I was the first person to speak and I just welcomed our small gathering to the Free Farm (there were mostly free farm volunteers, I didn't see any Kaiser employees, and Pam from St. Paulus Church was there). I mainly told a little about our history and mentioned the fact that we have grown over 7,000 pounds of produce since we began. Then I introduced Supervisor Olague and I pointed out that she was a supporter of urban agriculture and was one of the first members of the Board of Supervisors to support the recently passed new urban agriculture legislation to create a sort of Department of Urban Agriculture in San Francisco. The supervisor mainly spoke of her support for projects like ours, Hayes Valley Farm, Alemany Farm, and the Kezar Gardens at the HANC Recycling Center. She said that she wanted to see if there could be a way to have more permanent spaces available for agriculture projects in the city. Later in the day she tweeted " Urban Ag is an exciting movement in SF - visited Free Farm at Eddy and Gough today-committed to finding permanent spaces" The last person to speak was Steve from Kaiser Permanente, who shared with us that he used to be a Forrest Ranger and is a gardener. He explained that what Kaiser wants to do is make it easy for people to have good health, So they see having gardens as making it easy, having open space as making it easy, having access to fresh vegetables and fruits makes it easy. That is why they are supporting projects like ours. He gave us a framed certificate that I spaced out on reading, but I guess it officially states that they like us and support our work. Hooray!
The ominous black cloud of doubt did hang over us though, doubt that we can stay on the land for more than two or three years. Personally I am always just trying to go with the flow and believe that the divine powers that be will take care of us. We just need to keep serving and spread the love.
Now I want to talk about urban land and the need to have what Supervisor Olague said as more permanent places available for urban agriculture. First of all, I think what is needed is both more permanent open space and urban farmland. I think there should be a halt in development in the city and that we try to reuse any buildings first, especially unused buildings, before we tear down or build more new buildings.
I got this inspiring email below the other day: Hi Free Farm,
Thank you for all the hard work that goes into creating and maintaining one of San Francisco's brightest spaces. We in the Space TranSFormers are very disturbed by the possibility of your eviction and are starting to take some action to inspire all of San Francisco to stand up for keeping your educational, food-bearing, green space just where it is. We understand the temporary use agreement of your space. We also think it is therefore up to the people of San Francisco to stand up and say: "We want to keep our green spaces. We want more permaculture in the city. We want the Free Farm to stay right where it is." Anyway, we love you all.
To start building some momentum to retain the Free Farm, along with Haye's Valley Farm and the HANC community garden and native plant nursery, we are inviting people to a gathering in Golden Gate Park September 14th through 16th: the Human Be In (g) 2012 ! We invite people to come together, teach a workshop, share a skill, play music, make art, cook a meal, and simply be. Through this, we hope to lay the groundwork for an edible forest garden in the city, similar to Seattle's Beacon Hill Forest Garden, the first public food forest in the nation.
Please see our website for more information. We will be transitioning from the following blog to a full on website in the coming days. For now a schedule of events, contact information, and details can be found at: theHumanBeing2012.blogspot.com In addition to music, skills, workshops, inspiration, and ideas, we will very much benefit from collections of soil, compost, cardboard, and green manure. With a vision for a better world, love, and gratitude Rise Space TranSFormers theHumanBeing2012@gmail.com
Without permanent open space that is not protected from development our cities will become more and more unlivable. The stress level will only increase. Open space and nature in the city is necessary for mental health. The same is true for the need for urban farm and garden land that is protected from development. Without this kind of permanent land we are not free. Free from being a slave to concrete , free to grow our own food and flowers. The way I am seeing it now the only way for us to secure land is to pray for benevolent angels to donate vacant urban land and buildings to go to land trusts that will protect the land forever. We need something like an Land Conservancy or Nature Conservancy in our city, that protects what little open spaces and vacant lots we have for the benefit of people and wildlife. There is actually a field in ecology called Restoration Ecology that works to restore ecosystems and habitats that have been damaged or destroyed by human intervention. That is what we need to be doing in cities and what we do on urban farms is just that,not just grow food.
Just like we have patrons of the arts we need patrons of the urban land. We need patrons to help us secure private property that could be used to grow food and run houses of love, prayer, and hospitality. The Diggers of England who took over the commons and planted corn are still an inspiration to me, but what those Diggers did was mostly inspire future generations with radical visions of a new society (they were quickly kicked off the lands they occupied). Equally inspiring is the work of Vinoba Bhave who was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. He started the Land Gift Movement in India where he walked from village for 20 years and got over 4 million acres of land voluntarily donated to lower caste people.
This idea of finding people with money to buy up some property in San Francisco is not totally crazy. We do have a lot of rich people around, take a look at the San Francisco company Instagram which Facebook tried to acquire for one billion dollars cash. There are also examples of generosity all around us. The Marty's Place house, a home for homeless men with Aids, was donated to Dolores Street Housing, when the man who was running the program died last year. The vacant lots that both the permaculture food forest is on in Potrero Hill, and the Esperanza Garden in the Mission are being lent out n strings attached (though the lands in those situations are not protected from development and could disappear anytime). Even the Free Farm land is is being so generously loaned to us. We just need a Vinoba Bhave of our era to free up some private property. Another great example of what I am talking about is Emma Prusch Farm Park in San Jose that was a family farm gifted to the city with the idea that it remain agricultural relevant land. I can go on and on with examples of generosity along these lines. The city even has been generous making Hayes Valley Farm a temporary reality, as well as once temporarily supplying the Missionaries of Charity with an sort of vacant firehouse to feed the poor ($1 a year), and Ruth Brinker who started Project Open Hand, was leased a piece of Redevelopment Land in the Fillmore for $1 a month.
Here is something trippy, while looking up Ruth Brinker, who died last year, I ran across this article in the Chronicle from 1996, the year after the St Paulus Church burned down: "Brinker said plans are proceeding apace to prepare an additional half-acre plot for spring planting at St. Paulus Church on Gough Street... http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Fire-Wrecks-S-F-Farm-s-Trailer-Tools-Arson-2954275.php#ixzz22tYAIHIU
So we are carrying out Ruth Brinker's vision!
One other thing I want to write about in reaction to the email above. We all should be taking care of the existing properties that are either being loaned to us or we are renting. There are gardens now that need care and attention and I can think of two edible forests in the city right now that need help. We can start the revolution now without waiting for the angel and patron of the land to show up. People that have space should begin sharing it with those who want to do inspiring good work with it. Backyards should be cleaned up and planted (I should talk!) Even those who are renting perhaps can make some space to take in a guest or use it's kitchen to cook a free meal to feed the volunteers running the farms (the Free Farm needs vegan cooks to make lunches for volunteers). Some pictures from the day: