Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Wowww, Look at Our Garden!"

Amazing images courtesy Inga Finch Photography

"Wowww! Look at Our Garden!"

So said teenage Christine when she came around the side of the house in view of our workshop garden this past Saturday.  For four saturdays, once a month, for four months (skipping December), I'm leading an introductory food garden class with a friends' group of nine special needs teens at the home of Kelly Hetherington, one of the teen's mothers.

Back in July/August, Kelly, Annie's mother got in touch with me: "I want my daughter to learn how to grow vegetables, and I wonder whether you'd be willing to do a workshop with her and her friends."  Turned out, she also wanted her own food garden, so we developed a workshop + double raised bed install plan: one for her uses and the other for the workshop.

In mid October, the teens and I (with ample support from parents and a few of my friends) launched the food garden workshop series by filling a raised bed frame with compost, tacking in nails and running string to make the Square Foot Gardening grid.  After that, each of us planned and planted a 2x2ft (or 4 square feet) space with two kinds of cooking greens (collards, chard, mustards and/or kale), one cool season herb (fennel, dill, cilantro or parsley), and a square foot of lettue (romaine).

This past Saturday, each teen harvested the two lettuce plants they'd put in as plugs.  We thinned the lettuce seedlings from the seeds planted in October, and replanted more seeds.  We also took turns sharing our herbs with one another to touch, smell and taste.

What awesome kids.

Amazing pictures courtesy Inga Finch Photography

To view more of Inga Finch's quality work, see her website or visit her blog.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Space at Feather Oaks Food Garden Workshop: Sat., Nov 20th, 9:30-11:30

Here's a few images from the workshop:

Square Foot Gardening: vidalia onions
Man in Overalls answering food gardening questions

Notice the square foot grid for ease of plant spacing

Beautiful garden design created by Meghan Mick with Design from the Ground Up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good Food Schools

Have you ever heard-tell of the citizenship schools of the 50s and 60s?  (Click here for a mini-history from the perspective of the Highlander Folks School in eastern Tennessee.)

On the surface level, the citizenship schools were simply a place where black folks taught other black folks how to read and write, the point being to pass the literacy exams and register to vote.  But since the focus was voter registration, there was an emphasis on empowerment, on learning how to be good citizens, and, more immediately, on how to participate in the civil rights movement.  The schools also functioned as hubs of community, economic, and political activity.  Folks didn't learn how to read Pooh Bear, they began reading by learning the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.  Once they'd learned to read about their rights, they began raising questions like, "Why don't we enjoy these rights?"  And from there, "Once we register to vote, what and who are we going to vote for?  And how are we going to work towards securing our rights?"

Anyway, as you may have noticed, the citizenship schools had a double, or dual purpose: they imparted a practical skill (learning to read and write) and they organized and empowered the community to make a difference.  The brilliance of the schools was that folks turned out because they wanted to learn a skill that would prove useful in their lives. Folks wanted to learn to read the letters from their children and the fine print on contracts; they wanted to write Christmas cards and business invoices.  They also wanted the racial scene to change.  The citizenship schools provided a way to "get involved" that was also personally edifying, thus satisfying both needs. 

And it was a simple model: get students in the same room with a teacher and start with the interests of the students: What do you want to learn to read?  What do you want to learn to write?  From there, after ten weeks or so, students could (and did) become teachers.  The idea self-perpetuated across the south.  Although no one knows the exact count, it's estimated that citizenship schools enabled more that 100,000 people to register to vote.

The point in sharing this with you is that I feel we're in need of "new fangled" citizenship schools focused on food.  Maybe we'll call them the "Good Food Schools."*  Maybe they'll look like a educational community garden whereat folks can tend a plot all their own and and also participate in, say, monthly garden workshops.  Perhaps in early spring there will be a class taught on garden bed preparation followed by one on seed starting and transplanting.  Maybe as the spring progresses, there will be a workshop on mulching, another on pest and weed management, and another on composting.  On towards summer, perhaps someone else that is good with pots and pans can teach classes on cooking with garden fresh produce.  And, just maybe, once we're all sitting down together eating the food that we grew and prepared, having learned a practical skill, we'll get talking about the current industrial food system: about the Farm Bill; mono-cropping; chemical residues on produce; CAFOs; the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, top soil loss, food deserts; GMOs; and about about local, sustainable alternatives: about community gardens; community food security; CSAs; farmers markets; urban agriculture; vermicomposting; and our grandmother's recipes.  Maybe we'll ask questions like "Why is corn syrup subsidized? Why is the rate of childhood obesity so high, and what's that got to do with corn subsides?" And: "Why is it (often) illegal to sell yard-eggs and raw milk from grass-fed cows?"  Then, before we drown in the the pleasant euphoria of good food and healthy conversation, we'll make plans and find teachers so we can learn to raise chickens, goats, and turkeys; harvest our own honey; and make our own cheese.

And just maybe, if we keep it simple enough, garden novices will become garden instructors, microwavers will become cooking instructors, kids will become community garden catalysts, and participants will start their own Good Food Schools down the road, across town, and on the far side of the world.

My question for you is: What happens when a dream is shared?  And: where do we go from here?

*Props go to Will Allen for coining the phrase "Good Food Revolution."

Friday, November 12, 2010

A garden Story Though Pictures

The past two days I was working out at the Ferrel's garden on the east side of town with my buddy, Lindsay.  With a busy schedule and a sore back, Kathy Ferrel's garden had grown-over.  Here's the story through pictures.

"Lotsa" weeds.
Weeds All Gone!

Garden Planted
Closer up, the before/after is more exciting.
As you can tell from the images, Kathy's garden was in-ground.  My friend, Lindsay and I working together, we cleared the brush; raked up; transplanted irises, day lilies, agapanthuses, and garlic chives; top dressed the area with greensand (a good remedy for N. Florida soils that tend to be potassium deficient) and compost; shaped the beds; and lastly put seeds and plants in the ground.

In the picture above, you can see the Rosemary in the bottom left-hand corner surrounded by johnny jump-ups (which you can eat).  Back behind the rosemary, there's a bed of kale and chard and broccoli.  To the left, there's a bed with kale seeds waiting to germinate.  Along the far fence there are two short rows of spinach seeds.  In the top right-hand corner, we planted an spiral of chard seeds. (I'm so excited about this!)  All along the right-hand side of the garden there are root crops planted: turnips, beets, vidalia onions (which you can see), and a row of bunching onions (seeds).  Out of sight, behind the camera are a bunch of herbs (parsley, sage, oregano, dill, fennel, and sorrel), mesclun mixes (that's a fancy word for baby-greens like you can buy in a bag at Publix from EarthFare Organics or somebody similar), in addition to more root crops.  The whole garden is 10x36, just in case you're wondering.

And FYI, the most critical step following a garden planting is watering.  New seeds need water every day until at least a week after they're up.  And new plants set into fresh garden: approx 1 week of daily water from the time of planting.  After that, unless it's super hot and dry out, you can get away with every other or every third day (taking breaks, of course, if it's raining).  Or, an easier way to remember is to simply water every day post-planting for 3 weeks.  After that, change to 2-3 times a week.  How much and methods for avoiding (just about) all watering altogether will have to wait for another post.

PS- I was loosely following the direction of the BioIntensive Gardening in Kathy's garden. It's worth learning about.

What a garden!  Thanks to Kathy for allowing us to create in her space.  May there be lots of good eating in the weeks and months to come.

Finally Caught Her on Film

Last spring up visiting Warren Wilson, my Alma Mater I touched base with my buddy, Lindsay Popper, poet extraordinaire, college-mama/grand-ma, admissions guru, plumber and all around amazing person.  I asked, "So, say, Lindsay, where are you going to be come next September?"  She was on the threshold of graduation, and, rather than hem and haw, she quick-responded, "Where do you think I should be?"  "How about," I offered, "you come to Tallahassee and help me out with gardening work?"  She told me she liked that idea.  "Can I make it my 'Plan B'?"  Absolutely.

Lindsay planting lettuce.  In three weeks time, this lettuce was ready to harvest.  I just forgot the camera when I went back.
Well Plan A didn't end up fitting the schedule of the summer camp she's worked at for four years running--and she wasn't about to give that up-- so she came on down.  Lindsay's been here since the end of September; she's helped me out with workshops, worked alongside me putting in gardens and micro-irrigation systems.  She's read loads of books, met the neighbors, memorized a couple poems and even wrote one or two.  A few weeks back, we traveled to Wisconsin, etc (to attend our friends' wedding and to tour urban ag of the north).  Without much of any experience growing food in her past, she's a quick study.  Truth be told, she's got fall gardening in Florida down like the back of her hand.

Here's two more tidbits about Lindsay.  She hates posed-pictures.  Can't stand them.  Truth is, she doesn't much like cameras to capture her image at all-- at least so I can tell.  I only sneaked this one because I uploaded a few garden images from her camera that we took this afternoon-- and found this one a few pictures back.  Ha.  The second tidbit is that Lindsay's super interested in the possibility and potential that churches could take an active (leadership?) role in the food movement, perhaps via hosting community gardens, perhaps by providing a neutral space infused with the Spirit that can get us working across neighborhoods and backgrounds, perhaps by sourcing food pantries with fresh produce.  Who knows.  She's big on Jesus, and is up for chatting with church folk that want to talk gardens.  (Already she's been chatting with folks and helping out at three different churches around Tally with their existing and envisioned gardens.  Are you dreaming about a garden at your church?)

So, Lindsay says that she's definitely here through December.  As one of my mentors used to say, "But she's staying longer than that; she just might no know it yet."  Perhaps the "visitor" tag at the bottom of this post will prove obsolete.

Sweet Potatoes Lindsay dug from two raised beds (in the front yard) when we were cleaning up a couple weeks back to replant with turnips and carrots.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Note on Organizing or the Way I've been looking at things recently

Over the past year, I've received a good-handful of emails from well-meaning folks that want to contribute to Tallahassee's food movement.  The messages go something like this: "I'm a young person excited about growing my own food and am looking for a way to give back.  I'm thinking that I'd like to start a community garden for a ________ [insert: poor, Southside, Frenchtown or other lower dollar/power area].  What do you recommend?  How should I get started?"

