Farms, Greenways & Light: Interview with San Francisco Permaculture Developer Rob Joyce by Willi Paul, Publisher, PlanetShifter.com
“The Blue Greenway is a City-sponsored project dedicated to planning and creating a public open space and water access network in southeast San Francisco, from China Basin Channel to the San Francisco County Line (see Figure 1.1: Blue Greenway Open Space System Map). Here in the heart of the city’s industrial mixed use districts and neighborhoods, many changes are underway. The City is focused on maintaining a viable maritime and light industrial base and directing where new, complementary economic investment can occur. City and other public agencies, and community partners are working together to define how new parks and public spaces should be integrated, with specific focus on the waterfront. In defining where new open spaces should be added to existing waterfront parks, and increasing water recreation opportunities, the Blue Greenway is the latest city project to further realize regional open space and recreation objectives of the San Francisco Bay Trail and Bay Area Water Trail Plans.”
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Interview with Rob by Willi
Was your PDC experience with the SF Urban Permaculture Institute everything you wanted?
I wanted to build on my experience at Hayes Valley Farm over the last eighteen months, which was in many ways a sort of self-directed permaculture internship. I wanted to experience the formal PDC curriculum to fill in the gaps and to add to the common permaculture context that I share with other practitioners. I also wanted to learn with a group, and to experience a “community of questioning.” Kevin Bayuk and David Cody are great teachers who are quite thorough with the material, and my PDC classmates were wonderfully diverse and participatory. The group design project was also a very rewarding experience. So yes – it was everything I wanted, and more.
What is your idea of a design process?
Providing sufficient time and space to allow natural patterns to emerge, and being available to recognize them. Embracing the tension between entropy and intervention. Searching for the humility to tread lightly, introducing design decisions rather than inflicting them. Cultivating a radical lack of sentimentality. My ego wants to jump straight from vision to strategy, and the permaculture design process counters that, inviting me to slow down, to observe and to interact. The ethics and principles of permaculture are tools that are always there to guide the design, like cairns throughout the process.
Will permaculture save the world?!
The world doesn’t need saving – it is humanity that is in trouble. I find that part of the human conceit is linking the fate of the planet with its ability to support human life. Nature is patient, resilient, and wholly unsentimental – it will continue to do its thing even if we make this beautiful planet inhospitable and our species dies out.
How are you developing the Blue Greenway Urban Agriculture Network (the Network), in terms of partners, patterns and administration?
Slow and incremental steps. Whereas Hayes Valley Farm is a large site that contains numerous urban agriculture elements – compost and soil building, greenhouse, planted berms – we aim to create a network of these elements that stretches throughout the footprint of the Blue Greenway. We have a great team of principals that all bring complementary talents and experience to the organization. Administratively, we are completing our application for fiscal sponsorship with the San Francisco Parks Alliance, newly formed by the merger of the San Francisco Parks Trust and the Neighborhood Parks Council. We have already found some community partners who welcome our vision for vibrant and resilient urban agriculture in the southeastern neighborhoods of San Francisco. Currently we are exploring multiple strategies for gaining access to marginalized space for the establishment of urban agriculture elements – interim-use agreements for public land, the Streets Parks Program, agreements with private land owners. Fundamentally, we are characterizing our organization as lightweight and nimble.
Who are the current principals in the Network?
Jay Rosenberg, who was the director of Hayes Valley Farm and the founder of 49 Farms, is a tremendous permaculture evangelist and a joy to work with. Paige Tomaselli was also there at the project’s inception – she serves as a board member for the San Francisco Permaculture Guild and as a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety. Jessie Raeder is an extraordinarily talented networker, and has already established important relationships with organizations like Literacy for Environmental Justice and Sea Scavenger Conservancy. Katie Lynn Anderson heads our youth education – she is currently a teacher at Alta Vista, and she had great success as the founder of Camp Kumquat in St. Louis, which provided a free summer camp experience for inner city youth at a farm on the Washington University campus.
What’s happening with your team PDC Project for Vision Point?
Our design for Vision Point was a terrific celebration of what is possible for that marginalized site, but there are many modest steps to be taken before presenting a project of that scale for implementation. I believe the establishment of the Blue Greenway Urban Agriculture Network is such a step, and that my time and energy is best devoted to action like that at this moment. I am happy to let the specific Vision Point project rest for a while – those who are curious can view the video presentation.
What captures you imagination in the Southeast SF corridor?
There is lots of marginalized space, and therefore an abundance of opportunity. Where the land meets the bay is just one obvious edge that characterizes this part of the City – these neighborhoods are full of edges and intersections of all kinds.
As the Piero N. Patri Fellow at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, Sarah Moos produced a proposal called “Unaccepted Street: From Paper To Reality.” How has this been helpful?
Sarah’s project is an amazing piece of work that captures and organizes the data around San Francisco’s unmaintained public rights-of-way. The vision she presents for transforming these spaces along the Blue Greenway is compelling, and I believe an urban agriculture network can be an important part of such a transformation. I encourage everyone to view Sarah’s final project map.
How is the Network the same or different than the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance?
We are rather different in scope and mission, but I believe we share a similar vision for vibrant, resilient urban agriculture in San Francisco. While I perceive the SFUAA to be a network of organizations that advocate for urban agriculture throughout San Francisco, the Blue Greenway Urban Agriculture Network will be a network of urban agriculture elements specifically in the southeastern part of the city. A simple outline of what we are doing is here.
What is happening with the Please Touch Community Garden in SF?
That is an incredible project that is led by GK Callahan, an artist who is working with the Lighthouse for the Blind. He is creating an arts garden designed for the community at large to interact with the visually impaired community. Certain infrastructure elements have been the main focus during the last few months – particularly the installation of a large ADA-compliant ramp that runs the entire length of the site. I am currently working with some other enthusiastic volunteers to develop the planting plan, which we plan to begin implementing in November. It is a very satisfying transformation of what was once a caricature of blighted urban space – right across from City Hall. I invite everyone to come by and check out the site, and to learn more about the project.
Rob at enjoyro.com