Urban Farming: Getting Dirty, Eating Local

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vegetables reaped from urban farming

Farms…in Berkeley? Well, dairy cows may not be drinking lattes on Shattuck Avenue, but there are working urban farms in the Bay Area. So if you’re garden-deprived or just longing to get dirty without leaving town, here are a few opportunities to dig in, learn, and taste what’s growing in your city’s backyards.

On Tuesday, Oakland’s City Slicker Farms is hosting a BBQ and a showing of the movie “Fresh” at Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks (34th and Peralta in West Oakland). Come on down, meet your neighbors, and find out how City Slickers is going to turn part of the park into a new community farm. Can’t make it on Tuesday? Check their website for volunteer hours at one of their half-dozen community farms, all dedicated to growing affordable produce for West Oakland.

Graze the Roof is Glide Memorial Church’s innovative community-gardening project. The church’s rooftop garden focuses on hydroponic and container gardening, and hosts community workdays every weekend and workshops throughout the month.

What could be a better mitzvah, or good deed, than growing food for those in need? That’s the philosophy between Congregation Emanu-el’s The Pe’ah Garden in Colma. This garden in, yes, a cemetery (hey, it’s Colma. What did you expect?) is planted, maintained, and harvested by congregation members and volunteers, with the bulk of the harvest going to the San Francisco Food Bank. Jonathan Silverman, who coordinates the garden volunteers, also teaches ongoing gardening workshops throughout the year.

The nice folks at the Garden for the Environment in the Inner Sunset are compost evangelists. Put your soggy leftovers into the green bin, sure, but carrot peels, wilty lettuce leaves, grass clippings and more –anything that’s strictly plant matter–can get turned into a fabulous soil booster right there in your own backyard. (Or even under the sink, if you get a wormbox working). Composting workshops are always on the class roster, or you can come to one of the twice-weekly workdays (Wed 10am-2pm; Sat 10am-4pm) and get a more impromptu lesson as you fork, turn, and rebuild the garden’s three ever-evolving piles. Since this is an educational demonstration garden, not a farm, the amount of fruit and veggies produced here is small, but depending on the season, helpful workers should go home with at least a salad’s worth of greens. Plus, there’s often Arizmendi pizza to share after the morning’s work.

Play hooky Monday afternoon and join the Marin Organic Glean Team, a new project from Marin Organic. Every Monday from 4-6pm, volunteers gather at a different local organic farm to “glean,” or pick what’s left over after the day’s commercial harvest is done. This second harvest is then donated to local school lunch programs. And of course, volunteers get some too. This Monday, the gleaners are converging on Paradise Valley Produce in Bolinas.

If you’ve ever buzzed down 280 to the airport, you’ve passed what’s probably San Francisco’s largest urban farm. It’s very easy to miss, but it’s there: the Alemany Farm, at the southern edge of Bernal Heights. Like most urban farms, it’s also an educational non-profit, working with kids and teens from the surrounding public housing along with energetic volunteers. There’s a lot growing here, from strawberries, carrots, and collards to green beans, broccoli, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, flowers, fruit trees, squash, wild blackberries, and more. Workdays (alternate Saturday and Sundays, plus Monday afternoons) end with a harvest, and the haul is divided up between workers.

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, farmers and farms, gardening and urban farming, sustainability, environment, climate change

About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.