Saturday, June 30, 2012

Open 8 hours a week

Plant porn pick of the week: K models sunflower sunglasses

In Tree’s absence last Saturday, neighborhood volunteer K opened up The Free Farm (TFF) and sent me a couple of photos taken during the workday.
Smiles from strawberry hill photo by K
More smiles from volunteers photo by K
Flower power: Sunflowers make me smile :-) on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
Alicia and Arely came to visit TFF on Wednesday afternoon. Though from the neighborhood, this was their first visit so I gave them the grand tour. They asked if they could volunteer because they’ve worked in their school gardens and really love nature! Wow, they’re hired! They stayed at TFF until about 4 pm when Tree said he was ready to leave. Then they asked if we were open on other days, so I suggested that they return on our Saturday workday and check with other volunteers for access outside of our scheduled 8 hours a week—including their request to see the Queen Bee :-). In the meantime, we encouraged them to grow their own so Tree gave them a sunflower plant (their favorite), while I gave them a mugwort (removed to allow more growing space for ashitaba plants). Welcome Alicia and Arely, it’s always great to have volunteers from the neighborhood caring for TFF!
I removed mugwort plants, which were casting shadow on this ashitaba plant from SF Botanical Garden (SFBG).
SFBG curator Don said that nursery’s ashitaba plants were grown from seeds originating from Bolinas permaculture garden. A true plant whisperer, Don’s perhaps the only person who knows all 8,000+ kinds of plants at the 55-acre SFBG, and more plants continue to be added to this collection! Docents like myself struggle to keep up . . .Don mentioned that most nursery volunteers request to grow California natives and edibles, but SFBG isn’t focused on food production. Well, anyone who wants to grow edibles is very welcome to join us at TFF!

Actually, SFBG is engaged in food production when you consider it was just sand dunes until the introduction of plants, which attracted animals seeking plant food. Check out this video ( of Don talking about growing up on a farm, which led him to pursue botany studies and then a career in horticulture – over 27 years with SFBG! In this video, he also discusses the recent planting of 20 fruit trees (apples, plums, mulberries, figs) in SFBG Children’s Garden, and the importance of growing food.

I always feel so fortunate to live within walking distance of SFBG and Garden For the Environment, which are open every day of the year.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could open up TFF beyond our 8 hours a week?  For now, we'd love to have you join us on our volunteer days, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10 am to 2 pm.

Public Service Announcements:

Sun., July 1 & 15, 2012, 10:30 am Story Time + Children’s Walk in Botanical Garden
Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture, SF Botanical Garden, 9th Ave. at Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, SF 94122
July story time’s featured book is And the Good Brown Earth, a story that follows young Joe and his grandmother as they tend her garden from scratch, patiently waiting through the seasons to see what their hard work will produce. Writer-illustrator Kathy Henderson beautifully chronicles the life cycle of a vegetable garden with colorful and detailed drawings. After story time, stick around for a docent-led children’s walk for the entire family!

Mon., July 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30, 2012, 11 am – 2 pm Bean Sprouts Family Days
Children’s Garden, SF Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, SF
For Families with children ages 5-12: storytelling, nature crafts and gardening led by our Youth Education program staff. Bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon together. Enter by the Friend gate and pick up a map at the admissions kiosk. Program is free. No sign-up necessary. Contact Children’s Garden educator Gretchen at (415) 637-4373 or email
Tues., July 3, 2012 Conservatory of Flowers (free 1st Tues.)
100 JFK Dr. in Golden Gate Park, SF 94118
Step back in time … WAY back in time as the Conservatory of Flowers transports you to a real life land of the lost in its newest exhibition Plantosaurus Rex. It's a prehistoric paradise of plants from the time of the dinosaurs when giant ferns, spiky horsetails and primitive cycads grew in lush abundance and fed many of the monstrous reptiles that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Under a canopy of conifers and Gingko, visitors encounter model dinosaurs like the armored Stegosaurus foraging for the vegetation they loved best while learning about the symbiotic relationship between ancient flora and fauna. But beware — the predators have come to Golden Gate Park too! A giant T. rex has smashed through the roof of the Conservatory to look for potential snacks!

Thurs., July 5, 2012, 7:30 pm Resources for Wildlife in the Urban Landscape
Recreation Rm, County Fair Building, 9th Ave. at Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, SF 94122
Josiah Clark returns to give another of his very popular talks on how to provide for wildlife in our urban areas. The first step is identifying the resources that local wildlife need and use. Josiah will discuss wildlife resources in general, exploring the importance of plant composition, origin, structure, habitat, and placement. Josiah will compare and contrast native and nonnative plants and their uses by wildlife, and also address the importance of water, dead wood, and dense cover in the urban landscape. He will talk about trees, homing in on when they contribute and when and how they detract from wildlife habitat. He aims to inform people not only about how to improve local urban surroundings for wildlife but also to help the habitat stewardship community communicate more effectively about local needs--making us better advocates for better habitat comprised of native and wildlife-friendly plants. Josiah Clark started his venture, Habitat Potential, in 2002 and has worked as a consulting ecologist for a wide range of clients, including the GGNRA, the San Francisco Natural Areas Program, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and dozens of private property owners. He also leads international birding tours and environmental stewardship with urban youth, and writes on environmental issues.

