Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Day in the Field (with Kids)

Now I feel like I have enough energy to post about yesterday, and can do it justice!

First off, it was wonderful. I don't have much experience with kids, and due to the nature of my work and my life in general I'm not around them very much. So I will admit, I was a little nervous about yesterday. I didn't want to bore them to death! But as it turned out, it was a very casual affair.

10 kids from Anser Charter School in Garden City, accompanied by two helpful mothers, headed over to Boise's Downtown Community Garden yesterday, where Allison Demarest, Rev. Lucas Grubbs from St Michaels Cathedral, and I helped to teach them about hunger and gardening. Their school has a program that breaks the student body (comprised of elementary-aged students) up into different Community Service Modules all over the city. For example, I know one module is at the Humane Society, one at the Senior Center, etc. The point of these projects (as far as I understand it) is to send kids out into the community and have them reflect on their experience. It gives them a chance to get outside of the classroom and have some hands-on learning. I personally think it's great, and wish that I could have had something like it when I was in elementary school!

Allison has these kids for a few weeks (I think seven... but I'm not sure) and each week, as part of the Community Supported Agriculture service module, they learn something related to gardening and sustainable agriculture. Next week, they're going to Peaceful Belly Farm (an urban farm in Boise I have yet to visit!) to learn how to make cider. I am incredibly jealous...

We started the day out with an introduction (This is Beki! Here is the garden!) and a brief discussion about hunger. Allison's first question was along the lines of, What do you know about hunger? Immediately a few kids raised their hands, and the first answer was: Your stomach hurts. At another point in the conversation, Allison asked something akin to Do you think it's possible to end hunger in the world? And the response from one of the kids was, What do you mean by hunger? I feel like people often don't give kids enough credit. They really DO think about things, and they know what's going on. Never assume that children "don't understand".

The next activity was harvesting for St. Michael's Cathedral (more on that in a bit). We harvested tomatoes, cherry and regular, as well as eggplant. I loved watching the kids get so excited about the eggplant... and some of them loudly declared their love for chocolate cherry tomatoes (which if you've never had them, you should! they're delicious).

After about 20 minutes of the harvesting frenzy, during which each kid harvested a ton of produce, the Reverend Lucas Grubbs from St Michael's Cathedral came and spoke briefly. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of him, so you'll just have to imagine... He talked about the Banquet program at St Michael's. I had never heard of it before, but essentially, once a month the church cooks amazing food for homeless and low-income people in the Boise area. They even serve it banquet style, with fancy tablecloths and nice dishes. Because everyone deserves a nice meal. The produce those kids harvested was going to straight to their kitchen.

After this I talked very, very briefly about the Backpack Program (For those who don't know, this program sends a backpack full of food home with kids over the weekend who really need it! They can prepare it themselves) and mobile pantries (The Foodbank packs food into refrigerated trucks and gets it out to people who need it). I tried to make it interesting, and I think I did OK. I figured that something like the Backpack Program, which has to do with kids directly, would maybe interest them a little more.

The next activity (which I came up with, actually!) involved decorating lunch bags. We gave the kids markers, colored pencils, and three empty lunch bags to decorate. As you can imagine, there were many different designs that emerged, from bags that said "Happy Lunch" with flowers on them to drawings of people with two heads and four noses. I love little kid art...
During creative time Allison also showed them pictures from What the World Eats by Faith D'Aluisio. This is an absolutely fascinating book, and it has pictures of what families around the world eat in one week. As you can imagine, the average American family diet differs greatly from the average Sudanese family diet... In the picture to the left, the kids are coloring their lunch bags and Allison is showing them a picture from the book.

