The four-lane highway running past rows of broccoli and kale may not be a typical garden view, but San Francisco’s Alemany Farm shows how unused urban land can be transformed into an agricultural oasis. The four-acre space, once an illegal dump, is now an organic farm dedicated to providing produce to the neighborhood’s low-income residents who otherwise would not have access to affordable fresh food.
Farmers and volunteers work year-round to tend crops that are donated to senior households, given to volunteer workers and sold at the local farmers’ market at prices 30 to 50 percent lower than other markets and grocery stores. It’s truly a communal effort, with 85 percent of the labor coming from volunteers.
A sense of community is what attracts volunteers to the farm. “I think everyone is coming for the same thing—wanting some sort of human connection,” volunteer Roni Ben-David says.
On weekends, kids from the neighboring Alemany public housing development play in the gardens. One recent Saturday afternoon, several gathered around volunteer Brett Stephens and his dog, Thor. “I’m thrilled that these kids can come out and learn about where food comes from,” Stephens says. “It really starts at a young age, having that connection with your food and the earth, and maintaining that connection.”
On workdays, volunteers are directed by the farm’s co-manager, Jason Mark, in garden tasks such as turning soil, planting garden beds and setting up irrigation piping. Maintaining the farm’s numerous fruit, vegetable and herb crops requires a lot of labor.
“This farm would not work without all of the incredible grassroots energy from people throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area,” Mark says. “There’s this old Quaker saying about many hands making light work, and that’s how things are at Alemany Farm.”
By Laurie Gauguin, a food writer in San Francisco