Free Farm Stand faces an uncertain fall harvest after call from Rec and Parks Department

Free Farm Stand founder Tree Rub's neighborhood food line may be the victim of its own success.

Every Sunday at the Parque Niños Unidos in the Mission, an eager group of people gather to receive free, organic food from the Free Farm Stand. The incredible project has been going on since since 2008 and has to date given out almost 17,000 pounds of fresh produce.

This is the brainchild of Tree Rub, a volunteer who started the project “to create a network of neighbors and local farmers who grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers and share their surplus with the community and especially with those in need.” But last Sunday Tree announced that the SF Recreation and Parks Department had received two complaints that the Free Farm Stand is “having a negative impact on the park.”

He was also informed that the group would need a permit for its tent, which it set up to protect to food and volunteers from the sun. Tree says he applied for a permit in 2008 but “never heard back” from authorities.

Sometime the produce that's given out is extremely ripe and almost past it's peak, but the savvy San Franciscans who receive the Free Farm Stand's food (the bounty can include heirloom tomatoes and sun-kissed white peaches) are happy to take the time to can and preserve them. The stand not only creates access to extremely nutritious foods, it saves them from getting composted. Tree also distributes organic seedlings so that people can grow their own veggies and then share any surplus they might have with the community -- a feedback loop of neighbors nourishing each other.

I contacted the permits office at SF Rec and Park to ask about the future of the Free Farm Stand and got a message back from Dana Ketcham, the permits and reservations manager.

According to Ketcham, her office doesn't want to shut down the Free Farm Stand, but employees there “have received complaints that families feel overwhelmed by the crowds as they use this park with their children.”

As of two weeks ago, people waited in line outside of the park, and were only actually in the park when receiving produce. Since the lines have gotten long, last Sunday a new system had been implemented in which numbers are handed out so that people can relax in the grass until it their turn to get food.

Ketcham said that parks are “not authorized places for distribution of food” and “that we needed to give the organizer time to find a new location.” The Free Farm Stand has until October 15th to find an alternative location.

As a long time patron of the Free Farm Stand, this came as very sad news. Tree has created an amazing community that feels like a gigantic potluck. You can meet up with friends and enjoy the sunshine there, in addition to getting fresh food for dinner.

Ketcham suggested the Free Farm Stand re-locate to an “empty parking lot” in her email to me. That plan would mar the beauty of having the stand alongside a community garden where people sometimes wander while they wait and are able to relax in the shade of a tree.

I made of a video of the Free Farm Stand right when it opened, back when it was still a pretty small operation. Tree was handing out jars of honey from his personal bee hives and sprouts. Now, there's the Free Farm and more than 200 people receiving food each week. It would be a horrible loss to San Francisco if Free Farm Stand disappears.

If you know of any locations where the Free Farm Stand might be able to re-locate, please contact Tree at: