Time to start fall garden projects

1 Aug

As we enter the dog days of summer, I see many local farmers and back yard gardeners preparing for the fall growing season.  The brutal heat and drought we have been experiencing this year forced many to abandon their summer gardens, leaving already heat-stressed plants to fend for themselves while we humans retreated to cooler indoor environments.  For me, fall gardening presents an opportunity to try again and take another crack at growing food during more tolerable conditions, grow tastier food and save money.  

Late summer is the perfect time to set up a new garden.  The ground is dry and tillable, if you plan to break up the soil using a roto-tiller.  Plant freshly tilled soil right away, then use cover crops on any leftover space to ensure that your new garden will be fertile and weed free at the beginning of next year’s growing season.  Now is also a good time for money saving garden infrastructure projects like building a rain barrel, a cold frame or a hoop house.  You can find great deals right now on bulk produce for all those preservation projects you’ve been thinking about, and could be an opportune moment to build that small cold cellar you’ve been thinking about.  You don’t need a basement, either. Some friends of mine at Ecovillage did this once by by digging a pit large enough to bury a metal garbage can. Voila–an instant cold cellar! 

Local growers in our area are looking more and more to fall as their most productive and profitable time of year.  Home gardeners should start looking for fall starts at your local farm stands and nurseries and can direct seed many crops through September.  I talked to Chaw Chang of Stick and Stone Farm, a member farm of the Full Plate Collective, http://fullplatefarms.webs.com/  and he had a lot to say about fall growing.  “Certain things for fall like beets, lots of other root crops, turnips, brassicas, radishes, Asian or watermelon radishes can all be planted now.  Other crops including broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, Napa cabbage, escarole, and some lettuces should be planted now as starts.  You should also start planting direct seeded stuff like spinach and salad mixes, depending on how big you want them all the way into September.  If you want to cover things with plastic or Remay (row cover) there’s still a lot you can do.   Ornamental kales are also edible, so if nothing else you can plant those.  You could plant beans this week; they taste and yield better if it doesn’t get too wet.”

 A growing number of growers like Chaw are devoted to their fall and winter production.  “Our farm devotes the majority of our acres to fall production in order to have year round yields.  We don’t irrigate and depend on Mother Nature to do the watering for us.  A lot of these crops in Upstate NY are better suited for cooler weather.  They get a lot sweeter.  Sugar is mother nature’s anti-freeze.  When it gets colder, everything sweetens up.  For us, we can have good food and product year round that tastes better.  With traditional summer crops like tomatoes and peppers, it’s a gamble.  With climate change, it seems to be getting easier but still iffy, springs are more extreme, but in fall we get massive rains that saturate the soil and seems to work out, but it’s still a gamble.  We plant and cross our fingers.  I really think that if NY got back into real production of vegetables, it would be really wise to focus on cool season crops.”  Back when I used to work at the ABC Café I remember my excitement experimenting with fall and winter crops for the first time.  They offer a broad range of colors, flavors and a versitille palatte for healthy and hardy meals.

 Farmers and home gardeners aren’t the only ones preparing for fall growing.  GIAC has been growing a garden at the corner of Court and Albany Sts. for several years and the Summer Conservation Corps has been hard at work improving the site and starting plants to distribute in the community. Working with Gardens 4 Humanity, they will be sharing Broccoli, PacChoi and Cabbage starts  with the community.  Check our website www.ccetompkins/g4h for dtaes, times and locations.  They have also learned some carpentry skills and are raising money for future garden improvements by selling picnic tables that they built.  You can see a sample picnic table at the GIAC garden. 

 For me, fall growing is the gateway to a long winter of tasty warming foods.  What an adventure it has become to visit the winter farmer’s market or trudge out into my snow covered garden to pick tough dino kale leaves for dinner.  I can already imagine the smells wafting out of a toasty kitchen at the first pot luck of winter and I am so looking forward to sharing my roasted roots with friends and sampling their creations.

 Want to get connected to local food? Come out to the 2nd annual Food Justice Summit on September 22 at the Neighborhood Pride Grocery in the Northside. For more cool ideas on eating local food and saving money, check out www.getyourgreenback.org.


