Tag Archives: Community garden

25: Pecha Kucha and North Carolina Community Garden Partners

19 Nov
  • Learn more: Visit the North Carolina Community Garden Partners website: www.nccgp.org

On November 9, 2013 North Carolina Community Garden Partners convened their 2nd annual workshop titled “Nurturing Sustainable Community Gardens: How to Get Rooted in your Community.” Over 120 gardeners, organizers, and volunteers from all over the state gathered in Durham, NC during a seasonably grey day to learn, share, and discuss issues related to establishing and/or growing gardens in their respective communities.

Started in 2008, North Carolina Community Garden Partners (@NCCGP) is a non-profit organization based in Greensboro, NC with the vision to:

. . . increase the quantity, quality, and sustainability of community gardens in North Carolina.

NCCGP advocates community gardens on a statewide level by “increasing awareness of established community gardens; providing resources and best practices for establishing new gardens; organizing workshops, conferences, & tours on a statewide level; and promoting policies that encourage development, implementation, and sustainability of gardens and associated activities.” (see their about page to learn more)

The Novemeber 9th all-day workshop produced three tracts of sessions for its attendees; “Creating a Community,” “Growing a Garden,” and “Organizing a Garden.” The “Creating a Community” tract consisted of 3 separate panel discussions which covered topics related to establishing new community gardens such as Land-Use Policy, Funding methods, and Community Partnerships. The second tract, “Growing a Garden,” was a series of skills-based presentations to educate attendees in such areas as permaculture, composting, and season-extension. The third and final tract, “Organizing a Garden,” dealt with issues many existing community gardens deal with such as maintaining viability (Asset Based Community Development), community outreach, and sustainability.

The workshop then concluded with a 60 minute Pecha Kucha community garden presentation. Pecha Kucha is a series of visually based, fast-paced presentations that was originated in Japan as a way to quickly share creative concepts. This Pecha Kucha consisted of 5 different showcases each limited to 20 slides. Each presenter was given 20 seconds per slide to describe and/or elaborate on the existence of their community garden, its impact on the gardeners, and its impact on the community then promptly ushered off stage for the next presentation.

Highlights from this year’s Pecha Kucha included a presentation from Dara Bloom showcasing the amazing talents to Hmong refugees in the foothills of western NC. Transplanting Traditions showcased the successes of Karin refugees growing and selling produce in the Raleigh Area. Food Corps volunteers showcased the impacts and benefits of establishing gardens on school campuses; how students can feed themselves as well as supplement classroom lessons. Throughout each unique presentation a common message could be heard, no matter the people or the presenter, the message was that gardening has the power to bring individuals together, to make communities.

Whatever the case, from first year gardens in the coastal plains to school based gardens run by Food Corps volunteers; from refugee communities trying to grow like they did back home to charity drives for the elimination of hunger in northwestern counties, this 45 min fast-paced presentation was a powerful and inspiring way to conclude the days events. After the standing ovation on the heels of the final presentation, 15 minutes was given for viewers to pepper the presenters with their questions and praise. Many were awed by the amazing produce. Some could not help but be inspired with new ideas for planting methods and varieties. Some queried how they did it all. All were impacted.

After the conclusion of the day’s events a tour was given at the nearby Briggs Avenue Community Garden where attendees got a chance to see what a successful and thriving community garden can look like.

In conclusion, even though food and health issues might be sliding a bit off the national radar, groups like NCCGP, its members, and gardeners statewide are proving that community based solutions to food justice issues are still relevant in North Carolina. With continued advocacy from NCCGP and inspirational stories like those on display during this workshop, more and more North Carolinians will hear and answer the calls to start growing healthier stronger communities. Let’s get growing NC.

Grow It Forward

10. Oh SNAP! Where did it all go?

1 Nov
English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning millions of Americans woke up to the startling reality that they will face a hungrier and poorer 2014 just in time for the beginning of this holiday season.  This sad reality comes as the US Congress allowed the expiration of the temporary economic stimulus package enacted in 2009 by the Obama administration. As of November 1, 2013, families and individuals receiving federally supported food stamps will see their benefit cut by as much as $36 per month for a family of four, or $1.40 per meal per person down from $1.48 per meal.

