Last week I spent an enjoyable afternoon helping out on an urban farm in the Mission District of San Francisco. The farm, Little City Gardens, is run by two lovely ladies: Caitlyn Galloway and Brooke Budner. I know Caitlyn from New Bohemia Signs, where we are both part-time sign painters. I’ve been hearing about her farming endeavors around the shop for the past year and it was exciting to finally go check out the farm.
For most of the last year, Caitlyn and Brooke have been fighting legislation that required an expensive and difficult to acquire conditional-use permit to sell vegetables that were grown in the city. The pricey permit put a damper on their experiment to make urban framing economically viable. Instead of shelling out they decided to challenge the law and pave the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco. Their legislative battle captured both local and national attention, even getting a write up in the New York Times last May. I’m excited to report that the girls won! April, 20th Mayor Ed Lee signed into law a bill allowing urban agriculture in San Francisco. The signing ceremony was held at Little City Gardens.
The afternoon I spent on the farm was the day before Mayor Ed Lee was coming to sign the new urban ag bill into law. What impressed me most was the sense of community on farm. The lot is nestled in the middle of a neighborhood in the Mission District and throughout the day neighbors stopped by to give their congratulations to Brooke and Caitlyn. There were also a handful of neighbors volunteering their time to help with farm duties. This is the beautiful thing about urban agriculture: it connects people to their food and the people who grow it. It’s eating local at its best.
I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty and doing some hard physical labor. I made some new friends and I learned a lot too. Richard, a fellow volunteer, showed me how to identify invasive fennel, wild turnips, and wild black berries. It’s easy to get disconnected from where food comes from and spending a day farming is a humbling reminder to be appreciative of the food you eat.
While Caitlyn and Brooke have succeeded in paving the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco it is still illegal here in the East Bay. Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer in Oakland has recently run into some trouble with the city for selling vegetables from her garden. So there’s still work to be done. It’s time to put food production back into the hands of the people, not government subsidized industrial agriculture. Support urban agriculture in your area and while you’re at it, plant a few vegetables of your own.
I’m growing a little vegetable garden in front of my apartment. It’s a tiny little plot of earth that I hope will yield a little produce in the coming months. Even though the garden is only about 5′x5′ I’m trying to squeeze as much out of the little space as possible. I’ve planted tomatoes, squash, cucumber, green beans, green pepper, basil, and strawberries.
Today, I transplanted the green pepper, basil, and strawberries that I started from seeds into my garden. I felt like I was sending my kids to college. For the past 5-6 weeks they’ve been living safely in front of a window, indoors. But I today I sent them out into the big world full of snails and who knows what else that could wreak havoc on their tiny leaves. I’m being melodramatic but with such a tiny garden, it’s high stakes. Each plant counts!
This garden is a fun experiment. I don’t have a particularly green thumb and this is my first attempt at growing vegetables. I’m not one of those people that can kill a plant just by looking at it but I do tend to over water and make similar mistakes. When I was little, I tried to plant sunflowers every spring but none of them ever made it. I would stand over them, in awe of germination and admire their little cotyledon leaves. Inevitably, I would end up petting the little fuzzy leaves. They were just so cute! But I guess I didn’t pet very gently because I would always end up crushing them. My Mom thought this was hilarious and would have to explain to me through her giggles why my plants weren’t growing. When I told her recently I was planting a vegetable garden, the first thing she said was “Just try not to pet them to death.” I’m trying not to let my expectations get too high. I am a novice gardener after all, I’m sure there will be mistakes to learn from. But I’m already looking forward to caprese salad with fresh basil and tomatoes, sweet strawberries and cream, and delicious and refreshing cucumber salads. Does anyone have good gardening tips for beginners like myself?
I recently became a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) project with Full Belly Farms. Every week you receive a box of fresh, organic fruits and veggies and in turn you are supporting local farmers. My first produce box came this week and I was so excited! I didn’t know what the box contained and after picking it up at the farmer’s market I rushed home to see what was inside. This week’s box contained butternut squash, celery root, leeks, red russian kale, oranges, cabbage, and walnuts. I couldn’t be more pleased. It was a great mix of old favorites and new (to me) veggies. I have to say, I’m hooked. The produce is delicious, it mixes up my diet, and you get that tingly (and slightly self-righteous) I-just-did-good-for-the-earth feeling for eating organic and local.
I’ve already dug in and ate much of what the box contained. So far, my favorite thing was the red russian kale. I cooked it with leeks, walnuts, and some golden raisins I had in the pantry. It was a delicious blend of sweet and savory. Here is the recipe in case you want to try it for yourself.
Red Russian Kale with Walnuts & Golden Raisins
- 1 bundle of Red Russian Kale
- 2 leeks
- 1/3 cup chopped golden raisins
- 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste.
- Chop the the kale stems, garlic and leeks and sauté in 1 tbs. of olive oil for 5 minutes.
- Add the walnuts and raisins and cook for a few more minutes.
- Reduce heat and add the leaves of the kale and a few tablespoons of water and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cover and steam for about five minutes.
- Stir, cover, and repeat until the leaves are tender but not mushy.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. By the way, if anyone out there has a good recipe for celery root or butternut squash, please let me know! This is the first opportunity I’ve had to cook celery root and I only have limited experience cooking with butternut squash, so I need some ideas. Be well and have a wonderful weekend!