Thursday, September 30, 2010



We successfully raised $10,223 on our kickstarter online pledge drive.

I am so excited, amazed, overwhelmed. I'm still not sure how to express my gratitude, so I'll just start with THANK YOU.

Thank you for believing in the power of this work, and believing that a small, grassroots effort can make a difference. To the folks who pledged, folks who wrote beautiful emails to all their friends and family, folks who clogged up their blogs/facebook walls/twitter feeds on our behalf... Thank you. I feel so humbled and so empowered by the experience and everything to come.

A million times Thank You.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Green Schoolyard Conference and Garden for the Environment Anniversary THIS WEEK!

Two great events happening this week!  

San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance
2010 Growing Greener School Grounds Conference
Sept. 24th and 25th

"The 2010 conference will feature hands-on workshops where you can learn how to use the sun as a teaching resource, understand the basics of organic gardening, build your own planting beds, create colorful mosaics, install irrigation, and more. In addition, many workshops will cover how to connect the outdoor classroom to the education content standards at all grade levels."

More info and Registration here:

Garden for the Environment
20th Anniversary Celebration
Sept. 25th, 10am-5pm 

(I'll be there from 12-3 as a proud GCETP graduate, with an info and jam table for PttP and the Free Farm, and I'll be there from 3-5pm for happy hour if you just want to hang out!)

"Garden for the Environment (GFE) opened in the summer of 1990 on a centrally located one-half acre parcel owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. From its inception, the GFE has been a public-private partnership responsive to the changing needs of San Francisco’s landscape.

To celebrate the many accomplishments, and anticipate achievements yet to come, we have scheduled a day full of activities in the Garden for GFE enthusiasts of all ages. We would love for you to be a part of this day where we will honor the many hands and hearts that have touched this garden over the last 20 years!"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Liberty, TN

We headed north after Little Rock up through Nashville to Liberty, TN to an amazing mountainside intentional community called Short Mountain Sanctuary. I mentioned in an earlier post that we were reading The Revolution will not be Microwaved by fermentation guru Sandor Elix Katz, who is also one of the permanent residents of SMS, and one of the ways I had heard of the sanctuary.

SMS is a queer faerie community, and Short Mountain as a whole houses a network of queer households. I've been thinking about what it means to build community, to create safe spaces for marginalized people and the difference between marginalized people creating their own safe spaces or engaging in spaces that have already been created. One thing that obvious in this particular community was the amount of care, love and trust people had for each other.

We arrived, as per the entire trip, late at night and a little lost. Driving the backroads of Liberty, Tennessee, confused and a little nervous in the dark, we pulled in to what we thought was SMS, wandered up to the nearest house and were greeted with offers of drinks and welcomed inside. It turned out we were in completely the wrong place, but the beautiful hospitality (and our second hand drawn map of the trip) we received got us back on track and headed in the right direction.

When we finally made it to SMS, we shuffled down hill to catch the last few minutes of folks wandering off to bed after the pot luck that happened earlier in the evening, and were given a quick and dirty flashlight tour to find our way to the yurt yard and pitch our tent. We had a little hang out time with another long-time visitor of the sanctuary, got some more insight into the history of the community, listened to the cicadas, and then crashed to get some rest and explore the following morning.

In the morning we went on a short hike through the woods and picked up a few wild paw paws along the way (I LOVE paw paws), met some more residents in their amazing communal kitchen, and made our way down to the chickens and goats, and the two veggie gardens they keep. The veggie gardens at SMS are a little wild, and soft around the edges, which I like. They had a very home-garden feel to them, and like everything else at the sanctuary, had an air of quiet and modest care about them, you could tell that they were tended out of love more than out of obligation. As we saw most of the places we went, the beds were roughly in rows, what I refer to as 'farm-style', rectangles of amended and planted soil, spaced in between narrow pathways.

