Did you know the waiting lists for most community gardens in San Francisco is years?  Here at Kezar Gardens Ecology Center, our waiting list is currently fifteen people deep.  Sign up today!!  To get your name on the list, you must be a San Francisco resident and send an email to with your name, address, email, phone and subject heading: Community Garden Plot Wait List.


Some readers know that the space at 780 Frederick Street, aka HANC Recycling, aka Kezar Gardens, has been under threat of eviction for almost two years now.  The Recreation and Park Department has gained permission to build another community garden in the space that hosts 50 community garden beds, a native plant nursery, a drop off area for donated recycling of mixed paper, plastics, veggie oil and cardboard, and a state mandated CRV recycling center.  The first phase of the Rec and Park plan will tear up most of the existing gardens and cost $250K.  When the garden would actually be available for use by the public is still not clear.  And, the wait list is over 70 deep already.

What does the future hold?

Option One: Continued Gardening, Recycling and Native Plant Development at 780 Frederick Street that meets the directive of the SF Urban Agriculture Ordinance passed last year and a firm commitment from the nonprofit that runs the site to build four new community gardens over the next year with revenue from recycling.

Option Two: Evict the most unique Ecology center in SF and eventually replace it with a more expensive garden.  Evict over 100 community members who are already actively gardening at this site.  Evict the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees, too.

Let’s choose positivity and forward movement.  Rec and Park: Build ANOTHER community garden in Golden Gate Park with the $250K and get more people, not less, participating in the important work of growing our own organic foods close to our homes.  Don’t be responsible for stopping 100 people from achieving their garden dreams-you’re better than that.


Use the resources below to learn more about the new laws surrounding urban agriculture in San Francisco.  See for yourself the myriad of ways in which Kezar Gardens Ecology Center fits into the future of our food and our goals for a less wasteful culture.  Also, hear stories from deep in the garden movement, showing you how hard it is to get a plot and to get to be a part of a plot minded community.

SF Urban Agriculture Ordinance


Hot Plots: High demand makes scarce community gardens tough rows to hoe

By on August 14, 2011

By Twilight Greenaway

When Jamie Smith and her husband moved to a new part of the city, one of the first things they did was put their names on a waiting list for the nearest community garden. Then–after hearing that the average wait was two to three years–they put it out of their minds.

Earlier this year, the couple got a surprising call: There was a garden plot ready for them. It wasn’t quite a winning lottery ticket, but it was close. They got to work preparing the soil and planting veggies. Soon, gardeners from nearby plots started making requests.

“They’d ask if we’d be willing to weed this communal area, or this trim this one,” recalls Jamie. “So we’d do what they asked and they’d just kind of watch.” Soon, she and her husband realized they were being hazed. “They were testing us to see what we were made of,” she says. And she understands why.

“We had to prove that we’d take care of the shared space. It makes sense; garden space is so highly coveted and I guess people often take on a plot without realizing how much work it’s going to be.”

Jamie’s plot is around 15 blocks (uphill) from her house, but that hasn’t stopped her from getting there nearly every day this first spring and summer. “We’ve incorporated it into our running route and our driving route, if we drive anywhere. It’s partly to prove ourselves,” she says. And all this effort feels worth it. “Now that we’ve been there a little while, everyone is extremely friendly; people water for one another when they go out of town, so there’s a certain amount of vetting that happens. It’s like, ‘Are you willing to do for us what we’ll do for you?’ It’s really a community you’re signing on to be part of,” she says.

In a way, San Francisco community gardens are a microcosm of the city. Their exclusivity is a big part of what makes them possible. Ever since the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) disbanded in 2005, the city’s 40 or so community gardens on public land have been run by the Recreation and Parks Department ( And despite the recent push by everyone from the city Permaculturists to former Mayor Gavin Newsom to see more food grown on public land, there are already quite a few examples at work. Along with Rec and Park land, there are also gardens maintained on land owned by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) as well as the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Golden Gate National Recreation Association.

In all but the most remote gardens (in say, Bayview/Hunters Point), epic waiting lists are the norm. But city rules do ensure some turnover. And new gardens appear to be popping up all the time. In the latest example, The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council is pushing for a small garden on the site of the recycling center at 780 Frederick, on the edge of Golden Gate Park. In 2006, the Rec and Park Department adopted a set of policies and standards meant to “provide a uniform framework for community gardens across the city, while at the same time allowing flexibility of management within each garden.” Included in the policies are rules that detail things like compost and tool management, liability, dues and empty plots.

“If a plot appears inactive,” the document reads, coordinators must “notify the gardener with first a verbal warning and then a written 30-day notice,” it reads.

Not that giving notice is easy. Johanna Gendelman, coordinator of the Connecticut Friendship Garden, likes to keep active as many as possible of the 31 plots in the all-organic Potrero Hill precisely because she has 42 other people waiting to try their luck at establishing a regular gardening habit. She says that giving lapsed gardeners notice is the worst part of her role. “I’ve had to put up with name-calling, and all kinds of terrible behavior,” she says.

Gendelman is a single mom who’s been growing food for 12 years and coordinating Connecticut Friendship Garden for the last six. She and her young son are looking forward to harvesting tomatoes, beans and pumpkins later this summer, and a long-term relationship with the same plot has allowed her to grow the kinds of perennials that are unusual in the city–like asparagus and irises. And while a select few of the other gardeners she started with have held on to their plots in the intervening years, she says “some people really can’t handle it; year-round gardening is a little daunting.”

Members pay only $25 a year in dues, but the work extends beyond the plot. Gendelman requires her members to attend at least one of the six work days she hosts a year, and one meeting.

Gendelman, who has a degree in horticultural therapy, believes deeply in the power of gardening, and is glad to see so many urban dwellers taking the plunge. “We have to grow our own food, and maintain those skills in our society,” she says. But she wonders if the current system for managing community gardens is working in the big-picture sense.

“I’ve never met a gardener who doesn’t mention how much they get out of it emotionally,” Gendelman says. “But what’s not sustainable is the [volunteer] coordinators.”

She’s had years when she’s had to use the garden’s small budget to hire people to help build beds, haul mulch and maintain the communal spaces, simply because not enough gardeners showed up to work days. And more importantly, although Gendelman has encountered severe health problems this year and would like to pass on her coordinator responsibilities, she says, “I can’t give my job away.” It’s an ironic dilemma to have when you consider the long list of eager gardeners waiting to get in (in this case 2-3 years minimum), but the city requires pre-existing members to step up, despite the fact that most have no little or no motivation to do so.

Of course, some coordinators are more than happy to do the work. Phyllis Hunt runs the Michelangelo Community Garden in North Beach, where she gardens alongside a diverse group of families, single people and seniors. She enjoys playing the coordinator role and has been heartened by what she calls “a really collegial group.” The garden gets the retiree out of the house and although she tends to focus on flowers lately, Hunt has also been known to coax a decent tomato or two from her small plot.

Michelangelo Community Garden, which was built beside a playground in the late ’80s after a group of community members organized to have an asphalt lot torn up, is small and surprisingly secluded considering its proximity to downtown San Francisco. It boast only 20 plots and there are currently 33 people waiting for the 1-2 plots Hunt expects will turn over this year. To hear her describe the quiet garden, or give advice to nascent horticulturists (“The worst that can happen is something dies and you try again”), you might never know that Hunt is responsible for several of the more soughtafter pieces of soil around.

This content was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Edible San Francisco Magazine. © 2011 Edible San Francisco This website and its content is a copyrighted work of Edible Communities, Inc. © 2011. All rights reserved. You may not, except with our express written consent, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it on any other website or other electronic or printed form.

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