The House proposal, now being negotiated along with smaller, yet still significant, Senate cuts of $4 billion, would result in 3.8 million people being removed from food stamps in 2014,according to the Congressional Budget Office. The haggling comes at a time when more than 15 percent of Americans remain mired in poverty, and more than half are at or near the poverty line when stagnant middle-class wages are matched against rising costs of living, US Census data show.

courtesy Mother Jones.com

SNAP, as it is commonly called, is the federal government’s economic assistance program providing nutritional support to persons and families living in or near poverty in the form of Food Stamps. This assistance goes in large part to feed children and the elderly whose food is insecure. There are some abuses to and in the system which have given it a much maligned reputation. But the benefits to the security, health and over-all well-being of its recipients are clear and to reduce and/or remove these benefits in such economically difficult times is bad, to say the least. Especially when one considers that 1 in 8 Americans already deal with hunger on a daily basis, and most of them are children, infirm, and/or elderly.

 

How then are we to feed them? Can they be expected to feed themselves?

Suppose individuals and communities learned and practiced the skills of growing thus bringing the food cycle closer to homes and neighborhoods rather than depending on the industrial food machines of this day. What would happen if more of the fresh food “revolution” in our country made its way down to the lower social and economic brackets of our great society instead of being a bling ring on the fairer fingers of the nuanced and nouveau riche? Suppose more land were readily available for growing rather than constant sprawling development. What if the public schools in our cities did more to teach and encourage agricultural and horticultural practices beyond the operation of a lawn mower and weed eater? What if there were more economic incentives for persons and civic organizations to establish and maintain urban and suburban farmlets? What if more farmers’ markets and grocery stores carrying fresh produce started showing up in the harder parts of our cities and towns and not just the affluent and safer ones? What if we “economically stimulated” healthy eating and lifestyle choices for all levels of society, not just the middle and upper class? 

When societal norms and customs prohibit all members of that same society from attaining and living in and from a mutually accepted quality of health and wellness regardless of social or economic status, then that same society ceases to exist as one and relegates itself to a cluster of many. Thus, it becomes a collection of hierarchical factions grouped into many “have”s and “have not”s.  This is a defacto state of injustice. When a nation accepts this as the norm, especially in the areas of health and well-being, then it is always going to be the weakest, the most needy who will be cast aside and strode asunder the foot and mood of the mightier; of the able. This is not a new thought, however. Aristotle has often been quoted as saying you can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. And many other philosophers, politicians, preachers, and activists have espoused this idea throughout history.

“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “

Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey 
November 1, 1977 
Washington, D.C.

“The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn.”

Bill Federer

I do not intend to rant and rail against established machines and practices of our day. Rather I hope to encourage, to rally a cry for a change at the personal level rather than depend on the collective and sluggish effort of indebted government. If society is by default a sum of its parts, then if you start changing the parts you will by extension start changing the whole. Much like the peaceful civil rights movements of the mid-twentieth century that changed America, and the world, let us too begin at the personal level. Let us fight back at the injustice in our food distribution by bringing the food cycle down to lower more personal levels, where possible for each individual. Let us combat food deserts in our cities with persons willing to go into them and offer their produce directly to the consumer rather than through the marked-up marketplace. Let us control growth retake our lands one green acre at a time. Let us teach and encourage the next generation of farmers and growers with respect and thanks. I do not have the solutions here for all my readers. I do not have the strength to wield such a power. This is what I do have though; my health, the health of my family, and by the blessings and grace of God, a couple of small plots of land to grow on and some ideas of how to grow it forward. 

Thank you and God Bless.

 

8. Garden Improvements in the coming winter months

30 Oct

Winter is not yet here but the planting season for our area is all but done. That means that if you do not have in the ground now, then don’t plan on getting it in anytime soon. Unless we are talking about alliums and asparagus; those are about the only things you can plant these days without some kind of season extending devices. The winters here can be fickle, even tempting to gardeners and growers alike. Last year, for example, was incredibly mild, too mild. We had no freezes to speak of which allowed many growers to grow productively all through the winter. Or then there is the winter of three years ago which I had a hard time keeping pace with the heating bill on our little 1,000 sf home due to the extended and extremely cold winter. Generally speaking though, our area is good for growing year round vegetables outdoors, albeit selectively and with appropriate measures.  But, we have already experienced our first hard frost (for us that is sub 29) of the season and that was a full two weeks ahead of the typical November 5 first frost date. As for myself, other than the onions and garlic I planted early in October, I do not plan on starting anything new till next year’s planting season begins in March.

