Thursday, April 4, 2013

Keep on Growing

Last Wednesday evening I got the news that the Free Farm must vacate the property it is on no later than December 31, 2013 (we have been given one more growing season). Like Hayes Valley Farm which is closing in June or like Esperanza Garden which must be out by May 1st. We knew we were on the land temporarily, we just didn't know when we would have to leave, and we thought we  might possibly have more time than this.

Esperanza Garden, which I helped start (and the Free Farm provided seedlings for) grew produce for the Free Farm Stand and has been growing on a small vacant lot squeezed between two buildings on Florida St. It has twice  been a garden. It was originally started by people in Cell Space (which recently closed because of  lack of funds for rent) and then it closed down and was resurrected into Esperanza Garden. I think it has been there as Esperanza Garden for at least four years. We always knew that the property could be sold at any time and around the end of last year we learned of it's fate. The new owner sold it to a developer who is going to build a condominium. I learned just the other night that the short deadline had arrived to move out.

 It was last year that we were notified that St. Paulus got an offer to sell their land to a developer who wanted to put market rate apartments on the farm land and they took the deal. I wrote about our feelings in a blog post August 7, 2012 and that we thought we could stay on the land maybe 2-3 more years more (that is what the church thought who has been very supportive of our work). I just stepped out into my backyard garden which I feel so lucky to have for now and the rain had cleared and the snails were happily crawling everywhere.  I was thinking the developers are like our beautiful snail friends. They are crawling all over our city now eating up all the vacant lots they can. Development in some eyes can seem beautiful, especially when it comes to housing. That is what we all want right?,  in this system it is about  growth and jobs and housing for all, but start with those who can afford it not with those who cannot. What is happening in San Francisco it has become easier for development to happen, there is a building boom happening, and with this developer they got the money (they call it an equity partner) to do this project quicker than was expected, so now things can go ahead. The one positive thing perhaps with the site the Free Farm is on is that now 100% affordable or below market rate housing is going to be built instead of market rate housing. Though it won't help my friend on SSI who just got evicted after 20 years in his rent controlled flat in the Mission, it could help someone who made at minimum $13,000.

Since like Hayes Valley Farm and Esperanza we knew we were temporary and want to be honorable with St. Paulus Church, who has not only let us stay on the land rent free for three years, they have paid an average of $600 a month for water. We will not cause a big scene and fight our eviction, but pick up our farm and move. I also learned that the developer technically now owns the land and is letting us stay for 8 more months because the church has persuaded them to, so it would be wise for us to keep on growing as much as we can and keep on truckin'.

So instead of being negative about this change we see the three years of beautiful work we have done and feel very proud.  In some ways it was  part of an experiment I started when we began the Free Farm Stand, to see how much food we could grow in the city and give to people in need. Out of the 39,667 pounds of produce that the Free Farm Stand has given away to people in need, of what we call "Hecka Local" produce, produce that we  grew or friends and neighbors grew, or we gleaned or Produce to the People gleaned for us, where we knew the farmer, 9.061 pounds of that produce came  from the Free Farm as of this date. We have always known though that the Free Farm has been more than food. We are growing soil, growing habitat for pollinators, we are growing community, and we are growing our spiritual selves. Now we have to move forward and create a new Free Farm somewhere else or perhaps a new project.

In the next month a few of us core people are going to put together a framework of ideas to plan our move and then we will call a meeting (it will probably take weekly meetings and a couple of all day retreats) to put together plans so we can show progress by September (I think the developer and lawyer are nervous that we won't leave). Our hope that people who really want to help will come to regular meetings and retreats and take home some work to do  so that we can move forward. It we are to make this happens I am very clear that we need not only a lot of help, but people that can make a big commitment  and be part of a team that builds the new farm or whatever and helps manage the project. Feel free to contact me if you want to go to a lot of meetings and help take responsibility for a new Free Farm project.

Our biggest challenge will be finding land. Some of us have already begun looking a number of months ago. I personally want to be in the Mission and have just one Free Farm Stand instead of two. I know right now we need a good detective or ferret who can do some serious research. For example, we are among many people  who have had their eye on the double lot next to Atlas Cafe on Alabama near 20th St. which would be perfect. We know the owners and where they live, but haven't been able to get a hold of them to see how much they would sell that land for. There are at least two other private properties I know of in the Mission that need more research. We are also open to finding a building that we can house farmers in and farm wherever we can find gardens or vacant lots that need farming or gardening.

