Category Archives: Field Trips

Goldman Environmental Awards!

Hello Everyone.  It’s been quite a while since the last CitySown post, so let me get you updated.  In the past two weeks I’ve: started working for Planting Justice doing permaculture design and implementation, been to New York City and back, watched a fruiting banana plant in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, picked up some oca and mashua roots, planted a few dozen trees, ordered 12 bee hives, sold 60 pounds of honey…. Spring time is definitely here.  And it’s about to thunderstorm in Oakland.  Crazy.

I was fortunate to attend the Goldman Environmental Awards at the San Fransisco Opera House this evening.  The Goldman Foundation selects six incredible grass roots environmental heroes to honor each year from each of the six habitable continents.  Watching the planet earth style short video segments that introduce the awards ceremony, I found myself in an odd critical state of mind.  Why spend all this money on a ceremony.  Why all the pomp and circumstance.  Why the big show….  Then when the show actually started I was absolutely blown away…  mostly by one individual.

Humberto Ríos Labrada

Humberto Ríos Labrada has worked tirelessly in Cuba to diversify crop usage.  A graduate student while the Soviet Block was disintegrating, he recognized that indigenous farming knowledge could be promulgated and enhanced to counter growing trends in sugar cane monocropping.  After the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba partitioned small blocks of land to farming collectives.  Labrada pioneered “seed fairs” or seed swaps to encourage farmers to share knowledge and diversify their seed usage.  It’s working.  50,000 farmers are now involved in Labrada’s agricultural biodiversity work.  Check out this video for more information on this inspiring human being.

Labrada gave a passionate speech, with my favorite quote of the night: “Agriculture…. is art.”  I think it’s important to remember that designing productive spaces is a creative art form, not a rigid calculation.  Thanks Labrada.  Congrats.



Filed under Field Trips, Permaculture, Projects, Resources

Underground Food

The SF Underground Farmers Market :

Wow…  Over a thousand people visited the market last month.  On my left: Boris was selling homemade Demi-Glaze on my right: Treat Street Granola.  Over forty vendors from the Bay Area, ranging from wild boar buns to sourdough bread, the warehouse was packed with food producers and food lovers.  A close friend in Colorado is starting a Denver/Boulder version of the West Coast phenomenon, hopefully this kind of experience will spread East.  It has been especially encouraging to see how many new vendors sprout up at each new market.  Check out these pictures from the market and then start one in your city:

Raw Oakland Honey

The market is set up as a food club where patrons can “donate” cash for food items.  Finding a legitimate farmers market spot is no spring chicken.  Most Farmers markets require commercial kitchens, certifications, multi-year commitments and more.  That’s if they even let you in.  “Sorry there is already a honey vendor.”


Check out all these Hungry People:

Crazy town!

Going to need a bigger spot next time for this little dino egg.  Started in an empty Victorian living room where I was selling honey out of a bathroom.  Now it’s a colossal monster vehicle.  Seriously think about setting something like this up any place where people like to eat food.


Filed under Field Trips, Permaculture

BASIL Seed Exchange Soiree

Already kicking myself for not starting 4 flats of veggies a week ago, showing up to a room, jam-packed full of enthusiastic gardeners caused an upwelling of giddy excitement and mild stress.  Every year I am reminded Spring is fast approaching, when I attend the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) seed exchange in February.


This event is a little bit like a Star Trek convention for urban gardeners.  Plastic tables strewn about display hand written signs separating the room into plant families.  In the middle: root crops, along the window: Brassicas and crammed in the back of the room hid the nightshade and goose foot family.


The entire office of the Sierra Club next door was a flower seed bouquet.

Scurrying from table to table to the rhythm of a seven piece bluegrass band, gardeners traded their saved seeds from last season and filled envelopes with new varieties to plant in the garden.  I practically ran to the root crop table to grab some of the bright orange and green Oca tubers hidden behind a 5 gallon bucket of sun chokes.  I had been trying to get my hands on this somewhat rare Andian Perennial for sometime.

Sun Chokes

This event is a wonderful gathering of farmers and Bay Area gardeners.  The room is alive with knowledge and experience.  You will see Merritt Permaculture teachers, homesteaders, West Oakland food-justice gardeners, organic farmers from Bolinas, WOOFers and an assortment of community food activists.

Pumpkin Seeds

As small seed operations focusing on heirloom varieties are bought out by large corporate seed producers such as Monsanto (recently bought Seminis the leading vegetable seed producer in the U.S.), local seed saving and exchange is becoming an increasingly important resource.  Genetic lines and heirloom breeds that are not economically viable are often discontinued, eliminating bio-diversity in our gardens and farms.  If your city doesn’t yet have a seed interchange library, start one!  For inspiration visit Seed Savers Exchange.  If you become a member for $40 dollars or $25 reduced rate, you will have access to over 13,571 unique varieties of vegetables!

If you plan on saving your own seed, I suggest you start with beans and peas.  These are some of the easiest species because they won’t easily hybridize with other plants in the neighborhood.  Steer far away from corn, which necessitates many rows to harvest rigorous seeds.  Seed to Seed is an excellent book on seed saving.

The BASIL library is open for rummaging during the week at the Ecology Center. Plan on attending the BASIL seed exchange next February.  You’ll get in free if you bring your own saved seeds!

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Filed under Field Trips, Permaculture, Resources

Picking Favorites – East Bay Nurseries

Spring Time!

