Urban farm event at SOTA

Heidi Kooy milking Lucy. Photo by Murray Schneider

By Murray Schneider

“She’s having a big milking tantrum,” said Heidi Kooy, as she milked Lucy, her two-year old, 65-pound goat, at the inaugural Root to Fruits event billed as San Francisco’s “First Fruit Tasting and Urban Orchard Cultural Fair.”

The School of the Arts’ School Farm on Portola Avenue, which partners with the Ecology Center of San Francisco, hosted the all-day event on July 23, a sort of Renaissance Fair sans Elizabeth I. Weekend urban farmers attended fresh air workshops, classes and tutorials throughout the day.

Lucy’s goat mate, Ethel, attended, too.

Going through her terrible twos, balky Lucy found herself thrust through a stanchion or milk stand, an apparatus that looked more like it would be at home in the Bastille than in a schoolyard. A Fair-goer, enlisted into grabbing Lucy’s hind legs, held her hooves while Kooy obtained warm milk from her.

All in the service of tutoring Kooy’s neighbors in the art and craft of milking goats and making cheese in their very own backyards. Kooy stood up and moved around Lucy, wide-eyed children and parents hanging on her every tug, if not her every word.

“I’m doing this from the wrong side,” Kooy conceded. She repositioned herself on her stool, and resumed milking Lucy, acting every bit like her namesake, Lucy Ricardo.

Kooy, an Excelsior District resident who was trained as an anthropologist, milks Lucy and Ethel once a day, she explained, extracting a quart from each at every sitting.

One of many “classroom” presenters, Kooy calls herself a “skill sharer.” She came to School Farm with the goal of elucidating a facet of urban homesteading. Glen Park beekeeper Karen Peteros joined her and talked about urban fruit tree pollination. Lisa Ruth Elliot demonstrated artisan bread baking, Lindsey Goldberg explained how to make children friendly fruit pies, and Mat Rodgers demonstrated farmhouse canning with whole fruit.

“Does Lucy cost a lot?” asked a little girl.

“How large is your piggy bank?” replied Kooy, as she looked over Lucy’s shoulder, continuing to pump milk from the lactating nanny.

Kooy fielded other questions. She explained that goats are browsers, will eat almost any weed or shrub not nailed down and can cost up to several hundred dollars. She noted that the legal limit for keeping goats in San Francisco is two, but you’d better have adequate fencing because goats are both adventuresome and frisky.

“Goats are curious,” she said, “like a cross between a cat and a dog.”

Someone asked about goat dispositions.

“They can be obedient,” she smiled ironically, as she rubbed the rump of her recalcitrant ruminant. “My neighbor says Lucy and Ethel either wake him up or comfort him.”

No one mustered up the courage to ask if Kooy came from the Swiss Alps and had a doting grandfather. She looked around, holding up a mason jar now almost filled with Lucy’s fresh bounty. “Anyone want to try some?

She unfettered her doe.

Devora Deutsch, an Israeli visiting her daughter, Danielle, and her six-month old grandson, Asher, both of whom live in the Inner Sunset, took the offered jar. “Yummy,” the Haifa resident said, taking a sip. “Just like I remember from the kibbutz.”

Behind Kooy, adjacent to SOTA’s football field, Glen Park baker Joe Schuver kneaded another kind of dough.

Schuver, the owner of Destination Bakery, fresh from judging Fourth of July confections at the Laidley Street Independence Day parade, demonstrated how to mold galettes, a free form rustic tart. He kneaded his pastry dough in front of a wood-fired adobe oven, constructed from clay, sand, and straw brick.

Destination Bakery's Joe Schuver and his class.

His hands spackled with flour, he scooped up a sheet of tartlets and shoveled it into the oven, which looked somewhat like a cross between an earthen beehive and a Hopi kiva. A sweet-toothed acolyte scribbled notes on her Mead writing tablet while Schuver closed the oven door and rubbed his powdery hands together.

“This project is close to SOTA kids,” he said, “It’s hands-on and it shows students where food comes from, as opposed to it simply being unwrapped.”

Schuver and ECOSF aren’t strangers, as Chenery Street’s baker occasionally participates in ESCOF’s Bakers Alley 11- 5 P.M. monthly workshops.

“That’s Bakers, not Baker’s,” said Davin Wentworth, ESCOF spokesperson. While he spoke, he wrestled with a chicken coop wall not too far from where Schuver had earlier pummeled his dessert rolls.

The distinction is not insignificant to Wentworth, a San Francisco State University campus grounds manager, who works on Holloway Avenue campus construction projects that ensure biodiversity through native habitat landscaping.

Beginning in an alley in the Outer Sunset, Bakers Alley is about comity, Wentworth emphasized, his power tool almost drowning out his voice. Only a few yards away, an audience, sitting on benches, was still capable of hearing Laura Allen deliver a presentation on how gray water, such as dish, shower and laundry water, can be reused to water plants and shrubs.

“This is good economics,” said Allen, the author of the 2011 San Francisco Water Design Manual for Outdoor Irrigation. “We save money as individuals and energy as a society.” Wentworth lay down a piece of three-quarter inch plywood, speaking to a small group about Bakers Alley.

