Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Farm Trilogy

I spent the past weekend having an absolutely fabu time visiting various groovy farms around the bay area. There are so many exciting things happening in the world of urban farming that I often become overwhelmed with emotion about it all. But instead of getting all mushy and weepy or drowning us all in sentimentality, I thought I'd give a snapshot of some of the super cool folks who are getting their farm on in our neck of the woods.

Dog Island Farm

I had never met Rachel before heading to her house in Vallejo for a backyard BBQ. We knew each other in cyberspace only, through her blog (full of great urban farming tips and which I can't recommend enough - it's over in my blog roll) and Facebook. I had been eager to see her digs and thought this the perfect opportunity, even if I am a bit shy at these kinds of things (you shut up Tina, I am too!).

Wow, what an incredible patch of terra firma! After seeing Rachel and her husband's place, I've come down with a pretty severe case of garden envy. These guys had corn, beans, and tomatoes all towering above my head, not to mention miles of volunteer squash vines meandering all over the place. Do you know how big my squash plants are right now? I don't even want to talk about it. They've got a spacious set-up with plenty of room for entertaining, a little pool, a HUGE veggie patch and orchard, bees, chickens, and goats. Their animal area is about four times the size of ours here at Itty Bitty!

Rachel has pygmy goats, which are different than our Nigerians. They are a dual purpose miniature breed from Africa that can be used for both dairy and meat. Rachel says she plans to eat the male offspring, which is something we are also considering. There's just not enough demand for bucks and wethers out there. It's one of the realities of practicing animal husbandry; if you want milk, you've got to make choices. I'm hoping that I can find some courage from Rachel to "do the deed". I know I'm going to need a lot of hand holding. I hate the killin', which I suppose is as it should be.

The shindig itself was great fun. Rachel and her husband roasted an entire pig for the event, which they told me took them two and a half hours to get the lady skewered and then over half a day to roast her. That's some commitment to the pork! But boy was it worth it. That meat was so juicy and succulent, I could have sat there all day noshing.

Ute spent her time with the kids in the pool as it was a hot day over in Vallejo. Thank you Rachel for inviting us, serving up all the yummy treaties, and getting us out of the fog for a day.

The School Farm at the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the School of the Arts

As the new garden coordinator for Monroe Elementary, my daughter's school (did I tell you I volunteered for that last minute?), I have had the chance to meet the lovely people over at ECOSF who helped set up Monroe's garden. One of the projects that they are working on right now is a little farm on a high school campus at the top of Glen Canyon. On Sunday, Ute and I grabbed our work gloves and went up there to help plant some native trees and bushes that will provide a windbreak for the veggie garden.

Sam, Davin, and Tori, the team behind ECOSF, have got some big dreams for this place. Their vision is to
create a vibrant outdoor learning space including a food producing research farm with a diversity of fruits, vegetables, herbs, native habitat, and urban livestock, on-site compost production, greenhouse nursery operations, rainwater catchment system, an outdoor classroom/kitchen powered by solar energy and small, functional examples of natural building techniques and appropriate technology from around the world.
So far they've got a bunch of beds for veggies, a cob oven that we ate yummy homemade bread from, a cob brick and woven wood chicken coop that is still under construction but looking beautiful already,

and a straw bale classroom amphitheater that will double as a windbreak and which is just beginning to take shape. Eventually, they hope to add other animals like pigs and goats to make it a real working farm.

They often hold volunteer work days at the school farm and if you live in the area, I highly recommend that you take a few hours out of your busy schedule to stop by and lend a hand. It's an exciting project run by some wonderful, generous, genuine, and knowledgeable folks. Davin and Sam are walking encyclopedias of plant knowledge and they can identify almost anything you hold under their noses. Tori raises chickens down in Half Moon Bay and can tell you all about owning cluckers. Volunteering with these guys can give you some real hands on, practical experience with all kinds of gardening, farming, and environmentally sustainable projects like building with cob, constructing rainwater catchment systems, and creating structures with straw bales. And if that doesn't entice you, the potlucks at their Baker's Alley events are filled with scrumptious homemade goodies like fresh baked bread and pizzas from the cob oven. Yum. You can find their schedule of events here.

Little City Gardens

I am in total awe of Caitlyn and Brooke, a couple of gals who are testing the viability of running an urban market garden as a means of making a living. A couple of years ago they began farming a lot in the Mission district, with the permission of the landlord, and selling the greens and herbs that they grew to a local restaurant and a few caterers. Recently, they have expanded and acquired another spot near Itty Bitty. We were thrilled to hear that we now have more urban farmers in the hood!

We know how tough it is to massage a weed clogged bit of earth into a thriving garden so we offered any help we could provide to our new neighbors. Fortunately one of the things they needed was cinder blocks. Lord knows we've got plenty of those to spare.

I also volunteered on Monday to put my shovel to the plethora of fennel plants that they've got over there. I fear my efforts were a tad lame as I had less than an hour to spare, having spent the morning putting up cherries from the farmers market and making a quiche with the never ending river of eggs that flow through our doors. But I'll definitely be back to help out as much as I can.

Though we are traveling different paths, both Itty Bitty and Little City Gardens are heading towards the same goal of reinventing the way we live and eat in urban areas, bringing our food sources closer to our front doors, and constructing more sustainable ways of providing sustenance for ourselves and our communities. We wish these ladies the best of luck with their business and ask that you consider supporting them as well. We need more of these kinds of ventures in our cities.


  1. Yay! Thank you so much for coming out to the BBQ! It was great to finally meet you and Ute. When the time comes, we know a guy in American Canyon that can take care of the "deed" for you humanely. We used him for the pig, which Tom is going to share with everyone on Saturday.

    I've been wanting a cob oven but of course have no idea how to build one. I'll have to check out ECOSF.

    Stephanie (who unfortunately couldn't make it to the BBQ) has written a couple of things on our blog about Little City Gardens in her "Thursday in the City" posts. It's cool that you got to hang with them.

  2. I recently learned about The Free Farm located there in SF. It's another inspiring twist on urban farming, community involvement and providing sustenance...check it!

  3. What a surprise! I 'know' Rachel, but only through cyberspace. I know we'd be envious of their place too...from what I've gathered so far, their terrain is a LOT flatter than ours!

  4. nice to see so many small urban farms thriving