Monday, August 31, 2009

Life is full of produce!

To continue our tour of area gardens, Cindy and I went to the Synagogue garden by the Ahavath Beth Israel Synagogue. This is a garden solely for refugees, and in its present state it serves 21 refugee families. The majority of these families are Somali Bantu, although there are a few families from Afghanistan and other areas. At the beginning of the season, many volunteers are needed to help set things up, and the coordinator, Aimee Moran, makes sure that the refugees have sufficient donations, etc. Volunteers are also needed at the end of the season to clean everything up. Besides that, however, the gardening is left entirely up to the refugees themselves. Which, clearly, is the way it should be. They are allowed to grow whatever they want however they want, and they maintain it throughout the season. This attitude is important to remember when doing community garden work; from the perspective of the Foodbank, for example, it would be far too easy to regulate things too closely, and to require gardeners to donate some of their produce to us. Be that as it may, the most sustainable community gardening technique is to let the locals run it. Generally, they will have a much better idea of what works in their area than an outsider would, anyway.
While we were there, a lovely woman from Ukraine loaded us down with vegetables from her garden. We received fresh parsley, all sorts of tomatoes, squash, hot peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers. This food was a perfect addition to the basil and oregano I had from the Community Tapestry Garden on Wednesday! On Friday I mixed everything together and made some spaghetti sauce from scratch. It was delicious, and not very complicated to make. It was amazing to have such fresh ingredients (not to mention free)!
We asked the coordinator of the garden, Aimee Moran, what her needs for the garden are. She told us the need for volunteers at the start and end of the season, and mentioned having volunteers to help clean up the commons area in the garden. She also mentioned that it would be great to have some kind of hands-on, how-to classes. This is a great idea, and while I had thought of it beforehand I need to pursue it. If the Foodbank is going to offer all sorts of other resources, why not free classes?? We have the resource of Master Gardeners and possibly even Boise State students. Why not arrange for horticulture students to get credit by teaching others how to garden? We also have the resource of local farmers, who clearly, could be of great help (If they can spare time, of course! Having been on a farm myself I know how busy it is). Just some ideas to throw around! There's often so much local wealth in a community if you just take the time to look around you.
I did remember my camera, but I took a lousy picture and ended up using the one from their website instead... oh well!

On the Food Stamps topic again, Boise State Radio/NPR News is doing a story on Food Stamps. They want to go shopping with someone who has a Food Stamp budget, so I volunteered. Maybe somehow I can get myself onto the radio...? I'm not counting on it, but it would be great to be able to talk on Boise radio about community gardens... we shall see!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A little while ago I posted some pictures of a patch dug up in my yard, in hopes of making my own domestic garden. Well, my housemate got so excited she went out and bought some seeds yesterday! The way we look at it, we really have nothing to lose. If the plants don't amount to much (which is VERY likely) we can still test out the quality of our soil, and see if anything will actually grow. And hopefully by next season we can have a lovely, active garden!
I was pretty excited when I saw the soil, though. We threw some worm compost on top of it, and my housemate added some Epsom salt. This stuff is, honestly, poor man's fertilizer. When I first moved in, she told me she grew corn out of pretty terrible soil using this stuff (and water, of course). You can get cartons of it for pretty cheap from the grocery store (not sure how much... but it's used for other stuff, too). The soil looked very dark and rich... it was pretty exciting. As a soil nerd (I should have majored in soil science in college), I love this stuff.
We also have tubs of dead leaves raked from the yard, so I'm going to start throwing my kitchen scraps on top of them (I cook a bit, so there should be plenty to add!). I'm going to expand the garden as well, and maybe try planting some garlic... apparently you can grow it from the clove! I had no idea! Again, it probably won't work, but I just want to get dirty and put something in the soil. I'm also going to get serious about starting a worm bin this weekend. The addition of more worm castings could not possibly hurt the soil, and the stuff I can't use I'll stick in the freezer in ziplock bags. Everything helps, and it will be exciting to me just to watch the worms in action! And to have a place to throw my kitchen scraps. It will just encourage me to cook more (which is not a bad thing)!
Tonight I plan to make some spaghetti sauce from scratch using fresh oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, garlic, and other spices that I can get my hands on. I need to go to the store... I'd also like to bake something.
Today Cindy and I will be visiting a refugee garden on Latah street here in town. It's on the land of a synagogue and I actually live about 2 blocks away from it. It's right next to a park, and you can see the foothills in the background. A beautiful setting for a garden! I've walked by it many times but never actually visited, and I'm very excited to make a trip out there. I am slowly but surely putting together that community garden map, though I need to get some more pictures... many times I've either forgotten my camera or forgotten the memory card.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Food Stamps and Farmer's Markets!

