Wednesday, July 30, 2008
If you've been to San Francisco in the last 5 years, chances are good that you've been to the Mission District. Over the past 10 years the Sunny Mission district has undergone huge changes that have made it a burgeoning hot spot for city tourists and locals alike. The Mission is increasingly becoming the freshest reference point for popular and alternative youth culture, music, art, and cuisine. And, with the growth of the district in full effect, some of the cornerstone businesses responsible for that growth are starting to ask "how do we do this consciously"? After all, in an age where energy and resources are at a premium, these questions are becoming not only imperative to ask, but also imperative to answer. Amyitis gardens are a response that we came up with to start to think outside of the box truck.
The ideas of city farming and urban gardening for a restaurants are by no means new ideas. It is not uncommon for high-end food establishments to source locally or even from there own gardens. Urban restaurant gardens are sprouting up here in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland as well as places like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The High-end pioneers of this gardening movement have created a necessary awareness of the need for this type of food reform but the next frontier is making it accessible and affordable for owners and patrons alike. In cities, clean gardening space that can produce enough for a restaurant is often at a premium. Amyitis is being created from the lucky confluence of the ability, space, and resources to make something like this happen and, with any luck, make it affordable.
Owners of Boogaloos Restaurant (22ND and Valencia) Phillip Bellber and Carolyn Blair entrusted the use of the back yard one of their residential properties for the creation of Amyitis to me (David Stockhausen) and my partner Jessie Alberts. In cooperation with the buildings tenants, the relatively unused back yard space underwent the 1st phase of transformation to becoming a food producing garden. After having the dry lifeless soil tested for harmful pathogens or heavy metals we began rehabbing the soil and drawing up a plan. We first had to remove a lot of volunteer blackberries and Bermuda grass from the yard. The tenants had already removed a dead tree from the center of the yard and a days work from Phillip's son Sam got a lot of the bulk of the weeds out. Once a lot of the weeds and invasive grasses had been extracted we the had to break up the hard packed soil with a pick axe and hoe before we brought in the roto-tiller. Next (sorry neighbors for the smell) we brought in a couple yards of loam and blood meal fertilizer to begin to bring life to the soil.
It was a bit late by the time we had found out about the space. I had been talking at the restaurant about my background as an organic farmer in Vermont ad-nauseum for the past year and a half after I moved to San Francisco. Unaware that Phillip and Carolyn had the space, I would often push for us at Boogaloos to get a little greener and source things more consciously. One day late in May of 2008 A bell went off for Phillip I suppose, and he offered me the space. Jessie having been a farmer herself (and now working across the street in a neighboring cafe) I naturally insisted upon her involvement with the project. Phillip's excitement and enthusiasm was welcomed and was the right push to get us moving right away. With the peak growing season in California midway through already, starting a garden this late in the season considerably limited the variety what we ideally wanted to plant. We decided to stick to small baby greens such as baby salad, arugula, radish, kale and chard and some yellow squash, haricot beans, and specialty scallions for a start. Leafy greens are a good way to get started. They grow relatively quickly and produce a lot because you don't have to harvest the whole plant. With successive plantings we speculated we could get a consistent flow of good greens throughout the fall and winter seasons here in San Francisco. With seeds ordered it was time to start building beds.