Pioneers! O Urban Pioneers!

FEAST: Farms, gardens, chickens, fruit -- how to homestead without going rural

The Free Farm

By Robyn Johnson

People are returning to land like it's the 1970s all over again, but they're not packing up for Vermont, letting their hair go au naturel, and unplugging from the grid to do it. Urban agriculture is sprouting up like, well, sprouts. And while we all feel strongly about sustainability and pay a lot of lip service to higher ideals, the majority of us probably aren't willing to adopt the radical homemaker lifestyle and sacrifice cell phone coverage, The Colbert Report, or regular social interactions. The following cursory guide highlights a few urban farms in SF and immediate environs where you can volunteer or access food, as well as resources for cultivating your space in the concrete tangle (even if you live in a third-story apartment) and options for the time-honored tradition of gleaning.



Community farms offer support not always available for the individual plots of community gardens (which typically have astronomically long wait-lists anyway), or even your own cramped Bay Area backyard. And for 60-hour-work-weekers, it might be taxing to grow more than a bit of basil or mold on that cheese in the back of the fridge. If you don't have the time, energy, space, or inclination to follow famed urban farmer Novella Carpenter's fantastic example (, consider volunteering at the following places to satisfy your green thumb's bidding.

As Chris Burley, the director of Hayes Valley Farm ( told me, "People are looking for a tangible way to get their hands dirty and address the impacts of our ecologically destructive, industrialized food system while doing something meaningful and connecting with their community." And that's exactly the goal that the farm, located off Laguna and Fell steets, has been aiming to fulfill since its inception as a way to revitalize an unused lot, once a freeway onramp, into a shared space.

Although the farm is still taking root, so to speak, the plan is to eventually grow enough fresh and organic food to feed the neediest nearby members plus the volunteers working to cultivate the space. Education also plays a major part in the function of the project, with Thursday and Sunday "work parties" where people can get that hand-dirtying experience, as well as regular classes on urban gardening and permaculture.

Altho Quesada Gardens Initiative ( primarily operates as a community-directed organization that seeks to strengthen the social systems of Bayview-Hunters Point, local food production has become one of the top concerns of the neighborhood. The resident-led nonprofit connects and maintain backyard farms and free food-producing community gardens throughout the area. In one of the neater facets of its food justice work, the group also helps maintain the kitchen garden of roving supper club Old Skool Café (, which employs at-risk or previously incarcerated youth. With such kick-ass people, it's no wonder that urban farm hero Will Allen adopted one of the satellite gardens on his visit to the Bayview. Community volunteer meetings and gardening days tend to be informal, so e-mail for specific opportunities.

Related articles

  • Pedaling and feasting

    MOVEABLE FEAST 2014 From whole cracked crabs to lamb burritos: eating my way through coastal California bike tours

  • Blame it on Rio

    MOVEABLE FEAST 2014 The city on most everyone's bucket list, for delicious reasons.

  • Go west

    MOVEABLE FEAST 2014 Chomping through the varied eats of the Western neighborhoods.