Winter Farm & Garden Chores … and Gratitude

Dear Farm Friends,

Happy new year to you!

First, many thanks to our community for your donations at year-end. We are heartened and humbled by your response to our appeal for financial support: Thanks to you, we are now halfway to our goal of raising $75,000 by Earth Day!

If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to donate to help us get 2021 off to a strong start and move us further along to our goal. Visit our 15th Anniversary Campaign page for a summary of 2020 accomplishments, the hows and whys of donating, and a photo garden that offers a peek into Friends of Alemany Farm’s 15 years at the farm. And if you’re able, make a gift!

This month, we’re piloting a new feature. Since we still can’t invite you out to the farm to learn, grow, and volunteer with us, we’re bringing some of our farm knowledge to you. So gather round for some seasonal know-how from our farmers. It may even help you out with your home garden if you have one:

Winter Tasks and Tales from the Farm

panel of three photos: at left, a sign reading "Cover Crop" in front of a lush bed of green plants; at center, a garden bed of kale with straw mulch on the ground; at right, two people plant a very young, leafless tree on a sunny day

Cover crop … Mulching … Fruit tree care

If you’ve visited Alemany Farm in winter or early spring, you’ve likely seen some lush beds labeled “Cover Crop.” If you’ve volunteered, you may have helped sow or chop these beds. Co-Director Jack Thomas offers some fundamentals:

Cover Crop: What is it, and why is it good for the Earth, for vegetables, and for people?

The gist: A key component of environmentally regenerative agriculture is building soil organic matter (SOM). Global soil fertility is plummeting at a rate of 23 billion tons per year due to industrial agriculture practices like tillage and fertilizing with synthetic chemicals. These methods decrease the soil’s organic matter, remove its ability to hold water like a sponge, and effectively bulldoze habitat for billions of essential soil microbes per teaspoon of soil. Bad.

What can you do? One method of increasing SOM and building soil health is with cover crops. Each fall we sow a special mixture of seeds into selected beds where we will not grow food crops during winter months. These plants — fava, vetch, rye, bell beans, and others — are “nitrogen fixing.” This means that as they grow, they draw nitrogen into the soil from the atmosphere and store it in their root system, to be taken up later in the plant’s life to help with flower and fruit production. Not only do these cover crops restore nitrogen — a vital ingredient in all green growth — they also catch raindrops, minimizing soil compaction. And their root systems help retain soil structure to boot.

Each spring, we chop down the cover crop before it can take up the nitrogen in its root. We leave the roots in place, leaving the soil intact, rich with microbiology, and flush with nitrogen to nourish the crops that will grow there in the spring and summer. No tractor, no chemicals, no electricity; just a respectful, intelligent, mutually beneficial collaboration between people and nature.


Co-Director Abby Bell offers the whys and wherefores of some other winter chores:

Mulch! If your garden is not mulched, this is a good time to make sure that your soils are covered.

Covering the exposed soil around your plants suppresses weed growth, reduces erosion, retains soil moisture and warmth, and builds organic matter content in your soil. At Alemany Farm, we like to use straw to mulch around our annual veggies, and wood chips to mulch around hardier plants like fruit trees, perennials, and pathways. (Your local garden store may have other mulch options.) Your soil’s beneficial microorganisms and fungi feed on the mulch and eventually help it decompose into your soil, adding rich humus or organic matter.

Note: Do not mix the mulch into the soil. Keep it as a covering or else the decomposition process can tie up nitrogen within your soil. Also, be aware that mulch in the winter creates habitat for slugs and snails, so keep on the lookout for these garden pests.

Fruit Trees

Bare root fruit trees: If you have space and desire to plant a fruit tree in your garden, now is the time! Many nurseries are now taking orders for trees. Winter is the time to plant those trees in your gardens. Bare root trees are dormant and look like a stick and some roots, but don’t be fooled! They are just sleeping and will leaf and bud out in the springtime. Not only are bare root trees easier to transport and plant than trees transplanted from containers, but they often have better performance because they are not root bound, do not go through transplant shock, and they tend to have more time for their roots to acclimate, grow, and take hold before the spring comes.

Winter fruit tree pruning: January in the Bay Area, once your deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, is a good time to think about winter pruning. This is an opportunity to begin or continue a conversation with your tree, to support its structure and air flow in order to enhance fruit production in the spring and summer. Remember that winter pruning creates a stimulating response for the trees. We hope to offer some winter pruning classes at Alemany Farm this year if we can safely do so.