After picking some of the ridiculously abundant basil, we wandered on, checking out some of the other magical, handmade elements of the land: the bath house, the out houses (anyone who thinks the Free Farm composting toilet lacks privacy, should take a gander at these!), the mosaic cistern, the beautiful outdoor covered meeting area. I would love to know so much more about the development of the land, the bees, the solar panels, the water collection, the structural and personal building of a community, and each of the wonderful and welcoming people we met. But Ohio calls, so until we meet again, Short Mountain!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Little Rock, AK

We drove and drove and drove through Texas and Oklahoma to get to Little Rock, AK, to see a school garden that is acting as a pilot for a USDA study on childhood obesity and the effects of food gardening in schools as a preventative health measure. I had the luck of running into a group of three folks from the Delta Garden Study at the Free Farm when I just happened to be there checking the irrigation when it wasn’t a volunteer day, and they just happened to be walking by without planning to stop at the Free Farm. They hollered down and I opened the gate so they could come check out the garden and we got into a quick chat about both of our projects. I was really interested in the work they were doing so it seemed like a great place to stop.

Chris's home garden with hot peppers and basil along the fence.

We met and stayed with Chris, who is the garden coordinator at the Delta Garden Study at Mabelvale Magnet Middle School, and another wonderfully kind soul doing amazing work. Chris is one of those people who is doing a million different awesome projects at once, handling them all flawlessly, and is incredibly modest about the whole thing. He mentioned right before we got into Little Rock that he was working on a creating an urban farm at his home, which was quite an understatement when we arrived to a beautifully cultivated farm style garden, set up for maximum food production, including things I could barely contain my envy like a hedge row of blueberry bushes across the front of the house and an asparagus jungle tall enough to meet the window of the room we slept in. Chris has been running a small CSA to friends and family this past summer, and is planning to expand in small, manageable steps over the next few years.

Isn't asparagus such a beautiful plant?

Worm bin and newly planted leeks.

The end of the summer peppers and the bare beds with recently spread cover crop seeds.

The following day we met up with Chris to head over to the School for a tour of the Delta Garden Study Project. This project is unique from many of the gardens that I’ve seen in that it is a childhood obesity study funded for a year by the USDA, and is deeply based in research and producing results. Students are measured for body mass at the beginning of the year, spend the year engaging in the garden, getting fresh air and exercise, learning about growing, cooking, and eating healthy food, and then are measured again at the end of the year. I do understand that measuring a child/teenagers body mass/weight is pretty invasive, but I think this has the potential to be a huge step in preventative health care. It’s the only youth garden that I know of that is actually quantifying the health benefits of gardening in such a rigorously scientific way.

I recently met with two amazing women at SF General who are in the beginning stages of organizing a program called HeartBeets, in which they are working to get fresh healthy food, in combination with nutrition education out to patients at the hospital. They are starting small and in exactly the right place, in the free diabetes classes offered at the hospital. This has put the preventative health care aspect of our work right at the forefront of my thinking, when honestly it usually get overshadowed by creating local food systems, fostering food security for low-no income folks, community building, youth development, etc. But all of these aspects are really rooted in cultivating the health of our community, both preventing and healing ailments and chronic illnesses with whole foods.

Getting back to the Mabelvale garden, there were a few things that really struck me about their programming and their actual garden. They had an enormous greenhouse and were building it out for vertical growing and to create living machine-style fish farming (super simply put-where you have a tank of fish, most often tilapia, under the beds where you grow veggies, the fish poop enriched water is cycled up to water the veggies and after a certain amount of time you can eat the fish if you like.) The Growing Power garden in Milwaukee, run by the amazing Will Allen, is notorious for their aquaculture and vertical gardening, and was the inspiration for the greenhouse build out at Mabelvale.

I also thought their rainwater collection barrels were set up in a smart and attractive way, with two barrels stacked on top of one another, and raised off the ground to maximize the gravity that will create the water pressure to flow to the garden. Rain barrels aren't always the most lovely part of gardens, being as they're often a giant plastic bucket or barrel of some kind. These had trellising on the side so they were a little less obtrusive, and you could grow vines up and over them for even more garden-y camouflage.

What stood out the most for me, was the community involvement at the school, and the resourceful, sustainable, organic methods that were helping this garden thrive. All the organic farming methods being utilized, the aquaculture, the rainwater harvesting, were the result of hiring a garden team, and especially a garden manager that believed in them, not a requirement of the USDA grant. Under different management the students could be learning about the benefits of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, while still fulfilling the requirements of the USDA.