Today I will digress a little from my usual topic, but I thought this was definitely worth mentioning.
Food stamps. Up until recently, I didn't really know they existed. Nobody in my family ever had them. I might have had some friends whose families used food stamps, but it never came up in casual conversation. Sort of a taboo subject, generally speaking... However, things have changed for me. As a VISTA, I make poverty level income, and due to certain job stipulations I automatically qualify for food stamps. And so here I am, a food stamp recipient! I have, technically, a government job, and on top of that, I also have assistance from the government.
I am not the only person who is new to this situation. Many more people, due to the current economy, are on food stamps who did not used to be. It's easy for me, because I only have to buy food for myself, but at the same time I generally shy away from buying produce at Farmer's Markets because they don't accept food stamps. This is a conflicted area for me, because I really like to support farmer's markets when I can.
However! A new program through the Idaho Office for Refugees has started accepting food stamps at the Boise Farmer's Market. The Idaho Office for Refugees, specifically the Global Gardens program, has several refugee gardens that it coordinates throughout Boise. One of these gardens is actually a Somali Bantu community farm, and starting this Saturday their farm stand accepted food stamps. This will be the case every Saturday, 9:30 AM-1:30 PM, at the Capitol City Public Market on 8th Street in Boise, as well as every Tuesday night at Edward's Greenhouse from 5:30-dark. Unfortunately I believe the season is nearing its close, but there's still some time and next year, too!
If other food stamp recipients are anything like me, when something like this becomes available they jump on it. I would imagine that this new development will really increase the farm stand's income. Take my example, for instance. As soon as my food stamps were approved, I went to the co-op (yes, the co-op in Boise accepts them!) and went a little crazy. It was completely guilt-free food shopping, and I live for good food. I would not have bought groceries at the co-op normally (and probably won't always do it in the future... even with food stamps it's pretty expensive), but because of my food stamp money I felt I could afford it.
This video from CBS goes along the same line, and I would say, at least judging by my case, that it is definitely true. Who knows what will happen? All I know is, it's good for everyone involved that the Somali Bantu farm now accepts food stamps. It's good for the farmers, because they will probably see an increase in sales, and it's good for the food stamp recipients, because they can buy fresh produce.

On a gardening note, I moved some tubs of dead leaves from my backyard yesterday, and they are already turning into fantastic compost. Gardening really is something that is accessible to almost everyone, and no matter how much research I do, there are a million different ways to do it. Like so many things, it is often a process of trial and error.

And finally! I found this website called Green Maps. Throughout the world, people have been making these maps to point out the "green" places in their areas (i.e. parks, community gardens, natural landmarks,...). They're fun to look through, and people chose to map many different things. Boise does not have a green map... perhaps I can take some of my work and make one down the line...? Only time can tell!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This morning, after dragging myself drowsily out of bed, I visited the Community Tapestry Garden. This garden is located on land donated by St Stephen's Episcopal Church on Cole Road, and is maintained through a very fascinating partnership. The garden is in close proximity to both a retirement community and the Hays Shelter for at-risk youth. Many of the seniors are very knowledgable about gardening, but they lack the physical ability to grow a garden themselves. The youth at the Shelter lack the knowledge, but they have the physical ability. Therefore, this garden partners these two groups together. The youth learn from the elderly and they work together.
Millie Miles, who is an the Advanced Master Gardener from University of Idaho Extension, graciously showed me the garden today. She told me that even though some kids will at first be very distant and think gardening is "stupid", that eventually everyone participates on some level. These levels vary, and due to the rotating nature of volunteers there are no designated plots. Similar to Boise's Downtown Community Garden, there is more of a "communal gardening" approach. The garden has been alive in the minds of gardeners for 5 years, and in the near future they hope to expand to include plots for refugees. This would introduce some designated family plots, and would really add to the diversity of this gardening space! Before I left, Millie and another volunteer loaded me up with some freshly picked basil and oregano straight from nature's bounty. All in all, not a bad visit!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Here I am! My ticket to stardom... (or something)
Also, I found this interesting compost article: 75 Things You Can Compost, But Thought You Couldn't. Some, I am not sure I would want to handle long enough to compost... but it's still interesting! The less garbage, the better, right?