Thank you again for helping to grow food security and ecological knowledge in San Francisco by supporting Alemany Farm! Be on the lookout for news about upcoming workshops and other events. With your support, we can look forward together to the next 15 years of local grassroots action!

With gratitude,

The Farm Team

Donate on #GivingTuesday

Dear Farm Friends,

In a season marked by rest and counting blessings, we give wholehearted thanks for you, our volunteers, neighbors, and dear community members; there is no Alemany Farm without you. We hope you’ll choose to support Friends of Alemany Farm on #GivingTuesday and beyond.

We live in a time marked by great need and, no doubt about it, even greater abundance. Which is why it is remarkable and honestly baffling that this holiday season, in the wealthiest nation in the world, 54 million people are facing food insecurity, including up to 18 million children. In San Francisco, and everywhere, the neighborhoods hit hardest by hunger are low-income, and composed of historically oppressed groups. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Immigrant families are, once again, bearing the brunt of our national health crisis.

As co-directors of Friends of Alemany Farm, we are proud to share that the farm team has spent the last year building capacity and laying the groundwork for programs that will achieve greater local impact and greater local food justice, like the paid apprenticeship program. One thing we discovered is that a more impactful farm will require us to do more fundraising. We crunched the numbers, and need to raise $75,000 in the next six months to sustain this period of essential growth and development.

To support our organization’s evolution, please consider giving generously now and in the coming months.

Donate a cash gift: Any amount, big or small, will support the farm to continue growing and distributing free food to the folks that need it most. We are grateful that we have been able to continue this essential work without interruption throughout the pandemic. Donate now

Give monthly: Monthly giving goes twice as far; it means our small, hardworking team can spend less time raising funds and more time doing the work.

Schedule a farm workday: When the COVID-19 crisis ends, bring your team to the farm for a tour of the garden beds and a chance to sow seeds, plant crops, and harvest produce to bring home. Get your employer to match. 

We are proud to continue working with you to achieve greater food justice, food security, and food sovereignty in San Francisco, and to maintain Alemany Farm as a vital community resource and meeting place. Thank you for your ongoing support.

With wishes for your health,

Abby, Jack, and The Farm Team

Abby Bell, Co-Director
Jack Thomas, Co-Director

a handpainted sign is posted by a lush herb garden at Alemany Farm. The sign reads "welcome to Alemxny Farm; medicine garden; jardin de medicina; on occupied Ramaytush Ohlone Land; Respect your Elders; you are love & vibration; Black Lives Matter
The front herb garden welcomes visitors to Alemany Farm, September 2020.
Photo by Erik Rotman.

Help us Grow a Paid Farm Apprenticeship Program for Underserved Youth

Dear Farm Friends,

It’s been a challenging year for all of us, but as we approach Thanksgiving, we realize there’s much to be grateful for, including the support you’ve provided from a distance since the spring. With your help, throughout the pandemic we’ve been able to continue growing healthy local produce at Alemany Farm and distributing it for free to folks in our community who need it. And we’re well-positioned and eager to invite volunteers back to join us in this work when it’s safe to do so.

We’re continuing to observe Friends of Alemany Farm’s 15th Anniversary at the Farm, and in the coming weeks and months we’ll be in touch to reflect on that milestone, and to update you on our various programs and ways to support our work.

Today, though, we write with a time-sensitive request: In the next 30 days, we hope to raise $5,000 to bolster our newly-created Urban Farming Apprenticeship program. If we meet this challenge, we can fund an additional part-time apprentice this spring. In accordance with our mission, we are excited to begin realizing a paid farm apprenticeship program that will benefit youth of color from underserved communities. We hope you’ll be inspired to support this work. Learn more and donate.

Thanks to SeedMoney and Orowheat for providing this fundraising opportunity, and for generously matching up to $600 and $1,000 respectively. But we are setting our sights on the larger goal of $5,000 in order to fully fund an additional apprentice who can benefit from training at the farm.

Amidst the national reckoning on racial injustice spurred by the murder of George Floyd in May, the Friends of Alemany Farm continue to make a concerted effort to understand, take responsibility for, and overcome white supremacy within ourselves and on the farm. Upon reflection, it became clear that our unpaid internship program posed a structural barrier to entry that prohibited many low income Black and Brown youth from participating. The Friends have established this paid apprenticeship program to begin to address this problem.