In regards to the community, we met an enthusiastic teacher who spoke to us about the benefits the garden was already having for students who were less fluent in English, and students who came from farming backgrounds, who felt proud of the ability and knowledge they brought with them to the garden. This brought me back to this article condemning school gardening as an act of robbing immigrant students of an actual eduction and returning them to a place their parents had fought hard to help their kids escape from. I obviously disagree with this article, although I do think it's crucial for us to consider both sides, our intentions, the needs of the people we are trying to serve (in contrast with what we believe are the needs of the people we are trying to serve), and the outcomes of our work. I think that school gardening, as this teacher spoke to, has the ability to bridge gaps in students backgrounds, and for some students, offers a way for them to connect with and embrace their cultural heritage. I also believe that experiential learning that is a more effective way of understanding and retaining information and that anything that brings people together, outside, thinking and talking and using their hands, has to be positive.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taos, NM

We stopped in Taos without much of an agenda other than to check out the art community there and stay at the Abonimable SnowMansion Hostel because I had heard good things about it, including tipis, communal kitchen, hot showers, and... a community garden! We had a pretty long drive getting there from AZ and a long drive ahead of us to get to AK, so after arriving in the dark, we cooked a great dinner of fresh Prescott farmers market produce and hit the hay.

In the morning light we got to meet Moona, the lovely owner of the hostel who is an herbalist and keeps the garden there full of fresh food and healing herbs. We chatted about how wonderful it is to eat directly from the garden, to pick something and put it immediately in your mouth, and she expressed a belief that this act brings one to higher states of consciousness. She had feelings (that I share) about the importance of teaching younger generations about gardening and the nourishing and healing power of plants, that the passing on this knowledge is what keeps it alive and thriving.

We've been reading the book The Revolution will not be Microwaved, by Sandor Ellix Katz, in the car on our trip and there is a similar sentiment shared by Sandor, that the slow food movement is greatly important but will die out without stewards of the movement actually continuing food, family, and cultural traditions, like fermentation and food preservation. I wholly agree with that, and being an avid canner and fermenter myself, have been brainstorming ways to make sure I am actively propagating these skills and spreading them around.

The hostel garden was planted row style, like the Free Farm and like most of the gardens we are seeing, seemingly because it is a simple way to maximize food production with little resources (like materials to build raised beds). It was a bit smaller than the Free Farm, but as home style gardens go, was pretty huge. They also had some really nice 'bonus features' like a cob oven, some beautifully constructed scrap wood hoop style green houses, cold frames, and a water system that seemed like a greywater or rainwater collection system, but I couldn't quite figure out how it worked.

There have been amazing sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, all hot weather crops that I've been super jealous of because they're difficult to grow in abundance (if at all) in San Francisco. I've also been really loving the summer and winter squash, I love how big and pre-historic the plants look, and how you have to rummage through them to find the veggies underneath.

We also happened to run into a man named Keith wearing a "Comida No Bomba" t'shirt at a cafe about 20 feet down the road from the hostel. I got to chatting with him and it turns out he was one of the founders of Food Not Bombs. We had an interesting conversation about politics and free food distribution. Thanks for the mystical alignment, New Mexico!

Back to the car and off to Texas!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Prescott, AZ

We started by taking a LONG drive down California, partly along our beautiful coast and then cut over to head into Arizona to Chino Valley and then down some serious backroads, to meet up with Randall, Leenie, Arlo and Zeno, and stay at their homey and wonderful geodesic dome house visit with their chickens, donkey, horses, goats, pot-bellied pig, home veggie garden and check out and learn about the amazing desert landscape around their home. We met Randall through our friend Page, only to realize he was also very close with our friend Pancho and was hosting Pancho during his recent ahimsa/non-violence activism against SB 1070 in Arizona. It certainly is a small world.

Leenie made us a delicious breakfast and we had great company for conversation while we ate.

Then we went on a tour of the land around their home and met a slew of amazing animals, and I was especially taken with more pallet architecture in the chicken coop that Randall had built over a dilapidated frame that was pre-existing on his property.

