entertainingFood & Drinkoutdoorstudio choowe like it wild

we like it wild: produce to the people

by Grace Bonney

In this week’s feature we’re getting our hands dirty with Lauren Anderson. An artist and gardener, Lauren added CEO to her list of credits this year when she single-handedly founded Produce to the People, a San Francisco non-profit that works to distribute backyard- and community-grown produce to low income individuals and families free of charge. We got a chance to visit her in her sweet little garden where she served us homemade beer and Beet Velvet cupcakes and we chatted on her afghan-outfitted yard furniture (she swears the acrylic tenacity of these granny blankets makes them ideal for outdoor use- they never mildew- and they look so darn good!).

Produce to the People, which often consists of Lauren and any good-natured tree-climbing friends and volunteers she can scrounge up, travels throughout San Francisco harvesting fruits and vegetables from private gardens and gardeners who simply have more apples, plums and oranges than they know what to do with. In a single season a fruit tree can produce 300-400 pounds of fruit. Seriously. Think of all the front yards you’ve passed covered in moldering lemons and squishy plums and thought, “What a waste.” Well, Lauren thought so too and decided to do something about it. Now people can contact Produce to the People to arrange picking parties: PttP comes to your house, harvests your goods, and gives them to hungry people throughout the city.

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post after the jump!

“I was inspired by the amount of produce that can be grown in our tiny little city. It’s amazing that when I’m up in a tree in someone’s backyard, harvesting fruit, I can look down the block and see all the other fruit trees in all the other backyards.  It’s amazing how many there are.”

In an era where everything organic seems to come with a well cultivated price tag, Produce to the People believes that access to quality fruits and vegetables shouldn’t hinge on the fat of your wallet. Locations like the Free Farm Stand in San Francisco’s Mission District are helping to level the playing field by giving away thousands of pounds of produce every year. As well as working with the Free Farm Stand, Produce to the People also makes regular drop-offs to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city.

“I’m inspired predominantly by a belief in food justice and local food security, meaning that I think healthy food should be a right rather than a privilege, and that a sustainable way to work towards that is to grow it as close to where it will be consumed as possible.”

Produce to the People requires the produce they harvest has not come into contact with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. One of the beautiful things about fruit grown on trees is that contaminants in the soil aren’t taken up in the body of the fruit, so even low quality soil can produce perfectly delicious and healthy fruit because the tree’s own filtering system doesn’t allow toxins to reach the fruit. Thanks to San Francisco’s mild climate Lauren and her crew can collect fruit year round: loquats in the Spring, plums in the Summer, apples in Fall, and citrus fruit in Winter.

Lauren’s own garden lives behind an unassuming house on Anderson Street, appropriately, in sunny Bernal Heights. The same house serves host to her other artistic endeavors including The Spare Room Project, which she and her housemates organize each month. Although only about 15 feet by 20 feet Lauren has managed to fit a smorgasbord of leafy greens in this little rectangle, as well as a hot tub turned greenhouse, several fruit trees, herbs, a gray-water watering system, and a full-size compost bin. She’s got room for flowers too, but prefers the kind you can put on salads and cupcakes. This garden proves that just because you live in a dense city doesn’t mean you have to compromise your agrarian dreams.

Here are Lauren’s urban gardening tips:

If you’re interested in starting your own edible garden you should start by growing leafy greens, like chard or lettuce. Leafy greens are easy to grow and maintain: just pull off the outer leaves every once in awhile for a salad and you’re done with your pruning, and they grow super fast.
Start a worm bin!  It’s difficult to get the volume you need for a full on aerobic compost pile on a countertop, but you fit a worm bin under your sink.  It’s easy to make and maintain, and very inexpensive. Make friends with a backyard gardener or a community garden with a worm bin and they should have extra worms you can scoop out.  Here is a great how to video that explains the whole process by the Enviromentals.

Don’t have access to your own piece of dirt? Check out your community garden. Working at a community garden gives you space to stretch out, more opportunities to learn, and a community of new friends and neighbors.  Most cities have gardens where you can reserve a plot, but Lauren especially likes community gardens where everyone works together on all the land and everyone that helps gets to share in the bounty, which means you get to harvest up your own fresh fruits and vegetables every week.


