Monday, May 19, 2008

Bike Ride: Success!

So, a big thanks to all the people that came out for the bike ride on Sunday, May 18th, and the speakers that addressed us on the ride!

We had about 45 people or so, throughout the ride, and those who stayed the whole time did a good run of about 10 miles (thanks Lori for odometer-ing)!

FYI: if you ever organize any events and suggest RSVPing, expect that half of the RSVPs won't show, and that just as many will show up without having RSVP'd. And know that, in the end, it's all good anyway!

Our route took us from the lovely meeting place of the 16th and Mission BART plaza to an anonymous produce stand on 16th, to discuss the complexities of localism vs importation of food, along with the difficulties of promoting "good food" to working people, when (for example) an organic tomato costs 5 times as much as one from your local produce stand down the street.

Next we visited 20th and Alabama, the old warehouse site of the "People's Food System". The People's Food System came out of self-organized buying clubs of the early 70s, where communes, collectives, and families got together to buy local foods in bulk and distribute them cheaply among their communities. This evolved into various collectives, like the Red Star Cheese collective, the Peoples Honey Sandwich Childcare collective, and the Veritable Vegetable Women's Produce collective. At the stop, Diamond Dave Whittaker, an old-school Digger (true claim to fame: he turned Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan on to marijuana for the first time!) and member of the "food conspiracy" as it was called originally, illustrated for us the zeitgeist of the day and how the People's Food System collapsed, taken over by gang factions and possible government COINTELPRO intervention.

At that stop we also passed around issues of TURNOVER magazine, the publication of the People's Food System, generously borrowed to me from Pam Pierce, who will likely be featured in the first segment of In Search of Good Food. Pam has a long history of involvement in the good food movement in the Bay Area, starting from her editing of TURNOVER to her co-founding of the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, to her current positions as horticulture teacher at City College and columnist for the Chronicle's home and garden section. A large part of the first segment will be dedicated to the history of the People's Food System and what it accomplished.

Next we visited Project Artaud, an artist live/work space that was once a canning-machine manufacturing plant (i.e. the building housed machines which made machines to can foods for WWII efforts). We heard a little about the space's history and its inception during the same time as the People's Food System. Unfortunately, we didn't have the right key to enter the theater, where historic photos of its can machine manufacturing days are framed. This photo might be one of them, but I'm not positive.

The next stop was 23rd and Bryant, at the Million Fishes artist collective, where a new project, the Access Cafe, was holding its first event. Here is the description of their efforts, take from their myspace page:

AccessCafe is an all-volunteer, nomadic restaurant that serves food on a donation and participation basis. We aspire to make healthy food and social space accessible to all.

Our goal is community outreach — to cultivate connections between the diverse populations that live within San Francisco’s Mission District. Further, AccessCafe aims to educate populations about affordable, nutritious, plant-based food. We seek to bolster wellness in people, relationships and communities by creating an atmosphere of nourishment, sharing and trust.

We offer community members the opportunity to prepare and facilitate AccessCafe, whether they assist promotions or solicit donations, whether they prepare tamales or arrange flowers. These are examples of non-monetary contributions. For those who wish to offer payment, AccessCafe does not have fixed menu prices. Instead, patrons pay what they believe the dining experience was worth. Larger contributions will help cover smaller contributions.

After the unexpected bonus of snacking on some delicious heated (and, we were told, dumpstered) bread, we headed to 23rd and Treat, where Tree, another old school San Franciscan, has started a weekly Free Farm Stand. At the stand, Tree gives away food that he and other local gardeners have grown, as well as starts for people who would like to garden. And smiles, of course.

Next snack break was perfectly planned to be Mission Pie, at 25th and Mission. Co-founder Karen Heisler explained how the project was started, its mission, its struggles (like the fact that the youth they started the project with--students from Mission High School--haven't wanted to leave their jobs at the shop, so they're having a hard time finding new employment for new students...I joke because this is more a success than a problem!) and we all left sated by strawberry rhubarb and a sense that we were contributing to something wonderful, all by buying a slice of divine pie!

Veritable Vegetable, close to Cesar Chavez and 3rd streets, was one of the few businesses that evolved out of the People's Food System and managed to survive the fallout. The others are Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues Food Co-op. Bu Nygrens, who has worked for VV for 25 years and was one of our interviewees for the movie, gave us a tour of the facilities, talked about the role of values-driven distribution in the sustainable food system, and hooked up some really great, California-grown blueberries!

On the way to our final stop, the Alemany Farm, we noted the produce distribution district on Jerrold Ave, and the Alemany Farmer's Market, the oldest farmer's market in the city. Of course, the last leg, around Alemany toward the west, was the most difficult, with a gnarly wind and speeding motorists. But we made it! After I gave an intro to the farm, most people started heading out, not having expected the cold and fog after so many days of unbelievable hot weather.

Thanks again to everyone for participating! And remember, if you couldn't donate money on the ride, feel free to use the widget on this blog, or get in contact with me if you have some non-monetary help! Wear a helmet!


Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for planning such a great and detailed ride! I live & work in the Mission and didn't even know about the Free Farm Stand...
I'm the one who mentioned the anti-capitalist noir film "Thieves Highway"; at the very least you'll find the scenes filmed in the old produce market and Altamont Pass entertaining.

Antonio said...

Well, believe it or not, I rented it that night! And it was one of the most interesting fictional movies I've seen in a long time!

I'm not sure if I would categorize it as "anti-capitalist", but at the very least it doesn't hold a high view of down-low dealers in the cut-throat produce industry!

So thanks for coming AND the movie recommendation!