It is june of 2008 and I am managing Boogaloos Restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’m in the office with my boss Peter. Peter is a blur of activity moving at near light speed behind a desk. He is hopping from Quick Books back to Excel like a toad on coals. In my hand is a bag of greens I grew with my girlfriend at a community garden plot: arugula, mizuna, butter lettuce, and baby kale. I reach in and grab a handful of the mix and set it down next to a chorizo taco on his plate. With this act, I am in his face once again to talk about gardening. Since my move here from Vermont, it might likely be all that I talk about. It seems that no one, including myself, is sure why I moved here to a large city. All it seems I speak of is Vermont, farming, food, and snow. Now with the greens on his plate, Pete sighs knowing that he’ll need to indulge me to get me back to work; more important tasks are at hand: time cards, the broken sink, and payroll. Without looking up at me, Pete is grabbing the naked greens and stuffing them into his mouth. Now Pete is chewing. “Those are amazing” he says and he’s looking up at me; once a blur now a statue “You don’t even need dressing for those”. He’s reaching in to my bag and putting more greens in his mouth and chomping wildly. ”I could do this for the restaurants” I say “all of them”.
In July of 2008 I broke ground behind an apartment building on 22nd street. One of the tenants had a small neglected patch of struggling veggies in the corner surround by a literal desert of dry, listless soil full of glass and rocks. Jessie, my girlfriend at the time, and I took pickaxes to the caked soil. At first they bounced right back at us. A couple of days worth of sweaty labor and the rental of a rototiller allowed me to work in 2 yards of compost while we awaited the soil-test results. Obviously I had high hopes since I had already laid down the compost (a narrowly averted rookie disaster). And, as suspected, the soil was great despite an elevated level of zinc. We laid in some arugula and lettuce seed and ordered a bunch more. I started to draw up some small plans on paper; bigger plans were evolving in my head.
I had been planning a west coast bike tour from Vancouver, B.C. back to SF for the better part of 6 months before I’d been given permission to use the backyard space. Now just in time for the second harvest of salad it was time for me to go. As I flew to British Columbia and pedaled my way back over 5 weeks, Jessie harvested the greens and brought them to Weird Fish and Boogaloos. She generally kept things going in my stead for which I was extremely grateful. When I did arrive back in town I was amazed and inspired by the transformation of the space. Filled with energy, I spent weeks on line trying to find more backyards to farm. All the while I was scheming up how this was going to work for everyone involved and, not to mention, getting hungry.
Almost exactly a year later, and now with partner Eben Bell, we have developed multiple spaces for clients (or producers as I like to call them) throughout the Mission District. We harvest from our spaces twice weekly bringing in extremely local organic produce like: kale, arugula, heirloom salad mix,green garlic, radishes, baby squash, edible flowers, herbs and tomatoes. And we’re just getting started. Now that we’ve seen how local produce can get and how good it can be, we can’t stop. We’ve become urban sharecroppers. In exchange for the water and the space to grow the food, homeowners get a discount at the restaurants we serve. This relationship creates a closed loop community system where everyone wins. Where else can beautifying one’s yard give something back to the community at large?
To become a producer go to our “Farm Your Yard” page
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