Category Archives: san francisco

Back and kicking it!

Before venturing to Australia and The Permaculture Research institute this past January, I’d found myself answering the same query over and over again “……O.K, wait, tell me again, what is Permaculture anyway?” And now, since returning from the PRI to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve encountered the same questions from friends and family though now with more of a peppered interest in where Permaculture might lead me. My answer is often less about where Permaculture is going to lead me, but instead us.

Being a trained observer of natural patterns, it’s pretty difficult not to notice an obvious dearth in awareness around the subject of Permaculture. Furthermore, I feel that it goes without saying that there’s an urgent need for permaculture education that is a direct conduit to action. Once one knows and deeply understands our global state of affairs and environmental situation through the educational lens of a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), it is difficult to not have a sense of urgency about permanent cultural repair. To me, it appears that this type of urgency isn’t often shared by those who don’t see the issues and the solutions through the lens of Permaculture and whole systems thinking.

While many of us are well-intentioned and passionate about change, we’re often at a loss to know how to tackle such large problems. As though many of us seem to be caught in the rapid current of a positive feedback loop, a lot of us have learned helplessness thus driving the problems deeper into the proverbial carpet. And as these problems become deeper and embedded so does our sense of frustration, confusion and ultimately apathy. Now the need for an interruption in this feedback pattern is evermore timely as an eponymous oil disaster in the American Gulf of Mexico sounds the environmental alarm. As each moment passes, the adoption of scaled design solutions, not only for disaster relief and aid work but for community organization and skills trading, become needed with increasing urgency. Though, despite this, It would appear that a lot of us are eager yet unprepared to make even the small changes that might set forth a pattern of positive change fueled by real solutions. And still, for so many Americans, it is easier to spend $20-$30 on an afternoon at the movie theaters than it is to spend hard-earned dollars on personal development. For instance, rentrack.com reports “Twilight: The Eclipse” generated nearly 70 million USD over July 4th weekend alone.

Well..” I asked myself “…how does one prepare for battle?”. “How do you get from couch potato to a sprightly spud?”. “You go to Boot Camp…Permaculture Boot Camp!” Actually, to be completely transparent, the design process didn’t exactly fall into place with such cinematic drama. In fact, the Permaculture Boot Camp at Hayes Valley Farm (HVF) in San Francisco, CA is an ongoing design project between myself and Chris Burley that aims to teach Permaculture to the masses in three short hours. The design for this class developed out of a design project for our Permaculture Design Certificate in 2009. Leaving the PDC we felt strongly that the needs of our community were expressed in its interest in positive change, but apparent lack of direction and cohesiveness to see results. Our desires to teach the lessons that were so powerful to us in our PDC experienced several evolutions before an opportunity aligned with our intent. Now with the Hayes Valley site, an experimental urban farm, getting deep community and media attention, we’ve found the it is the perfect platform for mass education. As the design continues to evolve, we’re getting indicators of success, full classes.

The real success has been in the timing. When Chris originally proposed the course as a one hour lecture, I almost thought he was mad. “Teach Permaculture in one hour? We’ll be lucky if we finish introductions in an hour!” Though after a few emails back and forth, we settled on the current format of two energetic 90 minute sessions. Feeling that it would be disingenuous to call in an “Introduction to Permaculture” we settled on Boot Camp. “Put em through the ringer!” we thought.

With the three-hour BootCamp, Chris and I offer a rapid-fire introduction to the basics of Permaculture. We begin with an active lecture on evidence followed by a Permaculture ethics and principles site tour where we demonstrate how HVF fulfills and acts on each of Holmgren’s principles and Mollison’s ethical framework . Teaching the course on site invites the students to activate their new-found perspective immediately. Our aim goes beyond the theory of Permaculture to introduce and actively forge a community through sharing and understanding the skills and resources of the people sitting next to one another. With interactive classroom exercises the students are encouraged to form quick bonds to leave empowered and active.

One of the biggest issues students mentioned as being problematic in their worlds is a feeling that their community has been lost. Our answer is part of the course design. The class is typically offered on Sundays twice per month just before the weekly public volunteer workday at HVF. By the time the class ends at 1:30pm the urban farm is buzzing with bodies from all over San Francisco digging, raking, sheet-mulching and planting.  The Boot Camp appears to be a perfect entrée to direct action; incentivizing community collaboration over more commercial forms of entertainment. As the students get to know their class and their classroom we remind them “Your lack of community ends here!” Moreover, because the Hayes Valley site has been almost entirely built with volunteer labor and community support, it quickly is becoming the community. It’s drawn hundreds of volunteers and visitors on weekends since January 2010 when its gates opened, and continues to need helping hands to make it truly demonstrate the capacity of Permaculture design solutions. The design of the BootCamp allows for people energy to be delivered to the site and ensures continued support for the site, not to mention a little revenue. What’s more, is that now with three BootCamps offered since May, we’ve taught nearly 60 students, 7 of which have gone on to take the Urban PDC with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody, and many more of which are now regular volunteers at Hayes Valley Farm.

