Saturday, March 31, 2012

Local Food + 2012 Farm Bill

Free Farmers Byron, Stephen and I attended Thursday’s Local Food & 2012 Farm Bill program, organized by Food & Water Watch, at Richmond Branch Library. Every five years, the Farm Bill comes up for renewal and its funding determines what foods are grown (e.g., subsidies for grains to animal feedlots and corporate agri-business) and how they’re grown (e.g., subsidies support monoculture and conventional farming that harm the environment and public health). The current Farm Bill is set to expire September 30, 2012. Before the screening of Antonio Roman-Alcala’s “In Search of Good Food,” Stephen mentions to Eric that he is working with Antonio (Alemany Farmer and Getup grad) to develop a new farm near The Food Bank in Potrero Hill.Panelists: Eric Mar, Christopher Cook, Paula Jones, Susan Kuehn and Adam Scow. Paula and Susan are Getup grads!

District 1 Supervisor and Land Use Committee Chair Eric Mar said that his support of local food includes access to more urban farms like The Free Farm and Alemany Farm (see Find My Farm map at, which also create community. His office is reviewing vacant lots held by SF Unified School District and SF Public Utilities Commission for potential urban farm use. Eric also said he would like more accountability by food corporations and their role in childhood obesity. He provided statistics on food insecurity in the Richmond District, highlighting the numbers receiving SNAP (aka food stamps,

Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us author Christopher Cook noted that it’s not enough to DIY, but we need to DIT=Do It Together, because individually shopping local and organic will not solve the problem of a handful of corporations that control the bulk of the food supply that’s proliferating junk food and subsidies that pay for cheap food. Part of the solution is funding to farm locally and organically. (Christopher also recently shared his own experience obtaining food stamps at

Paula Jones, who heads SF Food Security Task Force (monthly meetings on first Wednesdays are open to public, see Public Service Announcement below), told us that 1 in 7 Americans use food stamps, but it’s underutilized especially by seniors and that seniors on SSI cannot access food stamps. She emphasized the importance of preserving food stamps as an entitlement program under the Farm Bill. In addition, she mentioned the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (also funded by Farm Bill) that distributes to 198 pantries in SF serving 110,000 households with 3 million pounds of food each month, of which over half is fresh food.

Susan Kuehn and Adam Scow of Food & Water Watch have been working with Eric and Paula on drafting a Resolution for a Fair Farm Bill that emphasizes local food and preserves SNAP as an entitlement program. Adam reminded us that two-thirds of Farm Bill spending goes to food and nutrition programs like SNAP. Eric explained that the SF Resolution is a symbolic message to our representatives in the Federal level. Susan urged us to support the Resolution by showing up at the Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled next month. More information at

Public Service Announcements:

Sun., Apr. 1, 2012, 1-2 pm The Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair talk
In the Café, SF County Fair Building, 9th Ave. & Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, SF
West Of Eden: Communes And Utopia in Northern California Panel, with Iain Boal, Jeff Lustig and Cal Winslow

Wed., Apr. 4, 2012, 1:30-3:30 pm SF Food Security Task Force
City Hall - 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Rm. 278, SF 94102

Thurs., Apr. 5, 2012, 7:30 pm What Does the New Jepson Manual Mean for California Floristics?
Recreation Room, SF County Fair Building, 9th Ave. & Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, SF
Served by Muni #71 & #44 lines, 1 block from N-Judah, 2 blocks from #6, #43 & #66 bus lines.
Great advances have been made in the understanding of plant evolution and the relationships among plant groups since publication of The Jepson Manual (1993). This necessitated a total revision of the book, which is now complete. Not merely have species been moved into different–or entirely new– genera, but similar radical shifts have been done at the level of families or orders. This may upset some; others will find the new alignments exciting and stimulating. Bruce Baldwin, Ph.D. will review some of the more conspicuous changes affecting our plants and provide some perspective on why these changes are important steps forward for California botany. He will also talk about new initiatives of the Jepson Flora Project and their effects on the California botanical community. Bruce Baldwin is Curator of the Jepson Herbarium and Professor of Integrative Biology at U.C. Berkeley. He is Convening Editor of the Jepson Flora Project, including The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition.
More information at visits California Poppy at SF Botanical Garden; Native Peoples used mashed stems and roots to relieve toothache.
Fri., Apr. 6, 2012 Celebrate California Poppy Day!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Free to be you + me