We welcomed our first two apprentices in October; help us grow our program and extend this opportunity to a third individual! We have only until December 15 to meet our fundraising goal. Find details and donate.

Many thanks for your consideration. We are very pleased to seek your support right now for a hopeful, future-focused project like this.

Wishing you a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Fall Plant Sale Fundraiser!

Farm Friends and Fellow Gardeners,

As part of our celebration of Friends of Alemany Farm’s 15-year anniversary on the farm, we have some great seasonally appropriate plant starts that we’d love to share with you! We will have a socially distanced plant start stand at Alemany Farm on the following days (while supplies last). We still can’t invite you to volunteer with us, but why not drop by the farm to support, say hello, and see what’s growing.

Plant Stand Dates/Times:
Sunday, Sept 27, 10 am – 1 pm
Sunday, Oct 4, 10 am – 12:30 pm

We suggest a $5 donation per plant start; all funds go to supporting Friends of Alemany Farm. Cash only, exact change appreciated! Please follow social distancing guidelines (enforced at the stand and elsewhere).

Location Details:
Alemany Farm, 700 Alemany Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94110
(parking is available on the gravel drive inside the farm gate)

Available starts:
kale, chard, lettuce, choi, mustard, brussel sprouts, kalettes, spinach, broccoli, napa cabbage, bunching onions, ground cherries, romanesco
Plus: assorted herbs; native lupine; alstroemeria; lavender; aloe vera, and more

We hope to see you there!

tray of young kale plants resting in the soil of a sunny raised garden bed, with trees and blue sky in background


Coming up: Ask a Farmer Q&A + Fall Plant Sale

Dear Farm Friends,

As we move into fall, we are once again planning events to support and engage our community. See below for details and registration for our September 26 virtual Q&A on fall gardening basics, and a heads-up on our fall plant sale. Together, these events are meant to support you in your home or neighborhood gardening work at a time when we are not able to gather at Alemany Farm.

But first, we want to let you know that all summer long we have continued the essential work of growing and harvesting fresh produce at Alemany Farm for free distribution. Each week, Friends of Alemany Farm co-directors Abby and Jack have worked with RPD staff and a small group of interns to harvest hundreds of pounds of food destined for the Free Farm Stand, the Alemany Apartments Food Pantry and, in partnership with our friends at PODER, for distribution to residents in the Excelsior. We are still unable to welcome volunteers back to the farm, but we look forward to when we can all once again dig into this work together. In the meantime, we hope you’ll engage with us through our virtual events and our real live plant sale!

Ask a Farmer Q&A Series: Basics of Fall Gardening
Saturday, September 26, 10-11:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time
Online webinar – Suggested donation $10, no one turned away for lack of funds

The Ask a Farmer Series is our effort to reconnect and provide resources to our robust and beloved Alemany Farm community! Whether you’re a total beginner or an old farm hand, we hope you’ll join us for this hour-and-a-half long workshop on best practices for fall and winter gardening here in the Bay Area. First, our farmers will cover everything from what crops to plant and when, to autumn garden maintenance and care. This is a chance to anticipate challenges and game-plan solutions in advance. After we briefly cover the basics, the rest of the workshop will be open for an office-hours-style question and answer session.

Find details and register for the workshop


HEADS UP: Look for more details soon on our upcoming Fall Plant Sale! We will have seasonally-appropriate plants starts available for purchase. (Think broccoli, kale, chard, brussel sprouts, etc., and perhaps a few native and perennial plants.) We’ll be in touch when we have date/time/location and a full plant list set.

If you’re not already on our email list, sign up to receive notices on upcoming events!

Support these Bay Area Food Justice Organizations

Thank you to everyone who has tuned into our first three online webinars in recent weeks – we are grateful for your support. Next up on Saturday, June 13 is Kitchen Herbalism & the Body Electric: Nervous System Support.

In solidarity with Black Lives Matter and in support of racial equity, we hope you will also learn about and support these BIPOC-owned or -led food justice organizations in the Bay Area:

Black Earth Farms • Native Foodways/Cultural Conservancy • Urban Sprouts • Hummingbird Farm/PODER SF • Urban Tilth • Pollinate Farm & Garden • Literacy for Environmental Justice • City Slicker Farms • Acta Non Verba • Planting Justice • Cafe Ohlone

Let’s rededicate ourselves to strengthening and expanding our web of local relationships in order to grow justice.


