Monday, August 5, 2013

Bayview's new homestead

When Cheryl Hendrickson (pictured with husband, David) comes home from her job working with youth caught in the juvenile justice system, she is far from done for the day.  Such is the dual and very busy life of an urban homesteader.

Where a neighbor might have a grill and lawn chairs, Cheryl's yard boasts a dozen raised beds in various stages of vegetable production, a sagging barn, trees dropping fruit, squabbling chickens and bee hives vibrating with activity.

When Patrick Rhodes and I caught up with Cheryl and David at their home in the heart of San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood, the abundance of their lives was obvious. Their days are full, not just with chores, but with the ongoing, creative process of connecting to the place they live and the people they live near.  They call it Abundance Homestead Farm, which is as much a lifestyle as a place.

The farm, in its current incarnation, has been coming together for over a year.  Yet it has a sense of timelessness about it.  That may be because the homesteaders are, in part, tending their family history in Bayview, and building on the neighborhood's history as the City's food shed.

The farm occupies a double city lot that Cheryl's grandfather acquired decades ago as he grew a family from immigrant Italian roots.  On one side, foundation remnants from an old house hug a collection of planting beds.  

More recently, the family purchased another house just beyond the Hendrickson's home, where Cheryl's mom, Rev. Nina Pickerrell, lives.  Rev. Pickerrell still guides the long-running Bayview Mission which operates a food pantry and other targeted services for locals in need.  Bayview Mission is part of the ministry of Grace Cathedral, and is supported by The Episcopal Diocese of California and nearby parish St. Gregory of Nyssa. See more

Inside the Hendrickson's house, Cheryl and David's infant daughter could be heard fussing occasionally while, outside, a half dozen hens scratched the dirt for attention.  A volunteer from their church laid donated bars of soap in the sun near bunches of harvested lavender as he prepared to make a new product.

"That's a fun project," Cheryl said, pointing at the soap being re-purposed for sale.  "We're always trying to find new ways to raise money."

While Cheryl is grateful for the help she gets from her church, from random volunteers and from volunteer groups that she organizes, she remains surprised by how little support is available for efforts like Abundance Homestead Farm.  

We commiserated about that, and piled stories of failed funding proposals and broken promises on top of one another.

"Everyone says we are doing the work that the community needs done," Cheryl said. "And we feel great about the youth education and general volunteer organizing we do as part of our mission.  But someone has to manage it all."

While Bayview Mission receives an annual operating budget, the farm struggles for financial survival.  Canning preserves and jarring honey for sale is just the most recent experiment in financial sustainability.  See more

"You always hear about how much money is coming through Bayview," Cheryl said.  "I haven't seen any of it.  And when someone who works for a city department or a foundation says they want to help, it usually means they want us to help them with some project of theirs."

I told Cheryl that, with some treasured exceptions, our experience at Quesada Gardens has been eerily similar.  There is so much emphasis on the need for grassroots environmentalism, locally-grown food, and community involvement in the transformation of neighborhoods like Bayview that visitors sometimes think we must be getting paid salaries with benefits to do what we do.

Instead, Quesada Gardens is shrinking while, a few blocks away, Abundance Farms struggles.  

Surely the long line of gardeners we hear are looking for places to raise food as part of San Francisco's booming community gardening movement will eventually discover high profile projects like ours.  But, so far, raised beds and even whole gardens that community groups have built go fallow for lack of gardeners and lack of financial support directed to the groups doing the work.

"We're about to try something new," Cheryl said.  "We're putting the word out that we want to start a food co-op to see if a few gardeners will commit to working the mini-homestead in exchange for food they raise." 

All Cheryl asks is that each gardener live in Bayview and donate three hours of work a month.  She hopes co-op members will also share in monthly potluck dinners. Email Cheryl for more information.

Glancing at the vibrant, demanding "life" growing next to her home, Cheryl told us that she isn't about to quit her day job.  At the same time, the homestead will continue in one form or another.

"This is just who we are," she said.

David surveys the scene beneath one of the farm's many fruiting trees.
Patrick checks out a lettuce bed.

Artful and crafty detail is tucked away everywhere.
Hens mix it up with visitors.
Reuse of materials and objects is incorporated throughout the farm.

Homesteads need lots of busy bees ... so does honey production.
Raised beds are ordered along the side of the property, with children's play space and chicken coop beyond.
Cheryl pinches leaves from the underside of plants for the chickens ... so the girls will leave the rest of the plants alone.
Random donations over time have included colorful objects to delight visiting children.
Several inviting sitting areas seem to say "Sit for a spell."

Photos and text by Jeffrey Betcher.  Jeffrey is a Bayview resident who organizes the Quesada Gardens Initiative's community building work.

No comments: