For the well-traveled Lisa Ruth Elliott, the shutdown of the pandemic opened up space and time to further synthesize her work as a paper and textile artist, city planner and community historian.
“I’ve always been drawn to the connection with those around me, where I am, who I am with,” said Elliott, co-director of Shaping San Francisco’s archiving and publishing project. For the past 25 years, Shaping San Francisco has quietly given lectures and tours of the city’s secret corners and hidden stories. During the pandemic, the organization’s events were full, waiting for the list of locals who were looking for deeper knowledge or willing to share what they already know about the origins and myth of this place we call home.
“People indulge in their curiosity. Once you start research, the world opens up below you and you realize you have so much more to learn, ”Elliott said. “I’ve seen people for the first time experience things that have always been here.”
A native of Washington state, Elliott had done her part of the pre-pandemic trips to distant places from Chiapas to China as a peace and international solidarity worker. As a witness to conflict and disaster relief worker, she loved the heightened journey of consciousness that it brought and still has an affinity for certain people and places on the planet. Still, she said, “I don’t think it’s really possible to understand a place without investing time.”
When she settled in San Francisco in the 1990s, she was drawn to “the vibrancy, the magic I found in neighborhoods like Mission District, North Beach, and Haight Ashbury. I immediately felt at home and inspired. The exploration here was very welcoming. “
Alemany Farm is just one of the largely hidden places she cultivated and shared with fellow city residents during the pandemic year.
“It was great to be able to introduce people to a green space and a break on a three-acre farm in the middle of town,” said Elliott. Alemany Farm is located on the south slope of Bernal Hill and produces over 12 tons of organic food annually, which they distribute for free through the Alemany Food Pantry, Poder SF and the Sunday Farm Stand on 23rd Street and Treat Avenue. Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the farm can also be harvested by anyone who visits and cares about picking their own – within the bounds of common sense.
LisaRuth Elliott has been volunteering at Alemany Farm for about a decade. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
“When people discover the farm, they discover the chirping of birds, possibly taking photos of wildlife or documenting the changing seasons,” said Elliott, who has been a volunteer on the farm since 2010. “Every year I discover new things, new trees, new plants, new bird migrations,” she said. The farm’s harvests include all sorts of green and root vegetables, a flowering native plant area, medicinal herbs, and a dye garden that Elliott likes to cultivate and incorporate in her fiber art.
“I looked for plants and started looking at the farm’s food landscape as a color landscape,” she said of color plants like indigo, woad, weld and madder. Elliott’s own dedication to the land, spotting colors, and seasonally integrating things in parks and gardens have helped broaden her understanding of indigenous culture and struggle. On April 21st, she will host a webinar with Gregg Castro, Cultural Advisor for the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone, on the history of the land, the farm and the ongoing work to create land trust and food sovereignty for indigenous peoples.
“The Ramaytush Ohlons have patterns, baskets, and dyeing techniques that go back thousands of years,” she said of the crafts and tools used by the San Francisco Peninsula’s indigenous people. Elliott noted that the mosaic of Rigo 23 in the Tenderloin National Forest and the Oche Was Te Ou reflection garden in Yerba Buena Gardens are examples of contemporary uses of Ohlone patterns and designs that are hiding in public. But there is a much older piece of a similar pattern that is obscured by the altar in Mission Dolores.
“There is a 230-year-old mural that was painted by indigenous people, although it is not visible to the public,” Elliott explained. A detailed account of the history of this mural and other information can be found in the Shaping San Francisco digital archive, FoundSF.org. The website compiles photos and historical essays on a variety of local topics, from Fatty Arbuckle and former Mayor George Christopher to avant-garde designer, Ant Farm. Elliott recently filed her own report on SoMa street names, debunking the long-standing myth that Jessie, Tehama and Clementina were named after Ladies of the Night from the Barbary Coast era.
“I wondered where the legends have been that have accompanied women since we knew the stories of men,” said Elliott. “Why should we use their first names for streets if we don’t use men’s first names?” When Elliott selected the historical records, he found that the streets were actually more named for ships that were docked at the nearby shipyards.
“Street names and monuments are ways we remind people,” Elliott said of the improbability that a number of streets were named after sex workers long ago, though the story certainly plays into the freedom of San Francisco. But despite the myth on one hand, Elliott admitted that we have a contemporary building, the St. James Infirmary, named after Margo St. James, the sex positive feminist. St. James died earlier this year (a public memorial will be held online on May 1), and more information about her life and legacy can be found on FoundSF.org.
Elliott’s unique contribution to our collective history, which is constantly evolving and still unfolding, is the connection of dots between people and place, life and legends.
“I’m still deepening my understanding of the place, relationships, and how the world works by being here,” said Elliott, whose personal circumstances also expanded in the pandemic year: she moved to a larger location in the mission where she could be a loom set up and stretch out their textiles; She regularly attended Zoom Yoga and cycled up Mount San Bruno every week.
“I learned more about self-care and wasn’t particularly good at cooking and feeding,” she said of her unexpected gifts from the past year as the context of the big event continues to reveal itself.
“We don’t know what we are completely going through, and we will process it more and more as we get out from under the weight of this pandemic,” Elliott said, although reshaping the city ultimately boils down to examining how we want to live.
“The design of San Francisco has been using the slogan“ History is a creative act in the present ”for 25 years. For 24 years people said, “Yeah, whatever,” Elliott said. “With the Black Lives Matter movement and the palpable nature of climate change, people are more likely to say, ‘Wow, we’re making history. ‘We’re all on the same page now. “
Alemany Farm through Time: A History of Land and Food Production
Zoom workshop with LisaRuth Elliott and Gregg Castro
When: 5.30 p.m. April 21
costs: Free, $ 10 suggested donation
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