We are not growing fruits and veggies. We are facilitating the growth of soil and community. The food is a byproduct. We’re mostly giving back to Mother Earth, and in the process, enjoying the co-creation of the Belovedhood.
This is the revelation I got when I met hermano Tree. From my perspective, this is Gandhi’s constructive program at its best, revamped for the 21st century. Gandhi used the spinning wheel as both physical embodiment and symbol for radical change. Today, the foundation for social justice is local and healthy food — our “spinning wheel” for the 21st century. For the last few years, I’ve been close to Tree to learn how to facilitate this construction. If you know him, you know that he is full of wisdom. When you are in his presence, meaningful work flows naturally. In his non-hierarchical, nonviolent, gentle way to suggest activities, one feels compelled to be of service. It could be in a park or an urban farm or a soup kitchen or a school yard, this love to serve and be kind permeates one’s soul. And it becomes contagious.
Being close to Tree has given us the privilege to witness first hand his incredible energizing schedule. I wanted to know how it is possible for a human being to have such intense work days and still be generous with all beings. So I started to follow him closely. So close, that now some of us, at Casa de Paz, have been volunteering full days by his side. Let me give you an idea of the level of energy and love of the man:
- The first Sunday of each month, he and his wife –the loving Angie– wake up around 5am to leave their home at 6am to start cooking at the Martin de Porres House of Hospitality’s soup kitchen, where the XIV Dalai Lama volunteered once. There, with a crew of incredible diligent volunteers, they serve to between 200 and 300 people. Persons without houses –and with houses too!– love Tree’s salads to the degree that salad has to be rationed to guarantee a fair share.
- At 11:15am, Tree leaves the soup kitchen to start getting ready for the Free Farm Stand. Back at his home in an indoor aisle, there are pounds and pounds of food –sometimes as many as 40 boxes full of organic fresh food– waiting to be carried to the van.
- The ritual of carrying these food boxes started the previous day –of course, after a whole day working at the Free Farm— when he gets the food from the farmers market. He puts it in the van and unloads it at his home to keep it fresh.
- This time, Sunday around noon, the food boxes are in the company of baskets, tablecloths, a heavy but very useful dolly and many bread bags –sometimes as many as 30 bags of bread!
- Then he drives to El Parque de Niñ@s Unid@s. The boxes and bags and other utensils are unloaded. It doesn’t matter if it rains or if it is a very hot day, the Free Farm Stand runs. All the prep work is done to open the stand at 1pm.
- At 2:30pm a second load of fresh food arrives from another farmer’s market. More boxes to carry and organize on the tables.
- By 4pm, Tree is loading the van again with the boxes, now empty, and the baskets.
- Drives to his home, that is a couple of blocks away from the park and unloads them.
Many times he does the complete food box ritual all by himself. He doesn’t want credit, he doesn’t want to talk about it, he only wants to do it and be about it. He is a true karma yogi adapted to our modern-day society.
A hint of the answer to the question: “How is it possible that a human being could have such intense work days and still be generous with all beings?” comes from Peace Pilgrim. She said:
Now there is living to give instead of to get. As you concentrate on the giving, you discover that just as you cannot receive without giving, so neither can you give without receiving – even the most wonderful things like health and happiness and inner peace. There is a feeling of endless energy, it just never runs out, it seems to be as endless as air. You seem to be plugged in to the source of universal energy.
Tree does all this, so that you and I, and all those families from different backgrounds can have fresh local organic food. We were thrilled to see that now there are entire families from the Mission who are coming to the stand. Families from the part of the Planet we call China, Mexico, Guatemala, Yemen, India; people who speak Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Farsi, Arabic, Hindi, English; and lots of children, plenty of children. It is a wonderful experience to foster this intercultural interaction and get nourished by their smiles and laughter. Some of our fliers are now in Spanish and Mandarin:
To honor Tree’s work with more work, some of us have felt very inspired to anchor the Free Farm Stand the first Sunday of the month. The downside, as you can tell, is that I’m a slow writer and the updates of June 5th and July 2nd are coming only until now. But hey! you can talk about the (r)evolution or live the (r)evolution [and write a little bit about it ;-)].
The Free Farm Stand is definitively a great experiment in the joy of serving our diverse families in the Earth Community, as is the Free Farm.
Under Tree’s servant leadership, all of a sudden, 40 volunteers at the farm can work harmoniously. As sister Britney and I write this piece from the Free Farm, there are people: harvesting for the free farm stand; building a terrace; beautifying the labyrinth; watering the beds and isolated pots; preparing the table for the vegan lunch at noon; planting seeds in the greenhouse; washing the produce for the 1pm farm stand; guiding visitors to show some of the magic of the farm; carrying wheelbarrows –or taking a nap in one of them– full of mulch to nourish the paths; turning the compost; taking pictures for the blog and writing a post to celebrate all of this work and the work that can’t be described with metrics.
The diversity of the people volunteering honors and matches the rich diversity of life in the farm. On the one hand, the farm is filled with people of brown, black, white skin; a 1 yearold whose mom joined the yoga and meditation sessions in the morning; young people from both Standford and the UC Berkeley; teens from all backgrounds sharing their wisdom; enthusiastic elders from the neighborhood; people without houses and without money giving away all they have: their time, love and energy; Christians, a Buddhist monk, secular people, anarchists, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans all united in this church without walls. With this diversity, we come together, work together, learn together, and share. On the other hand, the farm is inhabited by a red tail hawk –who has made the farm her source of mice and rats– by ravens, hummingbirds, pigeons, worms, snails, ants; bumble bees, bees that live in hives and bees that live buried in the soil, who knows what fascinating interactions are happening beneath the surface of the beds. We learn from this animal world too, just as we learn from the diverse human worldviews that the farm draws together.
Many of us enjoy our volunteer work at the Free Farm because we believe that healthy _local_ food is the foundation of social justice. While 93 percent of the varieties of crops have gone extinct in the part of the Planet we call the U.S. –and all over the World– city kids, like many of us, are learning how to facilitate the growth of food and how to let some crops go to seed. The concepts of both regeneration (not sustainability) and community are being shared and practiced. We are planting seeds of generosity and harvesting kindness to and from the community.
With this growth of soil and community, local neighbors are getting more and more involved. As these neighbors volunteer at the farm and receive its produce, a circle of giving and receiving is emerging. In this gift economy, we are able to provide for one another and cultivate compassion and care. As we shared before, the effects of the farm do not end within the Western Addition neighborhood here in San Francisco. They carry over to the Mission, where the surplus food produced by the farm is given away as an act of unconditional love. We don’t believe that in a pollution-violence based economy only people with financial resources can consume healthy local organic food. We believe and practice that everybody can and must be nourished with healthy local food and healthy entertainment. We are doing our best to treat each other as family. And our family is widening, indeed. There is a palpable love and acknowledgement to take care of our elders, including Page and Margaret’s initiative to make the farm more accessible to them:
and our children:
Why is it that some of us forget, when we are adults, how wonderfully interdependent and vulnerable we are when we are just mere babies or respectable elders? This is what the young generations are learning in shared servanthood with the guidance of people like hermano Tree. He is one of those people that you want to live in community with in order to change our thing-oriented society to a people-oriented society, one meal at a time. As our friends from Growing Cities captured in this video: “Food is a such unifier. Food is a (r)evolution right now.”
Through the act of freely giving away healthy and local produce, unjust food systems–like the one in this part of the Planet, where kale is often not affordable for many, yet unhealthy hot dogs and sodas cost less than a dollar–are challenged and a community is built. It is the love and dedication of volunteers that makes this possible. And it is this same love and dedication which has an infectious tendency on others, keeping the farm and the stand energized and thriving.
In other words: feed all, serve all, love all.
These were our two seeds as Free Farmers, 😉
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.
Britney, Pancho and Adelaja.
PS: Last Sunday (July 3rd), the stand was overwhelmed by the abundance of food provided by these additional sources of food donations. Plums, peaches, apricots, squashes, aloe plants, 70 lbs of loquats gleaned from one single tree at Tree’s home, and greens flooded the stand’s table’s, to the extent that we were hardly able to give it all away over the three hour period that the stand operates.
A month ago (June 5th), we had a pretty active day at the Free Farm and a very beautiful free farm stand full of flowers that were harvested from the farm. Tree and Angie took them to a wedding and the surplus was used in the stand.
Here are some pictures:
Hermana Sara ready to record the contribution of neighbors and to beautify the stand
Hermano Page facilitated a great (impromptu) workshop on braiding garlic at the Free Farm and then, at the stand he found another Page! The Pages! 🙂
Page’s students sisters Carolyn McVeigh and Hilary Barte are Tennis players. Here they are at the 2011 Stanford Women’s Tennis Team at NCAA Championship at Stanford. In this picture, they are greeting neighbors at the Free Farm Stand…
Hermanos Tree, Page and Tobias harvesting flowers for the wedding
This baby was fascinated with the smell and flavor of lavender
So we give him a Nasturtium! 🙂
We meet brother Fumi at the soup kitchen in Martin de Porres House of Hospitality. He is going around the Planet visiting Catholic Workers/Dorothy Day projects.
Don Miguel enjoying the hummus prepared by Mike
Volunteer hermano Tim, enjoying a sample of another volunteer’s hummus
Hermano Bhikshu Samata and hermano Mike mulching the meditation labyrinth
Hermano Jason, who came to the Bay Area only to volunteer at the Free Farm (stand) and Casa de Paz, is digging to improve the irrigation system
Super fresh strawberries
Brothers Adelaja and Chris making a bed frame
Brother Art shared the the Free Farm reminded him of his days with The Diggers
Sister Basje, the mom yogi, waters the seedlings in the green house with Art and Rafael
Brother Jonathan is bringing his Art of Seeding to the farm
Sisters Hannah and Alen preparing the stand at the Free Farm
Hermana Lauren and twins Robert and Steven who are working this Summer at Produce to the People
Not farmers but mulchers and their last load of the day