Actually I haven't been writing about this because I wanted to not draw too much attention to a little bit of guerilla gardening I have been trying out, and wanting to see if we could get in a garden before the owners of a vacant lot found a squatted garden. I have been inspired for a while by the Pennsylvania Street Gardens on an off ramp on Caltrans land ( and how one neighbor just planted it without permission and then after it was planted they got the official ok and it is thriving and has inspired other garden to pop up. They are all ornamental, but beautify the neighborhood.

Right across the street from me is a big empty parking lot that is connected to a vacant super-market that has been empty for years.  A couple of years ago Fresh and Easy was supposed to move in but now they are backing out and the land will probably be vacant for more years. My  neighbor who lives next to the lot has walked through that parking lot for years to get to his house and claims he has easement rights. He has also maintained the property and fence that is adjacent to the parking lot and has recently started building planter boxes and doing edible landscaping along the edge of the property line. It is a south facing wall that would be ideal for planting and Fresh and Easy said at community meetings that they would include edible landscaping in their final design of the parking lot. At some point I figured I needed to be part of this and told new young friends, who are connected to the "Space Transformers" who took the brave action of defending the closing of the Hanc Recycling Center and Garden. It eventually got evicted. I let them know about the vacant lot and they got involved and started moving the rescued garden beds from the Hanc Garden and soil from Hayes Valley Farm  onto the lot. We actually got two sunflowers planted in pots and a number of beds built but not filled with soil, before the locks to the gates were changed by Fresh and Easy. Now my neighbor has been given a hand delivered note that Fresh and Easy is planning on clearing the lot at 10am on Saturday. I think on Friday the beds without soil will be moved out, but  on Saturday the beds with dirt in them will be planted. It may be a very short lived garden.

We really need to be dreamers here since not only do we not have land we have no money to buy land. The good news is that the Free Farm was really created more with tremendous volunteer energy and creativity than with a lot of money. So we are totally open to collaborating with other groups with a similar mission of service to the poor and building a beautiful loving and compassionate community.

Here is a dream that should be planted in San Francisco. A Free Food Forest like they are planning in Seattle ( Will the Free Farm morph into a Free Food Forest? That takes a permanent location...already we have a lot of trees to move...maybe they can be the first trees in the next project.

Here is an article I read called Beyond Money and it reflects the philosophy that is behind the Free Farm and the Free Farm Stand.
Last Saturday we had a group of college students from Hamiline College in Wisconsin volunteering with us as part of their Volunteer Service Spring Break. We love these kids who come to San Francisco to help out in not only in soup kitchens, but on an urban farm. So much got done and the the farm is looking so good.  One thing that was exciting is that some of the crew volunteered at Martin de Porres  the previous day that I was there. That got to see the connection between the kitchen and the farm because I saw all the vegetable scraps from the kitchen and brought them to the farm to make compost. They got to help in that process.

Talking compost, we have been making the most wonderful compost recently and I keep praising it. Mainly that is due to the large amounts of juice pulp that we have been mixing in with fine wood chips, vegetable scraps, weeds, and prunings from the garden. We also add it to our worm bin. The juice pulp is dropped off at my door by a fabulous woman Maria who runs a non-profit called Dirt to Dish ( that who we met while picking unsold vegetables at the stonestown Farmers' Market. "Our non-profit raw juice cooperative acts solely as a fundraising vehicle with the goal to launch an after school program in a Family Childcare Licensed urban garden and home in the Bayview-Hunters Point District, San Francisco."  Now I am wondering are we going to move all the soil and compost we are making?  Should we stop making soil? Hayes Valley Far is trying to move all their wood chip compost before they close.

The compost pile above was started around Feb. 25 (check the post The Revolution will be Compost published  that date to see what we started with)

We continue to offer free yoga when we can at the Free Farm and what better time to stretch and relax when all this stress is flying our way? Monique will be leading us all for 45 minutes starting at 9am this Saturday April 6th.