Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In the News

Free Farm San Francisco - Tonic

Volunteers turn an overgrown lot in San Francisco into a farm that will provide free food.

garden_produce.jpgSan Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country, which makes the idea for the Free Farm all the more remarkable. The 1/3-acre lot located at the corner of Gough and Eddy streets is planning to provide free food to whomever wants it, with much thanks to a man who goes by the name Tree.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Tree, a resident of the city's Mission District, opened what he called the Free Farm Stand in his neighborhood back in 2008, thanks to donations for the supplies he needed and a lot of hard work from various volunteers. Even though Tree said, "I've always got more people in line than food," he's managed to grow and give away more than 6,000 pounds of food.

Tree oversees the volunteers at the plot of land located at Gough and Eddy, land that used to be "an overgrown space for the homeless, junkies and partying gang members." The Rev. Megan Rohrer, executive director of The Welcome Ministry, a San Francisco nonprofit aiming to end poverty, asked the land's owner, the Lutheran Church, if Welcome could grown food on the lot, and the church agreed, unofficially giving them three to five years. Following a three-month cleanup, seedlings are now being planted and while it could be months until workers start to give out food, it's going to happen.

Not only will it help those in need, but as Tree explained in the article, it also helps the community at large. "Doing things for free encourages people to share. It encourages people to be community, to be family. It provides people the chance to be generous with each other." Let's hope the generosity continues to spread.

See the original: Free Farm San Francisco

Monday, March 22, 2010

In the News - SF Chronicle

From: Free Farm Plants Seeds of Community, Generosity, San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 2010

Free Farm plants seeds of community, generosity

March 22, 2010|By Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer

The folks planting a farm on the corner of Gough and Eddy streets in San Francisco hold no illusion that they'll cure urban blight with a head of lettuce.

They make no claim that a fava bean sown today will reduce the prison population tomorrow.

"I'm a simple person," said a man who goes by the name Tree, a Mission District resident who oversees volunteers as they plunge seedlings into mulch. "We're going to grow food here, and then we're going to give it away to people who need it."

advertisement | your ad here

The 1/3-acre lot, known unofficially as the Free Farm at the Corner of Gough and Eddy Streets, will soon provide free food to anyone who wants it. It's being built and cultivated by a group of people who decided the unused parcel, on a particularly busy Western Addition intersection, was a great place for a peach tree to grow.

And a mulberry tree. And potatoes.

"Doing things for free encourages people to share," Tree said. "It encourages people to be community, to be family. It provides people the chance to be generous with each other."

Tree first put his proverbial money where his mouth is in 2008, when he opened the original Free Farm Stand in his Mission neighborhood at 23rd and Treat streets. Relying on donations for supplies and elbow-grease from volunteers, by his count, he's since grown and given away more than 6,000 pounds of food on Sunday mornings.

"I've always got more people in line than food," he said.

Going home with a plant

Tree also sends visitors away with potted plants and small fruit trees. "I don't know if they go home and plant them, take care of them, or throw them away," Tree said. "I just know that I gave them a plant."

Tree has a salt-and-pepper beard (mostly salt), a diminutive frame, but the thick and soiled hands of a lifetime gardener. He declined to share his birth name because "this story is not about me."

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, executive director of Welcome, a San Francisco nonprofit that works to end poverty, helped start the Gough and Eddy project after she asked the landowner, the Lutheran Church, if the organization could grow food on the church's unused lot. Through Welcome, Rohrer has persuaded about six Bay Area churches to convert vacant land into urban gardens and farms in the past couple years.

The Western Addition lot was once the home of St. Paulus, an ornately designed church with Gothic arches and a towering spier that was destroyed by fire in 1995.

For more than a decade, it was an overgrown space for the homeless, junkies and partying gang members. When Rohrer lead the three-month cleanup effort, it took weeks before she could walk across the soil without hearing the sound of crunching glass.

Value of free food

Rohrer said the church has agreed to let the food farmers use the plot for three to five years, but nothing is in writing.

advertisement | your ad here

"We're secretly hoping the farm will be so exciting they'll let us keep it," Rohrer said. "But I know the realities of the economy, and how much the land must be worth."

