Struck by the impression that peak oil would bring about harsh changes for industrial society, I started towards teaching myself and others basic self-sufficiency skills that might mitigate such harsh changes. I’m not a big fan of the apocalyptic mindset; I don’t think that escaping to the woods with 300 years of wheat berries and sawed off shotguns is a solution to our problems. But, at the very least, we could all do a little better in our efforts to prepare for a future of decreasing fossil-fuel availability.
So, what to do? I co-founded the Alemany Farm, a 3 acre urban organic farm in San Francisco. There, we host workdays for people to come learn food growing techniques. There, I co-instructed a year-long course in Ecological Horticulture from 2008-2012. I teach farming-related skills with the San Francisco Permaculture Guild and Institute, and at other local food projects like the Garden for the Environment, the Free Farm Stand and Hayes Valley Farm. After consulting on the programmatic and physical site designs for a new food justice project in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill public housing, I was hired as the project’s manager. For two years I led workdays and taught apprentices, with the goal of having the project be managed primarily (if not exclusively) by residents of the public housing.
I also made a movie, called In Search of Good Food, in an effort to explore what constitutes a truly “sustainable” food system. Really, the movie is my attempt to get people interested in food systems and sustainability to look deeper at the barriers which prevent positive change. Unfortunately, these barriers, as so much in modern life, are entirely political in nature and not solvable without a reinvigorated functional democracy. After a year and a half of public screenings, I have posted the finished video here for viewing.
To create a functional democracy requires engaged participation. In 2010 I initiated meetings with local “ag-tivists” in order to found the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA), so that such an alliance could serve as a catalyst for that engaged participation. While I appreciate do-it-yourself aesthetics and “personal is political” beliefs, which lend themselves to attempts to regain control of one’s food intake (through buying better produce/meat and/or growing your own), I know that to substantively change the food system, we need to communicate, participate, protest, and promote more publicly than we do now.
In 2012, I was hired to help facilitate the formation and meetings of a new California Food Policy Council. This body is unique for statewide food policy councils, as it is composed of many smaller, regional bodies from around the state: Food Policy Councils, Urban Agriculture Alliances, and Food Systems Alliances. This valuable effort helps scale up all our local work to affect even greater change via the state and federal policy-making processes.
In 2013, I continued working for the CAFPC, leading their working groups for policy around Ecological Farming and Land Use. I was also hired by the Frogtown Farm project in St. Paul, MN, as part of the team of Rebar San Francisco, to construct and facilitate a community design process leading to a 5-acre public community farm. The results can be found on the blog monitoring the progress of the design process. Here is a post for Civil Eats describing the project as of completion of the design phase. As mentioned elsewhere, I am planning to continue this work, by developing community-based research partnerships between Frogtown and the University of Minnesota, and continuing to support Frogtown Farm’s community engagement programs.
Upon graduating from graduate school, with so much talk about farming, I was starting to miss the real thing! Currently, I am gardening at my own home, as well as at the 18th and Rhode Island Permaculture Garden, and occasionally at Alemany Farm.
My newest (2016) farming-related projects are:
- A “blogged book” that will provide “an antidogmatist guide to food systems and how to change them”. This is intended for a wide (i.e. non-academic) audience. The site antidogmatist.com will be launched by May 1st, 2016.
- A research project funded by the San Francisco Department of the Environment, to test whether the application of compost to urban agriculture sites measurably increases carbon sequestration in soils. This project will begin in April and run for at least 2 years.
- Working with North American (US/Canadian/Mexican) national organizations working on agroecology, food sovereignty, and food justice issues, to convene a gathering of academics, farmer/practitioners, and advocates/activists in 2017.