Monday, November 14, 2011

Mission High School Greening Project

I have been a long time resident and fan of the Mission District, and of course the Mission Basilica, the birth place of the city of San Francisco. When I found out I had the opportunity to work on the design of the gardens for Mission High School, I was absolutely honored, such a beautiful and historic building.
 I wanted to do a design that reflected the history and the architecture of the building

The courtyards were built in traditional Spanish style, beautiful but in different stages of disrepair. I had this odd feeling of having just stepped into Havana, Cuba.

I took my first  design clues from the ceiling of the main lobby, which was covered in Moorish  geometry

I wanted to incorporate that same design pattern and apply it to the courtyard. Can't go wrong with geometry on a traditional Spanish courtyard

 So here are the initial concept designs

The Jay Pugano and the students at Mission High created this video where I present the concept ideas to the school community

The original design has a zome at the center, which everybody loved. Unfortunately  the funding we had was not enough for the zome, but we are looking at ways to fund-raise and make the zome a reality as an outdoor classroom/ art piece.

The design was approved by the school community so we moved forward with the construction, which had to be completed during the summer while the students were out on vacation

It was very exciting to see all that concrete broken down and allowing the earth beneath it to breath again

The funding for this project came from  Proposition A Bond Program which is financed, in large part, by two local bonds passed by San Francisco voters in November 2003 and November 2006. These are facilities bonds, intended to improve SFUSD school sites by bringing them into Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.

The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance was able to successfully advocate for schoolyard greening by securing a portion ($7 million) of the  Proposition A voter-approved school bonds. 

This money was distributed  amongst 45 elementary schools in SFUSD which received $150,000 to green their schoolyards. Mission High School was allowed to apply for a grant to get some of this funding too.

They were awarded $100,000 for this project, which might sound like a lot, but turns out that concrete removal in SF is very expensive. So we focused our funds on the removal of the concrete and the placing of infrastructure (planter beds, irrigation, etc)

The planting was going to be left out to be done by the students and the school community.
That is the fun part anyway, so basically we wanted to create a canvas for the students to be able to plant and create a garden

It was exciting to the stars from my design come to life

Accessible raised planters were installed

 Sub drain irrigation was installed for the stars 

The pathways were filled with decomposed Granite and the planting areas with soil

The stars were planted with no mow turf

The small courtyard got planter beds  with wide seating edges so that the students could sit on them and eat their lunch there.

By the end of the summer the students came back to two remodeled courtyards with plenty of space to plant a garden, however much work still needs to get done by them. 

They got started right away and most of the planters on the small courtyard have been planted.

It is beautiful to see this space get transformed by each of the students giving it a personal touch.

For the past four years I have built a public altar for day of the dead at Garfield Park. This year I had surgery and I was not up for the task. I was excited when my friend Karina Borgogno shared her idea of building an altar for Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and founder of the Green Belt Movement. Wangari was an inspiration to Karina and her idea was to have an altar made of all living edible trees, plants, herbs. I was happy to participate at the altar building as support and help her. I suggested we donate the trees and plants to Mission High after the event.

Here is Karina talking to the kids about Wangari and telling them the story of the hummingbird.

With the help of the students, we planted 2 fig trees and two plum trees. 2 on each courtyard.

Big Thanks to Susan Boshoven, Biology teacher who coordinating the planting with her students and who has done a lot of work for the Greening project at Mission High

It was a really fun day and Karina showed those kids how to plant trees
Thank you to all the students who participated.

Thank you Karina for being a humming bird with me

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Edible East Bay Magazine wrote this nice article on Sharing, and the Algarden Urban Farm and the work that Giancarlo and I have done there is featured.

Give and Take: The East Bay’s Growing Food-Sharing Culture

By Sarah Henry

Pictured: Some of the homemade goods offered at the East Bay Homemade Food Swap. (Photos courtesy of Becky Spencer.)

