Alemany Farm San Francisco: Interview with Jason Mark

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Voted "Best Agricultural Dig" by the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2006, Alemany Farm is a 4.5 acre urban farm located next to a public housing project. The Farm serves San Francisco’s diverse communities by growing fresh veggies, offering gardening workshops, and giving youth job-training opportunities. This former dump site was reclaimed for the community in 2004. The community-supported agriculture project hopes to make big news in 2007. But they will need your help.

Jason Mark is a graduate of the organic farming apprenticeship program at University of California, Santa Cruz, where he also spent a year as an assistant instructor. Jason is pouring his time and heart into making Alemany Farm live up to its potential as San Francisco’s “only farm.” Let’s join him for a tour of the farm.

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Brian Smith: Can you tell us about how Alemany Farm, how it got started, and why you decided to join the team?

Jason Mark: The Farm was started about 10 years ago by the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG). Unfortunately, about 4 years ago SLUG collapsed due to mismanagement and a corruption scandal. Then, in the winter of 2005, a group of self-described “guerilla gardeners” went into the space and started growing food there. I got involved in the summer of 2005, and decided that I could contribute my community organizing background and my organic farming skills. I knew right away that the project had enormous potential. San Francisco needs a space like this.

BS: What kinds of crops are you planning for this Spring? When does planting begin?

JM: We’ve got some things in the ground now. Strawberries and garlic, which we planted in November and will be ready in May and June. Also, a fair amount of kale and collards, which the volunteer crew eats. …In April -- or May, if we have another wet spring -- we will start our spring cultivation and planning. We’re going to keep it simple: a range of lettuce varieties, broccoli, tomatoes, collards, chard, cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, carrots, and potatoes.

BS: How is Alemany Farm serving the local community? How are young people getting plugged in?

JM: We’ve been really focused on getting the Alemany tenants involved. When it comes to community gardening, our philosophy is that the “community” has to come before the “gardening.” In doing our grassroots organizing, we went to the Alemany residents and asked, “What do you want out of the Farm?” They didn’t say, “organic arugula,” or “a place to hang out.” They said: “Jobs.” So even as we manage the horticultural part, we are working hard to raise money to be able to pay teenage workers to come out to the Farm and get paid to work and learn marketable job skills. Until our funding comes in, though, the Farm remains a really popular place for the neighborhood kids to play.

BS: Are there aspects of this project that can be applied in other cities around the country?

JM: Sure. Everyone eats food. And every city needs food -- that is, food that’s locally grown, organically grown, and produced neighborhood by neighborhood. This is already happening. There’s an urban sustainable food movement sprouting across the U.S. In Boston you have the Food Project. In Brooklyn you have Redhook Farm. In Birmingham, Alabama, there’s a 14 acre farm in the middle of the city. The idea is simple and the principles are easily replicable: Let’s grow green jobs that will not only give people money to earn, but will also make a positive contribution to the community.

BS: What does the community envision for the future of this project? There must be financial struggle associated with such an undertaking. What are you folks facing right now?

JM: Well, our biggest challenge is to just get the start up grant money. Right now, it’s all a labor of love. We’ve put thousands of volunteer hours into the project, and haven’t seen a dime from the foundations or the City. But we’re hopeful that if we stay focused, we will soon have full program support.

BS: How can WorldChangers plug into Alemany Farm to help it succeed?

JM: If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come out to one of our volunteer workdays. They are the First and Third Sundays of every month, and the Saturdays in between. You can find a calendar at ...And if you live outside of the Bay, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our vision. Every little bit helps.

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