Improving gardening access

Earlier this month Page and volunteers completed installing this wooden hand rail to make it easier to go up and down our slope! I pondered the symbolism of the eye-catching primary colors painted on this rail designed for a more inclusive community: blue representing Heaven and yellow representing Earth for us humans in between? When I asked Tree, he said they just used whatever paint colors were available . . . okay, I’m really looking forward to our next step in making The Free Farm more inclusive: installing a garden bed table!
Here’s a model of a vegetable bed table at Garden For the Environment ( Tree and Page have reserved a (usually) sunny spot for our soon-to-be-constructed garden table between our container plants corner and the bench near where Joyce greets visitors entering The Free Farm.

"Save Your Back (and Your Greenbacks!) with a Garden Table” ( describes a raised Garden Table designed to include those with mobility issues to enjoy gardening. Reading the part about the table being “easy to construct in about two hours” really spoke to me so I promptly emailed my request for instructions to Manatee Master Gardeners. Almost immediately, I received a response from Karen, who sent me instructions ( along with a nice note of encouragement. She also related her County Extension office’s own fundraising efforts to install a new greenhouse and garden with a working Salad Table to demonstrate to the public how to grow and feed themselves!

In April, five of my horticulture classmates plan to join us at The Free Farm to begin working with Page on constructing our Garden Table. In the meantime, we’re looking for scavenged materials for this project: untreated, framing lumber (save trees via reuse!) and window screening. If you, or know someone who, can help, please contact Thanks for your support in creating a more inclusive gardening community! (

Advocating for growing space

According to Briahn Kelly-Brennan, L.Ac., who teaches Traditional Chinese Medicine (, the two most common organ imbalances in Americans relate to the spleen (poor diet) and liver qi stagnation (stress due to unfulfilled desire). Yikes, I think nothing is more insufferable than stagnation—that feeling of being stuck . . . like stale air, compacted soil, anaerobic compost, caged wild animal . . .catch my drift? If you’ve been following this blog, I often write about the importance of access to good food, space in order to grow good food and connecting with nature. It’s about social justice and opportunity to reach our potential for community health. In this regard, The Free Farm has been a dream come true in fulfilling our desire for good food that makes up a healthy diet. Growing and eating our plants in our supportive community is so empowering, liberating, nourishing, eliminating qi stagnation and rebalancing ourselves through good food + movement . . . so we’re free to be you + me!

This past week Tree hosted a virtual Eating Meeting with the latest update about our growing space at Eddy/Gough. After Tree and Margaret met with representatives from Saint Paulus and Maracor (the developer that’s acquiring The Free Farm site) on Monday (, Tree concluded that “we are now going to be more actively looking for a spot to relocate . . . Anyone that wants to be on a committee to help us find a new home would be welcome. This could be an exciting new change and challenge.”

Shortly after, my Getup classmate Susan (featured at sent me an announcement for Food & Water Watch’s March 29th forum about Local Food & 2012 Farm Bill (see Public Service Announcement details below) with Supervisor and Land Use Committee Chair Eric Mar. Just before our new year (, I mentioned The Free Farm’s need for new growing space to Eric after he mentioned that his office was looking into vacant lots for community gardens . . . so we have an opportunity to gently remind him on March 29th :-) Now that Tree suggests we look for a new spot, let’s pull together some talking points.

