In September it looked as if the Free Farm Stand was going to be shut down. Dennis “Tree” Rubinstein, who launched it in 2008, said the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department had received two complaints. The stand had to go.
It was a radical idea anyway. Every Sunday, people converged on the Treat Commons Community Garden, at the corner of 23rd St. and Treat Ave. in San Francisco’s Mission District. Gardeners with produce and flowers to share showed up with their bounty. Anyone could drop by for free food, gardening tips and community connections.
Tree didn’t see it as a giveaway so much as an exchange. He figured we need to see each other as family. We wouldn’t charge our family for food. We would share it.
He applied for a permit in 2008, but when he heard nothing, Tree went ahead and started sharing food. The city likely saw no reason to crack down until someone complained. That’s the way those things usually go. Some bylaw infractions can just be ignored, but if someone files a nuisance complaint, the city has to respond.
That’s what happened to the Free Farm Stand. Four people complained, one by phone, three via e-mail. A neighborhood news site, Mission Local, reported that “one of the complaints was from parents who were concerned that the crowd waiting in line for the stand had disrupted a children’s birthday party at the rented clubhouse.”
Sounds like a case of concern over Those People. The community rallied in support and more than 6,000 people signed the Care2 petition to save the free food stand. Now Parks and Rec has issued a six-month permit and offered to help the stand obtain a health permit from the Department of Public Health.
Times are tough, and the numbers are up. Tree has had to initiate a ticket system to handle the more than 200 people who show up every Sunday.
So for now the Free Farm Stand is safe, though there is a possibility a church will buy the land the stand is on in order to build affordable housing.
Whatever happens in the future, Tree will keep living by his vision:
If we move towards a society more focused on the common good perhaps we will see the day where city parks are growing food for hungry neighbors who are in need, where more truly affordable housing is built (equivalent to section 8 housing) to shelter the record numbers of families and homeless on the streets or sleeping on couches or cars, where health care is available to all, and where education is a top priority also. Not to mention a day when cities will have more open space, more trees, and less cars, and the environment and nature will be on an up turn. I think the time is now for us to either sink or swing.