The concept of worth, and market value, is something the workers at the Free Farm like to challenge.

To Pancho Ramos-Stierle, a volunteer working the land last week, the worth of a farm that generates free food for a community can exceed the worth of a high-rise condo. Ramos-Stierle met Tree at the Mission Free Farm a few years ago and was so inspired by his generosity he began working at the Karma Kitchen, a cafe in Berkeley that opened in 2007 and operates on a "give what you can" billing system.

Trying to feed everyone

"If the community appreciates it," Ramos-Stierle said of the farm, "it will support our work. No strings attached. ... Why can't there be a re-emergence of a culture of generosity?"

It will be weeks, maybe months, before workers begin handing out roughage and beans, Tree said. It will be at least a year before the fruit arrives.

Yet each passing day another volunteer arrives at the gates and asks to help, and each week seems to lure another interested neighbor.

"We're trying to live with a certain intention," Tree said. "Our intention is to feed everyone. In terms of whether we can accomplish this in this city, I don't know."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Urban Gardening Project in Full Swing

Free Farm

The Free Farm is located in the vacant lot that used to be St. Paulus Lutheran Church (Eddy & Gough in San Francisco), before it burned down in 1995. We’ve partnered with No Penny Opera, Produce For the People, Stanford’s Gleaning Project, the Diocese of California to transform the site into a space for community arts, health education and of course free food for the neighborhood. Currently we’ve completed a mural, built a ramp, steps, a shed and planted strawberries, artichokes and irises. In process is a garden mound labyrinth, a green house and large beds for growing bulk produce. It is estimated that the site will grow 12,000 pounds of produce each year that we will give away for free!

Work days are (vegan lunch provided):
Saturdays 10am-2pm;
Wednesdays 11am-2pm

Little Farm of Bethlehem
At our farm at Bethlehem Lutheran in West Oakland, we are working with the good folk at Urban Farming and the corporate sponsorship of Kraft will provide the topsoil, seedlings and the tools needed to launch the project. A ground breaking celebration will take place on March 20th from 10am-2pm. In addition to the beds created with Urban Farming, we will also be creating a labyrinth garden and working on a mural to spruce up the area around the garden.

Other Garden News
At Christ Church Lutheran (19th and Quintara in San Francisco) we’re filling open tree wells with wild flowers and replacing the bushes with drought resistant plants that help preserve water and create habitats for local birds, bees and butterflies.

The St. Mark’s Lutheran garden ground clearing is complete. This garden will be serve not only the members of St. Mark’s, but also the seniors living at Martin Lutheran Towers.

At Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran in Berkeley will be creating a biblical garden that the congregation will use for Lent, their Bible School and may even allow some local Girl Scouts to get organic gardening badges!

Thanks to our Major Garden Supports
Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
ELCA Domestic Hunger Program
Episcopal Charities
Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, MN
The Sam Mazza Foundation
St. Francis Endowment of St. Francis Lutheran Church

Staffing Change

Because of the loss of several major grants, due to restructuring of their giving or closing, the Rev. Jay Wilson’s last day at Welcome will be on April 15th. We are thankful for all the work Jay has done at Welcome during his time with us over the past two years. Below is just one of the many ways Jay enriched our work.

Rev. Jay Wilson, Director of Independent Living
Pastor Jay created a unique power point presentation that talks to kids about poverty and homelessness. Pastor Jay talked to 70 third graders at Argonne Alternative Elementary School and 20 students from the San Francisco Friends School. During these talks students learn about discrimination, disabilities and safe ways to be around people who live on the streets. At the end of each presentation, the students helped us to plant seeds for our garden project, which they will be able to watch grow online at urbanshare.blogspot.com.

While not on Welcome’s paid staff, Frida primarily works as Pastor Jay’s assistance dog. Frida has also been working with some of our guests as a therapy dog. In 2009, she worked with guests 40 times.

Creatively Responding to Poverty

Rev. Megan Rohrer, Executive Director
Did you know that Pastor Megan teaches communities and congregations, not only in the Bay Area, but across the country to respond to poverty?