Community Food Security Coalition Conference 14: New Orleans

8 Dec

In mid October, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans for the first time to attend the CFSC14, to visit some old friends, and to learn a bit about how New Orleans is fairing 5 years after Hurricane Katrina. My conference experience began with a Saturday tour of 3 NOLA school gardens; Langsten Hughes Elementary in Gentilly, J.W. Johnson Elementary in Leonidas, and the Edible School Yard Samuel J. Green Elementary (which happens to be the school that my young friends Gabe and Dominic attend) in Freret. J.W. Johnson, for instance, was in its first year and consisted of a few small beds and large containers. They are in the process of planning a large expansion of their gardens with the assistance of high school students from Priestly High School of Design and Construction. A community gardening area and local resident gardeners will be integrated into the overall gardening program. Residents and students are highly integrated into the planning process. Langston Hughes is NOLA’s first school to be raised after the storm, the first to be rebuilt and the first LEED Certified School building in Louisiana. A school garden was included in the original site plan and features a Reconciliation Circle the central focus. Reconciliation Circles are a concept formulated by the Rethinkers, a student group focused on reforming New Orleans Schools from School Food to Green Energy. Reconciliation Circles place to resolve conflicts in a mutually respectful way while teaching personal responsibility by reflecting on the consequences of our actions. This restorative approach avoids traditional punishments such as suspension or expulsion which result in great personal long term negative effects on students. This garden also features a community garden element addressing food security issues in the community while providing students and community members a forum for mutual sharing and learning. An Americorp funded staff person is dedicated full time to the garden facilitating garden development and curriculum integration. Partner organizations have committed to different physical elements of the garden. The Edible School Yard New Orleans, or ESLNOLA, is the second school garden created the Chez Pannisse Foundation, started by chef and food activist Alice Waters. The three main pillars of the project are the 1/3 acre edible educational garden featuring an outdoor classroom, community gathering spaces; beds gardened in different styles and a full time garden teacher. Open Community Garden Days invite the community in and share produce with neighbors. The teaching also has a full time staff person, comfortable prep and seating stations and ample cooking space. Produced from the garden is utilized in the kitchen for school day classes, Family Food Nights and Parent cooking classes, thus avoiding regulations about sourcing food which could complicate a garden-to-cafeteria scenario. Finally, the cafeteria is working with Sodexo to serve real food, more local cusine and less bad stuff. As many students at Samual J. Green eat Breakfast and Lunch as well as up to two snacks there, switching to healthier ingredients in school will have a huge affect on child health and will make up to 60% of their diet. These three elements work in a coordinated effort with classroom teachers to create a seamless curriculum throughout. Our School at Blair Grocery is located in the Lower Ninth Ward on the site of a former family owned grocery store. Through a homeschooling program, teachers there are able to work with young people to teach sustainable farming practices through hands-on experience and community service. The students run a small scale agripenurial project selling gourmet and microgreens grown on site to upscale New Orleans restaurants netting $3000 per week. High tunnels are used for microgreen production and a Growing Power style aquaponics system produces watercress and more salad greens. All this is powered by a giant compost pile generated by Whole Foods and City wastes. In addition to the commercial aspects of the farm, students are gaining experience in many other areans in agriculture and beyond. They run a farm stand on Sundays, the only source of fresh produce in the Lower 9th, supplying culturally appropriate produce at an affordable price. They have also had many opportunities to learn valuable leadership skills such as public speaking, leading tours of the site and traveling to other sites around the country. Commonalities: Posted Rules Hand Painted Signs Student involvement in planning and development Tool storage Shade structures Raised beds Fruits: Figs, Bananas, Kiwi, Loquat, Citrus, Art and Literature – Langston Hughes Quotes, Central sculpture, painted wrought iron benches Outdoor Gathering spaces Community element – community work days, sharing produce, future community gardening sites Partnerships Staff Dedicated to Garden development and education Coordinated curriculum between gardens and classrooms Water catchment and Water garden with native plants – ESY Teaching Kitchen Reconciliation Circle Entreprenurial projects Aquaculture – OSBG/ Growing Power model

10-10-10 Global Work Party: Gardens 4 Humanity and 350.org team up

22 Nov

In conjunction with 350.org’s global work party on 10-10-10 to fight against climate change, Gardens 4 Humanity hosted a work party to establish a new community garden at Chestnut Hill Apartments.  This site was chosen for a number of reasons, not least of which was the active involvement and enthusiasm for g4h from resident and recent NLI graduate Ana Ortiz.  The group had also been looking to open up an opportunity somewhere in the West Village/ Chestnut area.  This site could not have been more perfect.  Located on the former JB Williams estate, also known as Cliff Park, it offers easy accessibility for Chestnut and neighborhood residents while at the same time provides a quite, reflective atmosphere of beauty and natural serenity.

