The surroundings of Alemany Farm in San Francisco do not bring forth feelings of pastoral tranquillity. On one side is 12 lanes of high-speed traffic (Interstate 280 and Alemany Blvd), which showers the area with waves of noise. On another side, a large housing complex — a vast space of buildings, cars and concrete. Layers of litter from inconsiderate drivers cover the fence at the edge of the farm.
But through the gate is an oasis. Rows of tomatoes, zucchini, beans, lettuce. An herb garden. Bee hives. Apple trees, heavy with fruit. Bugs, plants, and birds doing their thing. Dedicated people working together.
Alemany Farm is an experiment in organic urban agriculture, environmental education, food security and people power. It was a more or less abandoned community garden a few years ago, overgrown with weeds. In the last two years, it has been turned into a wonderful farm, thanks to numerous volunteers and a few paid staff. The fruits, vegetables and herbs grown by the farm are either sold at discount prices at the Bayview/Hunters Point Farmers Market, or given to the farm's teen workers and area volunteers at the end of each work day.
Last Sunday, a handful of food bloggers from the San Francisco Bay Area spent a sunny afternoon helping the farm by weeding, spreading mulch and more (in an ironic twist, my first task at this bucolic place was to fix some of the farm's wheelbarrows, a job that covered my hands with petroleum-based grease). Joining me were Amy of Cooking with Amy; Bonnie of Ethicurean; Brett of In Praise of Sardines; Jen of Bay Area Bites, Eat Local Challenge, and Life Begins at Thirty; Michael of Word Eater and Bay Area Bites; Sam (and Fred) of Becks and Posh; and Stephanie (and Mark) of The Grub Report and Bay Area Bites.
On the day we worked, the harvest included carrots, tomatoes, apples, beets, herbs (tarragon, oregano, basil, lemon verbena), cucumbers (lemon and regular), green beans and sweet peppers. I used my portion of the harvest to make long-cooked Greek-style green beans (recipe here) and a cucumber, herb and tomato salad. It seems almost blasphemous to cook fresh green beans for 1 hour, but the flavor of the finished dish is incredible.
Working among the crops can be a nature lesson, bringing you close to some interesting spiders and insects, including plenty of ladybugs and ladybug larvae (mean-looking creatures that are aphid-eating machines). Two of Sunday's discoveries are shown below. The spider on the left climbed onto my pant leg as I was harvesting lemon cucumbers. Knowing that it was not a black widow or brown recluse, I didn't freak out. (Arachnologist readers: what kind of spider is this? Should I have worried?) The extremely pale praying mantis on the right was found by Marquise, one of the children who helps out at the farm.
After the day's work list was complete, we sat down in the shade of a willow tree to do what food bloggers love to do: eat (and take photos of what we're eating). Some of the offerings are pictured below. Starting at the top, and moving clockwise: a bean, cherry tomato, and tuna salad from Brett; a fig-olive spread from Amy; brownies with pecans and dried cherries from Bonnie; bittersweet chocolate with caramel-coated cacao nibs and hazelnuts from me; spicy peanuts from Jen; eggplant-Thai basil dip from me. (visitfor an annotated view.)
Want to Join In?
Alemany Farm has several volunteer work days each month. Check out their calendar to find out the date of the next work day.
I hope that the food-blogger community will return to the farm some day. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to be informed of future group events like this one, send me your e-mail address and the name of your blog (my e-mail address is on this page). Readers are welcome to get on our list, too.
(Cross-posted at Mental Masala.)