In 2009, Pastor Megan taught 2,458 individuals about poverty issues. One of the most requested talks is called “Servant or Sucker: A Faithful Response to Panhandlers.” Inviting Pastor Megan to your congregation to preach or teach is a great way to direct pulpit supply funds to a justice ministry! Contact megan@welcomeministry.org to invite Pastor Megan to speak to your congregation or community.

Pete Feltman, Volunteer and Donation Coordinator
Vicar Pete, is an intern from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. In addition to his work coordinating donations and volunteers, Pete also provides music ministry to our guests. Pete not only plays music at our meals to lighten the mood, but he helps our guests play music for and with each other. Using music to help guests learn basic social skills, as pastoral care or to help guests recover from addition, Pete has also been providing individual music lessons for some of our guests. Pete also provides music for Welcome’s weekly worship service each Thursday from 3-4pm.

Case Garver, Program Assistant
Case, a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corp, helps individuals of all social economic backgrounds volunteer at our community gardening spaces. When a long time guest of Welcome who is formerly homeless came to volunteer at the Free Farm, Case helped the guest take breaks, fit in with other volunteers and stay hydrated while working in the sun. Case’s willingness to chat with neighbors has they walk past our gardens has also encouraged many local residents to join us at our workdays each Wednesday and Saturday from 10am -2pm.

Doing More with Less

Throughout this blog, you have probably noticed that Welcome is doing more to directly support those living in poverty and to educate communities about homelessness and poverty than we have ever done before.

We not only have more programs, but we are also serving more people than ever before due to the economic downturn and closure of many other local organizations. At the same time, foundations that we were once able to count on for regular operational support have shifted their focus or stopped giving out money all together. While giving from individuals exceeded our budget in every area, we still had to tap into our rainy day fund in order to make it through 2009.

Thankfully, frugal spending and smart saving in past years was able to help us weather this difficult new economy. This year, Welcome faces the unique challenge of not only raising our general operating expenses, but also replenishing our rainy day funds.

Other organizations like to show that only a small percentage of their budget goes to staff salaries, Welcome works so closely with the community that we are able to get in-kind donations for nearly all of the food, toiletries, garden supplies and other material items that we share with those living in poverty. As a result, almost our entire budget is the salaries of our Executive Director, Director of Independent Living, Intern and Volunteer Corp member.

While the overwhelming majority of our donations come in during November and December (around Thanksgiving and Christmas), the salaries of the Welcome staff are paid evenly throughout the whole year. This year, because we do not have a surplus from 2009, we are currently forced to do more with less than ever before.

Today I ask you not to wait until November or December, and if you can to give your full annual donation now. Your gift today will support the staff of Welcome and help us spend less time fundraising and more time directly work with our guests.

Rev. Megan Rohrer

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Community Learning Opportunities Regarding Disability

Photo from Minneapolis Road to Freedom tour, with a person in a wheelchair approaching the Road to Freedom van, decorated with images from disability rights work

So much of the work that we do with individuals at Welcome is at the intersection of poverty and disability. Here are some free and accessible opportunities to learn more:

A Ramp is Not Enough: A Religion and Disability Conference is a free day-long conference at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Open to the general public, with speakers who are particularly relevant to clergy, members of religious communities, and students. Come see Welcome's Pastor Jay on a panel speaking about how Welcome incorporates anti-ableism and disability rights/independent living work into our daily community life. Don't forget to register if you plan to attend.

Wondering about the history of disabled people working for civil rights in San Francisco and the world? Multi-media from National Public Radio with links to more information.

One local resource for people seeking political, practical, or advocacy information about disability in San Francisco is the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco. Specialists focus on empowering individuals to take charge of their own lives, offering resources varying from help with finding the most helpful adaptive technology, to help with disability-related housing issues, to information about how to make the most of benefits. In fact, their housing advocate has given a Skill Share for Welcome guests, as well as being a frequently-consulted resource for the community. Also to note are some great easy-to-read but information-full publications that you can download.

I'm posting just these three resources for today, but feel free to E-mail me at jay@welcomeministry.org if you are seeking a particular resource or are wanting more information.