Farmers Market Customers — we’ve decided not to return to the market on a regular basis this Fall. As much as we love the Mission Community Market and enjoyed putting together a beautiful table, we’ve determined that for the time being the market does not fit sustainably into our weekly schedule. We will reevaluate next Spring. In the meantime, we will be making one special appearance for the holidays on Thursday November 15th (the week before Thanksgiving)! We’ll have salad mix, greens, fresh herbs and more, as well as artwork for those of you on the lookout for gifts. Check back here next month for more details.
As Brooke summed up nicely, we’re taking the necessary time to reevaluate our schedule right now and determine direction and priorities for the upcoming Fall/Winter/Spring. This past season brought us around to some important realizations about balance and pace and expectations, and we’re relieved to be able to loosen our rigid routines, reflect and reconsider.
But, while we do this, we’re still here. We’re steadily growing and actively thinking. Throughout these past couple of summer months while Brooke was away on vacation and I took on a lighter schedule, Heather and I continued to put in some long days at the farm — keeping up with weeds that never stop, watering and maintaining perennials, tending to and harvesting the few crops leftover from early summer, bringing in truckloads of mulch to prepare our Fall brassica beds, and generally making sure that the farm would be alive and waiting for us when we were all ready to dive back in together. Brooke and I thought hard during this time about what kind of changes we’d like to make in order to keep this project realistic and healthy, trading emails and brainstorms while she was away about what our needs are, what we are still inspired by and what kind of potential we see. These past couple months have been quiet but, for Brooke during her adventures and for me (and Heather! and Joel and Bob) holding down the fort at home, they’ve been anything but idle.
In early August, I gave a farm tour and brief presentation to a group of gardeners in town for a conference. I began with the usual summary of how this project started, how we found this land, and the ways in which farms in cities make so much sense. I used words like experiment to describe the founding goal of this project, and talked honestly and openly about the fact that we don’t yet know for certain that this farm, in it’s current form (and in this expensive city) is economically viable. Although the discussion veered into an outpouring of overwhelming and unsolicited advice (not uncommon when we use words like experiment), through listening to my own words I reminded myself that this farm is indeed a forever work in progress, as most farms are. While we make keen observations about soil building methods or seed germination rates or timing of crop rotations, we will also inevitably need to stop and take note of what makes sense for us emotionally and physically and how we need to change our routines accordingly. That’s what we’re in the middle of right now. This project continues to evolve.
And for some farm news. One thing that has been amazing and steady this summer is our stunning dahlia show! For the past two months, the profuse blooms have been like a fireworks display, particularly on our foggy days when the light is grey and the flowers’ colors seem electric. I can’t believe these things are real. Either bundling them alone or together with the strawflowers, chamomile, scabiosa, and carrot flowers that we’ve also had in abundance has made for some spectacular bouquets, and we sold some to restaurants and took home plenty to share with neighbors and friends. I’ve really enjoyed growing cut flowers at the farm and look forward to doing more of it year round.
We also harvested a great crop of potatoes a couple weeks ago, and our kale, broccolini, and collard starts are in the ground. We’re currently maintaining small but solid weekly restaurant sales, but we’ve put our farmers market sales on pause for the rest of the year. We’re mapping out our Fall plans as we evaluate how well these new seedlings take and how germination goes for this next round of seeding. These observations will allow us to finalize whether or not we will have a Fall CSA, for example, and how much we’ll need to increase our restaurant sales accordingly. We’ll be making a lot of decisions over the coming weeks and months and we’ll try our hardest to keep you all posted.
Here are some more photos from this past spring and early summer, these ones by David Herron.
To those of you who follow the farm blog regularly: we arre so sorry for the general absence of posts this season. It’s been a very unusual couple of months.
This past winter and spring, Caitlyn and I were full of plans. We had everything laid out on paper, from very detailed crop rotation charts, to yield projections, to marketing and financial goals. We planned to start our month-to-month CSA with 25 members and then each month grow by 5 members until we got to 40. We planned to start delivering weekly to our three committed restaurant customers and pick up a few along the way. In addition, we planned to set up a stand every Thursday at the Mission Community Market. These were big goals and we knew we had to practice impeccable time management. So we organized a schedule that laid out which hours would be devoted to each of the myriad of tasks that had to be completed each week to keep all the balls in the air.
