By Murray Schneider
This Mother’s Day witnessed the groundbreaking of The Little Red Hen Community Garden on Police Academy property. Now, a little over three months later, a granite monument is mounted in front of it, witness that the Little Red Hen Community Garden not only could, but did.
On August 17th, Betty Louis surveyed the garden while afternoon fog blanketed Duncan and Amber Streets, a mist that once signaled skepticism that anything but winds could grow on Diamond Heights.
While she wove her way through the rectangular garden plots, two gardeners sat a picnic table, built by Richard Craib, president of Friends of Glen Canyon Park. Others rested on benches adjacent to the slope’s last plot, which served like a bulwark before the hill dropped off to Police Academy classrooms.
“I’ve got peas,” announced Betty Louis, who has lived on Amber Street for 40 years and owns one of the 39, 45-square foot plots that cost $85, each using only a marginal amount of water, and each serving as a communitarian gathering place for neighborhood residents.
Her peas won’t lack for community, either.
“It’s a farm,” smiled the Diamond Heights locovore, as she assessed the vegetable bounty, which includes kale, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, beets, pumpkins, artichokes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, strawberries and string beans.
The Little Red Hen Community Garden could easily give the thriving Glen Park Sunday Farmer’s Market a run for its money.
Craib, who has lived on Turquoise Way for 47 years, crisscrossed the garden that he and SFPD police officer, William Murray envisioned and put in place on May 8th. He padded on shaved wooden bark that cushioned narrow walkways and that softened his footfalls. Attached to water spigots, rubber hoses circled every few yards. Water dribbled, trickling into small pools that were quickly absorbed into the earth. Intermingled fava beans threaded their way up geometric lattices.
On Duncan Street, a pedestrian snapped a photograph, maybe to verify he wasn’t in Iowa. A Police Academy official, dressed in creased trousers and starched shirt, walked over and studied the monument, possibly wondering how a Little Red Hen etched onto a slab of granite could ever mesh with the San Francisco Police Department’s mission statement.
Craib, orienting a visitor, pointed to a split rail cedar fence that circled the garden’s perimeter.
“There’s 210 linear feet,” said Craib, a retired building contractor who constructed the fence. “Notice how it’s set back.”
The fence, which is the color of a palomino horse and that will eventually turn gray as it ages, stands four feet from the street.
“We’ll plant trees and then hollyhocks to add color,” Craib said, whose Friends of Glen Canyon Park members matched the funds of plot subscribes that initially seeded the fecund garden.
Craib and Murray, both of whom work their own plots, have created a green oasis from a neglected street corner that had, only three short months earlier, embarrassed itself by being a rutted and rocky detritus of glass shards, scratched scrub and stunted weeds.
The four-foot-by-six-inch square monument now sitting on a three-foot-by-seven-foot base, which Craib and Murray constructed, is carved from discarded granite that Craib obtained from a City graveyard of unused stones that skateboarders careened and rattled across.
The Acme Memorial Company in Colma then sculpted and crafted the stone.
“Acme cut, polished and engraved it,” said Craib, on the day Acme workmen delivered the stone from its workbenches, which stand only yards from Hills of Eternity cemetery on Hillside Boulevard in Colma.
“Tommy Musni spent three weeks alone on the inscribing,” added William Murray, director of the Police Academy video productions, as he studied a image of a red hen emblazoned on the stone that could easily substitute for a mother’s bedtime story.
“I pulled in a chit or two,” said Murray, referring to Musni, his childhood friend.
A collaborative effort by the Friends of Glen Canyon Park and the San Francisco Police Academy, The Little Red Hen Community Garden is now so successful a waiting list of 18 people is lined up to grow leafy greens.
Every vegetable garden has its season, even on perennially blustery Diamond Heights.
That’s as plain as a Little Red Hen chiseled on a monument, cradling a rake and hoe and holding a watering can.
Anyone interested in adding their names to the growing waiting list can email Richard Craib at firstname.lastname@example.org or William Murray at email@example.com.