The Royal Oak – Huntington Woods TimeBank is moving from planning to action! Join just for an open house on Saturday April 6th from 2-4 p.m. at Wendy’s house (contact me for details). Frantz will be showing everyone how to collect a soil sample and you can grab information on how to get involved and reap the benefits of home-grown food and canning classes! Workdays will be held on site every Saturday in April (13th, 20th, 27th) with times to be announced.
On Sunday I had my first community garden meeting for the Royal Oak Huntington Wood TimeBank. It was very exciting! 17 of us met on the planned site, which is an additional side lot owned by a TimeBank member. We discussed the short term and long term goals of the endeavor.
It looks like we’re heading in the direction of a large communal plot (rather than individual plots that are leased out to members) with several raised beds used for both food production for members and education. The garden will have a sustainable and organic (with a little o) foundation and will act as a visual and physical place in the community to show what the TimeBank can do.
We’re still looking at zoning ordinances, though we have general approval from the city, and liability issues – but it’s moving forward. If you’re in the Royal Oak or Huntington Woods areas and are interested in participating we are holding our second meeting this coming Sunday at 2PM. Message me for details.
Wow! This wonderful conference sold out in 36 hours! When I sat down for breakfast on the first day I felt a little out of place, not very confident, and guilty about taking up space that could have gone to someone on the wait list. By the end of the second and final day I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The conference was hosted by the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York. This place is amazing and très agrarian chic. I told Sammit that I want my ashes spread there when I die. I encourage you to explore their website, but be warned that it simply does not do it justice. Here is their mission:
The mission of Stone Barns Center is to create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits us all. Located 25 miles north of Manhattan, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit institution. We operate an 80-acre farm and work to:
Increase public awareness of healthy, seasonal and sustainable food.
Train farmers in resilient, restorative farming techniques.
Educate children about the sources of their food, and prepare them to steward the land that provides it.
I may be biased, but I think that Farming conferences have a) the best food (which I will get to later) and b) the best people of all conferences. I only met a handful the 150+ people present but each any every one of them was charming and wandering down a particular path toward sustainable agricultural community. We were all incredibly different and yet I had never been in a room where I had so much in common with everyone. I met several people from Michigan: A couple that just started farming in Midland, a campus farm manager from Andrews University, the agricultural manager of the Grand Rapids’ YMCA, and a few U of M grads who’ve worked on farms. I met farmer’s from Long Island and California. I met veg farmers, ranchers, land owners, CSA managers, homesteaders, and cheese makers. I met young farmers and old farmers and couple farmers and platonic partner farmers, radical farmers, traditional farmers, and so on and so forth. Here are some highlights of my favorites:
- Tom, a farmer with a wicked ‘stache who slept in a sleeping bag in the field outside the center to save money who told stories of getting strip-searched in Canada because of his corn seeds.
- Eliza, a farmer and soon-to-be sheep rancher who fell in love with local and sustainable food systems at 15 when she did a science project.
- Angie & Joe, small farmers who grow on their own land and provide “foodie” baskets to their share holders. (This couple is a-friggin-dorable and living my dream life a few years ahead of me).
In addition to the great folks that traveled near and far to be at the conference, there were the wonderful people who work at Stone Barns – all the apprentice farmers, the restaurant staff, the conference organizers, and the board president, Fred Kirschenmann, co-author of “Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher.
I wanted to attend every workshop offered. Alas, I cannot yet be in two places at once; I will have to wait to level up before I have that skill. Instead I went to the workshops I could and picked the brains of those who attended other workshops.
- Finding Your Farm: From Basics to Action – the basics of land access facilitated by Kathy Ruhf from Land For Good. I went into this workshop thinking that owning my own land was the only option I could settle on for farming and I left it knowing so much more about options for land leases.
- Cooking for Farm Crews – Tamar Adler (who wrote An Everlasting Meal!) walked us through cooking a week’s worth of lunches for farm crews using just a few ingredients. She spoke beautifully about the dignity of serving farm and restaurant workers meals that have value, but are still cost effective.
- Pollination Strategies of Common Food Plants – I learned so much about bees, beetles, moths, butterflies, and all the things they pollinate. My favorite quote, “Honeybees are the spoiled sluts of the pollinating world.” Rebecca McMackin from Brooklyn Bridge Park and Mantis Plant Works did a pretty good job of condensing millions of years of evolution into an hour and a half – tough work.
- Carpentry – Gregg Twehues, the groundskeeper at Stone Barns, lead a workshop where he walked us through the tools/materials uses for basic carpentry. We also learned how to build a wall and also how to put in a door or window into that wall.
