Saturday, April 19, 2014
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August 30-31, 2008



Urban Farming

Sun-kissed tomatoes are ripening on vines. Free roaming chickens are laying their eggs. And hands are getting dirty, reaping the earth’s bounty in some unexpected places. Surprisingly, there are an increasing number of urban organic farms growing up all over the Bay Area.

Vicki Ramos is the manager of the 55th Street Garden, one of five urban farms run by People’s Grocery, a non profit organization that works to meet the health and food needs of the West Oakland community.

 “There are trucks all the time; sometimes fire trucks and dogs barking, so it definitely is the city but it’s like a little green retreat,” says Vicki.

Green retreats like the 55th Street Garden are providing urban residents with places to experience nature in the city and with local food sources. 

 “You know our food sometimes travels the world to get to our table and whether we know it or not, it really does effect the environment,” Vicki says. “Organic local food can be really hard to find and it can be expensive so not everybody can afford it.”

To make organic food more accessible to West Oakland residents, People’s Grocery converted an old postal truck into a mobile market. They hit the road to bring their low cost produce to the people.

“All that other stuff that’s at the store, all that greasy old food and stuff. It’s better than eating all that. It’s better for this truck to come,” says a customer. 

They recently retired the Mobile Market in order to focus their efforts on a more permanent solution. Vicki explains, “We hope to have a grocery store in the West Oakland community where we can actually have our produce there to have the price where a lot of families can afford to eat locally and organic foods.”

Another surprising source of local, organic food can be found just a few miles away, where we meet a farmer and her fowl.  Willow Rosenthal founded City Slicker Farms when she moved to West Oakland and discovered that there were no grocery stores in the neighborhood.
 “We have over 40 corner liquor stores and we don’t have a grocery store,” Willow says.
“We are the source for fresh food, that’s for sure.” 

In contrast to the dearth of fresh food, Willow found an abundance of vacant land.

 “There’s blight, there’s houses that burn down that nobody has money to build or maintain,” Willow says. “So there’s actually a lot of land. And as a gardener, farmer type person, I thought hey, I could do something here.”

With the help of volunteers, she has been transforming small plots of land into productive urban farms…complete with some farm animals.  “It used to be that all over the country, farmers developed their own breeds of chickens,” Willow says.  “So there are hundreds of them. This is healthy for the stock to have more genetic variety. Now, they just have these more common breeds by the hundreds in the commercial farms.”

The free-range, city chickens are fun to visit and feed. They’re also a source of farm fresh food.  “We probably have about 20 dozen eggs a week that we give out at our farm stand,” Willow says.  “People really come for the eggs.  They love them.”

Along with the eggs, the Saturday farm stand offers neighborhood residents their fresh organic produce for low or no cost.  “I like their tomatoes, and their greens - their mustard greens,” says a boy at the farm stand. “They’re fresh. Fresh grown.”

 “I feel really proud of the fact that we have done this,” Willow says. “That we’ve been able to grow thousands of pounds of organic food that went out into the community; that people just can’t get anywhere else here.”

She adds, “And when one of the grannies that we see every Saturday comes by and gets her collard greens. You know, I’m like, ok I can keep working this hard.”

We head across the bay to San Francisco’s biggest farm were there’s more hard work going on.  Located by Interstate 280 and Alemany Boulevard, the four acre Alemany Farm is a country retreat within the city.

“You don’t need to drive five hours to get a dose of nature, you can come right here in San Francisco,” says Jason Mark, the farm’s manager. 

“If you’re having a bad day, you just come up here and sit. It’s relaxing. It’s calming,” says Betty Hunter, one of the farm’s youth workers.

In the 1990’s, the former dumpsite had been transformed into an urban farm by the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, but had been left abandoned for years.

“We used to play back here as kids,” says youth mentor Darryl Kelley who now helps work the land. “This was all a swamp-like, and a dump site. People would dump trash.  I didn’t believe that things could grow up here,”

“My mom lives right there and so I would walk my mom’s dog down into this area and I noticed that there were fruit trees and that it used to be a farm,” says Antonio Roman – Alcalá.

With little more than borrowed tools and an eagerness to learn about growing food, Antonio and his friends began reviving the farm.  After receiving permission from the city to work the land, they contacted the Alemany Housing community next door.

 “We went into the Alemany community to ask what their connection was to the space and what they wanted to see out of it,” Antonio says. “We heard from the community they weren’t interested in organic carrots. The thing we heard most commonly was that people wanted jobs.”

The group of volunteers secured city funding to create a work study program for young people. Run by farm manager Jason Mark, students are learning how to grow their own fresh, organic food.

“It is trying to give these young folks what I hope are marketable job skills - as irrigation specialists, as organic landscapers, maybe as landscape designers… trying to get their interest piqued in what I think are some of these cutting edge industries of the 21st century,” says Jason.

Youth mentor Larry Blaine says that the kids are learning, and best of all, the kids love it.

 “When we start up again in the summer it would be looking destroyed because of all the rain,” says youth worker, Byron Smith. “But then, I like how we make it change. Make it better."

 “It’s been a beautiful thing to watch things grow from nothing, you know, from dirt.  To be able to say we did this; it’s a blessing,” says Darryl.

 “Have it look like this; that was lovely to see. That was my first time ever seeing something like that,” Larry adds.

Alemany Farm is open on weekends to anyone who wants to help hoe or harvest, or to just enjoy a day on a city farm.