Sharing has made a comeback. East Bay residents are now bartering, trading, exchanging, swapping, or simply giving away an abundance of homegrown produce or homemade food in a variety of creative ways. Of course, gardeners who grow their own veggies have always doled out surplus squash and spinach to neighbors (or as the San Francisco Chronicle recently wisecracked, arugula and cilantro, the Berkeley equivalent of summer’s backyard bounty).
But these days, guerrilla gardeners and DIY preservers and picklers have raised the bar on the sharing circuit. Hardcore urban homesteaders exchange honey and eggs for goat milk and rabbit meat. Some even give their excess goodies to local restaurants or food artisans on the sly, in return for a share of the finished product—handing over, say, a bag of Meyer lemons that will find their way into fresh pasta dough.
Resourceful local residents who don’t have land but are willing to offer their labor use local email lists to find homeowners who have a place where a produce plot could thrive, if only somebody would plant one. Happy produce matches have happened this way, with both parties reaping the harvest. Similarly, Neighborhood Vegetables, a loosely organized garden work group overseen by veteran organizer Laurence Schechtman, pairs people in Oakland and Berkeley who need help with their gardens with people who want to till the soil. Beans and beets have been known to change hands at these gatherings too.
Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library lets people “borrow” seeds, Albany hosts a garden swap on Tuesday nights where folks drop off fava beans and snap up Santa Rosa plums. A similar crop swap started in July in Berkeley on Monday evenings; Phat Beets holds a produce and plant exchange in Oakland on Saturdays.
Some folks help themselves, others a whole community. Anna Chan in Clayton (also known as the Lemon Lady) and Natasha Boissier of North Berkeley Harvest take the sharing concept a step further: They glean excess produce in their areas and drop off bags of fresh fruits and vegetables for hungry mouths at community soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The newly opened Urban Adamah, a one-acre educational farm with Jewish roots in West Berkeley, plans to give away much of its produce to people in need in the neighborhood.
Here are three local efforts to share resources that result in good grub for all.
giancarloPatricia Algara and Giancarlo Muscardini: Algarden
Pictured: Giancarlo Muscardini at work in the borrowed West Berkeley garden space he shares with Patricia Algara (with bees). (Photos by Nicki Rosario.)

She’s a landscape architect with an urban ag focus, but without land of her own. He’s a proponent of permaculture who wanted to plant produce in his neighbor’s yard. Patricia Algara and Giancarlo Muscardini met a few years ago when they were both eyeing the same double lot of lawn in West Berkeley that was crying out to become an edible oasis. They decided to team up, approached the owners about borrowing part of the yard, and after a legal agreement addressing liability concerns was drawn up and a fence with a locked gate was put in place, a demonstration urban farm was born.patricia_bees_159
The homeowners provide the land, Algara much of the ongoing labor (the initial garden design and buildout was a joint effort by Algara and Muscardini), and water is piped from Muscardini’s residence next door. His permaculture principles, which emphasize using resources on hand rather than bringing in supplies, informs the entire space. Old cardboard boxes, for instance, form the sheet mulch.
Currently, the space holds a greenhouse, beehives, and garden beds boasting loads of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. A rainwater catchment project is in the works.
It’s a win-win all round. For homeowners Matt Haber and Jane Diamond, who both work full time for the Environmental Protection Agency and have spent a lot of their off-work hours gutting and renovating their 1880 Victorian home, it’s a delight to have an aesthetically pleasing edible garden in their formerly grass-filled yard. “We had grand plans to put in a garden, and we did plant a lot of fruit trees when we first got here,” says Haber, who has lived here since 1984. “But fixing up the house took up so much of our time we just didn’t get to the yard.”
Algara, who grew up in Mexico, where her grandfather tended a family garden full of tomatoes, lettuce, and corn, is grateful to now have a space where she can grow her own food. The fact that she can also share her knowledge and excess bounty with others makes it all the more satisfying. Up until recently she hosted weekly Friday lunches in the garden, which featured foods grown on site. (The local chef who cooked for these meetups has since relocated, so Algara has moved her community meals to San Francisco, where she lives.) Algara and Muscardini hold regular garden work parties and permaculture workshops that are open to the public, at which visitors are educated on the myriad benefits of growing their own food. (Check Algara’s blog for details on upcoming events.) “We’ve done so much with this garden in such a short amount of time,” Algara says. “I hope we serve as an example to others about what can happen when people pool their resources.”
There have been unexpected benefits to the cooperative project. “I enjoy having people spend time in the garden; I’m glad it serves the community,” says Haber. “And even though we ate pretty healthily before the garden, I eat a lot more kale now. When you have food that fresh you feel like you just have to eat it.”

Monday, July 11, 2011


I know this is not garden related but....

This summer we are working hard on the design and production of Zonotopia for burningman 2011

 Check out the design video and if you can help us by donating to our online fund raising campaign

Zome Mani Padme Zome