A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This is an appeal to people who live near either the Alpine or Monroe "Sharing Garden" sites. We could use your leaves! Please bag them and bring them to either site and leave them by the gate. We'll distribute them in the garden beds and use them to feed our "micro-livestock" (the worms!). Leaves added liberally at this time of year will build the soil in time for spring plantings. Thank you in advance!

Thanks to Jo-Ellen for bringing us a load already.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Feeding Each Other, Feeding Ourselves

As the seasons cycle to the darkest times, and the garden has finally been put to rest, it's time to reflect on all we were able to accomplish this year. This posting will touch on some of the highlights. If you are interested in reading the full report, just send us an email and we'll forward it to you.

In 2010, the "Sharing Gardens" scope expanded in three significant ways: size of the gardens themselves, volunteer participation and amount of food grown and shared. In 2009, Chris and I were able to do most of the gardening ourselves. Alpine's "Sharing Garden" is 80' x 100' and, at the peak of the season we were taking about one wheelbarrow full of produce to the Food Bank each week.

Llyn Peabody with our very first harvest - July, 2009
The Monroe site is almost two and a half times larger. Its dimensions are 110' x 170" (18,700 sq/ft) and, during our peak eight weeks of harvest we were consistently bringing in 275 - 325 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables per week! Here is a list of some of our top performers. We grew:

Green Beans: 225 lbs
Cucumbers: 653 lbs
Summer Squash/Zucchini: 340 lbs
Winter Squash: 500
Tomatoes: a whopping 1,285 lbs (we had almost 200 tomato plants this year!)

Our grand total was in the ballpark of 3,500 pounds at a local market value of $9,950.

"Moonglow" tomatoes at harvest time.
As those of you who have been following this blog know, we couldn't have done it without the steady and loving support from the volunteer team. Over the course of the summer, we had 34 people volunteer in the gardens. Our youngest was Ricardo - eight years old - (Ismael - "My's" little brother), who affectionately became known as "Bob". And we had two volunteers in their 70's. Twelve of the volunteers are recipients of the Food Bank's services and thirteen had had little or no gardening experience before they joined in this project.

"Food Bank" and "Sharing Gardens" volunteers - reveling in the harvest. That's a box of "commercial" tomatoes on the right...flavorless and hard as tennis balls but that's what most Food bank customers were used to so they had a certain following. As the summer went on and people tried the heirloom varieties, most folks found their tastes changing and began reaching for our tomatoes instead. Our composting worms weren't picky and happily consumed all of the commercial tomatoes that got passed by.
Some of my favorite memories from this summer will be those late August, Thursday mornings when we'd get started at 8:00 or 8:30 to beat the heat, and to get the harvest in by 10:00 when the Food Bank opened. The volunteers would start arriving shortly after Chris and I began and it was all we could do to ride the wave of their enthusiasm and focused harvesting. Chris would direct the team of 6 - 8 people in the field while I weighed and recorded the quantities of vegetables and then wheel-barrowed the towering loads to the Food Bank. People clustered in picking-teams in the beans, catching up on the week's news or soloed in the tomato patch filling bucket after bucket of heirloom tomatoes - presorting so the best quality went to the Food Bank and the split or bruised ones could be taken home for canning projects. The Monroe Gardens became a focal point for visitors as well. Ol' Howard, the neighbor, would ride up on his lawnmower and cheer us on from the side-lines. He just didn't want to go till he got his weekly hug and then you'd hear him whistling happily as he toodled off. Clusters of volunteers interested in such topics as electric cars, solar power and straw-bale construction would regale each other with stories of their exploits and experiments and new friendships were made while the fence was built and the lettuce got transplanted.

That's Ol' Howard on the right. He came to check up on us the very first day we cleaned out the shed at the Monroe site. He told us later, "I never thought you guys could do what you set out to do but now I've got egg on my face!" From our biggest doubter to our biggest fan.
We wish to acknowledge the generosity of the couple who invited us over to glean apples from their orchard this fall. We didn't weigh them but we gathered at least 450 pounds. These have been going to the Food Bank each week and distributed amongst volunteers. Chris and I just canned another big batch of applesauce today too. Yum!

Thanks to all of you who have supported this project by donating materials and, in some cases money. And for the kind words that have come our way through notes and comments in passing. Some of you even took the time to write testimonials about your experiences in the Gardens this summer. We have featured some of them here on the site in previous blogs. The rest of them are in an Appendix in the Year End Report. Our funders will be very happy to read about the satisfaction and joy you felt in learning to garden, and can food, and help feed your neighbors and yourselves.

We're just catching our breath from the season's great bounty. Soon we'll be focused on writing grants for next year, building the greenhouse and writing a manual so other communities can start "Sharing Gardens" and learn from our experience.  We've got a back-log of blogs to write about our adventures with seed-saving, other gardening tips and stories from the gardens. Stay tuned.

Chris and Llyn at the Alpine Gardens. (picture by Scobel Wiggins)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meet the Volunteers - A "Growing" Family

Cindy wrapping baling twine so we can use it for other purposes in the gardens
 Somewhere along towards the middle of the summer we began to see a new, smiling face in the gardens. Cindy first stopped by with her father-in-law, Bruce (who was already a regular volunteer) and immediately offered to help. We didn't see her again for a few weeks (due to recovering from surgery) but once she was feeling better she began coming just about every week. Cindy is someone who greets the world with open arms and approaches new opportunities with enthusiasm and curiosity. Though she came to us with very little previous gardening experience, she asked lots of questions and began putting into practice the simple methods we promote. As the tomatoes and tomatillos, onions, peppers and garlic began to ripen, Cindy decided to teach herself to do some water-bath canning. She made green and red salsas, tomato sauce and, using a juicer-canner, decanted home-style V-8 juice! Here are some pictures from her summer adventures, followed by a letter she wrote about her experiences in the garden.

Cindy, with a box of harvested onions for the Food Bank
Dear Llyn and Chris,
     I can’t begin to thank you for everything you have taught me about gardening. I don’t how I came so far in my life without ever growing my own food.  I have always grown a tomato plant or two, but never enough to actually plan meals around. I have learned to plant, fertilize, weed and harvest things I never even thought about growing.
     There’s more, you have shown me ways to plan ahead for my future meals. I now CAN and FREEZE these beautiful jewels. I will have good wholesome food throughout the winter!! I am so excited!!  I feel so happy to do this. I feel better about WHAT I am eating.
I recently watched a program on TV called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Jamie came to America and singled out one county. His goal was to teach the children and adults how to eat healthy. He did this through the school lunch rooms and in some homes.  Jamie showed everyone how to cook healthy whole foods.  Americans were not happy about this, they didn’t want to change. After a few weeks some of the kids started losing weight. The adults began to enjoy the food and families started cooking together. What I am trying to get at is YOU BOTH are MY Jamie Oliver! 
     I will continue to eat and grow my own chemical and pesticide free food. I love it! I am looking forward to our next round in the garden. 

Very Thankfully Yours, Cindy Canter

PS I have already begun the spreading my knowledge, I am teaching my daughter, nieces and nephew how to make dinners from fresh veggies and they love playing in the kitchen with me. (Full Circle)
Thankfully Yours, Cindy
Here's a picture of Cindy's first canning adventure!
Cindy has an infectious enthusiasm and welcoming spirit. Below, are pictures of times she brought along family-members to share in the garden experience:

Justin and Stephanie, Cindy's step-son and his friend, harvesting basil.
Niece, Ryan and Cindy in the raspberry patch.
As we mentioned in the opening of this post, Bruce Hayler is Cindy's father-in-law. He and his wife, Liz, are new to Monroe but Bruce is no stranger to gardening. Bruce grew up on a farm in Iowa and he and Liz's former home in Eugene was lush with gardens - all grown organically. Though Bruce started his own garden at the edge of Monroe, he still comes almost weekly to help at the Sharing Gardens. Liz told us once that she learned early on, "never to schedule appointments for Bruce on Thursdays," because he didn't want to miss out on his time with us in the gardens. Here, in his own words, are what the Gardens mean to him:

I always look forward to and enjoy working with Llyn, Chris and the other volunteers in the Sharing Gardens. We are doing good, honest and healthy work producing much needed food. Food that is fresh and nutritious for people in need of it. Not only is food being grown, but a sense of community is being established. People are being shown how to recapture basic, down to earth skills that have been forgotten and lost. The present economy and the emphasis on going green make these skills more vital than ever.

It would be hard to find anyone with a better attitude and skill-set to make the
Sharing Gardens a success than Llyn and Chris. They always strive to give the volunteers and the recipients a healthy experience for both their bodies and minds.

Bruce Hayler – November 2010
Chris and Bruce sharing a moment in the gardens.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meet the volunteers - Ismael in the Garden

The Sharing Gardens would not be the success they are without our volunteers. In the summer of 2010, from early June through late October, the gardens usually had two, three-hour volunteer sessions per week--one at each of the two garden sites.  In the early part of the season we coordinated them around the weather--as you recall, it was a wet spring so we tried to dodge the raindrops for our volunteer times. Once the harvest began coming in, we timed the sessions to coincide with Food Bank hours to bring the freshest produce to those in need.

Volunteers Cathy Rose, Danielle and Llyn with the kale harvest.