After everyone had decorated three lunch bags each (some very inspired kids decorated more. this was certainly allowed), a sort of assembly line was set up around a table. Then they put together sack lunches. It was quite the flurry of activity around the table. They worked so hard, and before long there was a tote full of sack lunches complete with beautiful artwork. This picture to the left shows some determined kids filling their lunch bags.
The food for the sack lunches was supplied by St Michael's Cathedral (the same group that does the Banquet), and they also received them.
All in all, it was a very worthwhile way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. The weather was beautiful (though a little hot) and it was nice to get away from my computer for a little while. I really enjoyed watching these kids interact with one another, and I LOVED when they got so excited about eggplant. I wish more people would get excited about eggplant! And of course, the community service aspect was fantastic. I can only imagine how excited people will be to get a decorated lunch bag :)
That's all for today! I hope to be able to report on more exciting gardening adventures like this one, because that's really what this work is all about. People!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Deadheads vs. Deadheaders

I went and hung out with Allison Demarest and the kids today. It was lovely, and I will post about it tomorrow when I am less exhausted...
However I did find this gem of an article. In Oakland a garden ad called for "deadheaders", which refers to people needed to lop off wilted roses. BUT guess who responded? Deadheads! In all of their tye-dyed glory. It worked out, apparently, because if anyone would like to garden it seems like hippies would. At least, these hippies do.
Another instance of something not turning out the way people expect, but working nonetheless... whether in life or gardening, it is important (and necessary!) to be flexible.

Coming tomorrow: my foray at Boise's Downtown Community Garden with children! Pictures, too! Hooray!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Growing Youth

I am so excited for tomorrow!! I was contacted by Allison Demarest from Boise's Downtown Community Garden. She's teaching a series of garden-based classes for a group of 9-year-olds, and as part of her curriculum wants to do a day on hunger and gardening. And she asked me to come and help her with it!
Now, I am the first to admit... my experience with kids is limited at best. And I am no teacher. But I think this will be a pretty relaxed affair, and I think the age group is pretty good. We have some pretty exciting activities lined up for the afternoon. We're going to talk about some general hunger statistics that I supplied from the Food Bank and then broaden the topic to world hunger. Then we're going to bring the ideas back home again and talk about refugees in Boise. I suggested talking about mobile pantries, the Backpack Program, and refugee gardens throughout the city. We haven't finalized a lesson plan yet, and she's the boss. I'm just happy to be along for the ride, and happy that I can help! I love last-minute, spontaneous plans. It's like somehow... I don't have time to think about it, agonize over it, and fret over it (because I am a worrier), which then lets me relax and go with the flow. Hopefully that's the case for tomorrow afternoon! I think it should be fun, anyway. She told me the kids are really excited about all of this, and that makes all the difference. I think the garden setting will help, too. If I were a kid, I would want to learn outside!

Monday, September 21, 2009

So much to report!!
This past Saturday morning I visited the Sunset Garden. The morning was absolutely beautiful, as many Idaho mornings seem to be, before the afternoon sun commenced burning my freckled skin. After turning down a discrete dirt road off of Taft Street in downtown Boise and cruising through some puddles, the garden was suddenly open before me. And I must say, it was absolutely beautiful. It isn't visible from the road, and I felt like I had stumbled onto a lost world. Not only was it hidden, it was huge!
After talking to Sherilyn Orr, the garden manager, I learned that this area had two different gardens. The smallest is the actual community garden, and is run in typical community garden style. Plots are given away to individual families, people, etc. and they tend them as needed. There are two work days per week, one on Tuesday (I think) and one on Saturday.
The other, larger garden is dedicated almost entirely to the senior center on the property. It is maintained almost entirely by Bernie, an 80-year-old resident of the senior center. Bernie was amazing... Sherilyn told me he is out in the garden every day, and he harvests vegetables for the cooks in the senior center to prepare. My understanding was that this garden provides almost, if not all, of the vegetables the senior center needs during the growing season! And considering there are 50 residents there, this is no small task. It was wonderful to see both Bernie and Sherilyn out in the morning air, ferociously gardening, and seeing what kind of a paradise they had created. They sent me home with some cucumbers and a pumpkin. If I'm feeling ambitious enough, hopefully I can turn that pumpkin into a pie or some scones!
This morning I visited another garden, though this one is techinically a farm. It serves African refugees in the community and is partnered with African Community Development (more about that later). Although I found out about this garden from the Idaho Horticulture Society gardening competition, this parcel of land doesn't function like a typical community garden. The Idaho Office for Refugees has organized the coordination of this farm with restauraunts and retail in Boise so they have an outlet for fresh produce sales as well as some generation of income. Buta Muzuri, who gave me the official tour, told me the garden is selling to Edward's Greenhouse, the Co-op, and a few local restaurants. On top of that they also have a farm stand at the Saturday morning market in Boise.
Now I want to talk a little bit about the other side of this project, the side that is incredibly inspirational to me: African Community Development. As Buta explained to me, the Resettlement Agency, which helps newly-arrived refugees in this country, only extends their help to 8 months after the refugees' arrival. This is an important and necessary first step, but it's simply not enough; as a studier of foreign languages, I can promise that 8 months is not enough time to have enough command of English to function in an American society. So the purpose of African Community Development is to pick up where the Resettlement Agency leaves off. This is where the farm comes in. Through stimulus money the farm was able to offer a few paid positions this year, and the income from produce sales is set aside for African Community Development. This money helps out members if they need it, and is generally there for support. Buta told me there are 40 families who are members, and to add to the sense of community there is no membership fee of any kind.
On top of all of this, there are refugees from all over Africa. Refugees from countries who were bitter enemies back in their home countries garden in the same space, including warring sides from the Rwandan genocide. Buta told me that there are some "pockets of resistance" to this idea of living together in peace, but that generally, this idea was very well received. On the farm, for instance, there are members of warring tribes working side by side.
Just another example of how gardening doesn't have to be just "gardening"; it brings people together, whether it's because of a shared common space or a common desire to eradicate goat heads from the planet. Or a combination of the two!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Growing Victory

I found this video about the White House garden! It's pretty cool, take a look! Their garden is the first by the White House since World War II. Back then there was a huge promotion of gardens called Victory Gardens, which emphasized domestic production of food.
Pretty great stuff :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Last week was crazy-busy! On Wednesday morning I went to a volunteer fair at Boise State, on Thursday the Foodbank had its annual A Chef's Affaire, and on Friday I went to Ontario, Oregon for a Community Food Forum. Funny, isn't it, how my busiest week has also been my shortest? This week should be a nice break, I hope, after all that chaos. I'm going to hopefully be meeting with a lot of gardeners in the coming weeks, however... pretty soon the growing season will be past!

The Community Food Forum itself was pretty good. A VISTA like me organized it, which is pretty impressive. There were about 60 people from the area, most from different organizations related to community food systems in some way. There were some people from the local Holiday Inn who wanted to start a farmer's market in their parking lot. A few people, however, were there just because they wanted to learn more. One woman I met is looking to start a farm, and she just wanted to talk to people. Although it isn't completely related to community gardens, I gave her my contact information. I'd like to help if I can!

I did get some information about valuable resources, especially the Food for Oregon website. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet but it seems like a huge collection of local Oregon resources. I think a similar website for Idaho is Idaho Preferred. Again, I haven't looked through this yet, but I heard a few people mention it. They also fed us while we were there, and all the food was local and fresh. I even succumbed to a grass-fed, organic beef hamburger (normally I am a vegetarian... but how could I resist this??).

While at the Community Food Forum, I heard about something that intrigued me greatly. In a creative attempt to connect growers with chefs/restaurants/etc., some organizations have applied the philosophy of speed-dating. I found this article on the Ecotrust website about it. Essentially, the chefs or the growers sit behind tables, and the other group of people rotate from table to table. They have a few minutes to explain what they have and what they want. This is not an attempt for people to make a financial transaction but merely to see what's out there.

I like this idea a lot. The concept of "speed-dating" can be adapted to so many different things! I think it would also be a lot of fun, and a great way to meet lots of people in a short time. This could probably be applied to community gardening somehow... maybe we could have some sort of speed-dating thing at the Community Seed Swap later on?? The possibilities are endless...