I never know quite how to respond.  On the one hand, I recognize that folks are sincerely interested in offering their time and energy to a) improve Tallahassee's food security b)increase the access to fresh food in Food Desert areas of Tallahassee, c) take on a sustainable project that reduces food miles, and d) to get to know folks outside their typical networks.  All that I admire and respect.  I also acknowledge that volunteers are critical for the food movement, and deserve appreciation and opportunities for stimulating engagement.

As an organizer, however, the word for always makes me pause.  ("I'd like to start a community garden for...").  What such a word suggests is that folks who might be the "recipients" of such "service" can't put in a community garden themselves.  They don't know how to garden, they don't have any local garden experts to turn for advice, they don't have a truck or tools, they can't round-up the necessary money, etc.  Or, perhaps, the community members are "ignorant" about the value of community gardens, and so need someone who is "informed" to "educate" them by demonstration.  Then, as the thought-process goes, because a garden is built, people will get involved ("build it and they will come").  There are lots of dangerous underlying assumptions in there, the most critical of which is that certain communities are deficient, i.e., they're unable to do things themselves and need someone else to do it for them (this is often referred to as "helping people").

Let's just address the idea that poor communities can't grow their own food without outside help.  In my own experience here in Tallahassee, I've found that amongst poorer neighborhoods there is a high concentration of folks that grew up on farms (this is not exclusive to poor neighborhoods, it just also happens to be true in poor neighborhoods).  Most of the elders that don't have direct farm experience nonetheless grew up tending and eating from their family garden.  Moreover, folks farmed and gardened to feed their families.  A productive farm or garden meant no one need go hungry that year.  Let me say here that although I run a food gardening business, I've been gardening since eight, and am the "Man in Overalls" I have never relied on my gardening efforts to ensure my family from hunger.  Thus, for me--or anyone else-- to show up un-invited to a community to start a garden for a population that has such storehouses of knowledge is presumptuous to say the least.  Or, in another light it's just kind of silly.

Imagine someone starting a garden in your neighborhood for you because you don't know enough to appreciate fresh food or because they consider you incapable.

Before I bore you with platitudes, I'll share a story.

A few weeks back visiting Amanda Edmonds, Executive Director of Growing Hope in Ypsilanti, MI she took a friend and I to visit a community garden on the lawn at a high-rise housing project.  (Amanda and I met back in August at the ACGA, American Community Gardening Association annual conference.)  PS- take a look at Growing Hope's youtube video if you'd like to first:

Anyway, Amanda showed us the garden.  There were some garden plots in the ground.  Some were raised-beds. There were even a couple wheel-chair accessible beds (like these) for elderly residents.  While looking around at collards and kale and onions, etc, Amanda told us the story about how the garden got started.

Seven years back, after volunteering at another community garden for one-and-a-half years, a garden that she'd helped found, the administration of the public housing project (behind us) got in touch with her.  They told her, "Hey, we've got some money left over in our landscape budget, so," the asked, "Would you design and build us a community garden?"

She said, "No.  I won't.... But I will facilitate an interest meeting."  Continuing the story, she shared, "So I printed some fliers and asked a couple folks I already knew in the building to put them up.  At the meeting about 25-30 showed up; we did some asset mapping, talked about what kind of garden they wanted, how it ought to be designed, what our next steps were, and it went from there."  Not feeling confident about what "asset-mapping" was I asked for clarification.  "Well, for instance, we found that there were folks that had gardened in the room before, folks that had gardened their whole lives-long, folks that had grown up on farms.  They had all the skills they needed in the room."

And the best part of the story came when I asked Amanda, "So who is the coordinator now?"  She looked at me quizzically.  "You know, the garden leader?  Who calls the shots?  Organizes the other gardeners?"  "Oh," she said, "No idea.  One of the gardeners I suppose.  Who knows.  I haven't been involved since we had the first couple meetings."

Later on, in a book Amanda gave me entitled Building Communities Curriculum (published by the ACGA) I looked up Asset-Mapping.  It says, "The Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) premise is that neighborhood [projects] can be achieved by locating all of the available local assets [individual gifts, associations, institutions, land and buildings, and local economies] within a community and connecting them with one another in ways that multiply their effect."  The book further recommended the ABCD Institute.

So, in conclusion, for those of us trying to further the food movement-- that is, for those of us inspired to support community gardens, delve into urban agriculture, share the truth that we can raise tons of food within steps of our kitchens-- we can learn a lot from Amanda, an extremely effective food movement organizer.  For starters, she did her homework; she volunteered for a year-and-a-half first.  She was invited by someone within the housing project to get involved.  She resisted the temptation of doing things for someone, instead worked with the community.  She played a role, and then stepped out of the center because the point wasn't Amanda, the point was the community garden.

Did you hear this neat piece about vacant lots in northern cities and a 60-acre urban farm in Cleveland?

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