The course costs anywhere between $60-$75 dollars with scholarships available for eligible applicants. What’s really encouraging is that there are a great number of people willing to spend that money on a weekend learning to help save their community. In a city known for its love of hedonistic options for ways one can spend a dime, it is nice to know that there is a growing number of hedonists turned activists. The next BootCamp is being offered at Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco on Sunday, July 11th. For more information or to spread the word about what’s happening in urban permaculture visit hayesvalleyfarm.com.

David Stockhausen

First of the Season

IMG_0585I saw it dangling there one hot Wednesday afternoon.  Like a sign from a radio beacon, my internal transmitter picked up on the hum of a ripe tomato ready to be swallowed.  I instinctively looked and found, to my ultimate satisfaction, a perfectly ready, perfectly ripe, perfectly plump little tomato, a “Black Prince” tomato to be exact. Before I could say “YUM” it was in my mouth.  It’s acidy sweet finish danced on my tongue.  I’d forgotten how good a freshly picked black prince was.  Like a giant sungold, they have just the right balance of high sugar on top with an acidic end; they’re simply tomato perfection.  I looked around for more to no avail; there were just green clusters hanging in the heat.  My little specimen was like a sneak preview for the producer.  It was as if I were alone in a darkened theater watching a clip of the finale.  And if this little tender treat is any indication of what is to come, The Corner and Weird Fish are about to have the best tomatoes in town.  Just a couple more weeks and they’ll be good to go.  

IMG_0584The new crops that are in full force this week are at The Corner ready for consumption. Chard and baby squash are really in full gear.  I had a salad there just last week just to see how the greens were looking on the plate.  My bias is natural of course, but the salad was superb and dressed to perfection.  But don’t take my word for it.  Go on in and try it out.  

Happy Eating, 

D

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Hang on little tomato


Wow.

Has it really been a month since the last entry?  My deepest apologies to our loyal readers and fans for the delay.  Evidently, the pressing needs and demands of a growing garden trump the documentation of it.  As the sun shines longer and hotter, the “to do” list grows along with the veggies and weeds.  With so many developments and so much growth, I find myself now confounded with how to explain it all.  Nevertheless I will do my best to recap the developments at Amyitis that continue to make this such a great and interesting season.  
Brand New.
 I am excited to announce the addition of a new member to the Amyitis team.  Eben Bell, a permaculture landscape artist, has joined up with us to help see Amyitis along its path.  Until now Amyitis has been taking baby steps to success.  Creating a restaurant CSA while holding down another job has thus far dictated the pace of our expansion.  Now with the addition of Eben we hope that Amyitis will enter toddler hood and begin running and jumping its way into new spaces.  We are happy to  have Eben.  His background and help will undoubtedly give solid momentum to our growing project.  
Micro-climate change.
It goes without saying that San Francisco has interesting weather. But for the sake of this blog and its widespread readership (ha!) I will explain it anyway.  While my friends back east are enjoying the heat of May, San Francisco is like a petulant child in the throes of indecision.  She’s hot one day and cold the next.  She’s 90 degrees in the sun and 65 in the shade on any given day.  Above all, she goes to bed early pulling the icy sheets of fog over her everyday at 5pm.  Each backyard garden too has its own wild ways.  Two of our gardens lie on opposite sides of the same street no more than 100 yds. apart.  On the same day I have experienced up to a 15 degree temperature difference between them.  In some ways this is ideal.  We’ve found that the warmer garden is well suited for tomatoes while the other is best for greens.  I suspect that after this season we will be able to make expert choices as to crop and variety locations.  Having a variety of spaces and micro-climates has allowed us to think about product diversity in a new way.  Due to Eben’s influence, I’ve begun letting certain prolific plants go to seed in hopes that we can save them.  The idea being that, plants who’ve done well in a certain climate and location will produce seeds that will produce the same results in the next generation.  Since this is all really one big experiment anyway, it doesn’t hurt to try to produce “indigenous” seeds to help us out.  Eben’s ideas also make me excited for the rainy season here in the city.  As it turns out, his interests in mushroom cultivation have carried him a bit further than myself.  With his ideas and planning, Amyitis might become the gourmet fungi producer I’d once hoped.  
In the restaurant.
As we continue to grow food, the Corner and Weird Fish continue to find ways to serve it up.  We are grateful to the innovative staff there that are helping us streamline the way we serve them.  While we eventually aim to serve a wide variety of restaurants in the city with our produce, we have had the great pleasure of having a direct relationship with the kitchens there who keep us informed about our product and how they can use it.  It is clear that we will need many more spaces here in the city before we can serve anyone else.  It has been a great education and a fortunate union to pair our fledgling project with a burgeoning restaurant.  Go down to the Corner and Weird Fish and give them (and us) your feedback.  
Its a girl?
We’ve got our first tomato!  One hot day this past week Eben and I and a couple of hardworking volunteers got the tomatoes into the planter boxes we’d built for them so long ago.  They are happy as…. well… tomatoes.  When you’ve nurtured such a fickle plant from seed in an even more fickle environment, sign of the first fruit is worthy cause for a celebration.  We hope this means that they are happy.  And now our mouths and stomachs look eagerly to the future when the first taste of a Green Zebra tomato passes our lips.  
Linky-dink
For other San Francisco gardeners (or just gardeners in general) SF Grow is a great organization providing tons of resources to people like us and you.  From compost giveaways to free weekly tips, they are a vital source of info on all things garden related.  Be sure to give ’em a click.  www.sfgro.org