Also on the topic of events, I hatched another idea for an event over the weekend. I am a bit of a musician, and something that goes with music is the desire to share it with other people. So I started thinking... an open mic night would be fun. Then I thought further: what about an open mic night that served as some sort of fundraiser for the Foodbank? And maybe not just food/money donations but seed and tool donations, too? This idea is brand new and would need some work, but I think it would be a relatively stress-free (people would bring their own entertainment), fun fundraiser. I know a number of people I could contact. The hardest part would be setting up a sound system... I know nothing about that... but it's an idea to consider for a future date.

On a different note, I am on the radio! Not about community gardening but about food stamps. I was contacted by a reporter from Boise State radio. The first of this month I went shopping and I'm quoted in this program a few times. It was an interesting experience, and I think it's a very well-put-together program.

And last but not least, there are little tiny spinach plants poking up in my garden!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In the News!

Here I am! Before long I shall take over the world... one garden at a time... (or not)
But I HAVE succeeded in creating an endless loop. I link to that page, and that page links to me, creating an infinite cycle!
I think I'm crazy. Long weekends will do that.

Gardens Galore!

This past weekend was full of gardens! I spent Saturday morning digging up more of my yard, and then I spent Saturday afternoon helping my friend in his garden. I pulled a bunch of weeds (something that ALWAYS needs to be done), which oddly enough is very therapeutic for me. Though I wasn't the fastest weed exterminator on the farm, I really enjoyed just sitting down, plucking weeds, and letting my mind wander.
After a trip to Zamzow's (I had never been there! It seemed like a really great place, and the staff seemed very knowledgable), we planted some late-season crops including garlic, spinach, and two other crops I can't remember... As a reward for my efforts I got two giant cucumbers and some tomatoes. It pays to help out in the garden :)
I got so inspired I went home and dug some more, then I planted some beans, spinach, and garlic. The beans probably won't reach their full maturity (I'm pretty certain, in fact), however they are legumes, and legumes are a great source of nitrogen. Nitrogen is pretty much essential for healthy soil, so the hope is that by next season the soil will be fantastic. And even if none of these seeds grow, worst case scenario I am out about $2.50. Even on an Americorps budget, I think I can afford it!
There is SOOO much to do in the next little while! This week, even though it's short, is very busy. Tomorrow I am going to a volunteer expo in the morning to hopefully "glean" (haha) some volunteers or just get my message out there. The more people who know about it, the better! Then on Thursday evening the Foodbank has one of their big events of the year, A Chef's Affaire, which has auctions and amazing food, so I am told. This will be a new experience for me! Then Friday, I am off to Ontario, Oregon for the Community Food Forum. I think this event will be a great chance to meet a lot of community gardening enthusiasts.
I have also hatched an idea that I think will work on a number of levels. It will promote the Foodbank's Community Gardening program, bring community gardeners in the area together, and will generally be a great kick-off event for next season. While doing tons and tons of internet research, I kept coming across events known as Community Seed Swaps. I have never been to one, but it seems like people get together and trade seeds with one another. Like I mentioned already, I think this would be a great chance for people to meet each other, and I think it would just be a lot of fun! Obviously this event wouldn't happen until probably late February or early March, but I will keep it in the back of my mind. I have never coordinated a large-scale event before, especially not with seeds, so that will give me an opportunity to work with some seed experts.
As I dive into this crazy week, the community garden program is beginning to take a real shape. We are still far enough away from next growing season that next spring's planting is hazy in the distance. However the transition from summer to fall signals not only a meteorological shift, but a mental shift for me as well. I am prepared to take on the full community garden responsibility :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eliminating Food Deserts, one Tomato at a Time

I just returned from a visit to Trinity Community Garden, located on land from Trinity Baptist Church. This garden is just a short jaunt from the Foodbank, and it follows the principles of Square Foot Gardening. For anyone, like me, who doesn't know what that is, the idea is very simple. You make raised beds that are 4 feet x 4 feet, and then you divide each of those boxes up into 1 x 1 sections (so you have a grid containing 16 different squares). Then, you are supposed to concentrate on one box at a time. It requires no tilling, has limited pest problems, and seems generally easier to work with. I know personally that psychologically, this would be easier for me to deal with, rather than a HUGE space. I think this approach is geared toward the beginning gardener especially. The website has a much more comprehensive description of this concept.
The coordinator for the garden is Krista Willmorth, and she and her two children were very eager to show me around. The garden is in its 2nd season and it has sixteen 4 x 4 foot boxes. Most boxes are cared for by members of Trinity's congregation, but a few were also planted by elementary school kids from Liberty Elementary in the spring (the school is located right across the street, so it's perfect!). Their plots included giant, towering sunflowers, good for attracting bees and butterflies. Pollination never hurts!
The church provides all of the necessary materials, including seeds, land, water, and tools. Because of the nature of the square foot gardening program, it requires a low amount of tools, so that is definitely a point in its favor, especially for gardeners with limited funds! They get their water from a nearby canal, so that part of the system is free.
While I was getting the official tour, Krista's 4-year-old daughter kept picking ripe grape tomatoes off of the vine and eating them like candy. Krista also told me that kids get so excited after seeing something grow that they'll eat almost whatever comes out of the garden, even if they didn't like it before. Right as I was leaving, students from Liberty Elementary and their teacher were rejoicing over the size of the sunflowers, and looking at the fruits (literally!) of their spring labor.
It is especially exciting to me to see kids getting excited about this. Maybe, at least some of us, can start to get the younger generation away from the fast food mentality. When a kid gets excited over a garden-fresh tomato rather than a hamburger from McDonald's, I would say that's a step in the right direction.
Lisa Johanon in inner-city Detroit had the same kind of idea. In an area known as a "food desert" where most residents bought their groceries from a local liquor store, she decided it was time to get them some fresh produce! So with some help, she converted a retired UPS truck, filled it with produce, and drove it around the neighborhood.
My hope, not just for Idaho but for community gardeners everywhere, is that these gardens will help people living in food deserts, and maybe someday, eliminate them. Not only that, but it will get people excited about fresh food, just like those kids I saw today, and give them a reason to get excited about what they eat.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Very exciting news (for me personally, anyway)!! There are little pumpkin plants poking out of the soil in the garden at my house. Though I doubt that they will actually become full-grown pumpkins before the season is over, it is one of the most exciting things in the world to see that. Maybe I have been really busy, but it seemed like they came up really fast! This is so exciting... I'll have to post some pictures. After so much talk, I'm going to try and get the worm bin started this weekend. There's really no rush, but since this weekend is a long weekend I might actually have more time. I think I'll dig around in the yard some more and expand the garden as well. Mother Earth News tells me I can plant spinach right now, so why not?? I think I'm going to head over to Edward's Greenhouse today, because I think they carry heirloom varieties.
I also have several tomatoes left from the garden on Friday, and have yet to save any seed. However, apparently saving tomato seed is easy... you essentially scoop out the seeds with your thumb, a spoon, whatever, soak them with the juice in a jar, then add a bit of water. You let the jar sit for a few days in a warm place, stir it ocassionally. Mold should form on the top of the water, and then you clean the seeds with water. The mature seeds will sink to the bottom, and the mold and immature seeds will pour out when the contents of the jar are dumped. There's a much better description in the Seed Ambassadors zine, which is where I got this information from. They also tell you how to save LOTS of other seeds as well. I think I posted it on here before, but it's definitely worth posting again. In the spirit of seed saving, this information is completely free for anyone to download who wants it.
As an update, I went grocery shopping with the reporter from the radio on Tuesday. I ended up talking a lot about the VISTA program, because as far as I'm concerned, it was incredibly easy for me to get food stamps. So my food stamp story may not necessarily be... your average story! I essentially chose to have them, and most people... don't (obviously). It was probably interesting for them, anyway. Hopefully!