In the beginning of the season, all went according to plan. From February to May we grew and sold many pounds of produce each week to CSA members, chefs and at the farmers market. Our schedule kept us focused and very busy. We had a lot of fun having a public presence at the farmers market, and took a lot of pride designing a beautiful welcoming stand. It was pretty tough though, because the farmers market added an extra very long (13 hour!) work day to the week. We would generally begin harvesting at 7:30 or 8 in the morning, pack up and get to market by 2:30, set up and then sell at the market until 8. By the time we had packed up and returned all the market gear and leftover produce to our shed it was 9pm and we were totally wiped out. The combination of physical and social interactive energy that we expended on market day often took us a couple days to fully recover from. So, as the weeks rolled on, some important details started to fall through the cracks. Like turning and seeding enough beds each week to keep the food growing, like keeping crops weeded, like retrofitting our failing irrigation system, like doing any infrastructural improvements that would make our daily systems more streamlined and efficient, like keeping up with the books, like responding to all the emails.
We started to feel behind and overwhelmed. As we churned through our routines, we didn’t have the clarity or presence of mind to stop and reevaluate the goals and subsequent program that we had designed for ourselves. We didn’t have time for the creative reflection and communication (drawing, zine making, writing) that had been such a nourishing and guiding part of this project from the beginning. The omnipresent sensation of being behind with no way to ever fully catch up was a subconscious weight that we carried while we worked. The farm started to feel like a less pleasant place to be. It was harder to access the inspiration that had fueled us for the last couple of years.
A few other factors also contributed to the fast-approaching burnout. One was that it was an especially windy spring and our site is already a wind tunnel. We couldn’t keep the hats on our heads or the plants well enough irrigated. We would leave the farm feeling dried out, a little crazy, and disappointed by rows of stunted plants. The second was that we had little time to devote to other people and pursuits that nurture us in our lives. In short, we had taken on more than we could comfortably, happily handle.
In early May I personally hit a wall. I suddenly lost all interest in the farm. I didn’t want to think about anything farm related, and I started to feel trapped when I was there. I daydreamed my way through the hours of harvest instead of staying focused on the task at hand. It took me a few weeks to recognize what this was: burnout built up over the last three years of hard work and, relatedly, a lack of adequate self-care. It occurred to me that I had to either take an immediate vacation or I would be tempted to quit entirely. (Caitlyn had some similar and some different reactions to our rigorous work schedule and the state of the farm but I will let her speak for herself on the subject.)
It felt dramatic to put the farm to rest in what we had planned to be the upswing of the season, pretty much just as we had really gotten the ball rolling. I was concerned about disappointing everyone who supports us and takes inspiration from Little City Gardens. But on the other hand I realized it was very important to take care of myself so that I might preserve my interest in keeping it up in the long run. So I took off sailing.
I had the really exciting opportunity to join some friends of mine who are traveling around the world on a 42 foot wooden sailboat called the Libertatia. I met them in San Diego in the middle of June, and over the next month and a half we sailed down the Pacific Coast of Baja and around into the Sea of Cortez. I learned how to sail, relaxed, wrote, reflected, fished, swam, snorkeled, practiced the banjo, cooked, explored Mexico. It was just the space, the adventure, the exposure to the world that I needed.
While I was away, I began to have dreams of putting more energy towards the planting of fruit trees and perennial plants. I would love to develop a diverse garden and food forest that contributes to the business but is designed and managed differently than traditional row crops. This is something we’ve always wanted to do but it has seemed an investment too large for the amount of land security we have and for the limited excess funds we generate through our business. But I realized while I was away that perhaps we need to continue to act with faith and confidence, that any seed or fruit tree planted will benefit someone at sometime in the future even if we aren’t the ones to enjoy them in their fruition. So we’re starting to think about how to generate some funds for this kind of development, and I’m working on drawing up integrative designs for the back 1/3 of the property.
I’m back now, and although I am still in the visioning stage of how I can approach this work in a way that feels personally sustainable, I have more capacity to focus and we are brainstorming more creatively on directions that the farm could take. And thankfully I didn’t have to come home to a completely overgrown farm. Caitlyn and our friend Heather have been working hard for the last month seeding and planting crops for the fall. So although there is a lot of work to do they have already gotten a great start.
I still feel the steady support and regular expressions of enthusiasm from you all. We get emails from all over the world from people who are inspired and encouraged to start similar projects. These messages are a big source of energy for us both and they help me feel connected to a larger movement, even when our acre feels small.
photos by Robert Schultze
A couple of photographers have come by in the past few months to document the farm for school and personal projects. Since our own documentation has unfortunately fallen by the wayside this busy season, we’re happy to be able to share their nice photos in the meantime! We’ll post more as we get them.
As many of our regular customers know, we’ve decided to take a brief break this summer to catch our breath and let the soil rest after so many months of back-to-back planting rotations and heavy harvesting off of the same beds. This means we won’t be at the farmer’s market for all of July. We’ll be back at the market sometime in August (exact date TBA). I’ll be working on a more thorough farm update in the next week, so stay tuned for more mid-season thoughts.
