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.”

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