Monday, July 30, 2012

Holy Shit!

Carmen who has been writing our blogs forever has not been able to come to the Free Farm on Saturdays and so there hasn't been her wonderful updates here in a while. I myself get so busy when I am at the farm, it's hard for me take photos when I am there nor report on all the amazing work going down these days. We are at the peak of summer abundance and the amount of food we have harvested has been unreal and the flowers are off the hook.  Besides that we get the most beautiful volunteers and visitors dropping in at the farm and I feel so grateful for the flow...the flow  of people power streaming through the farm gate. That is what it makes it possible to grow over 7,000 pounds of vegetables since 2010 and to give them to people in need.

One thing that was especially beautiful on Saturday was that it was Joyce's birthday. She is our official greeter at the gate and she makes everyone happy with humor and warmth. She in my opinion is the star in the movie about the Free Farm to the right on the sidebar. What was so special is that Christina brought a delicious vegan chocolate cake she baked and we all sang Happy Birthday. It really felt like the Free Farm was a family affair.

As an urban farmer I love free horse manure for making compost to feed our soil. As you might know I have been trying for months to organize a trip to the stables to get us a big load of it for the farm. It finally happened a week ago thanks to Sander who drove a rented 12ft stake bed truck to the Oakland stables and had it filled by tractor. When he came back three or four of us unloaded it for a number of hours and it was probably the most amount of horse poop I have ever shoveled (Pancho figured it was 4,000lbs of poop). Now let the growing really begin!

Below are a few pictures of some recent activity at the Free Farm. It doesn't come close to sharing all the fantastic work going on there and I highly recommend dropping by sometime and joining in on the fun...there are activities for all skill levels...from lots of grunt work to work up a sweat to planting seeds in the greenhouse. We will also train you if you want to learn farming/gardening so you can take on more responsibilities (that is what we are missing most these days is workday leaders).

Recently we got a small garden grant from Kaiser who is a health care company who is a  leader in promoting healthy diet and gardening. They gave us funds to buy seeds and supplies and we are going to be having a special work this Saturday August 4th with employees from Kaiser. We will be planting lots of starts not only for our farm and Alemany Farm, but also to give away to individual gardeners and other gardens. The event will begin early at 9am with a couple of speakers and also Supervisor Olague who is a big supporter of urban agriculture will be there. We would love to have a lot of people attend this special workday to show  support for the work we are doing, since at some point down the line (maybe 2 to 3 years) we may have to find a new home which is going to be a challenge to say the least.
manure love

our bulletin board 
meditating in the morning before the workday
the container garden
the farm in it's glory
new trellis for our climbing trombone squash
trellis building crew
preparing new bed for carrots and squash
some of the plenty we harvested
these folks from a Baptist church
 dropped in from Waco, Texas to help out

Also, check out our blog at to read and see where some of the Free Farm produce goes to in the Mission.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Know your soil

Public health message: lead hazards in urban farming

According to SF Department of Public Health (DPH) Children’s Environmental Health Promotion Program, one of the major sources of lead exposure to children in SF is bare soil in gardens with lead contamination from house paint or previous use of leaded gasoline. Though lead has been banned in house paint since 1979 and in auto fuel since 1996, lead does not break down over time, but remains in the environment. Most urban gardens in SF are located near residential buildings, of which more than 90% have at one time been covered with lead-based paint. Because safe work practices disturbing paint on building exteriors were not required until 1998, migration of lead paint dust into the soil was common.

(A few months ago, the apartment buildings adjacent to The Free Farm were painted. It’s good to know standards exist to prevent lead paint migration, including requirement that property owner or contractor post “Lead Work in Progress” sign or provide written notice to adjacent neighbors; see

