A Black Land Steward Is Bringing an Environmental Renaissance to SF’s Bayview-Hunters Point

Isaiah Powell — the all-around ecological tour de force behind the nonprofit DragonSpunk — is putting together a massive farmers market in partnership with the SF Public Utilities Commission that’s set to debut June 1st.

This feature is part of  Underscore’s ‘San Franciscans We Fuck With’: Our ongoing series that highlights locals who we admire for their tenacity, creativity, talent, and generosity.

Speaking to Isaiah Powell is an exercise in understanding spiritual harmony. The New York native, who once pilgrimed to California to work on a private farm, speaks about land stewardship with undiluted passion — a potency of affection only attained by those who’ve done the due diligence to fan their inner fires.

“My affinity for urban farming and land stewardship was a gradual attraction that I’m still honing in on,” Powell tells me in conversation. The multi-hyphenate Columbia University film graduate started cultivating produce and other flora inside his apartment in Brooklyn back in 2010, tinkering with processes that would yield optimal results.

“Producing those plants inside my apartment was really my first introduction into urban agriculture,” Powell says, explaining that it sparked a curiosity that would eventually land him to work at a private farm in Santa Cruz in 2014. His season out on the field proved eye-opening; the experience revealed not only an increased interest in how we humans grow and transport our food but as well as the drudgery that goes behind those activities.

“[That experience] gave me a perspective, especially how our food comes to our tables — particularly the labor behind it,” Powell continues, making note that the exploitation of humans on agricultural lands is usually rifer in larger operations than small ones, due to the volume of goods grown and harvested. (It’s also why Powell is an advocate for local, scaled-down operations that are inherently more community-focused and less prone to wide-scale worker mistreatment.)

“I went back to New York, and I instilled the practice that we need to know where our food comes from, and it was a thought that kept on growing, and I thought I would start growing my own food,” Powell added. “Then in 2019, I came out to San Francisco and started pursuing this growing interest and passion.”

The DragonSpunk founder also noted that the idea of service to a community was also woven into his vision to move here; the Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a defining moment for him, one that instilled that notion and lead to revitalized many community garden spaces in Bayview-Hunters Point. The environmental collective, which is helmed by seven people — including the director of the nonprofit Danielle Calibird Fernandez, Powell’s wife who plays a pivotal role in his understanding and affinity for biodiversity — also runs a series of youth-focused educational programs around urban gardening.

Powell’s unwavering dedication to both community and land stewardship will culminate on June 1st when DragonSpunk debuts its hosted farmers market at the Southeast Community Center at 1550 Evans Street. Well over a dozen vendors, including an on-site DJ, will transform the gathering space into a uniquely San Francisco experience that aims to exist as a destination — a calendar staple; a point of community celebration; a place to grab hyperlocal goods — for the city’s denizens.

“It’s hard to filter just how many experiences and opportunities there will be present at the market,” Powell explains, before listing off an impressive list of participating vendors and available goods: “Some of the best vegan-based cooked food will be onsite. Juices made from seaweed will be available. Rise Up Bakery is coming out. Micro-greens, native mushrooms — dried and fresh, also in tinctures — seasonal berries, and other fruits will be on stands. Vegan-based soaps can be bought. Just as importantly, advocates for the Bayview-Hunters Point community will also be out there.”

Powell promises the market is “going to be an event and experience,” laying the groundwork for a venture that will exude community engagement.  The goal of the market is to have more than a mere space for community engagement; Powell wants it to also help people make money.

“We can’t underestimate how important it is for farmers markets to be financially viable,” Powell waxes, counting that a lack of profitability is why many farmers markets in SF, especially those organized in Bayview-Hunters Point, have faded out of existence. “People need to make money with their goods. To feel powerful. To feel fulfilled. To feel like their efforts are worth it… in a very literal sense. We can’t live in a dream space where capital doesn’t matter. Because it does. Because we live in a capitalistic society.”

Speaking of the importance of financial stability in a world oscillating around currencies: You, dear reader, can also help  Powell and the DragonSpunk collective continue their environmental stewardship and educational programs by donating to their ongoing GoFundMe campaign. As of publishing, the fundraising effort has raised nearly $7K out of its $75K goal — monies that will help ensure Bayview-Hunters Point enjoys its environmental renaissance currently underway for many seasons to come.

Outside of contributing funds to the aforenoted GoFundMe campaign and attending the upcoming farmers market, Powell had some parting advice as to how every San Franciscan can exercise their environmental conservancy: Composting is the best thing we can do. Find the space. Find a community. Use your food scraps. Don’t litter. Period. Plant. No ground should bear. Even if it’s wildflowers, do it. Try to cultivate plants that bear fruit or vegetables. When we improve San Francisoc’s biodiversity, we benefit ourselves. It’s that simple.  

It’s often the uncomplicated, straightforward solutions to our planet’s well-being that exist in the most evergreen of cannons, improving all of our lives on this space rock.

DragonSpunk’s inaugural farmers market takes place on Thursday, June 1st, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Southeast Community Center (1550 Evans Avenue) and will continue every Thursday at the same time and place; for more information on the farmers market, as well as DragonSpunk’s ongoing work, visit dragonspunk.org; donate to DragonSpunk by clicking here.

*Parts of this interview have been edited for the sake of continuity and clearness  

Feature Image: Courtesy of Instagram via [at]dragonspunk

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