- Growing New Farmers in the City – a slightly mis-titled workshop that basically talked about the history of East New York Farms, an urban farm in Brooklyn. I thought it was going to be more about techniques for urban farmers and most of the information wasn’t really applicable to me. I did, however, learn about some of the challenges of growing in pure compost but I’m hopeful because my compost is a combination of food scraps and horse manure rather than the pine and leaf compost that comes from most cities.
- Innovative Approaches to the CSA Model – great stories and ideas from Sara Worden (CSA Manager of Full Plate Farm collective) and Suzy Konecky (Cricket Creek Farm) about ways to run CSAs. Including this amazing idea of members taking what they need each week instead of being given pre-packed boxes (with some limitations). They also gave great marketing and book-keeping advice.
- Tools for the Next Generation of Farmers & Farm Advocates – Probably the most important workshop I attended and how fitting that it was the last one! Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Alicia Harvie of Farm Aid facilitated a truly fantastic hour and a half where I filled pages upon pages of my notebook with resources.
Oh my god. The food. For breakfast I ate ripe pears, hard-boiled eggs with orange yolks, and chocolate laced croissants that were so delicious and french I could actually feel my teeth bite through each of the hundreds of flaky pastry layers. I paired breakfast with the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had. For lunch they served quiche with a baby potato crust, incredible soup (a cauliflower one day and squash the next), and fresh baguettes. The one night they served dinner I had fresh greens tossed in a light dressing, moist meatloaf, literally to most amazing mashed sweet potatoes I’ve ever eaten, and a great pear tartlet for dessert. I wanted to eat at Blue Hill, the restaurant at Stone Barns, but it was far beyond our budget. To give you a slight idea, we’ll be putting away $20/month with the hopes of eating there next year.
Coming up next…
After the conference, our time in NYC!
I’ve updated the Resources section to include a page on Social Justice. There are two fantastic resources there on anti-racism and privilege. I really encourage you to check them out; they are accessible and informative. You’ll find something there whether you are an expert in social justice or have never heard that combination of words before.
As with all the resource pages, I will update them when I find appropriate websites, videos, books, etc. If you have any resources that you love and want me to add them, I’d be happy to take a look!
This past summer I attended the University of Vermont’s Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems (a mouthful, figuratively and while there, literally). Their 2013 program has just opened up applications and you can check it out HERE. I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have about it (and you can check out a few testimonials by linking through their side bar).
I had an amazing time while I was there. In fact, this website is up and running right now because of the confidence and education that UVM’s program helped me develop. In addition to this site, I’ve focused the rest of my Master’s in Social Work program on studying community food systems, food and social justice, and food policy. I worked with some fantastic people from all across the US, Canada, and Mexico and learned about an amazing part of the country that is leading the way in changing our food system.
My old blog has detailed posts on my days at UVM and I won’t make you sit through all of that again, but below are some nostalgic pictures. I’ll be returning again this summer for their alumni event and to attend their Food [R]evolution conference. I hope to see some of you there!
“Are you building garden beds…or a house!?”
This Saturday I hosted the first ever Om-Nom Acres event. We had gorgeous November weather! Eight people turn out in total, including those who live in the house: Devin, Sammit, Katie, Hanuman, Lisa, Mike, Chantel, and yours truly. Devin and I started our work nearly a month in advance, planning materials, tasks, food, etc. I put her in charge of shopping and prepping food while I worked on getting all the materials to the house.
On Friday, Devin and I worked through all the daylight hours, moving cement blocks from the six pallets in the driveway to the back yard where we level the soil and lined them up according to a rough plan. We managed to build and fill the garlic bed with compost. We also built half of the garage parameter bed. When it was too dark to work outside we ran errands, picking up equipment from my in-laws (a wheel barrow and a 3 piece crock-pot set), and straw bales from the garden center. When the stores closed we cleaned the house and picked up a few of our hearty volunteers who don’t drive so they could spend the night with us. We all fell into bed around 2AM after stretching and soaking in epsom salts.
We started Friday with eggs and coffee. Devin, Hanuman, Katie, Lisa, and I worked in the chilly sun. We moved more concrete blocks and compost. We double-dug the ground, extracting and heaving chunks of brick and stone as we unearthed them. We spread leaves and straw, and replanted the perennial herbs. When the sneaking hunger could no longer be ignored we broke for lunch, a spread of salads, meats, and potato products, and warmed up on cider.
In the afternoon, Mike, Sammit, and Chantel joined us and our productivity increased exponentially! Mike helped me address some structural concerns (like how to prevent all of this work from heaving during the winter or washing away in the spring). As a result, Mike and Hanuman took turns war-hammering over 700 inches of reinforcing bar into the ground through the holes in the blocks, a task that left them bruised, swollen, and shaking. These people are tough.