While preparations were happening on the site such as felling black locust trees and opening up the garden site to more light, much was also happening behind the scenes.  Ana was busy working with LACS to provide bathrooms and other facilities during the event, Kartrina Baxter and Jemila Sequira rounding up food and supplies, neighbors Clare, Leah and Mary Anne Grady prepping snacks and lunch, Wendy Babiak from 350.org was spreading the word far and wide, and even Jennifer Dotson and Maria Coles, the Ward reps for West Hill, were busy publicizing the event through the neighborhood association and helping guide everyone through the process of preparing for a block party. 

The Day of the event was sunny and mild.  When I first arrived at 8:30 a.m., an enthusiastic you resident was already there and waiting to get started.  He ended up staying throughout the day and helping with many of the work projects which occurred at the event.  Folks began to trickle in around 9am and really began arriving in force by 10 am.  Around 50 people were working at any given moment, but if you look back at the photos, it’s a different 50 people every time you look.  The overall attendance was somewhere between 100 and 150 and a good mix of G4H regulars, Chestnut and West Hill Residents, LACS students and alumni, Ecovillagers and a few townies thrown in for good measure.  We also had both Ward reps on hand and a reporter from the Ithaca Times was there to capture the event for print. 

By the end of the day, the entire vegetable garden area was stripped of sod and covered with mulch and/or compost, corner posts had been set and the entire area was cleaned up.  When I left, there was a large group of about 25 Chestnut residents still enjoying the day and enjoying the sense of accomplishment.  As this project moves forward, we have already established a sense of neighborhood togetherness and partnerships which will help to sustain this project well into the future.

 Check it out on YouTube!:



Food Security in America

2 Sep

Food security is defined by the World Health Organization as “all people at all times having access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” In 2008, 49.1 million Americans were declared as living in food-insecure households. Given that we have an intensive agricultural system that was designed to produce extremely high yields, what is the excuse for the problem of food insecurity?

 Food insecurity does not mean simply the lack of food. There are three main aspects of food security: availability, access, and use.  Food availability refers to having enough food available at any given time; access is “having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet,” and use means that these foods are produced and used in the most appropriate and sustainable manner.

 What is food justice? There are other terms for food security issues: food justice and food sovereignty, among many others.  Food justice is “when all community members obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.”  Food sovereignty is essentially defined as the right for peoples to declare what is best for themselves and their  communities—including agriculture and labor policies.

 Food justice and sustainability. Food security is an issue of sustainability.  Our food is currently grown in a manner that degrades the environment—decreasing the amount of topsoil, polluting our water supply, and using a large amount of fossil fuels.  Additionally, there is a lack of food access and availability around the globe, which is both a social and economic issue.  Movement toward food justice is a way to increase access and availability by promoting healthy, local, and homegrown food and cultivating communities along the way.

In communities that are working toward food justice, people and neighborhoods become empowered by taking control of their own food supply, working as a community, and learning about and celebrating food.  Sustainable agriculture in local communities can create healthy, localized areas where people not only have a consistent supply of healthy food, but also have access to the process of food production.  The movement toward food justice is creating a better food distribution system—working toward the global creation of food in dignified, sustainable, and community-based ways that create justice, security, and health for all.     

 What can we do to promote food justice? There are many ways to make progress toward food justice by promoting food independence, community involvement, localized food economies, and revitalized food cultures. Some strategies are:

  • community gardening
  • home gardening
  • localized agricultural systems
  • urban agriculture
  • community canneries and freezers
  • subsidies (such as subsidized CSA shares)
  • community food and nutrition education
  • working with local farmers and “gleaning”
  • bulk food buying clubs
  • creating food councils
  • food-related job availability

 Some organizations promoting food justice:

 The Food Project, Boston. The Food Project’s mission is to create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system. Our community produces healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs, provides youth leadership opportunities, and inspires and supports others to create change in their own communities.