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Will work for food

Volunteer Update
We’re gaining more sunlight everyday and with each new sunny moment we’re seeing great changes in our backyard farms.  These changes mean more work to make sure we can pull off great harvests for The Corner and Weird Fish, the restaurants we grow for.  More work means that we are in ever greater need for more hands.  Our volunteers have responded to those needs in numbers.  
This week Joel, Sierra, Tina, and Adrienne showed their lust for learning about food by getting dirty.  They donated a Friday to getting some plants and seeds in the ground at both of our current garden locations.  Blessed by a warm sunny day in the Mission we were able to get some of our seedlings in the ground. Throughout the day we planted head lettuce and scallions that we’d started from seed on our grow table.  After that




we got crazy with some direct seeding of arugula, tat-soi, kale, and mizuna.  While seeding doesn’t take all that long in a small backyard garden I had a great time showing people the ropes.  Beyond that, I was really grateful for all the help and good company.  Before long I reckon we’ll have some real black belt volunteers.  Thanks guys.  
Can we get a light?
While the sun sticks around a little longer now, we’ve been having some light issues on our light table in our grow room.  Our squash starts just have not seemed happy.  When a plant thinks winter is coming (i.e. when light decreases) it reacts by producing as much offspring (veggies in this case) as it can before the light is no longer enough to sustain the plant.  In controlled environments, one strictly controls the amount of light a plant receives in order to give the plant time to mature before it decides to produce fruit and ultimately die.  By systematically reducing the daily light cycle, we encourage the plant to “flower” and then “fruit”.  
In our case, our squash was flowering prematurely.  Which meant it thought death was immanent.  We had set our lights on a 12 hour time cycle to ensure that the plants had ample light to photosynthesize and grow large before we planted them outside.  But for some reason it wasn’t working.  Scratching our heads, we just couldn’t make sense of why our squash thought the end was nigh.  That is… until now.  
I donned a dunce cap the moment I realized, while laying in bed at 3am, that the master switch to the power was being turned off every night at 8:30 by our cleaning service at the restaurant.  This master switch includes our timer.  So regardless of what our timer decided to do, it was lights out every night at 8:30… no questions.  Some days our squash was getting a full day of “sun” and others it was getting maybe only 3-5 hours.   Now, with problem solved, we need to seed a new bunch of squash.  And now the death-row squash will be granted a pardon and set outside to start hardening off.   With any luck they’ll brought back to health.
I believe that Homer Simpson said it best when he said “Dooooough“!!  He knows as well as I do, its hard to sleep with a dunce cap on.  
Link of the week
This week I’ve decided to try something a bit out of the ordinary for us and suggest a link that is off the beaten path.  “Fringe” Author Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: the return of Quetzalcoatl) writes mainly about altered consciousness and the point break of our political, social and environmental culture-wave but has also been known to wax poetic when it comes to sustainability.  While I will leave the research on his credentials up to the masses, I will advocate his very interesting blog www.realitysandwich.com.  In addition to his provoking ravings and rants about consciousness expansion, he has interesting views about the state of the environment and what we can do about it.  While he’s no Michael Pollan, his views about personal responsibility and urban farming are worth more than a mention.  Explore his blog and decide for yourself.  
Happy reading, 
David