Promoting health via prevention
In public health, we often talk about primary prevention strategies to most effectively improve community health. Earlier this year, I attended an all-day training, “Promoting Health, Safety, and Equity: Creating Systematic, Strategic and Sustainable Change,” presented by Prevention Institute ( and hosted by Girls, Inc. ( in San Leandro. (Yes, the same Girls, Inc. who artfully painted our toolshed during our inaugural ReFresh event at

The U.S. health care system needs to shift its approach from a narrow biomedical/clinical (treatment after the fact, reactive, targeting individuals who are already sick/injured) to a broader public health focus (large-scale prevention in the first place, proactive, emphasizing community including the societal context, to avoid illness/injury). Primary prevention has potentially the greatest impact to improve health outcomes because it serves as the first level of defense to intercept causes of disease.

Our trainers discussed the “moving upstream” analogy that refers to understanding the cause of injury in order to prevent injury (e.g., finding that people are drowning due to falling through a hole in the bridge, so fixing the hole should prevent people from falling through in the first place). Of the four major determinants of health, environment is the most influential, followed by behavior and lifestyle (others are heredity and health care services)—so we should focus on creating an environment that supports healthy behavior and lifestyle choices. For example, we’re urged to ”make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” but what if plates are half empty because produce is not easily available/affordable in a neighborhood?

The top level of the Prevention Spectrum, Influencing Policy and Legislation, has the potential for achieving broad impact on a community. By mandating what’s expected and required, policy can lead to behavior change that becomes the social norm in a community. In 2009, former Mayor Newsom directed that all city departments conduct an audit of unused land that could be converted into urban agriculture use. He was on target when he said, "Urban agriculture is about far more than growing vegetables on an empty lot. It's about revitalizing and transforming unused public spaces, connecting city residents with their neighborhoods in a new way and promoting healthier eating and living for everyone. . . There's no better preventative medicine and no easier way to reduce health care costs for the long term than teaching our residents and our children to eat healthier.” (

Practice makes perfect
One of the skill building exercises was to prepare a presentation to an imaginary local government council. After we were dealt a hand of cards as our talking points and evidence, we had to convince the government official to make our community health issue a local priority by taking an environmental approach to address the related exposures/behaviors and underlying community level factors.
It was so cool to hear from Nicki Guard, Girls, Inc. Volunteer Program Manager, as she eloquently made the case for community gardens as an investment in community level prevention by empowering residents as changemakers. She described how community gardens provide green spaces, bring people together to grow food so they learn the source of their nutrition, train people for a livelihood to sell produce at farmers’ markets, offer a safe place for the community to hang out, etc. Girls, Inc. Senior Director of Training Whitney Morris is seated across from Nicki.

Power of Community > Power of One
Prevention Institute Program Coordinator Dalila Butler reminded us about the effectiveness of community organizing and collaborating with like-minded partners. She referred us to free online training at

We all need/want/desire good food locally —and the March 29 forum presents an exciting opportunity for interested parties to collaborate on how we can achieve our same objective in SF.

Public Service Announcement:

Thurs., Mar. 29, 2012, 6:30-8:30 pm Local Food & 2012 Farm Bill
Richmond Branch Library Community Room, 351 – 9th Ave. (between Geary & Clement), SF
Join Food & Water Watch for a special forum accompanied by a film screening of Antonio Roman-Alcala' s documentary "In Search of Good Food.”
About the Film:
“In Search of Good Food” ( features Antonio Roman-Alcalá, an urban farming activist from San Francisco, on his search for the "sustainable" food system in California. The film attempts to answer the question: Does the sustainable food system actually exist? And if it doesn't, what is preventing it from becoming reality?
Panel Members:
Eric Mar, District 1 Supervisor, Land Use Committee Chair (
Adam Scow and Susan Kuehn, Food & Water Watch (
Paula Jones, Director of Food Systems, SF Department of Public Health (
Christopher Cook, author of Diet for a Dead Planet (
SF Resolution:
Food & Water Watch and its allies have drafted a resolution urging the SF Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution calling upon California's U.S. Senators and Representatives to defend and advocate for initiatives that rebuild local and regional food infrastructure, support small and midsized producers and ensure that they are fairly compensated by buyers, promote sustainable and urban agriculture, increase access to healthy food, and connect more SF residents with local farmers and ranchers.
As many of you already know --our food system is not working for those who produce food or for those who eat it. Many farmers cannot make a living from farming, while many consumers lack access to healthy, sustainably-produced food. Conservation programs that help farmers steward our air, water, and climate are woefully underfunded. The infrastructure connecting farmers with consumers at the local and regional levels has all but disappeared. As a city with almost 1 million eaters, SF must ensure that important strides made in the 2008 Farm Bill to improve our food system are maintained in the 2012 budget and expanded upon in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill.
Contact: Susan Kuehn 415.225.5916

