Thursday, October 29, 2009

One Acre Fund, worth a look!

I wanted to spread the word about the organization One Acre Fund, because I think it is absolutely amazing.
This organization focuses their efforts in Kenya and Rwanda, some of the poorest countries on the planet. They empower farmers by giving them the resources to start farming businesses and the ability to invest for the future. This is the ultimate in food security. As the old proverb approximately goes, "Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."
With any luck, this community gardening approach to poverty and hunger will have a similar affect. What better way to empower people and feed them then to ensure that they get food season after season?
Inspiration for the day!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed yesterday by all the tasks at hand... so, like most people who want to organize their thoughts, I made a list! To further organize my thoughts (and hopefully help with my sanity...) I will put that list up here. Feedback is always welcome, because as I am discovering more and more, I can't do this alone! It's amazing what two people (and of course, more!) can come up with versus one person. There are some people I need to meet with, but in the mean time, my blog will have to listen...
First of all, I am trying to decide how much money in donations I should attempt to get, and what I would realistically need the money for. I have some seeds that were already donated, which is great, but due to the nature of this program I really don't need tons and tons of... stuff. In a perfect world I would get the right amount of stuff and be able to distribute it efficiently and evenly to every garden that needed it, as well as to aspiring gardeners who would need it for their first season. However I am fairly certain that it would not be that simple... there's no way I could ever get enough "stuff" so that everyone could get what they needed. And then what would I do? Pick favorites? I could potentially pick gardens at random to receive "stuff" from us, but I don't really like that idea. I'm still working this out. As for the seeds that I already have, I think I will have them available at the seed swap. For that purpose I think it would be beneficial to get more, because besides seed-swapping I would like gardeners to leave having more than they came with. But again, this could create some problems.
One thing that having "stuff" would be good for is for a prize of some sort. Maybe as an incentive for the seed swap, community garden participants would put tickets in a raffle or something and win a set of tools... though this might be better for a fundraiser, not for the seed swap.
I'm just hashing out ideas at this point. I think it would be good (for publicity and for us!) to have some sort of fundraiser before the season starts, probably in the next few months, sort of like the pumpkin sale for the Abundance Project (an organization that donates extra produce to incoming refugees! a great project. they have a group on facebook or you can read about them here). Unfortunately my plug for that is a little late, as it was a few weeks ago already... but essentially the North End Organic Nursery hosted a pumpkin sale, and either all or most of the proceeds went to the Abundance Project. It would be fun and (hopefully) profitable to do something like that.
Another item on my plate is the formation of a Garden Committee. As I've been saying over and over, these gardens are not FOODBANK gardens, and we can't do this alone. Very soon I need to assemble a group of gardeners and community members who can help us steer this in the right direction. They know, better than anyone else, what their needs are, and it's always better to hear other people's perspectives.
Another item I have decided to agressively pursue, even if it doesn't come to fruition during my term here, are gardening classes that are either discounted or free. This is something I can discuss in more detail with the Garden Committee, I hope, and it's the kind of service the Foodbank can really try and offer. We don't have the capacity to set up gardens or oversee them, but we could do something like offer classes. That would be a real incentive for people to come to us.
In other news, I met with a volunteer yesterday who's willing to improve upon the maps I've started! His cartography experience far outweighs mine (he does it for a job) and as a past geography major, I am particularly excited about this project. It would be a fantastic resource to point volunteers in the right direction without much staff time.
My head is swimming with ideas, and I'm trying to figure out what can feasibly be done in the time I have. It would be very easy to come up with too many ideas and not accomplish anything, and that's something I want to avoid at all costs... which is why I'm trying to focus on the above (which still might be too much).

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Seed Planted, A Community Fed

This morning I met with Brandon Stankewsky, who, with the help of his wife Kathrine, established a company called A Seed Planted (you can find them on Facebook! Become their Facebook friend! We met at the Flying M Coffeehouse yesterday morning and discussed garden aspirations over our respective beverages.

The main idea behind A Seed Planted is to get fresh food to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. As most people reading this blog probably already know, organic and fresh food (the good stuff!) is more expensive than pre-packaged, corn-syrupy, microwaveable imitations (the bad stuff!). Which means that the idea of "organic", because of this system, ends up being fairly elitist. I love going to the Co-op, but I use my food stamps. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't shop there, because I couldn't afford it. Even somewhere like WinCo, where the prices are generally lower than the Co-op, the organic options are still more expensive. So what do you do if you're short on cash? Most people go for the "bad stuff" (myself included).

If there were more organizations with aims like A Seed Planted, fewer people would have to opt for the bad stuff. Brandon made it clear to me, over and over again, that he has no intention of ever selling any of the food he grows or looking for money from this venture.

As far as I'm concerned, this is what it's all about. People being able to eat. From the Foodbank side of things, as I have said many times, I don't want to dominate community gardens. The point is that people can eat more fresh food. That's it. It's really very, very simple, and with that goal in mind we will help them to get there in as many ways as we possibly can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

After being both sick and on vacation (I went to San Francisco! Even VISTAs can sometimes afford a vacation...), I feel as though I have been MIA for quite a while now and lax in my duties... I am also still fighting my cold. There's never a good time to get sick, but it was especially unfortunate for me this time because I got sick right before my trip... and I wasn't about to stay home.

ANYWAY I'm back now! And I need to report about my visit with Casey O'Leary who runs Earthly Delights Farm.

Unlike many places I've visited, Earthly Delights Farm isn't a community garden but an urban farm. After a delicious cup of rainbow flower tea, Casey, her dog Norm, and I went on a tour of Earthly Delight's Gardens. These gardens are all located in the Sunset Collister neighborhood, and are located in people's yards. But there was one thing I noticed right away: these yards were much larger than most yards normally found in the city. There were so many gardens tucked back where you didn't expect them. At one point, as we were walking through, there were left over concord grapes hanging on the vines. Casey and I performed gleaning on a small scale and chowed down on these delicious wonders.

Earthly Delights has been around for 5 years, Casey told me, and it started simply with the desire to grow food in an urban setting. Through contact and agreements with land owners, the plots were established and eventually, a CSA began. This project is very inspiring, because it shows that if you want to do something, and you have enough will power, you really can do it. Because of Casey O'Leary's work, more people have access to fresh produce in the city of Boise. Not only that, but the farm is environmentally concious as well; the work is entirely human-powered. Rather than using gas-guzzling machinery or cars to transport food, people do the work and bicycles transport from site to site. And as I mentioned, the gardens are all close enough together that they are easily reached on foot.

