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From junkyard to community garden

A former San Francisco dumping ground becomes a plentiful four-acre urban farm.

By Associated press writer / August 21, 2009

Musette Murray picks beans at the Alemany Farm in San Francisco. The farm used to be a dumping ground for rusty appliances and broken car parts. Now, it's an urban garden that produces around 200 to 250 pounds of produce each week.

Eric Risberg/AP



Near a San Francisco freeway choked with commuters, Jason Mark shows off rows of strawberries, cucumbers, and loquat trees."It's time to water," he said, checking on green beans growing like vines on stakes.

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Mr. Mark helps manage Alemany Farm, a volunteer-run garden that's an example of what the San Francisco mayor wants implemented all over the city: community gardens on vacant and underutilized city-owned lots.

Alemany Farm is on the forefront of a renewed interest in urban farming nationwide, from Michelle Obama's garden on the White House south lawn to the proliferation of backyard chicken coops in New York City.

"I do think there is something like a movement afoot," said Mark, who chronicles environmental trends in the Earth Island Journal and can rattle off the names of urban farms from Milwaukee to Philadelphia.

In the grittiest, grimiest, most unlikely neighborhoods in cities including Los Angeles, Detroit, and Miami, volunteer farmers are growing food that provides not only for those who work the gardens, but also for neighbors, food kitchens, and school lunchrooms.

The US Department of Agriculture says there are thousands of community gardens throughout the country, although no one keeps an exact tally., a website about community gardens, lists more than 2,500 in its database.

In 2008, 557 new gardens signed up with LocalHarvest, according to the site. In the first two months of 2009, 300 more joined.

The USDA is calling for more community gardens across the country, with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declaring the week of Aug. 23 "National Community Gardening Week."

Vilsack touted the USDA's own backyard garden on the National Mall, which donates produce to DC Central Kitchen, which distributes food to homeless people.

Urban farming isn't new. The American Community Gardening Association held its 30th annual conference this month. Even in the concrete jungle of New York City, residents have been taking over city lots to grow their own food for decades.