So for the time being I am managing my weeds, taking stock of my supplies, watering, and planning hard improvements. Hard improvements are what I call things like renovations and light construction work. Since this is my first winter in this garden, I expect to be performing a lot of improvements in order to get a good start in March. Of the first on my long list are raising the beds. I suspect I have acquired enough soil, though there is more to be taken from under the paths, if I deem it necessary. Then there is the issue of the containment of the beds. After much consideration, some inspiration from talks with some Masters in the garden and a video from Monte Don, I have decided to use an old technique called wattle fencing for the beds’ containment structure.

[Wattle Fencing] is not a new idea. Beginning in the Bronze Age, when knives, saws and hatchets came into use, many Europeans and early residents of the British Isles developed wattle work, the art of weaving branches into walls, fences and roofs. Wattle fences are made by weaving flexible green sapling wood between upright posts, like a wooden tapestry, so they’re both beautiful and strong. They were originally used to contain domestic animals, such as sheep. These days, wattle weaving is a great way to build all kinds of useful rustic garden accents from sustainably harvested wood.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/make-simple-garden-fences.aspx#ixzz2jErVn6TL

My reasons for choosing wattle work are simple. I am seriously trying to avoid using personal funds in this garden, as much as possible. And, there is a large stand of young woods in the overgrown fields bordering the garden site. So the appeal of free material ripe for the harvesting is a major bonus. Then there is the appeal of the intrinsic beauty of wattle work. I do not expect this to be easy. As a matter of fact I expect it will require some serious labor. But labor I have plenty of. Not funds.

If I can make my attempt look half this good, I’ll be alright.

Other improvements I hope to accomplish on the site include some work establishing some batches in the compost area and constructing a more permanent hoop house solution for the 4×6 onion bed. At this moment the community compost area is in need of a lot of work. Members have been using the area as a dumping ground for all their material, but have failed to maintain it with regular turnings and doses of water. As a result the pile is now too large and too weedy for any single individual to conceive of managing to any real result. I hope to get in and establish a series of batches that can be managed by a single individual with relative ease, at least perceptibly so.

Last on my wish list is possibly a small greenhouse using as many found or discounted materials as possible. The problem is where to place it because to situate it on my plot, no matter how small, will mean sacrificing valuable growing space.

None of these are any small task. To do any one of them would be a large accomplishment in one off season. To do all three might be considered monumental. Time will tell. After all, that is what I am good at; thinking more stuff up to do. I need to work on doing it and finishing it.

Thanks for tagging along. You can see more here.

5. My first Garden Workday, and piling paths

27 Oct

And so my experiences of being a community garden member continue to grow me and challenge me.

This past Saturday was my first community garden workday.  The community garden workday is a day on the calendar to which each member/plot owner is contractually obligated to attend. These work days are usually spent working on larger projects, projects larger than a single plot. For our work day we tackled weeding and mulching the two main entrance paths. Alas I was too busy helping to spend time snapping photographs so this will be a picture-less post.

In the ten plus years of this particular garden’s existence, path maintenance methods have changed from grassy paths to mulched paths. Both have their merits. The current method is mulch since there is an abundance of free wood chip mulch material delivered to the site by various tree companies. We he piles and piles of it lining our frontage where the trucks dump it. It is a wonderful resource when used properly. Here lies a problem with this method in my opinion. This practice has gone on for several years now. In those years garden members have sought to overcome the weeds in the pathways between each garden with new layers of mulch. Weeds pulled, new mulch laid in. Problem solved. No, problem created I say. I have no problem with the use of this mulch to suppress weeds and to walk upon. I too use this method in my garden at home. From the very same sources, no less. The problem is that there is now an accumulation of many years of this practice upon the grid of paths in our garden. Thus the paths have gotten higher while the plots themselves have remained or in some cases lowered. This problem was exacerbated this past season when our area experienced the wettest summer of the past seventy years. The rains came in but could not get out of most gardens due to such high walkways resulting in lost crops and yields. For many gardeners the potatoes never stood a chance in all that wet. Not to mention all the other low to ground or sprawling vegetables such as squashes and greens. But the weeds loved it. They absolutely loved the neglected growth because it was too rainy for many gardeners to work in. Between records rains, failed crops, and massive weeds, it is sad to say that we lost many a member this past year. Too many members just walked away, paving the way for many new members of course including myself.

