Photography by Jeff Hunt
Maggie Marks has deep roots in San Francisco, and that's not a gardening pun.
In this episode, Maggie, who today is the director of Garden for the Environment (GFE) in the Inner Sunset, traces her family's history in The City. Her mom's side goes back at least two generations here; and her dad's side includes the family that owns Guerra Quality Meats. Her parents lived in various spots around town before settling in the Inner Sunset in the '90s. This is where Maggie grew up.
She went to Rooftop School, where she indulged in art, theater, and gardening. By eighth grade, Maggie was head of the environmental club at school. Around this time, California was experiencing a major drought. Residents were constantly being made aware of steps to mitigate the water shortages, stuff we're very familiar with today—shorter and fewer showers, less watering of gardens, etc. Around this time and not too far from her childhood home, GFE was founded.
Maggie and her friends liked to create make-believe worlds. She also liked to read. She spent a lot of time in the nearby library. Once she was a little older, she rode Muni all over town. One of her (and her family's) favorite spots was the Mission, almost always to get burritos.
We talk a little about Maggie's time living away from her hometown. She went to college in Seattle and loved it, but the rain ultimately got to her. In 2008, she spent time in DC working for the Obama campaign in Northern Virginia.
Before the financial crisis really took hold that year, Maggie had been thinking of permanently relocating. But with the election over and the economy continuing its decline, she decided to come back home. She worked various jobs while trying to find her calling—farmers' markets, her family's shop, and other non-profit work. She got a great spot up in Bernal Heights, met the man she'd later marry, and sealed the deal on staying in her hometown.
Growing up in the Inner Sunset, Maggie remembered GFE being built. Through one of her non-profit jobs, she got reconnected with the garden after sharing an office with them. With GFE's director going on maternity leave, Maggie applied and got the job. That was 10 years ago.
Maggie dives into the story of how GFE was founded more than 30 years ago amid a historic drought in California. The intent was always to create a teaching space, something that distinguishes GFE from other gardens around The City.
We talk about biodiversity and how that's such a motivator for the work they do at GFE. That coupled with things like native vegetation means that the garden itself, for passersby, might not always be what we tend to think of as "beautiful." But, as Maggie points out, the plants are doing exactly what they need to do—living in a symbiotic fashion with other plants, animals, and insects.
Maggie goes over how the garden has responded to the pandemic. They had to cancel (postpone?) a live event they had planned to commemorate 30 years and switched their education programs to Zoom. Needless to say, something was missing.
The upside was that they were able to reach more people virtually during the pandemic. In 2021, for the first time in three decades, they offered their "Get Up" program online. Maggie expresses her gratitude for the advances in technology that the pandemic forced onto GFE.
Garden for the Environment is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk. Follow them on Instagram.
We end this episode with Maggie's idea of what it means to still be here through it all.
We recorded this podcast at Garden for the Environment in the Inner Sunset in April 2022.
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