March is National Nutrition Month
“Get Your Plate in Shape” campaign is based on USDA’s MyPlate at
Check out alternative Healthy Eating Plate at
According to Food and Research Center (FARC), 9% of U.S. households with children report difficulty accessing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables at, and 1 in 5 Americans report an inability to afford enough food; California’s Bakersfield and Fresno ranked 1st and 2nd in reporting about 25% hardship rates at

Thursday, March 22, 2012

World Water Day: Water + Food Security

There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.
When a billion people in the world already live in chronic hunger and water resources are under pressure we cannot pretend the problem is ‘elsewhere’. Coping with population growth and ensuring access to nutritious food to everyone call for a series of actions we can all help with:
• follow a healthier, sustainable diet;
• consume less water-intensive products;
• reduce the scandalous food wastage: 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost!
• produce more food, of better quality, with less water.
At all steps of the supply chain, from producers to consumers, actions can be taken to save water and ensure food for all.
And you? Do you know how much water you actually consume every day? How can you change your diet and reduce your water footprint? Join the World Water Day 2012 campaign “Water and Food Security” and find out more!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tea time + butterflies

After four days of rain, we got a nice break yesterday and enjoyed the outdoors under gray skies.

Compost tea for plants! Sander built this brilliant compost tea brewer from scavenged materials . . . so ignore potato sacks + netting sign painted on barrel :-)
Inside barrel: mesh bag holds concoction of vermicompost + compost from our piles + seaweed + fish hydrolysate.
Sander unveils aeration system sitting atop neighboring barrel.
Sander applies compost tea to foliage in greenhouse.
Seed planting marathon continues: Tree and Alemany Farm volunteers.
Evan mah-velously manages compost piles.
Worms love our compost!
Kem joins Evan in compost corner.
Workday leader Hannah and Stanley “talk story” during break from greeting visitors at produce stand.
K took this awesome photo of butterflies at The Free Farm.

Herbal teas for people!

Last week at SF Botanical Garden, I attended a presentation by my container gardening instructor and ethnobotanist Thomas Wang on Chinese Plants for Food and Medicine ( We enjoyed Chinese snacks (preserved plums, honey loquat) and teas (dragonwell, jasmine), his illustrated talk (Mythology, Geography, Taxonomy, Language, Uses and Horticulture) and then a walkabout in the Asian plants collection with his gardener-wife Dolores and their children.
Siraitia (lu han guo) is known as longevity fruit because it’s cultivated in an area in China with many centenarians. Its sweet fruit is used to treat sore throats and congestion. We added boiled water to dried pulp for a slightly bitter tea, and dried hawthorn for vitamin C.
“Wood” character in Chinese is root word for forest, fruits, roots, village, board, cups, chess, plum, instrument. In container gardening class, I wanted to photograph everything Thomas drew on the chalkboard but contained (pun intended) myself. He never showed us his calligraphy talent so this was now a photo op :-) Chinese is spoken by 1/5th of the world’s population, but it’s very diverse so it helps to understand the common written language. (If you’re tone-deaf, you might as well be mute as Chinese is a tonal language; but if you can read/write, at least you’ll be literate.)
Thomas’ calligraphy of proverbs: “Eat and drink of diversity, make food and medicine one.” “Reconcile opposites, balance priorities, be harmonious in nature. See the whole picture.” “Ground yourself in time and space: in the middle is the heart.” “Plant flowers, grow fruits, walk in the forest. Breathe, open your heart, go out and play.”
Peony is not just an ornamental flower. In Chinese medicine, its root is used to clear blood heat and restore proper circulation. Western clinical research indicates it lowers blood pressure.
Camellia sinensis is harvested to produce white, green, oolong, pu-erh and black teas. According to one legend, Buddha, after falling asleep when he should have been praying, ripped out his eyelashes and threw them to the ground—and then sprang a caffeinated tea plant! ( But about 5,000 years ago (way before Buddha’s time), legendary Chinese Emperor Shen Nong (“Divine Farmer”) discovered tea while sitting under a tree when dried leaves fell into his cup of boiled water. Since then, people worldwide have enjoyed the medicinal and spiritual benefits of drinking tea. ( Shen Nong personally tasted hundreds of herbs to discover their medicinal value; unfortunately, he apparently died while tasting a poisonous plant.Bamboo forest: where pandas like to hang out and eat bamboo shoots, stems and leaves :-) Dolores told us that bamboo grows 1 foot per day, up to 80 feet high; and in two to three years, they’re replaced like grass. The Free Farm uses bamboo as a windbreaker.Can’t see the forest from the trees? As we look up to trees in misty afternoon . . . Thomas mentioned that he met Dolores while they were both weeding in the Asian plants collection at SF Botanical Garden! After they married, they went to the Amazon for their honeymoon. Back in SF, they produced Sebastian and Maria :-)
Thomas authored In the Garden with Blue Butterflies (, which is a fun, beautifully illustrated guide to our plant world. I’ve already found it a tremendous resource as I plan children’s walks at SF Botanical Garden . . . especially when I have to lead a PG-rated walk on sexual reproduction of plants!

In Chinese medicine, ginkgo nut (bai guo) seed is used to clear lung heat (cough, asthma). Chinese aren't known for desserts (most often just fruits), but ginkgo dessert soup (recipe above) is really yummy! In Western medicine, ginkgo extract prepared from leaves is believed to improve cognitive function. Thomas mentioned that when he once suggested ginkgo to his grandmother, she told him that she preferred playing mahjong with her friends because it’s the social interaction that’s stimulating. Very true, so I have to remind myself not to get so obsessed by the healing properties of plants because it’s also being nurtured by a supportive community that’s truly invigorating.

And The Free Farm is about growing plants and community so join us in our healing activities!

Public Service Announcement

Tues., Mar. 20, 2012 Meat Out Day + Welcome Springtime!
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a Veg Day Mondays Resolution on April 6, 2010. For details, check out The purpose is to encourage everyone to not eat meat at least one day a week. Any non-vegetarian pledging to refrain from eating meat at least one day a week will be given a one year free online Associate Membership in SF Vegetarian Society ( which includes receiving newsletters and discounts at SFVS sponsored events, at vegetarian & veg-friendly restaurants and for other services.
Contact Tracy Ewing, Membership Coordinator, to sign up:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rainy day feast for the eyes

As the weather forecast calls for rains this week and next, how can we stay connected with nature while indoors? Let’s take a field trip to Golden Gate Park!
Librarian Lia looks out into the beautiful SF Botanical Garden from the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture ( in Golden Gate Park. As northern California's most comprehensive horticultural library, it houses approximately 27,000 volumes and 350 plant/garden periodicals. So many non-circulating books, so little time but . . .starting this Sunday (March 18), the Library will expand its operations to open Wednesdays to Mondays, 10 am–4 pm (restoring two days that were cut in 2010). Woo Hoo!!! The Library also plans to begin circulating its collection of 1,600+ children’s books in the near future.