When I took on plot #32 this past summer, one of the first tasks I took to doing was this very issue as it existed in my plot. I needed to raise my garden with more soil and lower some of the paths bordering my plot. So I scraped off the weedy top layer of mulch then took the rich soil beneath it and placed it in my beds to raise them up. I have advocated this practice before to my fellow members who laugh at my apparent mounds. Some call them hugelkulture, some call them potatoes. I joke back and call them burial mounds. I had hoped I spread enough of this idea to my neighbors to effect the coming workday. Perhaps I did not talk to enough people. Perhaps I talked to just the right ones. Perhaps the majority simple wanted to accomplish the task as quickly and effortlessly as possible. For whatever reason, the mass of workers accumulated on that day did not scrape up the paths to lower them. They did weed them out some but then they just layered more cardboard and mulch right on top. If that large path gets any higher we could start calling it a wier.

Since I am new to this group I know there is only so much I can say in order to be heard, and not many are going to hear me till time and seasons have proven me out. I am fine with that.

Not all was as bleak as I may seem about the paths. there was a great much work accomplished in the community flower beds. I large overgrowth of Johnson Grass was pulled up and the ryzomes below lifted so they could freeze. Some mysterious slab was discovered beneath this bed that beheld the curiosities of a great many men for a while. If you want to watch men act like boys, bury something in the dirt and they will dig and dig in search of what it is. the leaf pile was cleaned up and quite a few loads of rich compost removed from beneath it. In general it was a very productive day even though I was not able to accomplish anything on my particular plot.

Aside from all the accomplished task, a great deal of talking did occur as can be expected amongst the gardening community. I imagine that community and civilization began as gatherers began to come in, planting fields instead, and they too carried on a great many conversations with their fellow planters. We who grow, love to talk. In our talking, plans were made, ideas shared, and new responsibilites accepted. All in all the coming seasons are looking bright in foresight and this member is looking forward to them.

And this makes five. Five what you say? Follow along here.

2. The Unexpected Swiss (chard, that is)

24 Oct

So a couple of weeks ago I gave in to my impatience and haste as a gardener and planted a very many alliums in two new raised beds just finished at plot #32. OK, truthfully, I planted them the very same day I built the two beds but I digress, you can read more about that account here.

This, my second post in my 100 in 100 challenge, is meant to be an ode (if I dare call it that) to the newest addition to plot #32; two transplanted Swiss Chard, a gift from a fellow community garden member, Toni. Thank you Toni for the gift. May it grow well in its new home regardless of the fact that I have never grown Chard before and really do not know what to do with it.

What is Swiss Chard?

Cousin to the better known beet, and also known as silverbeet or mangold, this leafy green superfood is as colorful as it is healthy. One of my favorite online resources, gardenate.com, gives this description:

Edible dark green glossy leaves with wide white or cream stalks produced over a long period. Some varieties have red, yellow or orange stalks. They are all edible. Both leaves and stalks are eaten. This is a cut and come again plant, providing leaves for some months before going to flower. Can re-sprout from around the base if cut off when it starts to flower.

How do I grow Swiss Chard in my garden?

By all accounts, this plant is a somewhat hardy vegetable. It will last longer into the spring than turnip, collard, mustard, and other leafy greens and will survive late into fall until it is killed by a hard frost. Since this area is not prone to many hard frosts till the holidays, I might be able to get a picking or two off these little guys before then. If you happen to live in an area that does not experience hard frosts, then the good folks at Bonnie have this to say:

In areas that never experience a hard freeze, Swiss chard sometimes behaves like a perennial, living for several years. When it blooms, you can cut off the bloom stalk and it will produce more leaves.

According to the research, in this area Swiss Chard is typically planted early spring (February/March) or late summer (August/September). We are in the third week of October now, so I might be a little late to the game, but one never knows around here. Plus, hoop-houses are fairly easy and common practice in this area.

Since it is a leafy green vegetable, Swiss Chard likes a cool moist but well-drained soil amended with a slow release nitrogen inputs. I am using composted cow manure (already turned into the soil at the time I planted the onion sets). Then the whole bed is covered in a layer of leaf-mold compost. Water regularly if not receiving 1-2 inches of rain a week.

This plant looks to be a forgiving and sturdy type. This is good news because I am just beginning to learn this one.

By the way, thanks again Toni.

2 down, 98 to go. Follow my 100 in 100 challenge here.

