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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

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20. Urban Agriculture

12 Nov

Wow! already I am at 20 posts in this 100 in 100 challenge! Whooda thunk it?

Time for some more edumakayshun.

Urban Agriculture seems to be a hot topic in the grower’s world these days or maybe I am just a bit late to the table. The latter is probably truer than the former. A quick study of the term reveals two words; “Urban” and “Agriculture.” “Urban”  meaning, “of or relating to cities and the people who live in them,” and “Agriculture” which means, “the science or occupation of farming.” So putting them together produces something akin to the science or occupation of farming as it relates to cities and the people who live in them. Actually Google Web Definitions defines “Urban Agriculture” as,

The practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town, or city.

Compared to its much larger, more familiar cousin Rural Agriculture, Urban Agriculture takes a more compact and intensive form. Located in or near more heavily developed areas, participants in urban agriculture often are limited in space and location. Eventhough the optimal growing conditions of rural agricultural areas (space, soil, water, and direct sun light) are not in abundance in many cities and towns, growers have developed many different ways to compensate for that which is lacking.

  • Square foot Gardening is a popular practice of intensive gardening that turns the traditional row cropping method on its head. By ordering and planting seeds in a density pattern based on individual 12 inch by 12 inch squares, growers of this method can reap comparable yields to growers requiring 3 or 4 times as much land area to plant in rows.
  • Vertical Gardening is the practice of using stakes, trellis, small containers, and whatnot to extend one’s growing space into the 3rd dimension, up.
  • Community Gardening is the range of methods that pools together multiple individuals to grow or produce their own food or food for market from communally allotted or organized tracts of land.
  • Community Supported Agriculture is typically the practice of a single grower pre-selling his crops in the community market in order to more directly estimate the demand for his produce.

This is a shortened list for sure. Others that belong on here include urban farms and hydroponics. Perhaps these can become fodder for future posts.

20 of 100. Wow. In need of some real inspiration though. It is beginning to be difficult just putting two sentences together. What have I got myself into?

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.