Will Work For Free
A Blog About My Experiences in Volunteer Work

Presidio Park Nursery in San Francisco

The Presidio Nursery is exactly what I think of when I think about a well functioning organization that works toward a consistent and obtainable goal with the use of regular volunteers. It is a community of like minded people from all walks of life coming together for selfless reasons to enjoy the company of others and the aesthetic joy of getting their hands dirty.

I showed up at their drop in volunteer day one Wednesday after I fulfilled another journalistic agenda by interviewing Mark Frey. Mark Frey is the Supervisory Director of The Presidio Trust and I needed to talk to him about a story I was working on for my internship with Bay Nature Magazine. That story, briefly, is on the current Daylighting project being conducted in the Presidio at Dragonfly Creek. Daylighting is, as I said in another post, the process of freeing a creek from an underground pipe and bringing back to the surface. The goal is to provide a natural wetland area for wild life and plants.

While interviewing Mark and touring around the site of the creek project I learned that once the creek project reaches a certain stage, thousands of native plants will be planted along its banks, making habitats for a variety of insects including Dragonflies and Butterflies.

I then learned that all of the plants for the project are grown on location in the nursery, which is located on the hill just above the site where Dragonfly Creek will soon be flowing naturally. And lucky for me the nursery does drop in volunteer days every Wednesday, and only an hour or so after my interview and site inspection would be complete. The opportunity was perfect and I was more than happy to spend this gorgeous day being outside and getting my hands into some dirt.

When I showed up at the nursery, I sat outside and ate my lunch until it was scheduled to start at 1 in the afternoon.

Immediately I saw a familiar face. Once you start volunteering with nature related projects in San Francisco the circle of people seems to get smaller and smaller. The first person I saw was Eli Huerta Ortiz, who as I found out is one of the directors of the nursery. I met her about a year ago at a Nature in the City fundraising event that I volunteered at. I had to remind her of who I was, but once I did she remembered me instantly. We have a mutual friend, Sangeet. Sangeet and I know each other through surfing and he used to intern at the Presidio Nursery. Small world, or city, or population of people into plants and nature.

The crowd at the volunteer event was nicely mixed. For the most part it is older folks; retired with a love for gardening and ecology, they come here to wet their whistle on collective work that produces tangible results. We all sat down in a circle in their meeting room and Eli led the group by presenting a dry-erase board with the days tasks listed on it and how many people needed to man each task.

Seed cleaning, weed removal, tending to the green house needs, shoveling mounds of compost-mulch and few others provided plenty of work for the three-hour volunteer shift. My self and the one other young guy in the group offered our selves up for what became obviously the least desirable task of the afternoon: shoveling piles of compost-mulch. Here is the process. A girl manned a piece of machinery known as a loader, she used the heavy equipment to scoop large piles of the raw compost/mulch and dumped them into a large sifter. The sifter would role the raw material through a giant cylinder with a screen; the fine mulch would pour out into one pile and the larger pieces would come out the other end. Our job was to constantly be shoveling the larger pieces away from their exit point so that the pile would not build up to high. We wore dust masks, goggles and earplugs. Being used to manual labor, the task was a breeze, but I can imagine that for one of the retired folks in the green house, it would not be so pleasant. So, I was glad to be able to take on that task. So was the other guy, he was cool.

About half way through the shift, a small snack was prepared. Carrots, granola and some chips and dip were put out on a table and we all took five. Today was one girl’s birthday and a cake was brought out and the birthday song was sung. It was nice. It really showed how much, for one she cared about the place to be there on her birthday and how much everyone cared about her, to bring a cake and remember that it was her birthday. It was sweet, and the cake was delicious.

After snack time (I love saying that phrase) we resumed work. I joined Eli and an older gentleman named John in removing a bunch of assorted weeds from one nook of the property. I buried my self deep into some foliage and set into removing some incredibly long sections of blackberry which were entangling their way through the desired bushes.

The Presido Nursey just recently grew their one millionth plant. An incredible feat by anyones standards. As a non-profit agency that runs almost entirely on volunteer help I feel that they are a model of community effort.

The welcoming I received was warm and instant. There is no elitist attitude, no self-righteousness about contributing time for free to a natural cause; just down to earth people who love nature and don’t mind working for free. They are the type of people who inspire me to do this sort of work and I will continue to attend their work days as often as I can. At the end of the day, Eli welcomed me and introduced me once again to the group as we had our final pow-wow to hear about everyone’s afternoon. Rounds of applause were offered as each coordinator relayed their progress of the day and the room was full of smiling and fulfilled human beings.

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