Plant Sale Fundraiser – June 3, 5, 6

*** Also check out our online event Gardening Justice: A Conversation with Wendy Johnson, coming up on June 7. ***

The Friends of Alemany Farm have some great tomato, eggplant, cucumber, and a few hot pepper starts that we’d love to share with you!  We will have a socially distant plant start stand at 451 Kansas Street #503 in San Francisco on the following days (while supplies last):

Wednesday, June 3, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Friday, June 5, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m
aturday, June 6, 1 – 2 p.m.

We suggest a $5 donation per start – all funds go to supporting Alemany Farm. Cash only(Exact change appreciated.) Please follow social distancing guidelines (enforced at the stand and elsewhere).

451 Kansas Street, #503
(Yellow townhouse at corner of Mariposa and Kansas Streets)
The pickup location will be clearly marked with signs saying “Alemany Farm Plant Start Sale”

Available starts:

Nicks golden yellow super sweet cherry tomato
Sungold cherry tomato
Celebrity Tomato
Climstar Tomato
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomato
Moskavich Tomato
Defiant Tomato
Galahad Tomato

Thai Chili

Orient Express

Lemon cucumber
Pickling Cucumbers (also good eaten fresh)
Diva Cucumber
Salt and Pepper Cucumber


Alemany Farm and Other Gardens In the News

Dear Farm Friends,

Greetings and well wishes from your Friends here at Alemany Farm. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the absolute necessity of local food production – whether in community gardens or backyards – and recently Alemany Farm was featured in the New York Times and Sierra (the national magazine of the Sierra Club). Both items shed light on the good work Alemany Farm and other community gardens nationwide are doing to boost local food sovereignty, feed hungry neighbors and friends, and foster a culture of garden-literacy, rain or shine (or global pandemic). We invite you to check them out:

‘If All the Stores Close, We Need Food’: Community Gardens Adapt to the Pandemic” – New York Times (April 10, 2020)

The Rebirth of the Food Sovereignty Movement” – Sierra (April 15, 2020)

(The article in Sierra, notably, is penned by our very own Friend and long-term volunteer co-manager, Jason Mark, who co-founded Alemany Farm back in 2005.)

Hearty thanks to those of you who’ve reached out recently to offer financial contributions, kind words, and to ask how you can support the farm from your homes! It’s encouraging to see the farm community remain active and engaged even as we all grapple with the prolonged consequences of COVID-19. If you are able, please donate to keep the farm productive in a time of food scarcity.

We look forward to when we can welcome you back to the farm to work and learn together. In the meantime, we’re bringing some of our farm workshops online, starting on May 2 . And we’re sharing a few photos below – evidence that farm work of all kinds continues.

If you’re looking for other ways to help boost food production in your community, you may be interested in the #CoopGardens initiative, a public campaign launched by The Cooperative Gardens Commission, aimed at connecting those with food-growing resources – including seeds, soil, tools, equipment, land, labor, and knowledge – with those who lack such resources. Learn more at

Many thanks for your attentiveness to the natural world and your readiness to share seeds, starts, sweat, and other kinds of support, so that Alemany Farm can continue to nourish neighbors and friends in many ways.

With love and appreciation,

The Farm Team

DONATE to support our work.

Vertical stack of 3 images: two figures hunched over a garden bed (top); a bin of compost (middle); a strawberry plant with a ripe berry (bottom)
Farm work of all kinds goes on, even during a pandemic:
Michiyo and Abby thinning seedlings; compost composting;
a strawberry ripening. Photos by Jack Thomas.

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Farm Photos of the Week

Dear Farm Friends,

Our skeleton crew continues their work to keep Alemany Farm productive during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place. Last week they planted mustard, choi, chard, squash, and bush beans, and harvested the weekly donations for the Alemany Public Housing Food Pantry and the Free Farm Stand.  They found a few moments for some photography, too. Enjoy some spring color:

colorful rainbow chard arranged in a crate
Rainbow chard crated for Friday harvest, April 10. Photo by Jack Thomas.

left: Farm Manager Abby holds a bucket of greens; right: Michiyo pulls a wagon of supplies along a pathway
Abby and Michiyo at work on the farm. Photos by Jack Thomas.

A triptypch of photos featuring blue flowers in bloom.
A trio of spring blues at the farm. Photos by Erik Rotman and Jack Thomas.