A little over a year after the passing of the celebrated zoning legislation, San Francisco has now introduced another round of legislation regarding urban agriculture. This one, recently introduced by Supervisor David Chiu and supported by the hard working folks at the SF Urban Ag Alliance, focuses on creating an official “Urban Agriculture Program” in SF. (The term “urban agriculture” is defined here as “the growing of food through intensive plant cultivation and animal husbandry in places such as home gardens, community gardens, market gardens, demonstration gardens, gardens at institutions such as schools, workplaces, and jails, urban farms, orchards, rooftops, and greenhouses.”) If passed, this legislation would call for:
- an audit of City-owned buildings with rooftops suitable for both commercial and non-commercial Urban Agriculture
- incentives for property owners to allow temporary Urban Agriculture projects, particularly on vacant and blighted property awaiting development
- a streamlined application process for Urban Agriculture projects on public land, with clear evaluation guidelines that are consistent across agencies
- the creation of a “one-stop shop” for Urban Agriculture that would provide information, programming, and technical assistance to all SF residents, businesses, and organizations wishing to engage in Urban Agriculture
- the development of new Urban Agriculture projects on public land where residents demonstrate desire for the projects
- garden resource centers in neighborhoods across the city that provide residents with resources such as compost, seeds, and tools
- the development of sufficient resources so that SF residents seeking a community garden plot have to wait no more than a year for access to a plot.
A more detailed background and description of the legislation can be found here.
The public hearing for this is scheduled for this coming Monday June 11th at 1:00pm (City Hall, Room 250), and the SFUAA is hoping to once again fill the room with supporters! This could be the beginning of some very positive and exciting steps for the city, so if you have time on your lunch break, please consider attending to show your support (wear green, if you can). We hope to see you there!
Wow. We’ve been busy.
With the farmers market now in full swing, the second month of our CSA almost completed, and an additional restaurant added to the mix, we’re finding ourselves chugging along hurriedly through the week with a strict amount of routine. Aside from bed turning, seeding, watering, and harvesting — the essential tasks necessary to keep up with steady orders — there is little time right now for much else! Things like diligent weeding, new building ideas, irrigation expansion and creative projects have all but fallen by the wayside and will likely stay there until we have a little more time to catch our breath. The weeds will have to remain a little more unruly than is comfortable, and the barely functioning irrigation will just have to do for now.
It’s easy to get a little lost in this momentum and overwhelmed by the demands and cycles of this kind of work. Sow, water, cover, weed, thin, water, harvest, turn. And again and again. We’re kept on our toes by constant variables: birds eating our freshly laid seed, heavy winds drying out our soil and stunting our greens, heat spells causing our kale to bolt early. But regardless, the cycles persist and we do our best to keep up.
Recently though, in the midst of all of this taxing routine, I had a satisfying, encouraging realization: we’re running a farm in San Francisco. Two years ago, while campaigning for new zoning legislation, weedwacking massive amounts of fennel (we’re still doing that, by the way), and watering our six sunflower plants with our water bottles, this reality felt far, far away.
Here’s a breakdown of a typical week:
- Monday - Start the day off early with a farm walk, decide priorities for the week, assess crops. Evaluate what is ready to harvest, finalize what will go in CSA boxes and what will be available for restaurants. Then, seeding, transplanting, turning beds, weeding as time allows. Volunteer/visitor day in the afternoon.
- Tuesday - Salad harvest in the morning, continue farm work in the afternoon.
- Wednesday - Early start! Harvest all day. Set up CSA boxes. CSA pickups at the farm in the evening.
- Thursday - Finish up the harvest. Load up truck, deliver to restaurants, head to Farmer’s Market, set up stand, sell from 4-8pm, breakdown stand, head back to farm to unload.
- Friday - Miscellaneous farm work, recordkeeping, visitors, etc.
So the last few months have gone. While this routine is productive in certain ways, it also leaves little room for reflection and assessment of our goals — something we’re both craving right now — let alone troubleshooting time for crops and systems that aren’t really doing that well. We’re working on figuring out some balance for ourselves and determining what our capacities are, both physically and emotionally. More thoughts on this soon.
In between all of this routine, however, we’ve had some great visitors to the farm lately. Although we get more requests for this than we are able to accommodate, we have hosted dozens of groups over the past year. We recently had a group of high school students out from June Jordan School of Equity for a morning tour. We explained the ideas behind this project and outlined the kind of work that goes into operating a farm at this scale. After the tour, they helped us weed the mound at the back of the lot where all of our winter squash is now planted. These types of visits feel really important and are always fun, even though we struggle with how to fit them into the schedule on a regular basis while keeping this small business afloat.
