Tuesday, May 15, 2012

 These past few weekends I've been visiting Hayes Valley Farm, which is a volunteer run farm built on an unused plot of land in the city. It is slightly smaller than a full block, but still a nice getaway from the city.

The greenhouse where young plants are grown.
 I thought of looking for a farm to visit around SF, but since I have no car, and probably not many friends interested to go with me, I settled on somewhere more accessible. Still a good place to mingle with the locals though. Everyone seems so happy and relaxed. Something about people being there just because they want to, not for a job or any selfish reason. And everyone having the same general interests and mindsets, and all, well, a little bit hippy. So far I've met students who were either in arts, natural medicine or agriculture.
A group of agricultural students who came up to the farm for lessons last week
The farm is non profit, although they do occasionally sell some plants for the few expenses they have. The land is set aside by the government during periods when there  are no development plans for it and has to be given back when there are. The farm has been here for the past 2 years, and the last I heard, they are going to be moving somewhere else over Summer.
A handmade oven, looks good for a pizza party.
The land used to be a freeway which got damaged in the earthquake. But with lots of compost they managed to transform it into fertile land.
The method of farming is permaculture, where various species of plants and animals are grown/raised/encouraged to live together so that they can take care of each other, for example, returning nutrients to the soil, pollination or pest control. It's supposed to mimic what happens in nature, so, yes, it does look a little like a patch of weeds.
But really there are edible things lurking around. Too bad I can't identify most of them.

Which puts into contrast how damaging it is the way we grow or raise food for the market nowadays. Everything is done in monocultures, so entire complex ecosystems are wiped out and replaced with single species. So for instance if crops are damaged by some sort of insect, there are no natural predators to keep their numbers in check, so insecticides are used instead, which creates a Darwinian weeding out of weaker bugs to create insecticide resistant bugs, which calls for the use of more or deadlier insecticides, and the cycle keeps revolving.Except that humans don't evolve as fast as bugs, so we end up poisoning ourselves or encouraging deadlier sicknesses to emerge.

Wait, there's more, but I think that calls for whole separate posts for spleen venting.
They have their own compost piles for fertiliser, that is where garden trimming and some scraps from local cafes go.

Young plums growing in pots.

The farm's main purpose is for education, although they don't mind you taking food from the farm if you like.
Nasturtiums, which grow very well in SF. Apparently their seeds taste like capers.

Bee hives.

Sampling some fava beans. There was a whole basket of them.

Some other volunteers at the farm.

Some interesting structures around the farm, toolsheds and such.

This week I worked in here, arranging the collection of seeds. Feels nice, like some apothecary, although it was a bit dusty.
Admittedly most of the plants I did not know.
Just for fun I brought home some nasturtium leaves to try to cook with them, but when I chopped them up they got slimy, so I abandoned the idea.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

This week is Spring Break, so I went to Death Valley with a few uni mates. Originally we were supposed to go to Lassen, which is a volcanic National Park, but changed our plans because of road closures due to snow.Which is kind of a good thing anyway since I've been wanting to see a desert for awhile now.
This was on the highway on the way there, but I haven't seen so many windmills together before. They're all different sizes. A little puzzled about their efficiency though, since most of them are not moving.

Entering the desert area, and we are starting to see some of the interesting rock features. What I like is how the rocks around the desert are all different colours from yellow to red, grey, white and brown, even some greens and purples sometimes. You could collect them and do sand art on adhesive paper like they have for kids.
After 8 hours of driving, we stopped for the day at Lone Pine, which is slightly outside Death Valley. A very small town, but with nice views and very friendly locals. And the motel owner makes very good smelling curry from what I could tell when we were getting our keys from the office.
This is the main road in Lone Pine, and it's pretty much the whole town already.
Some old fashioned country structures outside one of the restaurants.
It's snowing up in the mountains, which is going to feel ironic compared to the desert down here.
Near Lone Pine is Owens Lake, a dry salt lake bed.
It's rare for city folk to see such wide expanses, everything looks amazing.
There's about 1 inch of salt on the ground, and it crunches when you walk on it.

