Groundbreaking B. Well Farms
In one of our last meetings of 2011, we discussed the prospects of starting a garden at Ida B. Wells high school, just up the road from us on Pierce St. Surely many Alamo Square residents feel acquainted with this school, though never interact with it. It is obviously a different type of school. Some of the students feel too old to be in high school, and as it turns out, many of them are.
Ida. B. Wells is a last resort for students who are after their diploma. It is an alternative school for students ages 16 on—perhaps upwards of 20 years old. Some of them look quite mature. Last year, a former student of the school, Raul Hernandez, suggested that we take over the garden. It was started by a nonprofit called, Urban Sprouts, where he works as a Garden Educator.
After a few meetings with administrators, and under the tutelage of Patrick, our resident farmer/cook, we broke ground today. It is really something up there. If you’re familiar with the lay of the land, or a Bay to Breakers enthusiast, the school is directly across from Alamo Square Park on Hayes. It is likely the highest point on a notably steep hill, in a city full of really steep hills. Looking southward, we can see Twin Peaks, which look like Brazilian favelas with lots of colorful houses embedded in the hillsides.
The weather today was perfect for the beginning of something. It was sunny and clear, warm, but not hot. The garden itself is a four-tiered terrace. The bottom row will be used as a wheelbarrow freeway for hauling stuff. We made space for this today. The next two tiers are where most of the planting will go down. They are two long rows that will hold winter greens to start, and as the weather gets more exciting so will the garden. Potatoes, carrots, squash, cherry tomatoes, beets and herbs will soon call Ida B. Wells home. And we will call our garden, B. Well Farms. Cool, cool!!
Two things to touch on that will inevitably evolve with this farm log. The first is the simple, inexplicable joy of being outside and playing in dirt. Today was hybrid labor. There were pockets of zen, where we squatted while plucking weeds and roots from the earth. We were making room for healthy dirt, where we will plant seeds. This felt like a detox. We moved “gobelygoop” (Patrick’s word) from these rows and packed it into the wheelbarrow. Bricks, stones, glass, plastic, weeds and generally unseemly things were removed from the environment and hauled away. It was impossible not to imagine our own lives in the same context, understanding that renewals come through intentional upheaval and disruption. This was dichotomous work: the zen of plucking and the rigor of shoveling and hauling. Gardening is positively therapeutic.
The second, is obvious, though could easily go without being discussed. It is that this planting is happening at a school of at risk, minority students. The principal briefly peered over the gate to introduce himself and express his gratitude, but had to keep the niceties to a minimum as he ran off to see about some alleged gang-related violence that had spilled from the classrooms. There were only Nopa and Nopalito employees in the garden, and one volunteer intern from Urban Sprouts. We’ve discussed our hopes for the garden becoming a curiosity for these students and that the curiosity is fed by participation. But through all of the wonderful feelings of wholeness and peace and new beginnings, I was not surprised to see that there were no students there. Surely this pessimism only heightens the impediments between students and well-intentioned community members.
There is so much hope in a garden, especially one that shows resilience in the belly of stress. They require commitment and optimism. We do not yet know the ways in which we, or our environment will be affected. But hopefully, these two-sided walls of pessimism will break down as each side begins to see this new life. Stay tuned.