Growing Food Starts and Ends with The People | Civil Eats

Growing Food Starts and Ends with The People

When I stand at the gates of our 2.2 acre local urban community farm, I get asked a lot of questions. The number one inquiry: What will you do with the food you grow? The simple answer: We plan to share it with the people who planted it. We’ve had the honor to participate in one of the nation’s most progressive urban agriculture projects–a shining example of what happens when neighborhoods unite, governments experiment, and food justice proponents say, “Let’s try it.”

Hayes Valley Farm is the product of an unlikely presence of valuable, viable, underutilized space in the heart of San Francisco. Neglected and filled with trash after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the site was dotted with needles, blankets, shoes, bottles, and personal artifacts left behind–plus eight inches of invasive ivy. On January 24th, 2010 we were handed the keys and the opportunity to inspire a community to grow their own food and feed themselves. We had one thought in mind: dig in.

We didn’t know exactly how things would progress but now we’re standing at the edge of possibility, and I can tell you that we’ve dug in and are in sync with a need our neighbors and students share.We are permaculture-trained designers demonstrating that bacterial-dominant soil yields better broccoli, and we’re illustrating how planting techniques, such as broadcasting legumes, can add nitrogen to your soil. But there’s a reciprocal and ongoing energy cycle here, and it’s obvious that community members teach us as much as we’re teaching them.

Most of the work we do happens two days a week. We have a “Breakfast Club” of community neighbors and regulars who come to water on interim days, and a Kitchen Garden Series every Tuesday night, where people can come to ask questions about gardening in the city and also enjoy a potluck dinner. Beyond these windows of opportunities, our gates remain largely closed.

With your help, next year we’ll strive to keep our gates open every day, offer more classes, more volunteer opportunities, and more resources for the community. Our event on 10-10-10 this year showed us people were hungry to plant seeds. We had 1,000 people pass through our gates on one day–in trucks and with bucket in hand–excited to pick up valuable compost, mulch, manure, sand, and trees for the The Kitchen Garden Challenge event-based resource sharing opportunity we held together with Kitchen GardenSF.

Opening our gates necessitates more collaboration, more planning, more infrastructure, and more resources. The energy and desire is there–the only ingredient missing is the fiscal support. Alongside our fiscal sponsor, the San Francisco Parks Trust, we’ve successfully moved from experimentation to production. We’ve turned our non-permeable surfaces into a Freeway Food Forest, and the permeable surfaces into veggie beds, terraced curves of chocolate berms, and swales covered in dozens of special varietals of brassicas, legumes, herbs, beneficials, pollinators, and native plants–95 percent of which are edible.

Human energy can create an experimental, vibrant green space in an urban center with very few resources. I believe we’re engaging in a farming experiment, and in doing so, growing our community. Please help us continue to exist and to nurture our land and our neighbors. Our online fundraising pledge drive draws to a close this Sunday, November 14th. To show your support, click on the Kickstarter link here.

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This campaign is modeled with a start and an end date, which means we need to achieve the $20,600 goal or else we will not get a penny. Please show your support, and let others know how they can show theirs. At press, we’re now 56 percent of the way there. Our mission is to teach, inspire, and encourage more food production on underutilized land. By 2012, we may crop up in a vacant corner of your neighborhood, as we prove that there’s hope for more creativity where abandoned or neglected spaces sit in our urban landscape.

Photo: Zoey Kroll

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Booka Alon is a local community organizer and permaculture educator. She was a staff volunteer at Slow Food Nation in 2008 and served on the Board of Slow Food Berkeley in 2009. She is currently an active voice in the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance. At Hayes Valley Farm, she leads the marketing and development pieces of the farm, and produces the Farm Film Night program, which will continue into 2011. Farm Film Night has helped raise over $13,000 this year toward building core infrastructure. Her passion is teaching vermi-composting and setting up backyard worm bins for those who have excess kitchen waste or just love to play with worms. Read more >

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