Rooted in Community National Network. Rooted In Community (RIC) is a national grassroots network that empowers young people to take leadership for food justice in their own communities We are a diverse movement of youth and adults working together in urban and rural agriculture, food sovereignty and social justice. Our purpose is to build capacity so that people can create health for themselves and their communities.

 Earthworks, Boston. Earthworks is a community-based non-profit organization planting a healthier and more sustainable Boston. Our mission is to strengthen communities through direct service to the environment through the planting and care of urban orchards, urban wilds, community trees, and hands on education programs for all ages.


The People’s Grocery, West Oakland, California.  The mission of The People’s Grocery is to build a local food system that improves the health and economy of the West Oakland community.  They are increasing both knowledge and access to healthy foods in a neighborhood that has previously lacked such access. Their projects include creating jobs in a low-income urban area; developing programs to produce and distribute fresh, healthy, local food; providing nutrition education, and more. They operate one greenhouse, two urban gardens, and a 3.5-acre farm just outside of the city. They provide weekly boxes of vegetables, “People’s Grub Boxes,” at low prices to community members and offer free cooking and nutrition classes, peer-to-peer workshops, and other educational opportunities.

 Nuestras Raíces, Holyoke, Massachusetts. Nuestras Raíces is a grass-roots organization that promotes economic, human, and community development in Holyoke, Massachusetts through projects relating to food, agriculture, and the environment. Projects include:                                                                                                               

Community gardens—including eight community gardens and two youth gardens. They plan to expand the network of gardens each year.

Youth leadership—activities include farming and community gardening, video expression of issues facing young people in Holyoke, participation in neighborhood and community planning, murals honoring the culture of Puerto Rico through traditional music and dance (Bomba y Plena)

Economic development—Nuestras Raíces works to develop businesses and jobs. 

Women’s leadership group—meets regularly to spend time with one another, develop leadership and business skills, and learn how to be active in important community issues.

Environmental justice organizing—funded by the EPA’s CARE program, this coalition will spend two years identifying environmental risks to health and building community capacity to address those risks.

Tierra de Oportunidades project—a beginning farmer training project, new business incubator, 

environmental conservation and stewardship project, youth development initiative, and cultural development project.

Nuestras Raíces Institute—training a new generation of urban agriculture and environmental leaders.

Roots Up green jobs initiative—funding for the fiscal year of 2009 from Commonwealth Corporation to launch a green jobs training program for Holyoke youth.

 Edible Schoolyard, New Orleans. The mission of the Edible Schoolyard is to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum, culture, and food program. As a method of experiential learning, students who participate in the Edible Schoolyard integrate math, science, and the humanities into their hands-on learning about food, health, and the environment. Additionally, children participate in cooking their own food. The Edible Schoolyard was also created to promote personal and social responsibility through working together with peers, community members, and the land. It is both a garden and kitchen facility—however, this program does not supply food for school lunches or all children in the school.

 The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans is a program operating in two schools, Samuel J. Green and Arthur Ashe. The program is very similar to the ESY Berkeley; however, they also incorporate cafeteria food programs to provide the school communities, especially students, with wholesome, nutritious, and delicious foods. They promote fresh, locally grown produce that is cooked from scratch, rather than from canned or pre-made materials. Various classes—math, social studies, science, and even the kindergarten level “Food ABC”—utilize the Edible Teaching Kitchen, while weekly garden classes use the Edible Garden as a classroom. In addition to using their produce in the classrooms, middle school “Budding Entrepreneurs” sell food and plants at their local market, while Samuel J. Green & Arthur Ashe students can also take fresh food home to their families.

Gardens4Humanity: Our First Year

20 Aug


Gardens 4 Humanity began in the Spring of 2009 when Southside community member, Marie Hall, had a vision to revive victory gardens to allow low-income folks better access to healthy foods. G4H is a collaborative effort between Cornell Cooperative Extension-TC Agriculture Department, the Whole Communities Project and community members.  Gardens for Humanity aims to link new gardeners of all backgrounds with the resources they need to plant gardens and grow their own food, prepare meals and preserve food from backyard and community gardens regardless of their living situation or gardening experience.


St. James AME Zion Church  Our first project as Gardens 4 Humanity was to work with the church to create an edible garden space.  Utilizing student volunteers and a congregation member hired to assist gardening efforts for the summer, new garden beds were created, a stone herb garden was built, native perennials and spring bulbs were planted and edible perennials such as strawberries, blueberries were planted and should produce an abundance of fruit in 2011. 