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  • This is such a wonderful idea–makes me want to start something similar in my neck of the woods!

    p.s. the click here after the jump link doesn’t work.

  • That’s a great idea! Tomatos are overflowing around here- everyone is looking to give them away. It would be so nice to have someone arrive to take them where they are really needed.

  • Such a wonderful and inspiring idea. I feel the same way about everyone having access to healthy food, thanks for sharing your story, now we need to expand on this idea to other cities!

  • YES! Food justice! Everything about this post is completely inspiring.

    Thank you so much, Lauren, for being a source of good in the world, and Grace, for writing this and generally doing your thing so fabulously.

  • Great post and great work! There’s a similar organization in my city called the Vancouver Fruit Tree project: http://www.vcn.bc.ca/fruit/ The harvested fruit goes to seniors’ centres, daycares, and neighbourhood houses. They rescue thousands of pounds of food each season- almost entirely on volunteer labour.

  • Those woven hanging pots are amazing! Can we have some kind of info on where to find and/or how to DIY?

  • Wonderful idea. There are a group of Sustainable (enter neighborhood name here) groups in Seattle that do something similar. This should be replicated elsewhere. Hats off to you, Lauren and d*s for covering it.

  • Produce To The People is such an amazingly great idea! And beet velvet cupcakes are a long overdue idea. I can never stomach the notion of a red velvet cupcake loaded with food coloring, so a beet version sounds like just the ticket.

  • Great story you guys! What a wonderful way to give back to the community, share and nurture one another.

  • I love a farmers market. Those beet cupcakes look delicious! I had a raised garden bed built last year. I’m still really intimidated by it. I grew lettuce and summer squash, but squirrels ate all of my fall plantings. I’m going to try planting again now that the squirrels have left.

  • I had this very idea and was so encouraged to see it in action in some more progressive cities, like Seattle and San Fran. Don’t be surprised if you get an email from me soon. I’d like to pick your brains and then pick some fruit ;)

  • Thanks so much to everyone for your gracious and supportive comments! I got a few notes that the PttP website wasn’t accessible (perhaps the Mercury retrograde hasn’t passed!?), but the server is back up now in case you were interested. Anyone who mentioned wanting to start similar projects in their area, feel free to get ahold of me! I had a lot of help getting started from Urban Youth Harvest in Oakland and Garden for the Environment in SF (thanks Annie and Suzi!), and am happy to pass along anything I’ve learned in the process, especially if it helps get more harvests and gardens going and gets healthy, local food to more folks who need it.
    And Safieh, Yes! I will put together a DIY tutorial for the crochet plant holders, they are quite simple. I’m hoping to work with the Studio Choo ladies on that too, but I also try to keep up with a blog where you can find some of my homemade things as well. You should be able to get there via my name next to this comment if you’re interested.
    Thanks again friends, and much love!

  • What a bloody brilliant idea! It’s shocking how much goes to waste when so many are in need. Thank you for sharing something so inspiring. I have an organic farm and have thought of doing something like this..now I’m motivated!

  • Love this. Really good to see this is action. It doesn’t happen much in the UK but it’s growing! Hopefully it’ll become more mainstream soon.

  • What about helping needy people plant
    and grow in their own yards, where they have them so that, when possible, they can also become more self-sufficient?!

  • Brilliant and overdue! Our family has been supporting organic farmers for years, but I always felt guilty that my single mom friends could never afford that luxury. This has inspired me to start a movement in Ontario. Merci!

  • Yes, support your small, local, organic farmers when you can, they are fighting the good fight in an all but crushing commercial food industry.
    Luanne, yes! Great idea! In San Francisco there is an amazing project called SF Victory Gardens that is organized by artist Amy Franceschini and Garden for the Environment, doing exactly that, and another one in Oakland organized by City Slicker Farms. Over here at Produce to the People, in the upcoming year, we are working on securing public land for inclusive community and youth based food production gardens that help teach and involve people in the act of growing their own food and sharing the harvest, while simultaneously just provide safe space for people to go. It is my hope that one day these gardens will be able to provide jobs as garden stewards to people in our community with barriers to employment, but currently we are just getting started. But yes, great idea, put it in to action!