Sun., July 8, 2012, 1 pm Forum: The Commons, Public Spaces & Privatization
Main Library, Latino Room Lower Level, 100 Larkin St. SF
The economic collapse in 2008 has been used as justification for the sell-off of public spaces, buildings and the privatization of public services and parks. SF is turning into a billionaire’s dream, as every city property from City Hall to the waterfront becomes a source for profit. The growing lack of regulation and transparency is part and parcel of this development and this forum will also look at how environmental protection and right to information also are in jeopardy. This panel will look at how our commons and public spaces are being threatened, who is doing it, who is helping them do it and how we can defend our public spaces and stop the privatization of public spaces and resources.
Speakers: Gray Brechin, UCB Geographer and author of Imperial San Francisco; James Chaffee, Keep Civic Center Public; Aysha Massell, Environmental Worker; Don Santina, Cultural Historian and writer; Peter Warfield, Library Users Association/Executive Director.  Sponsored by United Public Workers for Action

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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sugar-free summer!

Summer began on Wednesday when I attended the Bay Area Nutrition & Physical Activity Collaborative ( meeting for Rethink Your Drink 2012 Launch (, a public health campaign to get people to “be sugar savvy” about their selection of drinks to quench summer thirst.
Originally called Soda Free Summer (, the California Dental Association (CDA) got involved to extend the message to all sugary drinks (  According to CDA President-elect Lindsay Robinson, DDS:
• “Sipping sugary drinks gives bacteria in the mouth more power to create acid that weakens tooth enamel and causes cavities. In addition, sports drinks pose many of the same risks as other sugar-loaded beverages, such as irreversible dental erosion, and should not be substituted for water.”
• Instead, replace sugar-laden drinks for water: “Water contains no sugar, no acids and no calories, so your teeth, and your body, will benefit. Water also helps keep gums hydrated and rinses away food particles that would otherwise remain in the mouth promoting bacterial growth that causes decay.”
Thanks to Health Educator Gwenn White of Contra Costa Health Services for sharing her recipes of these refreshing spa water alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages. Add the following to ½ gallon of water:
  • pineapple (2 cups, cubed) + mint (10 leaves), or
  • cucumber (1 large, sliced) + melon (1/4 honeydew, cubed + ¼ cantaloupe, cubed), or
  • watermelon (2 cups seedless, cubed) + basil (10 to 12 leaves)
Sugary drinks are the largest contributor of added sugar in the American diet. In addition to harming oral health, this source of added sugar and empty calories may lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Even 100% fruit juice is high in sugar and can be easily over consumed, so the campaign recommends limiting juice consumption to 4 to 6 ounces per day.
This display shows the amount of sugar below each drink. For example, a 20-ounce cola contains nearly 17 teaspoons of added sugar, which a 154 lb. individual would have to walk for nearly an hour (3.5 mph) to burn off those extra calories. More at

When public education campaigns, product warning labels, and advertising controls don’t work (, some public officials like Richmond City Council member Jeff Ritterman, MD (cardiologist) think a soda tax will work. He told us that “a one-cent per ounce fee on sweetened drinks will help the City to raise $2-$8 million to prevent childhood obesity and diabetes” through treatment for uninsured Richmond kids, support after-school sport programs, serve healthier meals at Richmond schools, and (dig this!) build school and community gardens in Richmond!

Worried about sweets? Take charge of your health!
Free Farmer Lauren teaches kombucha-making at How-to-Homestead ( workshop at Mission Arts Center.  Her kombucha recipe includes 1 cup of sugar to 3 quarts of water, 5-6 tea bags, kombucha culture + previous batch.

According to Chinese Five Element Theory, the sweet taste is associated with the earth element, the transition between seasons, and digestion. Why did the ancient Taoists make this connection between sweet (taste) and worry (emotion) and digestion? Are sugary, probiotic kombucha drinks (which originated in northern China before spreading to Siberia and the rest of the world) healthy for daily consumption?

Get the answers to these questions from Briahn Kelly-Brennan, L.Ac. (, who is teaching Everyday Healing Foods and Herbs (HCT 108) this Fall at CCSF’s Chinatown campus on Wednesday evenings, 6-9 pm, starting August 15 (  You will learn the proper use of foods and herbs in the Chinese medical tradition for sustaining a long and vigorous life; learn to respond to each season and climate by choosing the proper foods and herbs, and to identify and address any tendencies towards imbalance. This class includes hands-on traditional cooking with SLOW (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole) foods, as covered in

Related news
Ron Chapman, MD, Director of California Department of Public Health, suggests gardening as a way to build muscles: “This isn't about going to the gym. This is not about exercising. It’s about physical activity. Gardening can count toward working the muscle groups.” (

Also on Wednesday, a compassionate Toronto nutritionist who saw a video of teens bullying a bus monitor launched a fundraising campaign because he thought she deserved a vacation. (  Let’s invite the bus monitor to vacation at The Free Farm!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Harvest Tale

Check out this video from two women Tash and Anna (students of the Academy of Art University) who have over a number of months have been making a documentary about our Farm. I am posting it here because it is really great and it gets our philosophy down pat! The two women have an ending to the video which is what they thought "a call to action" which I think is a bit premature as we actually have two to three years before we may have to move. I say the future we can never know and change is part of life. Development projects can fall through, companies can go bankrupt or we may go on to do something even more fabulous. They also don't mention that the property we are on is actually owned by St. Paulus Church who is generously allowing us to grow food here to give away and that we are a resurrection of their church that was here and burned down in 1995. And if people want to volunteer we can use the help these days.

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.  

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.