“Skill sharing” he summed up, “helps residents turn weedy wastelands into sustainable gardens.”

He tabled his hand-held saw and surveyed School Garden, his 501(c) 3 non-profit partner that helps to ensure that San Francisco Unified School districts pre-kindergarten’s 3,500 underserved children in its Childhood Development Centers become the beneficiaries of its student grown, vitamin-rich produce.

He gestured to rows of leafy green vegetables lying in tandem next to SOTA’s all- weather track.             “Eighty to 100 pounds of lettuce, kale and spinach come from here,” he said.

ECOSF, through the conduit of Bakers Alley, which convenes at SOTA on the last weekend of each month, has partnered with Jefferson, West Portal, Monroe and Brett Harte elementary schools, delivering workshops highlighting how to forage and grow your own food and the many ways to preserve it, such as drying, canning, fermenting and pickling.

“We’re making contributions,” Wentworth said, “going from backyards to school yards.”

Taking a Saturday field trip, Ellen Yoshitsugu, a schoolteacher, stood within earshot of Wentworth. “I’m here today,” said Yoshitsugu, who teaches at Balboa High School in its Wilderness Arts Literacy Collaborative (WALC), “because I’m curious about what can be done with school yards.”

Yoshitsugu’s wilderness program enrolls 75 junior and senior students interested in greening their environment. “Each senior contributes a ‘legacy project’ that leaves one institutional change,” said Yoshitsugu. “Bringing salads to the cafeteria and recycling programs, for example.”

Before introducing keynoter Pam Peirce to a Fair outdoor classroom, Tara Hui, from Roots to Fruits, introduced ECOSF’s Booka Alon and Tori Jacobs. “Roots to Fruits,” Hui said, “is about having a healthy relationship with back yard fruit trees.”

Booka Alon, an urban farmer and Potrero Hill Live Oak elementary school teacher, echoed Hui, telling the audience: “It’s about adopting trees, planting them and harvesting fruit in San Francisco’s climates.”

Peirce, a City College of San Francisco horticulture teacher, best-selling author of Golden Gate Gardening and the San Francisco Chronicle “Golden Gate Gardener” columnist, spent the next thirty minutes speaking to the assembled organic gardeners about how the City’s microclimates offer unique botanizing opportunities.

In 1831 aristocrat Alexis de Touqueville visited the United States, returned home to France and penned Democracy in America (1835). One hundred and eighty years later his observation that Americans had a “talent for association,” wasn’t lost on Tori Jacobs.

“This is all about assisting one another,” said Jacobs, who lives on a Half Moon Bay ranch and raises 80 laying hens. “It’s about working together, having a willingness to share and make things happen.”

Across the hay-strewn field, Bill Grimes, representing the California Rare Fruit Growers, the sort of voluntary group de Touqueville believed so distinctively American, stood behind the most current editions of CRFG magazine, Fruit Gardener. Grimes had displayed stone fruits, plums, peaches and apricots next to the periodicals. A Fair goer walked by, picked up a toothpick and impaled a sliced plum. “We’re interested in growing new fruit,” Grimes said. “Rare fruit you can’t get in the market.”

An elderly man approached Grimes and pointed to a promontory across O’Shaughnessy Boulevard. Miraloma Park homes circled the steep precipice. “I have two apple trees in my backyard,” he said. “Both trees produce tart apples.”

Grimes questioned him, but the homeowner had no idea of the variety of apples.

“Try Hudson Golden Gems,” Grimes said, handing the man a copy of Fruit Gardener. “Look up scion exchanges. You can take cuttings and graft one variety onto another.”

Heidi Kooy walked past a pyramid of Karen Peteros’ honey jars, stacked geometrically on a table attended by Janelle Fitzpatrick, representing Hayes Valley Farm at Octavia and Hayes Streets. Kooy had earlier returned Lucy and Ethel to their pen and was preparing to teach a 1:30 P.M. workshop on the basics of keeping chickens in city backyards.

Tori Jacobs strolled to the outdoor classroom. A man who’d sat in on her earlier goat-milking workshop wandered over, studying his Roots to Fruit schedule, which included brief participant biographies. “Does raising hens put food on the table?” he joshed Jacobs.

The day nearly completed, the HMB chicken farmer smiled. “A little bread but no butter.”

The fog that had earlier blanketed the Sutro Tower had long dissipated. Joe Schuver packed up his spatula and rolling pins. Heidi Kooy prodded Lucy and Ethel into her vehicle and Davin Wentworth stored his tools.

Workshop attendees drifted away one by one, family by family. They walked across a gridiron that hadn’t been used since McAteer High School evolved into SOTA and prep football was discontinued. In its place now stood rows and rows School Farm produce ready to be harvested. Parents and children carried away jars of honey, literature about herbal medicines, rain barrel recycling, native plants, irrigation and drip systems and how to build worm bins.

They carried away memories of a goat being milked, bread being baked, and water being conserved, and possibly even one or two recalled Herodotus saying, “All men’s gains are the fruits of venturing.”
Anyone interested in Urban Homesteading can find more information at roots-to-fruits.com and eco-sf.org.

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