While gardening, we can get lead into our body from our hands contaminated with lead soil, eating lead-contaminated soil or paint dust on unwashed produce, or eating produce that has lead uptake. Lead toxicity can cause serious health problems: impair brain development, damage the nervous system, cause iron deficiency/anemia, interfere with calcium uptake, harm kidneys and reproductive health (fetus at risk because lead easily crosses placenta).
At workshop host site Garden For the Environment (, Janet collects soil samples for lead testing, while her DPH colleagues Joe and Karen look on. DPH recommends getting soil analysis done by a local company like Micro Analytical Laboratories, Inc., 5900 Hollis St., Suite M, Emeryville, CA 94608, 510-653-0824,  SF residents can get a special rate of $25 if they note “SFDPH Partner” on the documentation sent to this lab with the samples, and if the lab does not have to explain the results; instead, for lab results interpretation, call SF DPH at 415-252-3956. (DPH conducted lead testing for Alemany Farm

Children are at most risk because of their still developing brains and bodies. Because daily contact with 80 ppm lead in soil can raise a child’s blood lead level by one unit, 80 ppm is the precautionary standard in risk assessment (i.e., soils with lead levels greater than 80 ppm should not be used for gardening unless remediated).
SFGTV Channel 26 films workshop participant washing hands after gardening.

DPH recommends the following best practices for reducing lead exposure from gardening: practice good personal hygiene (wear gloves while gardening, wash hands frequently, wash produce well before consuming), garden on low-leaded soil (< 80 ppm) when possible, and prevent further soil contamination by looking for surrounding risks. Other best practices include amending soil with organic matter (clean compost) and maintaining neutral pH (add limestone if soil is too acidic). More information at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Special K

Here’s a special shout-out to K, who has been opening up The Free Farm and taking these great photos for this blog while Tree and I have been absent. These photos are all worthy picks for plant porn of the week :-)
K reported that 4 volunteers showed up at The Free Farm on July 4th holiday! And more came out to volunteer yesterday for the huge summer harvest.  Thanks for all that you do :-)
K with sunflowers
Hannah and Alen
Carrots and collard greens
Dan and tower of killer kale
Strawberries, cucumbers and one tomato
Carrots and summer squash
Lunch by Hannah, zucchini bread and bean salad by K, flowers from Damon

What's the big idea: Occupy as spectator sport?

After being occupied in a classroom on Saturday, 9-5 (sadly missing The Free Farm and Fillmore Jazz Fest), classmate Joy ( and I headed over to the opening of Occupy Bay Area exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts ( We bumped into Kevin aka “I am the 99%"
( and his friend Scott, a self-described “interdisciplinary visual artist” who teaches Socially Engaged Art at UC Berkeley; check out!
Free official poster
Does Occupy truly represent 99%?
Art should be thought-provoking, and everyone was buzzing about these free “unofficial” Occupy flyers at!

Public Service Announcements

Tues., July 10, 2012, 4 pm Beach Chalet Appeal Hearing
City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Legislative Chamber, Rm 250, SF 94102
SF Ocean Edge urges the public to attend this hearing: tell the SF Board of Supervisors not to replace grass soccer fields that support birds and wildlife with artificial turf and 60-foot-tall light towers! (Agenda item 40 at

Wed., July 11, 2012, 1:30-3:30 pm SF Food Security Task Force
City Hall - 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Rm. 278, SF 94102

Wed., July 11, 2012, 7 pm Getting the most from your small space food garden
Ortega Branch Library, 3223 Ortega St., SF
Pam Peirce will be giving a power point lecture, followed by a question and answer session

Mon., July 16, 2012, 7-9 pm SF Sustainable City Plan
Gazebo Room, CPMC Davies Campus, Castro Street between Duboce & 14th Sts., SF
TransitionSF will host a panel discussion led by Paul A. Lord, Jr. and including Debra Walker, Scott Edmonson, and Tom Radulovich. They have deep experience in the SF legislative process and are currently involved in projects that further local resilience and sustainability. During the panel, we will revisit the SF Sustainability City plan ( and discuss ways that some of the numerous recommendations in this plan could be assisted with legislative initiatives.
- Paul A. Lord, Jr.: Managing Director, Greenlight Plan (, retired SF city planner (1984-2012), Planning Department liaison to the Board of Supervisors and Legislative Coordinator (1998-2001), Recent work includes community planning for the Western SoMa and Japantown neighborhoods
- Debra Walker: Artist, Political Director at California Democratic Party, Women's Caucus, Adjunct Professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, Board member at San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR)
- Scott Edmonson: Principal/ Founder of AICP, Member of APA Sustainable Places Initiative's Corresponding Committee, Advisor to SF Sustainability Plan (1996)
- Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City (, urban environmental activist, has served as an elected director of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District since 1996 
Tues., July 17, 2012, 11-11:30 am Honeybees with Tim Muhrlin
Joe DiMaggio Playground Clubhouse, 2000 Mason St., SF
Bees are the best! Tim Muhrlin leads a program for the very young on all the things that keep bees busy. For ages 3-5.

