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

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)

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