It seems so idyllic to live out here, although I can't tell what you could make your living doing. Maybe something to do with mining.
Right about here our GPS led us through a wrong road heading towards the Badwater Basin; a dirt road instead of tarred, which was a lot scarier than it sounds.The (second-hand) car that we were using had a very low belly, so it was scraping the road all the way and seemed likely to break down at any moment/loose some parts on the road, and not knowing the way around the gulch, with a GPS we couldn't really trust, it was a very stressful journey. Maybe I watch too much I Shouldn't be Alive, but that's what I kept thinking about. In the end we managed to turn around and find our way back to the tarred road, but I think at least the car was scarred for life.
We stopped for lunch at Stovepipe Wells village, which had this charming restaurant.
Granted things were a little bizarre since there was a motel swimming pool right outside,with tons of happy splashing tourists, surrounded by sand dunes and scorching hot rocky mountains.
Next stop, Zabriskies Point, with it's inspiring rock formations.

Someone made it down there, perhaps if it wasn't so hot and I was more daring I would want to go down there too.
In the evening we reached Badwater Basin, by the prescribed tarred road thankfully. It is the most famous salt bed in Death Valley, and the lowest point in the US (it's 86 meters below sea level)
It looks like a giant ice rink except for little patches of water at the edges. Apparently some snails can live in here, of all creatures.
There would be pretty rings of salt on the ground were it not trampled flat by tourists. Walking further out you get to see a vague outline of what the rings should look like.

Like this apparently.

Sunset. It would have been nice to watch the starlight from Badwater basin since light pollution here is supposed to be minimal.
The good, or bad, thing is that there is a lot of driving to be done to get from one point of interest to another around the desert. I guess you could have fun pretending you are driving in a car commercial or video game, there are quite few vehicles on the road.
New day, new location, new motel.
I found this funny, a faded old beetle, but with what looks like specialised tires and a huge exhaust pipe sticking out of the back.
The motel had some cotton trees, so it was a nice surprise to wake up the next day to what looked like snow, or a burst pillow.
They look much prettier swirling around in the wind. Maybe if I have a house with a garden I should have a cotton tree too.
Not sure what this place is called, we just stopped here to get maps,but it looks pretty.
Scotty's Castle, which is really a mansion. Unfortunately we didn't take the tour inside the building since the ticket price was a little steep, but we walked around it anyway.

Look, an air con in the toilet!

Some local fauna. A metallic blue wasp.
Mesquite Flat sand dunes. Apparently they shot some scenes for Star Wars here.
It's actually just a small dune, but it was a fun experience to walk in the sand. The wind was very strong, but all the better to see sand flowing around your feet.
Dinner, at a very manly man named restaurant.I can't think of any other words to add to the sign to make it more macho.
Night number 3, we'll be staying here. Motel 6 is the ubiquitous low cost motel in the US, so it's perfect for cheapskate students like us.
The next day, and the forecast is rain. That creates a pleasant image of flowers blooming around the desert, but before that it also brings epically beautiful scenery.

We're on the Nevada side of Death Valley, so prostitution is legal, along with gambling.

And the rain is falling.

On the way back, the GPS decided to give us a longer route to get back to San Francisco, which somehow involves going through Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Another happy mistake since the scenery was much more interesting than the empty fields we passed on day 1. This is Mono Lake near Yosemite.

But in the end we were forced to stay an extra night in Lake Tahoe because of road closures due to snow. It was too dangerous to drive without a 4 wheel drive/snow tires/chains not to mention highway patrol wouldn't let you pass.
So we get to see the desert, forest and snowscape in 1 trip. Not bad. Luckily I was paranoid enough about desert weather to pack winter worthy clothes.

An interesting plant common around here. The tips are redder or more yellow than the base. Kind of looks like pussy willow.
The snow clouds retreating from Lake Tahoe.
Some cold birds taking a break.

Too bad we missed these 2 things in Death Valley; the Racetrack Playa with it's mysterious travelling stones(dirt road,no more car abuse for us please) and the pupfish that live in the super harsh conditions of the desert.(don't know where exactly they are)