Building On Success – A Gardening Story

bldg_sccss_3The garden at 18th & Rhode Island in San Francisco started as a class design project created by students in a Permaculture Design course in the summer of 2008. Following the class, the design was modified and revised by David Cody and Kevin Bayuk of the SF Permaculture Guild and implementation began on October 22nd 2008.

The project was funded completely out of pocket by the volunteers. In the last year we have spent less than $1500 and with the help of volunteers have produced more approximately 1000 pounds of food that has been donated to people who need it most through the Free Farm Stand. In year two we expect to triple the yield and by year 5 we can expect to be producing 6,000+ pounds of food per year.


bldg_sccss_4The site we started with was less than ideal. It had a considerable slope and very thin soil which was mostly sand on top of serpentine boulders. A serpentine soil is very difficult to grow in due to its acidic nature. We knew we had to create our own growing conditions on top of what existed.

Rather than import expensive soil we opted for using free materials diverted from the waste stream. We brought in cardboard from Whole Foods just 2 blocks away and mulch generated from yard trimmings in San Francisco. Approximately 40 tons of materials was layered on the top of the serpentine soil and it is estimated that in 5 years we will have turned all of that into a fertile top soil several feet deep.




Not only have we grown a diverse bounty of food, we have also grown a community around the garden that extends out into Potrero Hill and beyond. We have taught three Permaculture design courses centered around the garden and a number of workshops including fruit tree maintenance, worm composting, and SF specific plant selection. We hold a regular workday every Friday since the project started and see a regular turnout. We have hosted special events such as the Slow Food Eat-In and have given short lectures and tours to several student groups including college classes and elementary schools.



Though we started with only what we had and were able to do ourselves. The demonstration of success has earned us enough attention that we were awarded a grant for the project. The Eastern Neighborhoods Public Benefit Fund saw the project as worthy enough to grant us approximately $14,000 to further our efforts. With this money we intend to develop educational signs, tool storage, seating and gathering spaces, and further our research into food plants that perform well in San Francisco.

The next year and years to come look good. By building slowly and with community support we have managed to create a stable foundation upon which to grow further success. We have always intended that this project serve as a model for other projects in the urban setting. So far our achievements tell the story and the process we have implemented here is repeatable on any scale and in any location by anyone. The time to start is now.