 Southside Community Center   The gardens at SSCC were started through a joint effort between Elan Shapiro of Sustainable Tompkins, CCE and Dan Flerladge of LACS in 2008.  Beginning in spring 2009, Gardens 4 Humanity began to play a role at the center through multiple avenues.  An initial community work party was held to create new garden beds and replant perennials to beatify SSCC entrance way.  Congo Square Market, founded by Jhakeem Haltom assisted by Jemila Sequiera and Kirtrina Baxter, also began in Spring 2009 and now features many local craft and food vendors as well as a youth run produce stand with food grown at the Ithaca Farm Project. 

            Josh Dolan with help from community and student volunteers, has been working with the Southside Afterschool and Summer Camp Programs to provide gardening education, healthy snacks and fun exercise.  The 5 sections of gardens serve both programs and feature herbs, veggies, fruits and a native butterfly garden.  Steve Gabriel of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute constructed a rain catchment system for the veggie garden with gutters he installed from the roof of Tucker’s Catering next door. 

 Youth Farm Project at Three Swallows  Gardens 4 Humanity helped to bring this project into existence during the planning and fundraising stages and many of our volunteers have participated in weekly workdays on the farm.  Youth from LACS under the direction of Dan Flerledge, from the Southside community recruited at the center and community members have worked side by side for 3-4 days a week during the summer of 2010 to produce organic vegetables for multiple venues.  Produce was sold at Congo Square Market throughout the summer, will be used by the LACS Locavores club this winter, and will also be donated to BJM’s Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.  Farm manager Anne — and Full Plate Farm Collective manager Katie Church have provided crucial assistance and have helped to form a solid partnership between Full Plate and the community.  Kirtrina Baxter was also one of the main organizers and was instrumental in a weekly enrichment and education day held every Friday at Southside for the youth.

 TCAction  Also in the Southside neighborhood, a single raised bed was constructed for the residents of TC Actions Corn St. housing site.  G4H volunteer Gail Blake has taken on the site and is working with residents and mentoring them on gardening skills and caretaking of the garden.

 Northside IHA   Eight black locust raised beds (6 3’x6’ beds and 2 6’x6’ beds) were constructed in May 2010 by Gardens 4 Humanity, GIAC staff and residents; primarily during a community build day event May 1.  New Roots students, through their weekly service learning program, also assisted in constructing some raised beds and got some valuable hands-on experience. The garden supports GIAC’s Pre-Teen Green summer camp and after-school programming and Jess Orkin, creator and facilitator of these programs, was also on the planning team that envisioned, coordinated and helped build the garden.  She received a Sustainable Tomkins mini-grant to fund plant material.  Space is also provided for residents to grow vegetables. The site contains a variety of fruits in addition to annual vegetables including a multi-graft apple and a peach tree, strawberries, grape vines and maypops.  There is also one bed dedicated to an herb garden and one that hosts a collection of hot peppers.  On August 3, 2010, G4H attended the annual Night Out celebrations at Conway Park and did a salsa making activity for children.  Informal garden tours were given and some produce was harvested to use directly in the salsa.  G4H is also working with GIAC to build a picnic table for the garden out of local lumber.  This will be the central feature of an upcoming community event celebrating the first growing season of the garden. 

 Titus Towers  Titus garden was constructed between May 15 – May 20, 2010.  15 raised 24” raised beds were constructed from local 1”x6”x7’ black locust lumber.  The garden was designed to accommodate elders by creating higher beds and wider pathways were built to allow for wheelchair access.  Utilizing volunteers from Gardens 4 Humanity, IHA staff working overtime and a rented mini-loader, most of the construction happened in one day.  High efficiency was achieved as the posts for a deer fence were set before hand and raised bed panels were constructed assembly line style the night before the build day.  Beds were assigned by case worker Billy Nordby and gardeners began planting the same day. 

 Children’s Drop-In Center   Garden construction beginning June 2010 by Gardens 4 Humanity volunteers for a small kitchen and children’s garden featuring hemlock raised beds.  FLPCI apprentices also assisted in the construction and filling of beds, and planting was done in mid-July by Anna Ortiz’s GIAC summer camp crew consisting of tomatoes and herbs, beans, kale and lettuce.  Alex, Drop-in Center Chef, will be using produce in his regular meals for the children.