Yes In My Backyard: An Interview With An Urban Sharecropper
For some, eating locally means dining on foods grown within 100 miles. For others, it’s 10 blocks.
The folks at Amyitis Gardens have been quietly starting a neighborhood-based farming system that works a bit like sharecropping, providing Mission district restaurants with produce grown in neighbors’ backyards in exchange for a discount at the restaurant. If you dine at Weird Fish or The Corner, you’ve probably eaten some of their products.
Amyitis founder David Stockhausen, an organic farmer from Vermont and server at Boogaloos, said the program got started last July after he brought some salad greens to the restaurant from a plot he had been farming at a community garden.
Boogaloos co-owner Peter Hood, who operates the green restaurant consulting firm Phood Fight, liked the idea of serving ultra-local produce, and connected Stockhausen with another Boogaloos partner who had a backyard space, Stockhausen said.
Now, Stockhausen and a small band of volunteer farmers are growing crops in three backyards and are working on adding a fourth. They use a space below Boogaloos as a hub, and currently supply Weird Fish and The Corner (both owned by Boogaloos partners) with baby kale, arugula, mizuna, green garlic, lettuce, and various herbs, Stockhausen said.
We got Stockhausen on the phone one recent morning to ask him about the project.
Why are you supplying Weird Fish and The Corner, but not Boogaloos?
Boogaloo’s is something we hope to get down the line, but Weird Fish and The Corner have more seasonal, flexible menus. They’re newer restaurants, with clientele more used to the changes that a seasonal menu might have.
At this point, Boogaloos is very high volume and it’s been around for long enough that changing the menu at this point isn’t going to happen overnight. A lot of the ingredients Boogaloos uses are still much cheaper to buy from produce companies because the volume that they do.
What’s the benefit of using food grown in the neighborhood?
For me it’s both an environmental and a community angle… It’s a way of connecting the community where the food is grown with the community where the food is eaten. A “closed loop community system” I like to call it.
[We’re] trying to get the community out to support the businesses. The theory is that if the restaurant down the street is getting vegetables from your garden, you’re going to go.
I think people are looking to be involved in their food, where it comes from, and I think we can provide that a little bit. We’ve already got the kind of clientele that’s ready for this king of thing, and hungry for it (no pun intended).
How has it been adjusting to farming in San Francisco backyards from Vermont fields?
This is a totally steep leaning curve for me. I’ve gardened in city gardens before, but the climate here being so unique, the space so small, it’s a really unique challenge I’ve set myself up for. Pleasure or pain, I’m not sure what I’m after. It’s mostly pleasure, though. It’s great to have the opportunity to do this.
What products are you going to be supplying as the summer growing season gets into high gear?
We’re mostly focused on growing greens. There’s going to be a lot of salad mix, a lot of kale, chard, leafy greens. On top of that, we have a little growing room in the basement of Boogaloos where we’re starting tomatoes, peppers, things like that. We have about 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.