There is a very interesting and inspiring farm project/land occupation which has been happening in Albany for the past few weeks. A group of farmers took over a piece of farm land at San Pablo and Marin which is owned by U.C. Berkeley and has been a subject of debate between the university, faculty, students and community members for many years. Read this article by our friend Antonio for more context and analysis. Land reclamation and occupation is a tool that is being used across the world not only to protest but to take hold of an alternative to land consolidation and the disintegrating basis for community food sovereignty. I find it compelling that even in a U.S. city where these troubling trends do not reach us with as devastating effects as they reach people in other countries, there is a critical mass of citizens/farmers/protesters who are willing to organize, stand up, and risk arrest to speak about food justice and equitable access to food and arable land. The occupation of the Gill tract has lasted successfully for at least two weeks. In that time a vast field of cover crop was tilled under, beds where dug and crops planted. The first day of the occupation, hundreds of people were out working to realize the vision. I was there helping out the first day and I heard someone say it was like “a farm on steroids” which does speak to how quickly it went from a field to a farm. This week the UC police have made a larger presence at the farm, and yesterday efforts to shut down the farm were escalated. The farmers are currently calling for support from the general public.
This is a huge week for us! Not only is our Spring CSA now underway, but we’re also excited to announce our debut at the Mission Community Market this Thursday. Please come visit us, all of you, we would really love to see you there:
Mission Community Market
22nd and Bartlett
Thursdays 4pm – 8pm
It’s a small and vibrant market and we’re honored to be a part of it. We’ve been working hard for the past few weeks to prepare — getting a Certified Producer’s Certificate from the County of San Francisco, buying a scale and getting it certified and sealed, painting signs for our stand, putting together informational material, setting our prices, gathering stand necessities like tables, chairs, crates, baskets and an easy-up tent, building a new toolshed to store all of this new farmers market gear, and of course attempting to time our crops just right so we have a diverse array of vegetables, salad mix, herbs and flowers to bring to the market. For the first few weeks our table should be filled with some come combination of kale, chard, our special salad mix, green garlic, wild onions, peas, artichokes, tokyo turnips, radishes, a mix of many culinary herbs, spring flower bouquets, and more. We are excited about this new addition to our business for a few reasons:
- We’re hope to foster more connections with fellow food producers: We will be spending a few hours each week surrounded by fellow small-scale food producers and artisans. Running a farm business keeps us so busy and focused on each other, our particular plot of land, our neighbors, and the people that are able to make it out to visit us. We often don’t have the opportunity to connect with other farmers and small business owners in the region. Strangely enough, farming in the city can be a lonely profession at times. There aren’t too many of us around to discuss the ins and outs and ups and downs of farming. But the market seems like a great place to foster farmer connections that we need to nurture us professionally.
- We love to feed our friends: We are excited to make our produce more accessible to all the friends and folks who would like to support us but can’t make it out to our little corner of the Outer Mission on a regular basis. Because we pour so much of ourselves and our lives into our work, we crave a stronger sense of integration between the farm and our social community. We would love to feel that we are feeding our friends and that, by purchasing our produce, these friends are reciprocally supporting the work that we do. We want to be farmers linked into a community web. When financial compensation falls short, it’s community that nurtures a food producer.
- We’ll have a more public presence and dialogue: This is an opportunity to publicly display the beauty of bounty. We hope our stand can evoke the sensation that urban agriculture has great potential! By stationing ourselves and our produce in a vibrant marketplace, we imagine we will get to dialogue with all kinds of folks about the potential of urban agriculture. Sharing experience and inspiration has been one of our primary aims from the initiation of this project, and the internet can’t replace real-time, face to face discussion.
With all of that said, we also must admit we’re a little nervous. Participating in a farmers market is a brand new experiment for us and we are not sure how its going to shake out in the end. It has already meant adding a significant chunk of work to our weekly schedule — an extra long day to harvest, pack up, set up our stand, sell for four hours and then breakdown. We are getting ready for Thursdays to be a 14-hour day (7am-9:30pm).
Business-wise, we are fully aware that this may not exactly be an efficient, cost-effective produce outlet. When we fill orders for restaurants or CSA boxes, all the produce that we harvest, wash, bundle and pack is essentially already sold. But in the case of the farmer’s market its a bit more chancy. We weighed the pros and cons for almost a year before we decided to sign up. Ultimately, we must remember that our work is about experimentation and adventure. This is our chance! We don’t know how long our tenure as farmers in San Francisco will last, so with the time that we have we want to explore all of the possible avenues of communicating and direct-marketing. For as long as we are at it, we want to have a breadth of experience as urban farmers.
So in short: We will be so happy to see you out at the market. Please come visit us! Your ideas, company, and support will make this market a success for us and for all the other hard working food growers and makers. See you there.