our Saturday lunches, I usually bring out my camera to capture food porn and relaxed people enjoying a meal break. Based on these images, we average 20-30 people at lunch. I assumed most are volunteers, but Tree observed that we have fewer volunteers . . . so I was left wondering if we have more visitors enjoying our free lunch? It’s really hard to say because we have many people who come and go; one friend volunteered for a few minutes, then decided she really didn’t want to get dirty after all!
Bird watchers photo by K
Being present
The recent intrusions at TFF are disturbing. I like to view gardens as sanctuaries, places where I should feel safe and indulge in the luxury of just being “present” instead of my usual guardedness. While I was in intermediate school, our house was burglarized brazenly during daylight when my grandfather was home alone, tending our paradise garden as he always did – being fully “present” with our plants and nature. He took no notice of any burglar(s), but I remember my shock after coming home from school and immediately noticing the broken windows, then open drawers that had been ransacked.  But nothing material was taken because we kept a rather spartan home.  We didn’t even stock our kitchen, because we got most of our food fresh when needed from our kitchen garden, where my grandfather’s presence likely deterred the burglar(s) from causing any damage there. A few years earlier, while asleep one night, we all were protected in our house when a drunk driver crashed his car to a halt into the plumeria tree in our front yard.
Neighborhood volunteer Joel and his friend stopped by at TFF after-hours on Wednesday. According to his website (, Joel “recruited renowned artist Mona Caron into the world of muraling.” Wow, thanks Joel! (I was gushing over Mona’s Windows into the Tenderloin mural at While the quantity of volunteers isn’t as high as Tree would like for us to accomplish our many farm tasks, TFF attracts high-quality, interesting volunteers :-) Quality before quantity, like beauty before age?

Joel mentioned that he was looking into resurrecting an abandoned community garden and asked how we’re able to accomplish what we have at TFF. I honestly told him that while volunteers make things happen, it’s mainly Tree who holds us all together because he’s “present” so often at TFF, covering for volunteers who aren’t “present.” Often, Tree is the one who brings lunch and serves as workday leader. And Tree is the sole host of our Eating Meetings.

Thanks so much, Tree, because TFF couldn't happen without you!

As Tree noted a decline in volunteer turnout, he recently asked us to reflect on what TFF means to us and how much time we can put into making TFF happen each week. I recall this issue came up last summer when several regular volunteers, particularly those who attend or teach school, take well-deserved summer vacation (see

I’ve had some scheduling conflicts, with nutrition outreach work taking a priority over volunteering at TFF. While I can’t be “present” at two places at a time, I often think about TFF because our work of growing Hecka Local supports access to fresh organic produce that’s so critical in meeting people’s nutrition needs. For me, it’s not an issue of how much time, but when to put in time to be “present” at TFF.

Some of my more interesting experiences at TFF actually take place outside of our scheduled volunteer workday hours, like a quiet afternoon with beekeeper Pam on a hive inspection; the delivery and unloading of horse manure (see last week’s posting at;  and another quiet after-hours this past Wednesday when other volunteers left (like empty nest syndrome) so it was just really special to catch-up while working alongside with Tree. It’s so endearing to listen to Tree discuss his ideas for creating a commune, like an extension of TFF where people live, learn/work and share together.
Angie brings out the winning smile in Tree :-) 

Nice idea as I often wish my life weren’t so compartmentalized: how can I be “present” at more than one place at a time? how can I minimize spending time getting from one place to another—like leaving home at 7 am to take Muni/BART over to Oakland meeting (see Sugar-free summer posting below), taking BART again to return to SF for my Project Open Hand shift, then briskly walking over to TFF, and finally carrying TFF mugwort plants over to Please Touch Community Garden. Since most of my waking hours involve public interaction, I actually crave privacy and personal space too much to join a commune (which would be like spending more time on crowded Muni).
Rob waters mugwort plants, which I brought over from The Free Farm, at Please Touch Community Garden

If you value our mission of growing free food and community, we would really appreciate your presence at The Free Farm so please come grow with us!

Public Service Announcements:

Through Wed., June 27, 2012 Contact supervisors to fund urban ag program
The Board of Supervisors is currently in the process of determining next year's budget. Concerns were raised at the last Board meeting about how the urban ag program proposed in the legislation will be funded. We need all the support we can get from individuals as well as organizations. Our request is simple: Funding for at least one full-time staff person to coordinate the new program and $100,000 to begin program implementation.
A template letter and how-to guide is available on the SFUAA's website, http://www.sfuaa. org/urban- ag-legislation- 2012.html. Please send an e-mail to the Board of Supervisors by June 27th and get your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same!

Sat., June 30, 2012, 1-3pm, Avoiding Lead Exposure from Gardening
Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave at Lawton St., SF
Presented by instructors from SF Childhood Lead Prevention Program at SF Department of Public Health
Human and childhood exposure to lead is a well-documented and preventable environmental health problem. In the context of urban gardens, exposure to lead is most likely to come from contaminated soil. In this accessible and practical 2-hour class you will learn how to reduce the health risks for you and your family from exposure to lead through from urban gardening. You will learn:
- How and why lead exposure occurs in soil
- Best practices to reduce the risk of lead exposure through gardening
- How to assess the risk of lead exposure to you and your family
- How to have your soil tested for lead
- How to remediate lead paint and soil hazards
Free, please RSVP at

Through Sat., June 30, 2012 Green Connections Survey
The Green Connections project is designing a network of green streets to improve access to parks, open space and the waterfront. The goal is to create sustainable corridors that enhance walking conditions, reduce stormwater runoff, improve wildlife habitat, and create greener streets in neighborhoods throughout the city. Your feedback will be used to help prioritize which streets the city should prioritize as future Green Connections Corridors as well as help define the characteristics of how these streets are designed. Find out more about Green Connections & please take 5 minutes to complete the survey at

Sun., July 1, 2012, 11 am-1 pm, Unlikely Habitat: A Tenderloin Swallowtail Tour
Meet at the fountain at UN Plaza, SF
Join Walk SF's Elizabeth Stampe and Nature in the City's Amber Hasselbring for a tour of Civic Center, the Tenderloin, and the habitat these neighborhoods provide for butterflies and people alike. We'll learn about our local swallowtails, discuss opportunities for improving walking conditions and greening local streets and parks, and end up at a delightful and unlikely oasis: the Tenderloin National Forest. This walk is part of the Green Connections project to design a network of paths to open space around the city.
Free for Walk SF members and non-members alike, please RSVP at

Through Fri., July 20, 2012 ImproveSF Food Justice Challenge
Mayor Edwin M. Lee announced the second ImproveSF challenge centered on food justice in Central Market, challenging the innovation community to find social justice solutions to improve access to healthy foods for residents in the Central Market/Tenderloin neighborhood. The Tenderloin is the only neighborhood in SF without a full-service grocery store.
“Access to fresh, healthy food is a tremendous challenge in some of our neighborhoods, particularly for those most vulnerable in areas like Central Market and the Tenderloin,” said Mayor Lee.
“Providing access to nutritious food and fostering healthy eating habits within our community is a key component of the social justice work that we have undertaken with our Tenderloin and South of Market community leaders,” said District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. “Whether it’s addressing a lack of access to a kitchen facility or to affordable fresh produce, our residents are actively engaged in piloting new ways to achieve food justice.”
ImproveSF is an online platform that empowers citizens to apply their expertise to civic challenges. Each challenge is launched through a partnership with a City agency, a corporate sponsor and community partners. Citizens respond to the challenge by submitting ideas, voting, sharing and commenting. Each challenge awards prizes for winning submissions, and as additional incentive for participation.

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