"We're doing this to help give the community a choice," Ayr told me, sweeping his arm out. "Everyone should have a voice when it comes to issues of land use and green space, which is rapidly disappearing in the city. That's why we're inviting the community to meet here tonight [Tue/4 at 6:30pm, also Sat/8 at 3pm] and see what we're about. This is a land liberation concept, we're calling it Free the Land, or Liberate the Land."
Ayr was leading me around the former site of Hayes Valley Farm, the lauded public experiment in urban farming on an undulating patch that used to be a freeway entrance, which has now been cleared to make way for a 185-unit development on half the the lot (low-income housing is slated eventually for the other half).
Well, not quite cleared. Ayr was showing me around an Occupy-like scene, with an agricultural twist.
Hayes Valley Farm officially ceased exiting on May 31, which is when Free the Land ("including some of the original Hayes Valley farmers," Ayr told me, and others are related to the Human Bein organization) gently moved in. Large organic garden plots and twisty permaculture-based water cachements still transformed the land; rows of sprouts were peeking through the dark soil. About 20 people were tending the plots or attending a free food stand. Ayr guided me through the garden's parts, which also included an encampment of about three tents, the food stand, a free store, and a greeting table with info.
Although the aim is to preserve one of the city's few urban farms left in the wake of an eviction epidemic and upscale housing development boom, the action also has broader intentions. "In solidarity with what's going on in Turkey, we've renamed this space Gezi Gardens, because it started with trying to protect a green space" Ayr told me. "And we also want to bring up that fact that there are about 30,000 vacant units in the city, and 6,000 homeless people."
Had they had any complaints? "People have been very supportive. The police have come around to check on us, just to make sure we have no vehicles or structures that would be violations. But no one's filed a formal complaint yet that we know of. Probably nothing will happen until the politicians decide if they can benefit from this or not." (Indeed, while I was there, two police cars with five officers pulled up and took a look around the gardens, asking people to leash their dogs.)
Here's the full statement from Gezi Gardens -- you can get more info at www.humanbein.org.
A letter to the neighbors: We wish to keep the space formerly known as Hayes Valley Farm open as a community space and source of fresh, free local food. We have renamed this land Gezi Gardens in solidarity with the people of Turkey who initially were peacefully attempting to protect urban open space from private development. Food Not Lawns!
You may already know that the space formerly known as Hayes Valley Farm is slated for development. Build Inc. and Avalon Bay Communities plan to replace the farm with housing, parking, and retail. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Union reports that over 30,000 housing units are vacant in San Francisco. We believe that the city should develop housing units in existing vacant buildings instead of places like this beautiful farm and green space.
We are a grassroots collection of bay area residents, urban farmers, and neighbors. We agree that large scale land-use decisions which impact entire communities should not be based on economic interests alone, and must recognize the inherent value in preserving open, publicly accessible space. We are dedicated to maintaining this piece of land as a space for growing food.
This issue is not new. San Francisco has a long history taking collective action to defend the character of the city, to make sure that it’s unique beauty is not sacrificed to commercial interests and over-development. In the “freeway revolts” of the 1950′s, our communities banded together to fight off a transportation plan that was intended to ring the entire city (including golden gate park) with massive freeways. As you are probably aware, this very space, as well as the character of the entire neighborhood, owes much to that struggle, which continues to this day!
There is much more to be discussed, so please join us at this weeks’ Neighbors’ Meetings to help develop a vision of what this space could be.
Come to the Farm, located on Laguna between Fell and Oak for neighborhood meetings:
TUESDAY @ 6:30PM
SATURDAY @ 3PM
Twitter: @LiberateLand Hashtag: #GEZIGARDENS
More info: HUMANBEIN.ORG