Not all vegetable sections are created equal.  Some nurseries concentrate on culinary herbs while others focus on ancient Italian heirlooms.  After staring for several minutes at a laminated placard describing scarlet runner beans that failed to mention nitrogen fixation, ediblity or perennialization, I decided to develop  a “permaculture rubric” to evaluate our local nurseries.  In the next few weeks I will be piling on tweed sports coats, fake mustaches and flower print dresses – doing a little investigative work.  Which nurseries are selling what edibles?  Where do they buy their plants from?  How many perennial edibles do they carry?  What are their top sellers?

I hope that conducting some on the ground research will not only direct readers to nurseries that stock useful plants, but will also illuminate current trends in the retail vegetable market.  How much demand exists for what vegetables?  Is there an opportunity for nurseries to be educational and demonstration sites for unusual, but incredibly useful and important plants?  I would like to know how the retail market is positioning itself to attract the burgeoning wave of well-informed urban gardeners.

To begin this investigation.  I  would like to see what your favorite East Bay nurseries are.  Please vote below.  I understand that certain nurseries maintain specific niche markets.  Perhaps vote on the nursery you most regularly attend. Thanks for your  input.


Filed under Field Trips, Plants, Projects

Pounds of Free Food – A Mushroom Foray at Salt Point State Park

Das Right

Crawling around on all fours, sliding underneath huckleberry thickets and old decaying redwood logs, nothing is more satisfying than stumbling across a thick patch of black trumpet mushrooms.  Before filling nearly two bags with trumpets, hedgehog, golden foot and a few lonely chanterelles I called out for my friend Bo to share the bounty.  Mushroom foraging brings out a feral, child like excitement in human beings. It’s incredible to watch.  80-year-old grandmothers wandering into the woods with bright purple canes and sweat pants, screaming with delight and blowing their whistles when they find a patch of fungi.  Our species has been foraging for millenia and nothing makes me feel more grounded than scrambling through the forest on a quest for edible mushrooms.

During the rainy months the Sonoma County Mycological Association (SOMA) leads forays on the third Saturday of each month.   The three-hour drive from Oakland to Salt Point State Park is absolutely stunning.  Redwood, Redwood, more Redwoods and then suddenly out of now where: The Pacific Ocean and  rolling grassy cliffs that remind me of Harold and Maud scenes.  Parking is eight bucks.

Note: For all edible mushrooms it is important to correctly identify before you place it in your forage basket and before you throw it in a skillet. I take no responsibility for your  lack of mushroom identification skills.  This is not a guide but merely a brief introduction to several edible species.  Go with someone who truly knows what they are doing to learn your edibles and look-a-likes.  I have had major freak-outs about mushrooms and thrown whole baskets away.  It’s absolutely worth being sure… some of the babies will have you bidding on black market livers and kidneys in two or three days.

About 45 people gathered around one of SOMA’s guides.  The group splits up into four separate forays.Today we were looking for these delicious mushrooms:

"Craterellus cornucopioides

Black Chanterelle

Black Chanterelle or Black Trumpet- Craterellus cornucopioides

This is a highly tasty morsel of a mushroom that often remains undetected (unpicked!) because  of its black fruiting body.  In the shade it can practically camouflage into the forest duff.  The hunt for the Black Chanterelle is often described as a search for a hole in the ground.  This mushroom is easy to identify and is a great mushroom for beginners because it doesn’t have close poisonous look-a-likes.

Black Chanterelle’s have a funnel shape with smooth grey outside and a dark black inside and top.  They grouped in clusters and are often found underneath Huckleberry Shrubs, Madrone and Oaks.  Their spore print is pale buff.

Further information about Black Chanterelles and some great recipes.

Hedgehog – Hydnum umbilicatum

"Hydnum umbilicatum"


Hedgehog mushrooms are great species to teach beginning mycologists because they are so easily identifiable by their underbelly teeth that literally look like hedgehog. spines.  Hedgehogs are a late season mushroom found among oaks, madrone and under huckleberries.

More information about Hedgehogs and some great recipes.

Yellow Foot or Winter Chanterelle – Craterellus tubaeformis

"Craterellus tubaeformis"

Yellow Foot

A late winter chanterelle pops up right when you start to miss the acorn-yellow chanterelle- how convenient.  This mushroom is pretty easy to identify by its yellow stipe, veins (not gills), hollow stem and dimpled cap (sometimes the  stem is hollow all the way through to the cap).  I found clumps and clumps and clumps of these guys underneath huckleberry shrubs. Like any mushroom foray, getting off the beaten path and bushwhacking like a drunk brown bear is the best method for finding hidden patches.

More information about the Golden Foot and some great recipes.

Pig’s Ears – Gomphus clavatus

Pig's Ears

Pig’s Ears are edible, but often are considered less desirable than other late winter species.  They are found in large clumps with chanterelle style veins.  The funnel-shaped fruiting body is found under conifers.

More information about Pig’s Ears and a funny recipe that will give you an idea of how desirable this puppies are.

The rain will be pouring this week and next weekend should be a good time to go out hunting.  I suggest waiting a few days after the rain stops so that everything has a chance to dry out.  If you don’t have the essential pocket guide “All the Rain Promises and More” by David Arora already, I would suggest picking it up.  Also long but slightly narrow wicker basket is best for protecting your precious finds.


Filed under Field Trips, Foraging, Fungi