Tag 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

Lunch!

Lunch!

My lunch was so delicious and aesthetically interesting today I just had to share.
Kale from my backyard, chicken (not from my backyard), olive oil, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, and lemon. It’s redundant to mention salt as an ingredient right?

 

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Re-Development

IMG_1610

Herb spiral flowing off a circular garden theme

Amyitis recently installed a private educational garden for a client in the NOPA area this past week.  The homeowner was keen to have us try to create as much space as we could for vegetable cultivation.  Her adolescent daughter is inspired and anxious to start producing food there. The inspiration comes from her school program which offers a bit of garden education as part of their regular curriculum.

Their backyard space is relaxing and elegant. The space was ornamentally landscaped at one time for sitting around a gas fire pit and enjoying the sound of the swaying bushes all around.  Amyitis saw the potential to keep that type of tranquility and yet produce a good amount of food at the same time.  The backyard is a circular “room” sandwiched between the main house and a renter’s in-law apartment.  We decided to work with the circle theme by adding a raised swale made from sheet mulch.  This sheet mulch technique allowed us to increase the amount of planting surface by mounding.  It also allowed us to re-use materials and garden “refuse” harvested from the site during prep.    I was inspired to start using some permaculture techniques that I have been learning through the San Francisco Permaculture Guild’s fall design training.  Sheet mulching was one of the first lessons we learned.  The photos below demonstrate the process a bit.

First Layer of finely chopped organic matter

First Layer of finely chopped organic matter

A layer of cardboard provides a weed barrier

A layer of cardboard provides a weed barrier

a layer of mulch is added to the cardboard layer

a layer of mulch is added to the cardboard layer

The top layer is covered with soil and watered in

The top layer is covered with soil and watered in

To add more gardening space to the small backyard, we built a raised bed in contour with the set of stairs running from the back yard to the exit.  Since the whole yard is sloped toward these stairs, some rainwater should run from the main garden to this small bed in heavy rainfall events.  We designed the bed for ergonomic ease as well.  Because gardening often can have you hunched over or kneeling, placing the bed on the stairs allowed for multiple points of entry to the bed for planting and maintenance.

We were excited with the results of this project and for the opportunity to add some permaculture ideas into our list of skills.  In the future this garden should be ready to produce a great deal of food for its residents.  We’ll keep you posted.

HIMG_1614appy gardening,

David

Mother Earthy

IMG_1498After a once in a lifetime travel experience in Australia and New Zealand, my mother paid me a visit on her way back through the states to PA.  While it is always nice for me to have a visit with my parents, this one has held some really special events.  During her stay, my mother has seen Amyitis in full swing during our busy harvest season and tasted the fruits of our labor at The Corner.

Before I set her to work we had an extraordinary evening meal at The Corner.  Since its opening, The Corner has strived to be the next up-and-coming locavore’s playground.  Offering fresh Amyitis veggies from Mission District back yards, local wines, cheeses, and charcuterie, the menu aims to please a diverse range of locally tuned palates.  Its beautifully and simply designed space feels hip but yet unpretentious at the same time.  Now with new NYC chef (and Grammercy Tavern alum) Alex Jackson, the place has gone from the culinary runway to gastronomic hyperspace.  While most of it has been a team effort, it is obvious that the star player here is Chef Alex.

Alex Jackson is the type of chef who wants to know your name and make you the best meal you’ve ever had.  He doesn’t appear to care if you know your confit from coulis but he might make you a sample of both to try.  He wears a smile and a collected cool unseen in many busy kitchens.  We were lucky enough to have the chef’s menu on Wednesday night.  Our biggest favorites were the Panchetta Potato Salad, the Braised Pork Cheek with Roast Peaches and Tallegio, and the Confit of Tuna.  And if those menu peeks aren’t enough to drive you in there, it is important to note that their wine list is impressive and diverse enough to work up any appetite.

I am extremely grateful to have my mother visiting here to see such a great sample of what we have to offer here in this great city.  More importantly, I am beyond grateful to have Amyitis Gardens be a part of the experience that makes this city great.

Happy gardening,

David

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Tomato Update

black prince tomatoes from a SF back yard

'Black Prince' tomatoes from an Amyitis Garden

I certainly was expecting a bigger yield by now but, with that said, I am still very grateful.  Growing deliciously beautiful heirloom tomatoes in foggy San Francisco summer temps is no small feat.  I am proud.  Since our first fruit in June we’ve seen a lot of activity with these plants but less product than we expected; while the plants continue to grow toward the sky, there seems to be a dearth of ripe red fruit.

After some troubleshooting and investigation, Eben and discovered a problem with the watering system.  It seems that an old irrigation path for the grass was still coming on and soaking the beds each night.  This excess water was causing a lot of the fruit to  swell and crack.  Water is also a vector for disease and blight.  Thankfully we were spared some of the potentially nastier diseases the plants could have acquired throughout all of the soaking.  Though, I do have my eye on some powdery mildew that is developing in places.  Powdery mildew is a common fungal problem on vegetable plants, but can spread quickly if not kept in check.