For More Info:

People’s Grocery

City Slicker Farms
(510) 763-4241

Alemany Farm
Jason Mark

Volunteer inquiries:





We spoke with Natalie Zee-Drieu, Senior Editor of Craft Magazine, who gave us tips on art and craft places to do it yourself.

Natalie’s picks were:

Public Glass 
1750 Armstrong Ave
San Francisco, CA 94124

The Crucible
1260 7th Street
Oakland, CA  94607
Phone: 510-444-0919

Stitch Lounge
182 Gough Street (at Oak)
San Francisco, CA
415-431-3SEW (3739)

TechShop Melon Park
120 Independence Dr
Menlo Park, CA  94025

For more of Natalie’s tips or information on Craft Magazine, visit:




Ride and Tie

At Five Brooks Stable at Point Reyes National Seashore in West Marin County, you can come out and enjoy a group ride or private ride through the beautiful landscape of Point Reyes.  I’ve always loved to ride horses and I like to run. Now I’ve discovered a sport that combines the two of them.  It was invented right here in the Bay Area and its called Ride and Tie.

It combines the skill of horsemanship, the endurance of long-distance running, and the strength of teamwork.  The object of Ride and Tie is to get all three team members – two people and one horse – across a 20 to 40 mile cross-country course.  To get to the finish line team members alternate between riding and running.

“You run along, get you a little tired, come to a horse, get on the horse, pick up speed and then you give the horse to your partner whose getting a little tired so there’s a rhythm that’s just magical,” says Ride and Tie veteran John Osterweis.

The rhythm of ride and tie is determined by how, when and where the team exchanges horse, rider and runner. This unusual and relatively unknown sport actually began right here in the Bay Area in the early 1970’s. 

According to John, it was a fellow working at Levi’s Strauss named Bud Johns who had read about two people using one horse and the sport just evolved.  These days, about 400 people are members of the National Ride and Tie Association who gather at events all around the U.S.

People of all ages and all walks of life participate in Ride and Tie and everyone seems to get along both on and off the racecourse.

“Its been described kind of as a family and I think the reason is that this is a very unique and different sport and there’s a unique and different type of person that likes to ride and likes to run and likes to be out on trails,” says Curt Riffle, Ride and Tie race organizer.

Well, I like to ride and run so I caught up with a couple of Ride and Tie veterans to show me how it’s done.

Russ Kiernan and John Osterweis are Ride and Tie experts.  They won the 2002 Northern California regional Ride and Tie race together.  Russ is used to winning races, we first met him a few years ago training for the annual Dipsea footrace in Mill Valley which he’s won twice.  John Osterweis has been a competitive Ride and Tie racer since the 1980’s and is the owner of this beautiful horse named Dante.

John says, “The ideal horse is one that’s fast, that’s got great endurance, and he’s calm when he’s tied.”

Today, we’re at Five Brooks Ranch off of Highway 1 in West Marin.  Many Ride and Tie racers hone their skills here on the public trails of Point Reyes National Seashore.  Riding and running practice is essential for the safety of both humans and horse.

In addition to learning how to ride, racers need to know how to transfer the horse between partners.  One way is to tie the horse to a tree and the other is called a “flying tie”.  Russ and John demonstrate the “flying tie” for me.

First Russ gallops down the trail towards John, jumps off, and hands the reigns to John, and begins to run while John jumps on the horse and begins to ride.  Like a racecar in a pit stop, the goal is to complete the flying tie exchange in less than 10 seconds.

Riding and running and tying seem easy to do in a controlled environment but to fully appreciate the complexities of the sport, we headed to a real Ride and Tie event.

Almaden Quicksilver Park is the site of one of the largest Ride and Tie events in the region.    More than 20 teams from all over California have gathered here at this historic park just 12 miles from downtown San Jose.

“This actually used to be an old mining site where they used to mine quicksilver which turned into mercury,” says Curt Riffle.  Curt is this race’s organizer.  He says this park is the perfect spot for Ride and Tie because of its diverse terrain.

“There’s fantastic vistas up on top of the ridges so it’s just a fun course for new people,” says Curt.

New people and beginners can participate in the sport because everyone’s encouraged to go at his or her own pace.

“I would say 10 percent of the people that participate try to win.  I would say that the rest of the people are happy just to finish,” says Curt.

Before the race begins, the horses are thoroughly checked by a team of veterinarians.  Once the horses have been checked, the race begins.

“Actually the first five miles is the most challenging; they have about a one mile climb that goes up probably about 800 to 1000 feet, that’s why we call it Cardiac Hill,” says Curt.

Beyond “Cardiac Hill” horses are washed and inspected at another vet check before tackling the last miles of the race. And after 23 miles and two and a half hours, the first teams reach the finish line.  On this day, Mary Tescornia, Tom John Johnson and their horse Albi took first place.  John and his partner Mark Richtman placed second.

At the end of the day, everyone gathers together for a big barbecue.  It’s a chance to relax and swap stories.  For many here today, the best part of Ride and Tie is the camaraderie.

For these folks, Ride and Tie is not necessarily about reaching the finish line first, but about how you get there. And you get there through beautiful landscapes, through hard work, and through the special bond between humans and horses.

For More Info:

Ride and Tie

Five Brooks Stable
Five Brooks Ranch
P.O. Box 99, Olema, CA 94950



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