At The Free Farm, we’ve always planted insectary mixes to attract beneficial insects. With a recent donation of pots, we’re planting ornamental flowers like bachelors button, dahlia, poppy, tulip, etc. What to do with cut flowers? Check out deYoung Museum, which just began its 5-day “Bouquets to Art” ( showcase of 150 floral exhibits interpreting artworks from its permanent collection.
And finally, come join us during our Wednesday and Saturday volunteer days in The Free Farm’s warm greenhouse, where we can always plant seeds and fertilize seedlings! We have seeds to grow kale, cardoon, leek, chard, collard, spinach, squash, cucumber, bean, tomato, basil, lettuce, flower, etc. If there’s a break in the rain, take a meditative stroll in our lovely labyrinth!

Public Service Announcements:

Wed., Mar. 14, 2012 Celebrate Pi Day

Thurs., Mar. 15, 2012, 7-9:30 pm "YERT" (Your Environmental Road Trip)
Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave, near Dwight Way, Berkeley
50 States. 1 Year. Zero Garbage? Called to action by a planet in peril, three friends hit the road - traveling with hope, humor, and all of their garbage - to explore every state in America (the good, the bad...and the weird) in search of the extraordinary innovators and citizens who are tackling humanity's greatest environmental crises. As the YERT team layers outlandish eco-challenges onto their year-long quest, an unexpected turn of events pushes them to the brink in this award-winning docu-comedy. Featuring Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, Will Allen, Janine Benyus, Joel Salatin, David Orr, and others. Join us for a screening of this feature length film, followed by discussion with the film's producer and star, Mark Dixon.

Sun., Mar. 18, 2012, 11am Tree Tour of Rhododendron Dell in Golden Gate Park
Friends of the Urban Forest invites you on a free two-hour walking tour of the Rhododendron Dell in Golden Gate Park. It was built in the 1940s as the original entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and features one of the favorite plants of longtime park superintendent John McLaren. Though the dell was damaged by storms a few years ago, it has recently been remodeled.
James McCormick of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will lead us through this less-frequented portion of the park. Meet at the John McLaren statue on the south side of J.F. Kennedy Drive, just west of the Conservatory of Flowers (see
Following the tour, two gardeners will lead a hands-on demonstration of how to prepare the Rhododendron Dell for spring, including the form-pruning of juvenile specimens, dead heading (the removal of spent blooms), fertilizer application, and planting. This is chance for people of all skill levels to learn "in the field."
SPACE WILL BE LIMITED, so please RSVP to Sarah Campbell at
Public transportation: Muni 5 and 44 buses.

Tues., Mar. 20, 2012, 6-8 pm American Way of Eating and the People Who Feed Us
Port Commission Hearing Room, 2nd floor, Ferry Building on Embarcadero at Market St., SF
Join CUESA for a conversation between Tracie McMillan, journalist and author of the recently released book The American Way of Eating, and Sandy Brown, co-owner of Swanton Berry Farm. After going undercover to labor in the fields of industrial farms, stock groceries at Walmart, and work in the kitchen at Applebee’s, McMillan--called "a voice the food world needs" by the New York Times--has some eye-opening tales to tell about the inner workings of the corporate food system. Swanton Berry Farm’s Sandy Brown, who is also a UC Berkeley graduate student researching farm labor and fair trade certifications, will talk with McMillan about labor, privilege, politics, and eating in America.

Wed. Mar. 21, 2012, 6-7 pm Taste What You're Missing
Omnivore Books on Food, 3885a Cesar Chavez St., SF 94131Link
A seasoned food developer, Barb Stuckey reveals that much of what we think we know about how taste works is wrong. And the truth is much more fascinating—for instance, your tongue is not divided into quadrants for sweet, sour, salt, and bitter and only a fraction of what you taste happens in your mouth. As Stuckey explains how our five senses work together to form “flavor perceptions,” she tells intriguing stories about people who have lost the sense of smell or taste and the unexpected ways their experience of food changes as a result.