Friday, August 21, 2009

I realize, very belatedly, that I forgot to mention something in my last post! On Saturday, I helped to glean beans for the Foodbank. While slaving away under the sun (and being reminded of long, warm farm days), I happened to be picking in the row next to... dun dun dun... the reporter from the Idaho Statesman who contacted me about a month ago! So we had a brief, in-the-field interview (seemed appropriate), and a photographer came and took some pictures of me in the dirt. It was so funny, I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time! So I will be in the newspaper (eventually... I haven't seen it yet. Once I do I will link it from here) for two things: gleaning and community gardens! Apparently. We'll see how that works out. There was another man picking beans next to me, and he was 73 years old. I was pretty impressed.

As mentioned last time, I met with my potluck acquaintance on Wednesday and we discussed gardens for around two hours, after I was served fresh pumpkin pie (not a bad way to spend the evening!). He is building a passive solar, earth-sheltered greenhouse. Right now it's just a huge hole in the yard (10x12 feet wide, 3 feet and 6 feet deep in different places). I would attempt to explain it here but it would take a long time... but essentially he's using air convection (cold air sinks into the 6-foot-deep part, warms up, rises into the 3-foot-deep part), black barrels full of water for heat (heated by the sun), dirt piled on three sides (earth sheltered), glass, and salvaged materials. He also had a solar food dehydrator with tomatoes drying in it. On top of that, he had a few fruit trees, rounded raised beds in the permaculture style that were easier to water, an herb spiral, and of course the garden itself. We discussed more than I can possibly write here, but I will be putting this information together for the garden pamphlet of sorts.

Today I met with Shana Moore, who coordinates the Jordan Street Garden in Boise. This garden is located about a block away from a refugee apartment complex, and each family that put in some effort at the beginning of the season has their own plot. This garden has only been around since mid-May, but it was very impressive!! It obviously serves as a community meeting place as well as a food-gathering place, because there were tables, chairs, etc. It seems obvious, but the fact that this garden is so close to that apartment complex has definitely helped it to thrive. When the garden is practically at your back door, it's very easy to walk to it and weed or water something! And not only that, but there is a good chance you will meet someone that you know.

I think it's amazing how so many of these gardens I have seen, practically all of them, are in their first season. This just shows the appropriate timing of my job and the appropriate timing of my work. There is much to do...

Monday, August 17, 2009

This past Friday, Cindy and I visited two more community gardens in Boise. Our first stop was Boise's Downtown Community Garden (pictured to the left), which is located on Fort Street between 11th and 12th (near the Co-op). I liked this garden a lot; mostly because it made gardening seem very approachable. They basically planted food anywhere it would go, and this results in a hodge-podge of plots that I found delightful. The garden had several circular beds in it, and in one instance a tall crop was planted around the outer edge of the circle (it was either corn or sunflowers, I can't remember) to protect a smaller crop on the inside (peppers maybe?). This garden doesn't have any individually designated plots; instead, it functions on the philosophy of "unified" or "communal" gardening. No money is ever exchanged at this site; this means that if anyone wants to come and help weed or help in some other way, they get vegetables in exchange for their labor. This is the garden's first season.

Our final stop was at a refugee garden. This garden is part of a program known as "Eat Local, Live Global" under a group called Common Ground and it helps to train refugees and give them the skills necessary for the job market. We got a tour from the head gardener. His name is Devi and he is from Bhutan, and very clearly knows what he is doing. This garden was possibly the largest we have seen yet, and it was very, very, very impressive. There are two sections in it: the market garden, where they grow produce for the Farmers' Market, and a garden for customer produce. For a flat rate of $250 at the start of the season, families or individuals can purchase a plot. The refugees tend this plot throughout the season and the customer gets to enjoy the produce. I was honestly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food, and the order of absolutely everything.