We worked until the light gave out on us, just before 7PM, and came inside to a warm taco bar and chocolate pudding! We sat in the living room, talked, laughed, received updates on the football game (sorry MSU!), and ate delicious food. Several people went home, but a few stayed and we massaged each other’s aching feet, hands, and back while drinking beer and watching documentaries on Netflix.
It was the most fulfilling two days I have ever had. And the best sleep I have had in years. On Sunday we rested. Throughout this week we still have compost to move, but we’re taking it slow.
- 450 Concrete Blocks from Lowe’s (+ delivery) = $569.85
- We’ve placed 300 blocks and have 150 remaining for a potato bed, an asparagus bed, and a cold frame.
- The blocks measure 8x8x16 and each contains two “pockets” roughly 6×6 for additional planting.
- 9 cubic yards of good quality screened compost from Tuthill Farms + delivery = $300.00
- 4 straw bales from English Gardens (near the house) = $25.40
- Sledge-hammer + 20 reinforcing bars (36 inches each) = $92.82
- 1 dozen amazing work gloves (4 small, 4 medium, 4 large) = $45.95
- 1 flat head shovel = $11.63
- 2 spade head shovels + 1 garden rake (already owned) = $0
- Borrowed Wheel Barrow = $0
- Borrowed Dolly = $0
- Several large plastic tubs (already owned) = $0
- Incidentals (food & beverages) = 249.26
- We bought so much food! This provided 3 full meals for most volunteers and we have leftovers for the whole week! I would say it actually cost us no more than 1/2 to feed everyone so really = 124.63.
Project Total: $1045.65 + $124.63 (food) = $1170.28
- This project has already taken 55 work hours and still needs another 10-15 for a total of approx. 70 work hours.The 55 work hours were divided into two days and done by eight people
- The remaining 10-15 will be finished by this coming weekend between three people.
- There were 6 primary jobs and people were encouraged to take frequent breaks and change jobs to avoid too much strain on their bodies.
- Block Mover: Used the dolly to move 5-10 bricks at a time from the driveway to the building areas in the back yard.
- Bed Builder: Used the flat head shovel and additional compost/dirt to level the ground and place blocks appropriately to build beds either 1 or 2 levels high. Must know the bed layout plan and pay attention to detail.
- Bed Prepper: Used spade head shovel to “double dig” the ground in the beds and spread leaves and straw over bed areas.
- Compost Mover: Loaded and moved compost from the pile in the driveway to the appropriate location in the beds (on top of double-dig, leaves, and straw).
- Block Filler: Used a shovel or hand spade to fill the 6×6 holes in the edges of the beds.
- Reinforcer: Used sledge hammer to pound in reinforcing bars at 2-level-bed corners and 1/2 way between corners.
- We all kept house, taking care of our own dishes, and feeding ourselves or helping others navigate the kitchen.
- We added 591 square feet of gardening space to the garden (+ the 101 square feet we had before) for a total of 692 square feet for growing in 2013!
- I’ll have to see how the beds hold up over the winter and spring with the rebar. If they need more reinforcing, I will make sure to post an update on what we plan to do.
- Invest in good gloves. The gloves I linked to in the materials section are the best work gloves I have ever used. They fit well, kept our hands warm but not too sweaty, and provide great protection from and grip on the handles and cement blocks. We are keeping ours around so anyone who wants to come help will have them. Without them, we all would have been toast in a matter of hours.
- Over and underestimate where it makes the most sense:
- I overestimated on the bricks, which is a good thing because a few of them came broken (2), I didn’t want to have to interrupt the workflow to go buy more, I will find a use for them, and they don’t “go bad”.
- I underestimated on the compost because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed and pay for more than I could move before it rained (advice from my mama). I can always buy more in the spring if I need it, when it will have a bigger effect on my crops.
- I overestimated on the food because I knew those of us in the house would eat the leftovers and I did NOT want my amazing volunteers to feel they couldn’t eat or drink as much as they damn well pleased.
- Be flexible
- The beds do not look exactly the way I had planned on the computer (though they are close), and that’s okay! It was really hard for me to get a good grasp of size and space from the screen to the backyard. We went with the flow of the yard, including making some adjustments for huge and unmovable underground tree roots.
- Take Breaks!
- If this is your project, take frequent breaks so you don’t wear out before your volunteers (no one likes being hosted by a zombie). Also, encourage your volunteers to take frequent breaks, hydrate, and switch jobs to avoid boredom and repetitive motions on the joints and muscles (injuries!). Make sure it is clear that people should not push themselves and everyone’s safety is important.
- Stretch and Salt!
- Stretch during breaks and when you close up for the night. I’m convinced stretching combined with soaking in an epsom salt bath helped me do this for two days in a row and still walk to class on Monday without anyone being suspicious.