The surroundings of Alemany Farm in San Francisco do not bring forth feelings of pastoral tranquility. 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 walk through the gate and you enter an oasis. Rows of tomatoes, zucchini, beans, lettuce. A herb garden. Bee hives. Apple trees, heavy with fruit. Bugs, plants, and birds doing their thing.
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 farm 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 at Alemany Farm, helping with various tasks like weeding, spreading mulch and more. Joining me were Amy of Cooking with Amy; Bonnie of Ethicurean; Brett of In Praise of Sardines; Jen of Bay Area Bites at KQED 1; Michael of Word Eater; Sam (and Fred) of Becks and Posh; and Stephanie (and Mark) of The Grub Report.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 one of the children who help 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 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. (visit the photo at Flickr for an annotated view.)
Numerous cameras were snapping during the afternoon, with some great photos posted at Flickr: Brett’s photos, Stephanie’s photos, Amy’s photos, Jen’s photos, my photos, and other Flickr pictures with the alemanyfarm tag.
Want to Join In? Alemany Farm has several volunteer work days each month. Check out their website for events and to find the next work day.
(Cross posted at The Ethicurean)