SFN: A Tour Of Alemany Farm

A lot of cool stuff happened this morning as my old pal Kim Cuddy and I set out to take a tour of San Francisco’s Alemany Farm. The only Slow Journey that was both free and didn’t involve going anywhere (or anywhere you couldn’t get to on BART), this was for me.

As we tromped through the bushes on the hillside above the farm, lost, but navigating by the landmark windmill, Kim stopped to eat blackberries that grow wild there. We were already late for the tour, so what the hell:

You couldn’t get more in the spirit of Slow Food Nation than this place. A former San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners sight, the couple-acre patch just off Interstate Highway 280 and Alemany Boulevard was first plowed in 1995. Since then it’s been known as St. Mary’s Youth Farm, SLUG, an abandoned lot, and, since 2005, the independent Alemany Farm. It’s a prime example of a piece of urban land transformed into the city’s own salad bowl.

Once we made it through the gate, Kim and I took a partially guided tour of the farm’s crops, corners, and crannies. Check it out, after the jump.

A lot of what Alemany Farm does is experimental. Antonio Roman-Alcala pointed out that people are less inclined to grow their own grains because grain crops are perceived as being space-inefficient. So the farm is growing a row of maiz corn right now, just to see how many tortillas they can get out of it:

Antonio showed us the rows of tomatoes and strawberries that are being dry-farmed. The leaves are limp from lack of water, but the fruits lay heavy and turgid on the ground.

He talked about the olive trees on the farm’s east side that have borne a total of four fruits — that’s going to take some experimentation to fix. There’s an ongoing battle with gophers, who the farm refuses to poison.

“There’s a few hawks that hang out here — some kestrals and some red-tails… There are feral cats, but they seem to coexist with the gophers,” Antonio said.

As Antonio led the group through the farm’s crops, Kim gave me a look. “I’m tired of being in this tour group. You think we can go explore?”

“Sure, why not?” I said. We tromped up a hill to the small cluster of fruit trees, where we found a bush/tree thing laden with apples.

How do we know these ugly things are apples? Because this hilarious thing happened: As we waded through the brown grass on the hillside, I began to get nervous. “You think we should be up here?” I said.

“I don’t know. Hey, what are these weird fruits? You think they’re apples or pears?” Kim said.

“Um, pears, maybe?”

“I’m going to eat one,” Kim said. I got nervous, thinking how embarrassing it would be when Antonio came running over, red-faced with frustration at the weekend warriors destroying his crops. The guilt flowed.

“They’re apples,” Kim said, suddenly flush with knowledge. “Here, Adam, eat this apple.”

I did, and with that bite, I lived up to my namesake.

We wandered further and found the beehives kept by the San Francisco Beekeepers’ Association, which partners with Alemany Farm:

We found a cracked, paved path leading to a small, shaded grove. “I’ll come here and read sometime,” Kim announced. We saw this butterfly:

Kim, who has a stong affection for kale, based on a recipe for “kale slaw” that she loves, got really excited about this little volunteer. “It’s rogue kale!” She exclaimed:

Finally, it was time to re-join the tour group and, shortly, the real world. The cars that zoom by within yards of the farm belie its tranquility. For me, I’ve seen that “SLUG” windmill everytime I’ve driven down 280, and never seen what’s under it. If slow food is about making food into a respite from the crush of modernity, then Alemany Farm really does represent the essence of that movement. It’s really too bad we had to leave before lunch, but hey, blogs don’t update themselves. Here’s what we missed:

Well, there’s plenty to eat at the Tasting Pavilion, which is where I’m headed now. As always, check back for updates.

SFN: A Tour Of Alemany Farm