One morning, in early July, as we were harvesting lettuce for the Food Bank, a young man approached us in the garden and asked if there was anything he could do to help. He said he's always been interested in becoming a farmer and he wanted to learn about growing vegetables. Ismael ("My") became one of our steadiest volunteers, often coming both sessions per week. Though his family has been in the Corvallis area for over twenty years, and they own their own house in Monroe, the down-turn in the economy has made it difficult to make ends meet. The bags and boxes of produce "My" brought home from the garden were greatly appreciated by his family of six (he has three younger brothers). Though "My" is a playful sort, who loved to joke around with Chris and the other male volunteers, he always paid close attention to what we were teaching him in the garden and could be trusted with all aspects of the garden - from the delicate job of transplanting, to the big-muscle tasks of gathering and spreading grass or hay-mulch.

"My" using his bike-trailer to carry home hay for his rabbits and chickens.

One of our hopes, in involving young people in growing their own food, is to encourage them to expand their food choices. Many kids don't know what food looks like when it first comes from the ground and they're loathe to try it unless it comes from a bottle, box or can. One day, we were harvesting at the Monroe site, just a few blocks from "My's" home. Chris and "My" were filling a box with greens and summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes for "My" to take home to his family. Chris pulled up a few beets and asked "My" if his family would enjoy eating them. "My" didn't know. He'd never had one before. So Chris put them in "My's" box and sent him home to find out.

About fifteen minutes later, "My" comes zipping back on his bike, his lips and teeth smeared and dripping with bright red beet-juice (I wish I'd taken a picture!). He takes a hefty bite out of the peeled beet he's got skewered on a shish-ka-bob stick and says with a big grin, "Yeah, my family loves beets!' We'll take a bunch!"

"My's" big grin always lights up the garden!

One day, late in the fall, “My” stopped by the garden. He’s joined the 4-H club with a focus on poultry and he’s got ten chickens in a coop he built in his back yard. He was wondering if he could gather the last of the sweet corn, still on the stalks, to take home to feed his birds through the winter. It's long past being edible for people so I said, “Sure, let’s gather it together.”

We pulled the ears off their stalks and loaded them in the wheelbarrow. As we harvested, we talked about the summer gone by and “My’s” time in the garden. I asked him if he’d write down a few words about his experience. Here is what he wrote in response to the questions I asked him:

What was your favorite part about the Sharing Gardens?

All the wildlife, the smiles, the laughter, happiness. Helping families with food.

Why did you volunteer at the Sharing Gardens?

Because I love helping people. I love being part of the community. I like meeting new friends.

What are some things you learned at the Sharing Gardens?

I learned how to plant plants, water them, harvest them, save seeds; how to make compost and…can’t forget—sharing them.

Can you say what you appreciated about Chris and Llyn?

Everything. It was like my mom and dad teaching me how to take my first baby steps and how to say words like “mom” or “dad”.

Chris and "My" mulching the fruit orchard.

My has a rather impish quality; he's very lovable and just soaks up the playful kidding and other expressions of affection that are a part of our time in the gardens. So it didn’t surprise me when I saw he’d added his own question at the bottom of the list. He wrote:

Can you tell me what you loved about me?

Well, “My”, we love that you are the kind of person who likes to help other people. We love your playfulness and your willingness to stay with a task until the job’s done. We think it’s fantastic that you help feed your family and we love your curiosity about gardening and your gentle touch with the plants. You are trust-worthy and responsible and a great help in the gardens. Here's a little story that shows you what I mean...

One time, I asked “My” and his little brother, Ricardo (who was also helping us in the gardens that day) to mulch a back area that didn’t have much growing in it besides weeds. We had seeded some giant sunflowers but the crows had eaten most of them and there were only two that I could find. I told the boys to mulch around the sunflowers, leaving them room to grow and to heavily cover all the weeds so they’d die back. I had other tasks in the garden to take care of so I left them on their own.

Chris and Ricardo ("My's" younger brother) applying manure tea.
At the end of the morning, after everyone had gone home, I went out to the back garden to see how the boys had done. They’re good, steady workers and they’d covered a sizable section of the garden with flakes of spoiled hay. I was very happy with their work. I started to turn back to the garden gate when something caught my eye. There, by the fence, away from the main garden patch was a lone sunflower that had volunteered on its own, the seed having spilled from our bag of seeds, or having been carried and dropped by a crow or other critter. I wouldn’t have noticed it except there, carefully placed around its base, was a layer of mulch, blocking the weeds and grass and keeping the precious moisture within the soil so the flower would have a chance to grow through the heat of the summer and into fall’s harvest. “My” had recognized the leaf pattern of the young sunflower and taken the time to apply what he was learning about mulch in the gardens so this plant would have a chance to grow and bloom. That’s what I love about “My”.

Happily weeding the broccoli