Day 1 – meeting new faces and cleaning up old places

27 Aug

Day one started early on an August Sunday morning meeting the current garden coordinator (a wonderful lady who will remain anonymous on this blog for the time being). This particular Sunday morning she was busy meeting new gardeners, showing them their assigned plots, going over expectations and limitations, accepting dues as well as managing to take care of her own plot. During our meeting she mentioned to the two of us (I and another new community member) that due to the unusually wet and mild summer there was an onslaught of weeds that overcame many of the community’s members forcing some fifteen or so to abandon their plot. Fifteen, she assured me, was an unusually large number of plots to turn over at any one time such is why I made it up sixteen spots on the waiting list in such short order. She then went on to show us the community shed and its contents (which includes a tiller I hope to not use) and introduce us to the weekly brunch bunch. It seems that there is a somewhat routine Sunday morning brunch bunch who share a bit of fellowship over some coffee and munchies! Sounds Yummy, but sadly I was not able to stay since I had to get back home and get the family to church.

Later, after church and lunch, I brought Tamara (my darling wife) and Jeremie (our oldest son) up to visit the plot; to show it off like a boy shines to a new found coin. While we were there, the garden was still abuzz with the activity of many of the community members taking advantage of the beautiful sunny weather and relatively low humidity. Two such members were busy raking and preparing their new plot for planting collards while yet others were busy tending, cleaning, and talking; such are the habits of a gardener, and not always in that order with the latter sure to always take most of the time. After showing my family the weed covered spot, we somehow began to pick up and clean up the mess till my wife signed to me the fact that she is still in her Sunday dress.

So, after a little ice cream and a trip home, my son and I (notice the missing member) returned to the plot to finish the chore of cleaning up the weeds and debris from around the plot. What a wonderful helper he was. Thanks, son!

We have already met so many of our growing neighbors and are looking forward to meeting more and getting to know them better as things grow and flourish in the sun and soil of this wonderful garden site.

The Daily ledger

  • Expenses – $10 (garden dues)      [$10.00 running total]
  • Labor – 2 hours x 2 persons          [4 hours running total]
  • Yields – 0 lbs                                        [0 pounds, 0 ounces]

The site

26 Aug

In late August 2013 we accepted this humble plot in the Reedy Creek Community Garden; plot #32.  Our hope and expectation is to build up a productive garden whose produce will be largely if not completely contributed to the Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s Meals on Wheels program. (More on the Friendship Trays Program here.)

We are calling this little plot “Growing it Forward” based largely on the concept portrayed in the 2000 movie Paying it Forward.

The site is a 20′ x 20′ plot on an arranged grid within the Reedy Creek Community Garden (RCCG). Plot #32, as they call it, sits as a diamond on the compass rose with the four sides facing northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest and The four corners pointing in each of the cardinal directions. Each corner is staked with a metal pole and the plot is bordered by mulched communal pathways. Plot #32 is an interior plot with apparently good growing neighbors and convenient access (less than 10′ away) to a hose-pipe, mulch piles, and community compost though the compost pile seems to be a bit in need of some management at this time. The entire community site is well laid out in a wide open field with plenty of visibility to the road and completely surrounded by a tall black chain-link fence.

As far as all the given conditions seem, I am very impressed. The garden itself is well-established; having been in existence for at-least six years. My grower neighbors that I have met so far are generous and welcoming. Shoot, one guy gave us at least three pounds of beautiful banana peppers just for meeting him and listening to him. We are looking forward to pickling those.

As much as I hate to admit it, though, we are going to need to start slow; from the ground up, to pun an idiom. As you can notice in the photographs above the site needs a little bit of overhaul and cleaning. The plot’s previous steward let the weeds overtake it. A kindly garden neighbor graciously mowed down all the weeds before they turned it over to us. Thank God for such generous souls. At this time, and Lord willing, the plan is to build up three 5’x20′ raised beds using lumber to build the boxes and laying down cardboard and wood chip pathways between them. This should provide approximately 300 square feet of growing space, a sufficient amount considering our backyard garden gives us at best 150 square feet. So far sourcing the materials for building the beds is a mite taxing on the income so I hope to find and re-purpose sizable scrap lumber or other sufficient material.

Starting small and steadily building up as we grow along is gonna be key. To do it all in the first steps will be too much and we’ll risk burn out. I am blessed with an active family of five and thus lead a busy life serving the needs of many more than myself so this venture will have to resemble the low maintenance methods we practice in our home garden. But the added space  and square one status allow us to implement some lessons learned as well as play with a larger scale of produce.

All in all I am looking forward to this venture. Here’s to Growing It Forward!