Not the least of our slow production issues has been the fog.  For the month of July the fog has shrouded the Western Peninsula with an icy blanket.  As I have said in earlier posts, tomatoes and squash are heat loving plants.  Tomatoes need heat to ripen.  In the past week it would appear that our weather trend has shifted a bit.  The sun is shining and the Bay Area has seen temps well into the 90s. As you can see in the above photo, a little heat goes a long way.  Now with some of the kinks worked out, the fruit is rolling in and it is delicious!!

Happy Gardening,

David

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Friends

Copy_of_IMG_1078.JPGThe things that I forget often astound me. The gardens really teach you about that too; they never stop growing, turning, moving, changing.  While we bipeds are caught in a mental fog so much of the time, the garden is aware and awake.  I have recently been reminded of how to listen, be still, and tap in to that type of waking awareness.  As a farmer, if you slow yourself down enough to listen to what the plants have to say, you will know how to work with them.  They will tell you about their pests and diseases, their triumphs, and the balance they hold with their environment.  If you let her, nature, even amidst the concrete hustle of the cityscape, will have a conversation with you.

My two good friends in the Methow Valley of Washington State are professional earth talkers.  Chis Doree and Lexi Kotch are the owners and founders of Ancestree Herbals.  They have been cultivation a vision and a farm there for many years.  Their farm business provides fresh and dried medicinal herbs and plant medicines to people all over the country.  In their magical Cascade Mountain terabithia, they have listened to the words of the land to produce amazing medicines that both heal and teach. Their talents and accolades are innumerate.  Rather than list them here, I encourage you to visit their site and pass it along to anyone and everyone interested in food and medicine.

My two good friends are reminders for me about the importance of one’s relationship with the land.  Their success story should be a lesson to all who work with that which feeds us.  All to easily, the pervasive dollars-and-cents mentality rules our thinking and subsequently our actions.  But, a couple of minutes spent talking with a garden reminds you that we live in abundance; our potential is abundant.  It is easy, too easy, to think about our wallets and forget that food and friends and generosity really keep the globe spinning.  It is about time I give Chris and Lexi a call. I could use some medicine myself.

happy gardening,

David

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Vermaculture

IMG_0663Though the San Francisco summer fog has slowed down plant production at Amyitis, we not letting it slow us down!  It is true; we’ve noticed a marked stunt in growth and production across the board since the 2nd week in July.  The fog brings 50* temperatures with it each day when it arrives at around 4:30pm.  Like an old friend who’s overstayed his welcome, I was happy with the fog at first but then things turned sour.  What once provided cool relief from the intense heat of a California summer has become a nearly icy relationship.  Generally speaking, if the fog decides to burn off at all, most days it won’t do that until at least 10:30am.  That leaves very little time for our plants to take full advantage of the sun’s offerings.  Even though we are relatively shielded here in the Mission, this July the fog has been pervasive.  We’ve taken advantage of the time off from harvesting and weeding to get to some projects.  

IMG_0664At Amyitis’ central location we’ve lacked the time and resources to deal with our compost situation appropriately.  Until now we’ve had an open-air compost pile.  Frankly, it is a heap.  And while some of our organic waste IS composting, most of it is not.  After some thought around the matter and a little research, Eben and I decided that Vermaculture (composting with live worms) was what we really wanted to do.  Vermaculture, or worm composting, is a fast, clean, efficient and relatively orderless way to produce compost from food and yard scraps.  The worms can consume about half of their body weight per day.  What they leave behind is called “worm castings” and is literally some of the best fertilizer money can buy.  Click on the link above to learn a but more about how to do it at home.  

My good friend Matt Wickland came to lend us a hand in building the beds.  While there are many designs for worm bins, we took what we knew about worm behavior and took a stab at our own design.  We built two bins 12″ deep by about 2.5′ square that are made to rest on top of one another.  As the worms eat the vegetable matter, one can rotate the bins to keep the worms eating and take full advantage of their castings at the same time.  For so many reasons, vermaculture composting seems like the perfect compost system for the urban garden.  We’re hoping that our experiment will prove us right.  IMG_0661I guess that I kind of goofed.  Sometime last month I realized that our lettuce crop (which had been providing for us nicely since early April) was quite literally at the bitter end.  We plant the seeds very close together and cut them often.  This gives us a baby variety of many types of lettuce.  Since the plant is never allowed to fully mature it continues to sprout, giving us ample harvests.  Our lettuce had been going strong for a while.  In a panic a few weeks ago, I planted more lettuce in spaces I had availablele; they didn’t germinate properly.  It wasn’t until my third attempt at seeding new lettuce that the seedlings finally took.  We finally pulled up the remaining lettuce beds that had sustained us for so long and started anew.  In order to really have  super-productive gardens, it appears as though managing planting schedules is more important than I had ever realized.  I waited too long relying too heavily on a single planting.  As hard as it is to turn over a bed that is still productive, sometimes you have to in order to keep things healthy. Lesson learned.  More lettuce in late August.  

happy gardening, 

 

David

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