Tues., July 17, 2012, 2-2:30 pm Honeybees with Tim Muhrlin
Parkside Branch Library, 1200 Taraval St., SF Tim Muhrlin teaches about honeybees, hives, pollination and more. Ages 5 and up.

Wild world

Walk on the wild side:  Tenderloin swallowtail tour
Original twitter at UN Plaza: not human-made “short burst of inconsequential information” limited to 140 characters variety located in mid-Market.

Last week, I joined an "Unlikely Habitat: A Tenderloin Swallowtail Tour" walk of Civic Center/Tenderloin led by Elizabeth Stampe of Walk SF ( and Amber Hasselbring of Nature in the City (  As part of the Green Connections project ( to design a network of green streets to open spaces throughout the City, Elizabeth focused on people-friendly habitat and Amber focused on wildlife-friendly habitat. Together, we had our senses searching for survival needs like SWAN (Sunlight, Water, Air, Nutrients), food, shelter and safety. We also noted threats like food deserts, air and noise pollution from car traffic, litter, street altercations, etc. and discussed opportunities for improving walking conditions and greening streets/parks to enhance the quality of life for people and wildlife (butterflies, birds and bees). (See
We met at Heart of the City Farmers' Market ( on a cloudy Sunday so the sun-loving butterflies didn’t come out. Here Amber showed us a photo of western tiger swallowtail butterfly (,,
and  Amber said that the swallowtail butterfly lays eggs in sycamore, cherry and willow trees in stream corridors. The Civic Center has many London plane trees, which are a sycamore hybrid, so there’s potential for a river corridor along Market, but it’s missing nectar so it can feed only in the early life stage, and it’s a food desert in the adult stage. This is an opportunity to plant dandelion, thistles, and buckwheat. Amber pointed out different habitats in the life cycle of a butterfly. Caterpillars, which are ravenous feeders, need leafy foods. Butterflies favor tithonia (Mexican sunflower), zinnias and asters—all flower heads with multiple florets that serve as landing pads where they can rest, sip nectar and pollinate.
Elizabeth noted how this open space in front of City Hall “works” for people engaged in breathing + moving exercise in sync with red lotus flower. I remember this as site of the huge Victory Garden during 2008 Slow Food Conference when I met Tree!
Amber pointed out these puddles as source of water for butterflies that look for water in hidden places where their young can be safe.
Please Touch Community Garden is a habitat especially suited for Lighthouse for Blind and Visually Impaired as plants are selected for touch and smell (see  Our stop made me think about how butterflies and moths are like day and night. Butterflies are active in the day, attracted to bright colors like red, yellow, orange, pink and purple. Moths take flight at night, relying more on odors and sounds, rather than vision to get around.
Nella opened up the gate to Tenderloin People’s Community Garden (, open 2 hours each day from Monday to Friday. In 2010, following a summit on hunger, the Garden was established with dirt from Recology and after surveying the community on what to plant. Last year, 3,000 pounds of vegetables were given to 400 people in the neighborhood, on a first-come, first-served basis. It has become so popular that the weekly harvest is now done twice a month, and they will expand off-site in two rooftop gardens, designed by the community and tenants (
Nella is also active in their Food Justice program, working to transform their food desert by turning tobacco/liquor stores to healthy corner stores with fresh produce; getting the non-profit Heart of the City Farmers’ Market to open on Friday beginning in August (in addition to Wednesday and Sunday); and collecting unsold produce from Farmers’ Market for distribution to neighborhood residents. She said that they are not just gardening, but involved in community issues like revitalizing Central Market.
Tour participant Jeffrey works in Tenderloin People’s Community Garden after-school program. He is also designing a vertical garden in the Power House’s south-facing wall to increase food production. Elizabeth mentioned that she waited 7 years for a plot at Dearborn Community Garden (!
Outside Hastings College, Amber pointed out trees on sidewalk as jumping points for songbirds.
At the corner of Hyde and Golden Gate, we stopped to admire this colorful mural of musical trumpets, trumpet-shaped flowers and their pollinator hummingbirds. Amber noted that vandals tag gray murals, but no graffiti on color. She also pointed out we need more places like this to slow down.
Amber pointed out raised planter opportunities to support wildlife biodiversity. Different birds make their nests at different heights.
Lewis opened up the gated Boeddeker Park ( and so we could visit and complete Elizabeth’s survey.  Bonus:  Join Walk SF and you get a T-shirt like the blue one on Elizabeth.
Amber points to fennel weed, behind bars of children's playground, as host plant for swallowtail. She also noted that Tenderloin has highest population of children so playgrounds are a priority.
Constant Gardener Travin opened up the gate for us to wander in Tenderloin National Forest ( and  He explained that the former site was a bar that was abandoned in the mid-1980s, and the alley became a habitat for drugs and prostitution so police were called often.
To start the Forest, they had to displace other elements so they dug asphalt and founder Darryl planted Coastal Redwood tree, which appears to top out the 5-story building behind. Travin thinks it will grow 4 feet this year. He also mentioned that neighboring Senator SRO hotel requires screens on its windows so tenants can’t throw trash out the windows.