I was feeling very inspired after seeing these gardens, and this was only perpetuated over the weekend. I went to a potluck on Saturday and saw the amazing garden in the backyard of the host's house. It included a rotating compost barrel, solar food dehydrator, fruit-bearing trees, herbs, and several plots. On Thursday I should have more information, because he has agreed to sit down with me and talk to me in detail about his gardening practices. This will be highly beneficial to the future gardening packet and helpful to me personally, because he has several contacts within the community.

I can feel things starting to pick up slightly... people have begun calling my office and I suddenly have things to do and places to go. It is wonderful to be busy. The community gardens map is coming along slowly, though I know there are several gardens that I haven't even heard about yet.

I moved that poor (probably doomed) basil plant outside... it was suffering from neglect in my room, and if a rabbit hasn't chewed it to shreds (I forgot to check it this morning) hopefully it will rejoice in the sun today. I should really just abandon all hope of growing plants inside... I've had trouble with almost every indoor plant I've ever owned. Once it's in the ground, that's a different story.

Ay me, the contradictions of being a Community Garden Coordinator!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I finally finished digging up a portion of my yard yesterday. I think I'm going to transplant my poor basil plant... it is seriously unhappy in its present location (my desk) and it would be a shame if I killed yet ANOTHER indoor plant (what kind of a Community Garden Coordinator am I?!).

Anyway the pictures are before and after pictures for your viewing pleasure.

I found this swell website called Mapwith.Us that lets you create maps for free (that are available to the public) when you sign up with an account (which I did!). I found it because one of the users had made a map of Portland Community Gardens. And then, of course, the logical next step was to search for a map of Idaho Community Gardens. It appears, through my search, that this sort of map doesn't exist. From the perspective of a geography major (oh wait, that's me!) who has some training in cartography, I see this as a challenge. It will be quite the undertaking, but I would like to make a map of Treasure Valley Community Gardens for people to refer to. And, if possible, I would also like to make a map of bait shops, nurseries, and landscaping companies. I will need to gather a LOT of data, however. As far as Community Gardens go, obviously I am visiting some of them, but I'm sure there are many that I will have to dig up (haha). However if anyone reading this has any information, PLEASE let me know! I think this could be a valuable resource. And anyway, maps are fun!

