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Dude, Get Your Car Off My Farm

Walking by a cracked and decrepit freeway on-ramp - reclaimed from the morning commute and relegated to the urban wasteland by the Loma Prieta earthquake - two San Franciscans, thinking more like old-school farmers than new-age city dwellers, look at the cracked blacktop bleeding with weeds and saw, incredibly, an orchard. And the topsoil, so manifestly absent in the windswept concrete col, in which these imagined trees would sink their roots?

Hayes Valley Freeway Farmers
Freeway Farmers Jay & Zoey

Walking by a cracked and decrepit freeway on-ramp – reclaimed from the morning commute and relegated to the urban wasteland by the Loma Prieta earthquake – two San Franciscans, thinking more like old-school farmers than new-age city dwellers, look at the cracked blacktop bleeding with weeds and saw, incredibly, an orchard. And the topsoil, so manifestly absent on the windswept concrete col, in which these imagined trees would sink their roots? Heaps of rotting compost, strap-compressed cardboard, leftovers from nearby markets, and landscaper clippings – organic detritus, otherwise sentenced to serve out a capital term as landfill, from across the City.
The best bit of the slide show, the whole point really, is the lens through which the farmers see this hard, raw wasteland: Where you and I see trash and blight, they see “piles of possibility”. Making soil out garbage. Growing fruit trees on a freeway. Why? Because these farmers believe that everyone – even those of us that, by choice or happenstance, live in high-density, high-land-cost forests of concrete, glass, and steel – should be able to grow at least some of the food that they eat, and that vacant space, by the miraculous fact of its mere presence, offers an invitation (an obligation?) to do so.
The punchline, or at least rwhat resonates most deeply about the project for me, is its preordained impermanence: This orchard can only ever be transitory, because, as we all know, the Bay Area’s great armies of cars march through their morning commute with all the inevitability of a glacial ice floe. The trees will be uprooted; the soil scraped away; the pavement once again returned to its urban birthright as. This is not speculation: The City will take the land back – there is no question about this – and yet (or perhaps because) the farmers persist, and until such time as the rubber of our tires replace the soles of their work boots, people will, of all things, eat off that land. I don’t know about you, but I think that is just uber cool.
The slide show will eat up about 5 minutes out of your life – which, truth be told, is about 4 minutes, 30 seconds longer than I typically allot to any given byte of digital cellulose. But it will repay your investment every time you pass a dusty vacant lot, or wonder what to do with your terrace, your windowsill, or that weedy scrap of long-forgotten dirt in the far left corner of your yard.

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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