My favorite spots during our walk were the gardens, but they were all gated/caged communities, requiring a caretaker to open up and let us in to visit.
Singapore is a fine city! I’ve traveled to well over 100 countries, and my all-time favorite walking city is Singapore (aka Garden City): clean, safe with lots of places to seek shelter from rain/sun elements (trees, plus awnings are required on ground level of buildings abutting sidewalks), open green spaces and many yummy places to eat along the way! CNN reports that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers, thanks to “wide pavement that was flat, free from obstacles and sufficiently uncrowded to allow people to walk at their maximum speed” (  When walking is such a pleasure, it's easy to be physically fit.
Flower bed on VanNess:  red trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds seeking nectar

Wildlife in urban landscape

At Thursday’s California Native Plant Society meeting, ecologist Josiah Clark ( talked about working with natural systems to maintain diversity, especially of natives that have already adapted to our landscape (so they tend not to need pesticides or fertilizers) and attract native wildlife inhabitants.  For example, Josiah noted that SF Botanical Garden's California Native Garden is one of the few habitats in SF that provide for our state bird, the California quail, which spends most of its time on the ground so it favors hiding places like dense shrubs (quail bush) and prefers eating seeds from meadow grasses.

Josiah believes a major challenge is SF doesn't seem to know what's important to protect, and making good decisions in land management requires careful observation/study (not solely conserving rare/big species, not “loving” urban nature to death like feeding ravens/feral cats that actually upset a balanced ecosystem). He also mentioned that gardens are a way for people to take first steps into habitat stewardship, and “as much as humans do to heal the planet, it is plants that must do much of the healing work” because plants absorb pollutants, create food and interact in the system to keep it strong. Woo-hoo!

Wild about Mission Azul + butterflies

Thomas Wang, who will be teaching Vegetable and Herbs class this fall at City College of SF (, began a new blog at, about the Way of Nature, in his very accessible teaching style with cool illustrations. He says, “In exploring the natural world and engaging with its diverse creatures, you will learn much about yourself, the community around you, and your place in the universe.”

So true! It’s a fascinating virtual armchair travel as he takes us surfing, tells us the story of corn (ending happily with a recipe for making pupusas!), presents bilingual story-telling of Chinese mythology (creation)/yin-yang (interdependence)/Chinese plants (excerpts from his SF Botanical Garden presentation at  His posting about “pests” in the garden at  features weeds for butterflies like fennel for swallowtail butterfly!