We all know location, location, location is the most important factor to consider in buying a home. Finding the best location is not as easy as one may think in San Francisco. Here there are ever-changing micro-neighborhoods, microclimates ranging from
fog to sunshine, Muni, BART, corporate bus stops, construction, and serious traffic. Add this to what has been skyrocketing home prices, and every nuance of a location is important to consider.
Being near a park is always a plus, and a well-known park like Dolores Park has become a destination similar to the Haight Ashbury in the 1960s. Some outdoor spaces that you may not know about are the more than 100 community gardens throughout the city. Some are private and others are public community gardens; 38 gardens are on park property (one of these is on Russian Hill), many others are on San Francisco Unified School District property, two on Treasure Island, five at the Presidio, and one at Fort Mason on the hill behind the administration building. Some gardens are part of senior centers and other gardens serve specific communities. The day-to-day workings of the gardens are run by volunteers.
When I moved to the north side of town, I immediately signed up for the wait list at the Fort Mason Community Garden. Talking to a gardener, I found it would take years for me to rise to the top of the list. I figured time would pass no matter what, and someday I would get a plot. It took seven years and eight months before my number came up. Yes, that is a long time, but the wait was worth it!
Once I was assigned my plot, I felt a combination of excitement, joy, and disbelief. I had always had a garden before moving to Green Street and had not realized how important gardening and being close to the earth was to me. A few months ago, I would not have imagined I would be growing kale to add to my morning protein drink. I am happy to have the opportunity to share my newfound hobby with you.
Community gardens are not just for the gardeners. The Fort Mason Community Garden is especially interesting because it attracts many species of local and migrating birds. The Audubon Society occasionally hosts bird-watching mornings both in the garden and around Fort Mason. Regularly, I see individual bird watchers with cameras and binoculars pointed to the trees. Young families are a part of the greater garden community. I often see parents with young children walking through the garden, talking about how the food we eat grows.
The Fort Mason garden is surprisingly warm and sunny. There are many regular garden visitors who stop for lunch or to sit and enjoy the garden and view. One man told me he had been coming to the gardens for over 20 years. I asked him why he didn’t sign up on the wait list to become a member. He laughed and said he loved relaxing in the garden and watching other people work. He had no interest in gardening himself. There are enjoyable experiences to be had for everyone in a community garden.
One of the first questions people ask when they see a garden is how they can get a plot. For many community gardens, it is possible to sign up for the wait list online. Fortunately, the Recreation and Park Department has a free mobile Urban Agriculture Center that meets in a different city garden each month. As of the writing of this article, the 2017 schedule is not yet available. Please check the Urban Agriculture website for information: sfrecpark.org/park-improvements/urban-agriculture-program-citywide/urban-agriculture-resource-centers. You can find out everything you need to know about community gardens at a monthly mobile center.
Materials on-site are available to any gardener in San Francisco to help green and beautify the city. The resource center serves all levels of urban agriculture (backyard gardener, community gardener, or urban farmer). There is information available on educational opportunities and how to take advantage of existing informal and formal garden programs.
The next question I am asked is the cost to be a member of a community garden. Some gardens are free to members, other have small monthly or yearly fees, and many gardens have members who make financial donations to cover the cost of operating the garden. Joey Kahn, the public relations person for Rec and Park, told me “The budget for community gardens and Urban Ag Program is about $350,000, but can fluctuate from year to year. The money goes toward staff, repair, and maintenance of community gardens within the Community Gardens Program.” Joey also said “Just last year, our Urban Agriculture Program donated over 11,000 plants to gardeners in every zip code in San Francisco. As a department, we are continuing to provide the infrastructure, resources, and support for the public to steward and activate our open spaces with urban agriculture.”
In my short time as a community garden member, I have learned the success of a garden is based on the willingness of its members to both open their pocketbooks with financial contributions and to give their time to work on community garden areas and maintenance projects. A gardener’s work is never done and is always more pleasurable with like-minded friends.
Returning to the idea of choosing the best possible location to buy a home, I strongly recommend if you have any interest in gardening, when you investigate a neighborhood, look for a community garden in the area. Even if the wait list is long, you can volunteer to work on community projects and get to know the members. Many of these people have been gardening for years and will be a valuable resource in your future.
Fort Mason Community Garden makes plots available to local community groups and schools. If your group is interested in having a plot, please contact FMCG via the “Contact Us” page at fortmasoncommunitygarden.org. If you have other questions about the FMCG or other community gardens, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to meeting other enthusiastic gardeners.