I am hungry already and it isn't even noon yet... I think it gets earlier every day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Before I begin my usual garden banter, I'm curious about something... how many people read this? So if any readers could do me a favor, I promise it won't take too long, and leave a comment. I don't care what you say and you don't have to identify yourself, I'm just wondering how large my "sphere of influence" is.
On Friday Cindy and I did head out to our scheduled community garden visits. Alas, I have no pictures, as it was, oddly enough, raining all day! I'm told that weather is unusual for August... I didn't mind though. It reminded me of rainy summer days in Minnesota, and I always enjoy a good thunderstorm.
The first garden was part of the Emmett Valley Friendship Coalition. The garden is 1 and 3/4 acres in size and is full of vegetable goodness. As we were walking through, I tried some cherry tomatoes, which were amazing, and I was given some corn and a squash! I am always excited about free food, especially fresh vegetables! I'm hoping to sautee the squash with some rice for dinner tonight, and maybe have some corn on the cob as well. The man in charge of the garden, whose official title is Biomass Coordinator, is Morris Huffman. He told us in depth about installing irrigation, harvesting, and their very interesting system of planting corn. Instead of planting it all at exactly the same time, they plant each row about a week apart. This means that instead of harvesting everything at once in a mad frenzy, they harvest each row about a week apart, as it matures. There are so many techniques... no matter how many garden books you read or workshops you attend, most wisdom comes from doing and adapting to your circumstances. Each garden is different. This one was particularly beautiful and large. I could almost feel the celebration of the plants with the rainfall.
The second garden was in Garden City, and it is called the Boise Vineyard. We met with Larry Parry, who I spoke to over the phone, and Bill Meeker, the resident Master Gardener. Even though he has Parkinson's, Bill Meeker is still out there gardening madly away, and he was obviously so excited to show it to us. This garden was, again, very large and beautiful. I tried some sort of strange, exotic berry. I can't remember what it's called but it was very bitter. I was pleased that I could recognize most of the plants from my farm days, though my memory is a little hazy at times. They also gave us very good news; there are apparently people calling them all the time offering land to donate! So we told them to send them our way. Those are just the kind of people we are looking for.
After that enlightening experience, I was so inspired I spent 5 hours digging up part of my yard on Sunday (with permission, of course). It isn't finished yet... I haven't done that sort of manual labor in a while and I'm pretty sore today, but I know what lies ahead. As far as I'm concerned, growing your own food is the ultimate do-it-yourself project, and a huge step towards self-sufficiency. I can't wait to pick something, walk 10 feet to my kitchen, prepare it, and eat it. That's assuming that I don't destroy the soil and kill everything by next growing season...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Well! This Friday, my supervisor and I have two appointments to go see some area community gardens. The first is a garden run by the Emmett, Idaho United Methodist Church called the Emmett Friendship Garden. A few of my co-workers have already visited this garden, and I have heard amazing things. It's apparently very large and beautiful. I e-mailed the man in charge of it, John Biggs, and he was very prompt in his response. He very enthusiastically offered to show us the garden and then suggested that all of us go out to lunch!
I pushed back my fear of professional telephone conversations and called Larry Parry, who is in charge of the Boise Vineyard. I set up an appointment to follow the one in Emmett, and he suggested that the resident Master Gardener attend the meeting as well. I have heard about this place from co-workers, too; apparently people get married here.
By some definitions, these two gardens may not strictly qualify as community gardens, but I feel like they most definitely should. The community is most definitely benefited by them. I am very excited to go on a mini "road trip" and see these wonderful places! I'm going to bring my camera along and FINALLY, there will be some relevant pictures on here.
In personal news, I brought my suffering basil plant to work to try and rehabilitate it. I must admit, I am slightly embarrassed that here I am, the Community Garden Coordinator, and I have a dying basil plant on my desk. Hopefully that won't turn any community garden hopefuls away...
I have also gotten permission to dig up part of my yard to make a garden!! I hope to start breaking ground (literally!) this weekend. Since it's so late in the season I will probably not be planting anything, but I can still condition the soil for next spring. Because I've also gotten permission to have a worm bin! I can add the worm castings as they are produced. I am very excited to start digging around in the dirt again. While I love my job dearly, I do find myself occasionally infected by a ray of sunlight and yearning for farm life. But this way, I can have a little bit of both :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Because I get tired of text all the time, here's another picture I took. Idaho is pretty!

To further my animal research, I have been looking up all sorts of information about goats today. I'm not sure if this information will become moot... I have a feeling the city of Boise doesn't allow residents to have goats as pets. It seems like most cities don't allow this, however in Seattle, they do! But if there is, say, a farmer that has land to offer, then maybe goats would be OK there.

ANYWAY, i found The Goat Justice League, which is a pretty hilarious title in and of itself. I'm considering getting a T-shirt. I imagine a lot of cartoon goats saving people from burning buildings (but I think sitting in front of a computer so much is making me slightly crazy)... This website seems to be The Place to learn about keeping goats in a city environment. I've spent most of the morning trying to find information like this. There's tons of information about chickens but this is all I really came up with for goats. It looks like a thorough source, too, and should add greatly to my growing list of information.
In other news, I think my basement plant experiment is failing. I went the cheap route and bought a basil plant that was on sale and a natural light bulb from Walgreens. I put the plant on a table directly under a lamp, and I leave the light on while I'm at work. To ease my guilt about leaving a light on all day I unplug my computer.

However a large portion of the basil plant is wilting already, despite my efforts to check the soil, water it when it's dry, and add a few drops of plant food with the water. This has been a constant theme in my life... indoor plants die. I guess I should stick to the outdoor stuff. :/
I also found this Composting 101 website. I'm not sure why I didn't find it before, but it seems really great and comprehensive.