This farm has gardens after my own heart (and after the Foodbank's heart!). They prove that gardens can grow anywhere people want them to. All we need is the will to plant something, and thanks to people like Casey O'Leary and farms like Earthly Delights Farm the will is ever-present and growing.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Christy Harp from Jackson Township, Ohio grew a pumpkin. Not just any pumpkin... it weighs 1,725 pounds. I'm almost more impressed by the 7-pound tomato her husband grew!
And now it's time for an obscure reference... for anyone who has seen Sleeper, a Woody Allen movie before my time (but part of my childhood, courtesy of my parents), there's a part where he's running through a field of giant fruits and vegetables. Here's the clip for your viewing (and laughing) pleasure. Maybe giant produce isn't so unbelievable after all?!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yesterday afternoon, after an extended game of phone tag that lasted a few weeks, I finally visited the King of Glory Community Garden and met with Mark Drew. Located on land donated by the King of Glory Lutheran Church, this garden is mainly tailored to refugees but it also serves a few local Boise families. There are 12 family plots total, and there are hopes to expand in the next growing season. When plans for a community garden were announced, 30 families expressed interest. The land is available, but, as Mark explained to me, the water constraints limit the growing area considerably. He told me about water laws in Idaho, which I knew very little about before.
For those of you who know all of this already, bear with me... I'm learning something new every day! Essentially the area that was settled first has first rights to the water... no sharing, no compromising. The system is archaic but it still remains. This means, as Mark told me, they pay a certain amount of money each month for water they can't use. So the prospects of expanding are limited; because of their water set-up they would have to install some sort of spigot or something to allow the water to reach far enough. As you can imagine, this is a very expensive proposition.
He gave me a number of wonderful ideas. For instance, I brought up the possibility of funneling volunteers from the Foodbank to help in community gardens. He took this idea further; volunteers would be more efficient if they were more organized, maybe in core groups around the Treasure Valley. If we could somehow have a reliable group of volunteers that community gardeners could use, or some system of that nature, it would be a very efficient use of volunteer time.
He also suggested having some sort of greenhouse space for community gardeners to grow seeds and veggie starts. That's something I never even thought of. If people don't have the land to grow a garden themselves, they probably don't have the space to start seeds on a large scale, either. This could be trickier to accomplish... but I really like the idea and I'm going to see what I can do with it. Maybe we won't have a greenhouse exactly, but perhaps I could coordinate with local businesses and nurseries and somehow get space...
Another idea he had pertains especially to refugees, but also to anyone else unfamiliar with cooking and gardening. Some information, translated into several languages, on what grows in Idaho and how to use it once you pick it would be very, very beneficial. If people are coming from other places, how are they going to know what kind of food grows here? And how are they going to know how to prepare it? Because really, what gardening comes down to is eating. If you can't eat what you grow, the point of having a garden is nearly moot. This is where translation comes in. Maybe we could somehow develop pamphlets in Russian, Swahili, Spanish, and of course English. I cook often, but even I don't know how to prepare some of those vegetables!
My head is spinning with all these ideas, and the time has come to start acting on them. Another step in this process is the start of applying for Service Learning. It could be highly beneficial to me to partner with a Service Learning class and get some publicity!
There are so many possibilities that I need to be careful not to get caught up in the details. I only have a year or so to do this, and whoever follows me can continue where I left off and take it in a different direction. One step at a time...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This morning, several Foodbank employees and I, some of us sporting our stylish Foodbank t-shirts, went to the Borah Courtroom in downtown Boise. In a short ceremony, the lieutenant governor declared October Hunger Awareness Month. The Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force lead the ceremonies, and youth from Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS) presented a basket full of local produce. This was a symbolic act highlighting the importance of a local food system. The basket contained produce from the BUGS garden, Lewiston, the Idaho Office for Refugees' Global Gardens, A Seed Planted Community Charity Garden, and Peaceful Belly Farm. And, as a last-minute addendum, there was produce from the Trinity Baptist Church community garden. As a request from Kathy Gardner, I sent out an e-mail to a few community gardens in the area, and Krista Willmorth graciously offered some of her produce for the basket. It was pretty exciting for me to hear their garden announced in this official place, and to hear the words "partnered with the Idaho Foodbank".
I'm sure there will be a better description of this event in a newspaper somewhere... I'll keep my eyes open and post it if anything comes up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In the cool of the fall morning, I made my way out to the Hidden Springs Community Farm, winding through Boise and then out into the barren hills. It made me remember how much I like being out of the city... sometimes I forget how amazing the countryside is around here. Not to mention snow in the foothills!
But I digress. The Hidden Springs Community Farm is located near the community of Hidden Springs and is spread out on various fields. The setting is beautiful, with the foothills waiting in the background. The site itself is also something special; it used to be a farmstead (and still kind of is!), and has the oldest standing house in Ada county. The farmland has been preserved through the work of Doreen and Jenn, also known as Sisters of the Soil (not actually sisters... I made that mistake over the phone). They operate this community farm with the help of volunteers to run a CSA (about 100 shares in the past season), all under organic certification and with big plans for the future. Doreen mentioned an idea to me that I think would be great to keep in mind and hopefully, to enact! She would like to coordinate with local organizations (her example was the Women's Shelter) and have volunteers from these areas work in exchange for produce. In this scenario, everyone wins! It would be great to try and help gardens do that sort of thing starting next season if they would like. It could add a whole new dimension to the program! In these infant stages, the possibilities are almost endless.
It was refreshing to be out on a farm again... doing that always reminds me of happy times back home and on the farm in Maine :) And it was inspiring to see this work on such a large scale. I know firsthand how much work it is to do that...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wait... it's October?!

How did this happen, anyway? October already?? Now that I'm not in school anymore, I am somehow stuck in an eternal summer... even though the weather is changing outside, my brain tells me it's still late August.
But as it turns out, I've been in Boise for three months already, and it's not August but October! The first frost has already hit us. In gardens everywhere leaves hang despondently in the chilly autumn air, spent after a (hopefully) fruitful season. I even heard tell of a possible snowfall in the near future. My Minnesota heart sings at the possibility of snow, and I am frankly quite pleased that the heat has been replaced with tolerable temperatures... no more sweating in my bed at night! It's even been raining the past few days!
But just because the gardening season is over does not mean my work is over. By no means! It only means I am moving on to greater things... Before too long, I need to begin finding funding, free supplies, and whatever else I can acquire, amidst meeting with gardeners. Even though I'm not in school anymore, this fall still marks a turning point in the year for me; we have the 2009 growing season now completely behind us. Somehow I can focus more easily on the task at hand. Though it's still far away, the growing season of 2010 is suddenly palpable.
I have a lot of work ahead of me, and it's beginning to take a shape that I can grasp. Though the growing season for community gardeners is at an end, the growing season for this community garden coordinator is just beginning. 2010 will be a great year.