We checked out their home veggie garden and brainstormed ways to defeat the invasive grasses that keep coming back to choke their tomato plants. And I loved their mini orchard, it's the kind-of orchard I dream of having one day, a couple trees of a bunch of different kinds and varieties of fruits and nuts. We also saw their manure pile under which they had recently buried a horse that had passed away to compost. A whole horse! Amazing!

We followed Randall and family to the Prescott farmers market where got a bunch of beautiful local produce, some vegan tamales, and a sweet tomato chipotle jam (I can't resist buying other people's canned goods). We were hoping to get in touch with a project in Prescott called Karma Farm, a decentralized, volunteer run gardening project that enables gardens and composting around town, and hosts a free farmstand once a week. Here's their statement:

Food is the bridge that connects folks to their bio region. We all eat and live together and Karma Farm offers the space for forging new relationships with your neighbors and local flora and fauna. Karma Farm is composed of different types of community contributions from tools and seeds to compost, land, and labor. Volunteers collectively work to manage garden plots around town and promote a culture of autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aid. Both the Catalyst and Karma Farm are arms stretching out from the same being, so lets embrace this being in it's totality and collectively work for autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aid.

Randall pointed us in the direction of a woman involved in the Catalyst InfoShop, the community space affiliated with Karma Farm, who drew us a map of how to get there. When we got to the shop, it was closed, but an incredibly nice woman named Aurora saw us lurking outside and not only let us in, but took us on a tour of some of the different Karma Farm sites around town, and then let us make coffee in their community kitchen and use their internet before we headed out on our way.

We started our tour by leaving the infoshop and heading to a nearby cellar to see their seed and herb drying area. This space seemed to define the nature of the project, a little accessible space, a little inventive creativity, some makeshift supplies, some dedicated volunteer investment, and they had created an amazing decentralized network of different parts of the farm.

We moved on from there to a dry garden that KF had set up at a nearby school, and then the school had mostly taken over. I'm not especially familiar with dry farming, and although I've been learning more about it, it still admittedly baffles me sometimes. But there we were, in the middle of the desert, looking at bright red peppers that hadn't been watered.

From here we went to see the goats, tucked on a small hill next to an art gallery. A volunteer walks the goats twice a day and I assume will do the milking once they start producing milk. Aurora said they're still working out what to do with the milk, but it seems that they're leaning towards making cheese.

We then moved to what I thought was the most amazing part of the project, the compost area. Off to the side of the road, next to an empty lot, they had set up a multi bin system for community composting, where people could drop off their food waste, cover it with straw, and a volunteer came by and turned the active pile once a week. Prescott, like most cities in the US, doesn't have municipal compost like we do in SF, so creating a space for people to dump their food waste without having to maintain their own compost pile is a beautiful way to both divert unnecessary landfill waste (and greenhouse gasses), build community around an action that anyone can take part in, and feed the gardens the project supports. The structures were simple, made from pallets, and had colorful signs describing what could be composted, how to do it, and where to put it.

Our last stop was a home garden with crazy tomatillos, tomatoes and peppers, all the hot weather veggies that I'm so jealous of (although we have been having a really good run with little tomatoes under the hot house at the Free Farm).

We headed back to the Infoshop, and I added "start a community library" to the long list of ideas and projects that I keep tucked away in the back of my brain. This trip has really engaged a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about in working with Produce to the People, it’s magnified some questions, alleviated (although not necessarily answered) others, and is starting to tie things together in a more concrete, more cohesive way. Coming into our second year of programming, after having focused on and sorted through some of the initial program structure in our first year, I am now sitting with a lot of questions.

This leg of our journey was definitely a lesson in community. From meeting Randall through Free Farm friends and having him and his beautiful family welcome us into their home (even though we arrived way past everyone's bedtime!) to having a hand-drawn map to the Infoshop, to having Aurora give us the grand tour when they weren't even open that day, to the ways that the Karma farm and the Catalyst Infoshop are tying their community together by creating a network of small, simple actions.

Thanks Arizona. While I definitely do not agree with your legislation as of late, it's good for me to remember that there are great factions of people that governing bodies do not speak for, and can not quiet. Small revolutions by actual people are making huge differences. Keep it up!