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Mission Statements

Urban Gothic:

Lately, when Jessie and I talk about Amyitis, the subject that most often comes up is “what next?” It seems that for any bits of knowledge we’d gained from our days on the farm, we have
 three times as much to learn.  Every day we wonder what we could be doing that we haven’t thought of yet, what is worth our energy and how much?  Is our grow room good enough?  Have we been over-fertilizing or under?  What else is economical to grow for a restaurant? Just how much food are we expecting to yield this season? Is there a better way?  What are we forgetting?
With each question we try to answer it seems that two more appear.  With only a 1/2 season under our belt because of our late start last year, we’re finding that there are questions that only time will answer for us.  As uncomfortable as that is, until time passes we have to make the mistakes and choices like first timers.  And let’s face it, we are novices at this after all.  With full time jobs, there is only so much time to hesitate.  So we are doing what we know how one day at a time.  
While we are waiting for mother nature to squeeze last drops out of winter  from the clouds, we’re doing our best to make plans for what is to come.  But with all of our questions, we’re both feeling a little less than efficient.  It still feels too early to direct seed some things.  We’re not planning on planting many, if any, root veggies like carrots, beets, or potatoes because of the time and space it takes to grow them.  So, naturally, we’re a bit hesitant to direct seed squashes and cucumbers just yet because of their more sensitive nature.  We have chard, lettuce and scallions hardening off under the cold frame that should be ready to hit the ground soon.  For those that don’t know, hardening off is the process of toughening up the plants between the greenhouse and the open field.  Also, it is not too early for lettuce, peas and kale to go in, so they will get planted this week too.  
In many ways it feels like the eye of the hurricane.  The excitement of preparing our grow table building beds and ordering seeds has passed.  And for now it appears that things have gone slightly idle.  Yet at the same time, we both know that in a months time, we’ll be too busy to think.  So for now we’re learning how to make the best use out of Mother Nature’s limbo time: updating our business cards and trying to find more backyard spaces in the Mission! That being said, we’re always looking for ways to find more usable spaces that are close to or in the Mission.  Never hesitate to pass us along to a new reader or someone that might be interested in having their back yard space transformed into a producing, wholesaling micro-farm.
Much of what we are planting now will be going to the cozy kitchen of a brand new restaurant opening …..soon? …here in the Mission called The Corner.  Another venture of Peter Hood and Timothy Holt, The Corner will be a small-plate wine and espresso bar.  Their menu will focus on local and seasonal meat, fish and produce from our Bay Area as well as fine wine and coffee.  Amyitis greens will be a strong part of the menu as we give them a weekly harvest.  We’re very excited.  It is a real privilege to see your food be magically transformed by inspired chefs.  We can’t wait.  Be sure to keep eyes and ears open for news of the grand opening coming very soon.  
Link of the Week:
Alemany Farm is a great local farm here in the city dedicated to growing community through growing food.  If you are unfamiliar with Alemany, be sure to go check out their website at Alemany Farm.  They provide meaningful youth and community activities at their multi-acre city farm and grow food for their low-income neighborhood.  Alemany’s Mission Statement reads:
Alemany Farm empowers San Francisco residents to grow their own food,
and through that process encourages people to become more engaged with their communities. We grow organic food and green jobs for low-income communities, while sowing the seeds for economic and environmental justice”
Huh… sounds a lot like us… but with loads more practice and expertise.  We applaud the efforts and accomplishments of Alemany and encourage the growth of them and organizations like them.  Like us here at Amyitis, they are always looking for volunteers.  More information is listed on their website about how to be involved with them if you have something to learn or something to share.  
Happy reading, 
David

Down and Dirty

Mud:

Exciting new things are always happening here at Amyitis. It seems that, with each week, we’re faced with a new challenge, a new experiment, and a new opportunity. Stepping back to admire the growth of this project is truly inspiring and motivational. This week we were inspired and motivated by the show of support we received from our volunteers. Joel, Sierra, and Dillon came out on Tuesday to help us with our biggest job yet; moving 8 cubic yards of soil mix into the new raised beds at one of our gardens. It was a tricky project with only the use of 5-gallon buckets and tarps to move all of that soil through a tight (and very clean) carriage house and two doorways.  Scheduling this project has been tricky as well. We have fully welcomed the much needed rain but it sure makes a muddy muddy mess out of a huge and heavy pile of planting mix. Trying to dance around volunteers schedules and make peace with the weather for long enough to get it done wasn’t easy but ended up working perfectly. We had to cancel the soil move a couple times before we just had to go for it. Even though it rained throughout the day, we were able to keep things dry enough to get the job done. And while we suspected that it would be really difficult without sufficient help, we now know that we couldn’t have done it without them.  As the pictures below will illustrate, we had a lot fun doing it too.
Now that our second garden is ready for planting, we’ll be able to start planting some of the seedlings we’ve had growing in our grow room. They are continuing to grow healthy and tall but it is clear that they are ready to spread out their roots. So far we’ve started five heirloom tomato varieties, lipstick peppers, red butter lettuce (MFS for those that care), calendula, Athena cucumbers, and several varieties of patty pan and flying saucer squash. It is also nearly time for some direct seeding now that we’re gaining considerable sunlight with each passing day. We’ve already moved some butter lettuce seedlings to a cold frame we built last week. In the coming week we’ll be making the plans for how to make the most productive use out of our new space.
Enjoy some of the pictures below from this week’s soil project as well as another peak at our grow table as it moves along.

Whooah
The Destination
Almost there
Proud ladies
Dirty Dirty Dillon


Link of the week:
With the fear that I might spoil some grand surprise, I have been hesitant to announce a prideful secret: Amyitis is the subject of a documentary film now underway!  And yes, theyand their gear braved the rain to film us move all that soil.  Alex Beckstead and Joelle Jaffe of 4SP Films have started filming our trials and triumphs throughout a full growing season for the subject of their latest documentary.  Alex and Joelle most recently produced Paperback Dreams, the story of two independent Bay Area bookstores trying to make ends meet in the digital age.  Paperback dreams, which aired on PBS,  is a thoughtful and in depth film that is a perfect fit for anyone interested in the future of literacy and the ever burgeoning history of the San Francisco Bay area.  Paperback Dreams just might help inspire you to save your local bookstore as well as whet your chops for the in-depth look at the life of Amyitis.  Find out how to watch and buy the movie at www.paperbackdreams.com.  
We don’t know if they have a title yet or a release date, but you can be assured we’ll keep you posted.  We have some title ideas of our own, but we wouldn’t dare yet release such nuggets of gold.  
Happy Gardening, 
David

Photo Maki

Dear Readers, 
Although it has been some time since our last post, we can assure you that we’ve been hard at work here at Amyitis.  While enjoying the warmth and glow of these holiday and inaugural seasons, we’ve been toiling away here to insure our success for the seasons that lay in wait.  We’ve been so hard at work, both at our day jobs and at the gardens, we’ve only found time now to get you caught up.
Taking swift advantage of the recent Bay Area warm spell, we motivated to get some timely projects and experiments finished.  Thus far, the results of these projects are getting us really excited as we move forward into the spring and summer seasons.  Along the way, the owners of gardens #2, showed incredible enthusiasm and generosity by having raised beds built in their yard.  This huge commitment on their behalf was humbling and inspiring.  We’re unfailingly grateful to them and their efforts to keep Amyitis alive and well.  On a day this past week I helped Michele, Amy and their builder Lucas clear brush, trees and stumps from the space to prepare for the beds.  A day later Lucas had finished the beds, and beautifully.  The before and after photos below truly speak for themselves.  But rather than ramble on here, I will let the photos do the talking.  Scroll down for a tour of what we’ve been up to.  
Happy reading,
David



From top:
1) Starts in our “start room” in the basement of Boogaloos
2) Jessie tending to the trays
3) MFS lettuce dicots for head lettuce
4) Hericium erinaceus or Lion’s Mane mushroom grown in our home kitchen
5) The Author with kitchen grown Shiitakes
6) Before and after photos of garden #2 under construction of beds
7) Garlic sprouting in garden #1 planted a couple of months ago.
Link of the Week:
Check out Novella Carpenter’s blog at www.ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com.
Novella is someone I met two years ago when I was looking to get my hands dirty.  After just having moved to the city from Vermont, I was unsure of how to get involved in the urban agriculture movement I knew was happening all around me.  As I applied for jobs I quickly realised that no job in urban farming was going to pay my San Francisco rent. Through my consistent search for a good fit, I was directed to Novella through a friend of mine.  Novella was kind enough to have me come over to her very unique garden/mini-farm operation in the east bay once or twice weekly to see how she ran things and volunteer.  She, unwittingly, is the inspiration for the blog you read today and quite possibly Amyitis itself.  Do check out her sight and read on.  What she has done and continues to do in urban agriculture is groundbreaking and fearless.  I applaud her efforts and achievements.  If you read her blog, you may too.