photo: Zoey Kroll
Zooming by Oak and Fell Streets in San Francisco, you may not notice the bustling growth that is taking place behind the fence on the corner of Laguna and Oak. When the City removed the Laguna freeway off-ramp, there remained 2.5 acres of unused space, from Oak to Fell and from Laguna to Octavia Streets. The plot was originally slated to become condos, but then the economy tanked and now the plan has been shelved for the next 2-5 years. In the meantime a group of urban farmers, garden educators, and landscape designers have joined together to get permission from the City of San Francisco to use the lot as an urban farm. And so Hayes Valley Farm was born: a Phoenix raised from the ashes of a freeway off-ramp. The farm is part of an interim use agreement with the City's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. It reminds me of NYC's East Village community gardens, where temporarily empty lots become sites for greenery and community gatherings. Here in San Francisco as well, the change in light and mood has transformed and the revitalized Hayes Valley neighborhood.
The farm has been buzzing with volunteers and activity since it opened its gates on January 24, 2010. To get the farm up and running, first, the urban farmers had to detoxify the soil. Raising crops on an ex-highway meant having to test the soil for lead levels. Then there was three months of hard work, pushing wheelbarrows, and shoveling mulch and manure to build new soil on the city lot.
The farm now offers work parties, classes, workshops, and site tours. Future workshops will be on permaculture, bee keeping, composting, greenhouse propagation, garden design plus edible landscaping. The farm eventually plans to sell varietal fruit trees, especially ones suited to San Francisco's climate (windy, foggy, confusing) and small backyards.
On May 18,Hayes Valley Farm will also be transformed into an outdoor theater. The farm will host its first in a series of outdoor Farm Film Nights and screen DIRT! The Movie. Farm Film Night will be a family-friendly event, giving denizens the chance to learn about soil ecology while eating homemade popcorn. One lucky attendee will win a fruit tree. Proceeds from the evening will benefit the farm's Wheelbarrow Fund to procure much-needed farm tools, such as shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows for volunteers.
A film about dirt is well suited to Hayes Valley Farm, where so much effort has been spent on building healthy topsoil for planting food crops. This process has involved blanketing the ivy-covered site with donated scrap cardboard, then adding layers of mulch and manure through a method called sheet mulching. Volunteers are also terracing the soil to help catch and preserve water and prevent the hills from eroding.
The farmers are mostly in the soil-building phase this season, the process of transforming the site into a farm filled with food crops will take some time. Currently they are starting to plant lettuce,squash, and other food crops amid the cover crop of nitrogen-fixing fava beans. So the farm won't be producing much to eat until later in the summer but start volunteering now and you can eat the fruits of your labor later. This urban gardening project in the heart of Hayes Valley has already transformed the block into an oasis. Come check it out!
photo: Zoey Kroll
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