Sometimes the best things in life really are free. Located at Gough and Eddy on land kindly lent by the Lutheran Church, The Free Farm (www.thefreefarm.org) intends to give away 100 percent of its produce. Still in its initial development stages, the fledgling project welcomes volunteers every Saturday and Wednesday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to help with the launch. Working in tandem with its sister organization, The Free Farm Stand in the Mission also offers fresh fruits and vegetables donated by other local urban farmers. Although places like Little City Gardens (www.littlecitygardens.com) and folks who glean from public land contribute, the bulk of the produce comes from the 18th Street and Rhode Island (www.18thandrhodeisland.org) farm maintained by the SF Permaculture Guild, which offers volunteer opportunities as well. With a goal to sextuple the farm's output within the next five years, it could probably use a little bit more help. Work days are on Friday.
For West Oakland residents, two nonprofits have been power-housing to combat the food desert that plagues the area. City Slickers Farms (www.cityslickerfarms.org) operates several all volunteer-run farms throughout the neighborhood that could always use a few extra work hands. Collectively these six lots cultivate ducks and chickens, bee hives, veggies, fruit trees, and medicinal herbs, the produce of which are distributed through the Saturday Farm Stand on a sliding scale or work-trade basis — no one's turned away. And if you still have a mighty urge for some composting, weeding, planting, and mulching, People's Grocery (www.peoplesgrocery.org) runs three farms that constantly need tending. The 55st Street location tends fruit trees, culinary herbs, and vegetables; 59th Street is a slightly less cultivated space in collaboration with Berkeley's Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project (www.spiralgardens.org), which runs its own food garden off Oregon and Sacramento streets for you West Berkeleyites. People's Grocery's newest land acquisition, the plot behind the California Hotel off of 35th and Chestnut streets, hosts a greenhouse and a biointensive microfarm that replaced its 3.5 acre Sunol site last January.
HOME SWEET URBAN HOMESTEAD
If you have access to private land to cultivate, or even if you don't, the following resources will set you on the path to food freedom. These classes, demonstration sites, and professional landscaping services will help you turn backyards, rooftops, and even windows into humming generators of small-scale urban agriculture.
Before you even think to take a shovel to your virgin backyard or start a worm bin, visit Garden for the Environment (www.gardenfortheenvironment.org). A one-acre demonstration garden in the heart of Golden Gate Heights that also teaches organic food production and sustainable landscaping with weekly workshops, you can see how it's done before trial-and-erroring on that graywater irrigation system or chicken coop. The resource directory on its Web site also serves as an invaluable aid for at-home troubleshooting. Hotlines for gardening and composting issues, where to find recycled lumber, how to test your soil, manure suppliers, wasp removal companies — it's all there.