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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Sharing Gardens" for Local Food Security

A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance while building stronger communities.
Sharing creates abundance!
We've been watching the dramatic weather world-wide: floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves and record snows! In recent years, every country that grows food has experienced repeated significant crop-failures. Pests, weather and super-weeds are all taking their toll. It seems more important than ever for people to learn to grow, at least some, of their own food. At the Sharing Gardens (MAP), we demonstrate a style of gardening that builds soil fertility using locally-generated, renewable and sustainable materials - like leaves and grass-clippings - that are commonly considered waste products. This model also fosters trust and a sense of community at the neighborhood level; relationships that can be called upon in times of social, or environmental stress. It by-passes "business-as-usual" in that it generates a bounty of "organic" fruits and vegetables feeding far more people than it takes to run it and no money ever changes hands. We call it a "Sharing Garden".
Sharing the bounty - garden helpers "shop" for their week's vegetables. 
What makes these Sharing Gardens unique is that, instead of many separate plots, that are rented by individuals, we all garden together. All materials and labor are donated. The food we grow is shared by all who have contributed in some way. All surplus is donated to local food-charities (like Food Banks and Soup Kitchens). No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
Lettuce and other vegetables being donated to a local food-charity.
This model is easily replicated anywhere there are vacant lots with a water-source, and people with enough gardening experience to oversee the project and does not require a large input of money to make it work. It can be adapted to many different scales of gardening; from a few families who live and garden on the same block, to a multi-acre production farm. "Sharing Gardens" help keep materials out of burn-piles and the land-fill (garbage dumps) through re-using, re-purposing and encouraging people to share their surplus.

Overview of the Sharing Gardens
Benefits of a Sharing Garden 
Harvest Totals - 2012
Using Leaves and Grass-Clippings to Create Soil-Fertility
 Wish List - To Donate

To view videos about the project, LINK including the the Peak Moment video: The Giving is Growing.
To read articles about the project: Click Here
 
Volunteers from our local university help the gardens thrive!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sprouting potatoes? What to do.


Why grow your own potatoes? Well for one thing, potatoes are one of those vegies that are good to eat organic and buying them organic can be expensive. They are a good use of garden space as a single plant can yield up to five pounds of potatoes. Also, they're fun to grow. This article will tell you how you can turn that scary tangle of sprouting potatoes under your sink, into a meal (or ten!).

Timing: Count backwards from when you wish to harvest your potatoes. Most varieties need between 17 and 19 weeks from planting to harvest. Add another two weeks for “chitting”. Chitting is a way to help the potatoes store up solar energy which makes them more likely to produce a big crop. Exposure to indirect sun hardens the sprouts so they are less likely to break. Also, the green in their skins is bitter and discourages pests from eating your seed potatoes in the ground.
This large potato was cut and allowed to dry on the exposed side before planting.

Sprout your potatoes: Potatoes must go through a natural dormancy before they can sprout again. This can be anywhere from four to six months. UNlike most crops, they are not sensitive to day-length but have an internal timing that can only be altered slightly to suit the farmer's planting cycles. If you wish to delay sprouting, keep potatoes in a cool, dry storage area. If you wish to hasten their sprouting, increase the temperature and moisture of their storage place. Layering them in damp leaves, in a tub kept in a heated part of your house will do the trick. The ideal sprout-length is about ¾ of an inch (10-15 mm). The longer they become, the more likely they are to break when you plant them.

If your potatoes have long, hairy sprouts: If your potatoes already have extensive sprouts, and the sturdy central sprout has many small root-hairs coming off the sides, it's important that you remove those, otherwise you'll get many tiny potatoes instead of a few large ones. These smaller side-sprouts also hasten the dehydration of the potato and weaken its ability to thrive. You can rub off the rootlets with your bare hands, they snap off easily. Multiple, thick sprouts are fine; just get rid of the fine hairs.

Potatoes on left ave too many rootlets. Ones on right have been stripped and are ready for planting.
Best size for seed potatoes: The optimal size for seed-potatoes is the size of a hen's egg. If you have larger potatoes, cut them so they have at least three “eyes” and sufficient flesh. Don't let the freshly-cut sides of potatoes touch each other as this may cause them to rot. (Some browning or blackening is normal for potatoes as they "skin over".) 
 
These are a good size for planting. Note the greenish hue from "chitting".

Chitting your potatoes: You can chit potatoes in your house near a window, or on a covered porch, or in a greenhouse (under a table). Don't put them in direct sunlight and, if there's danger of frost, cover them with a towel or cloth at night or bring them inside. After they have "greened up' a bit, and any cut parts have sealed over, they are ready to plant. 
 
Here are potatoes on a covered porch where they get indirect light.
Green potatoes are mildly poisonous so don't eat them after chitting.

If you have chitted your potatoes and its still too early to plant (the ground is too soggy or there's still snow on the ground) you can store them in a cardboard box or plastic tub, layered between leaves from last fall. You can also use straw. Or follow this link to an innovative way to extend the growing season of your potatoes. Link. We haven't tried this but it seems like it would work.

Some of our 2009 harvest, with seed potatoes stored in a paper sack (on the right).
How many potatoes should you plant? Depending on the variety, you can get five or more pounds of potatoes for each one you plant. You'll need about a foot between each plant in your garden and potatoes like lots of sun and loose, sandy soil. 

Links to our other potato blogs, go to:

More on "chitting" potatoes: LINK

Thursday, June 16, 2011

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

The Sharing Gardens is on Peak Moment TV

On August 8, 2010 we were visited at the Alpine site by Janaia Donaldson and Robyn Malgren of Peak Moment TV, a traveling video-production team that focuses on issues related to our currently challenging times. You can watch this 28 min. video online at
www.peakmoment.tv, or listen to the audio file here: audio (Peak Moment Conversation 193).

"Sharing Gardens - Giving and Receiving"

More than a community garden, this sharing garden provides fresh produce for all who've contributed to it, with surplus going to the local food bank. Coordinators Chris Burns and Llyn Peabody note that with one large plot rather than separate plots, the Sharing Gardens enable more efficient food production — from watering to optimizing for pollinators. They share tips for getting started, garden planning, communicating with volunteers, garden practices like deep mulch, and especially the joy of giving without expecting a return. [www.alpinegarden.blogspot.com
]

pm_tv_120.gifPeak Moment: Locally Reliant Living for Challenging Times is an online television series with people creating resilient lives and communities for a more sustainable, lower-energy future. Peak Moment TV is cross-pollinating the most challenging shift in human history — an energy transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable living. 193 programs are online at www.peakmoment.tv/conversations, where DVDs can be ordered. They are available by download to all community access TV stations nationwide. Peak Moment Television is produced by Robyn Mallgren and Janaia Donaldson, Yuba Gals Independent Media of Nevada City, California.

Dried Tomato/Walnut Pesto - Recipe

Last year we had a fantastic abundance of a type of tomato called "Principe". It's a rather small fruit that's acorn-shaped. It's the perfect variety for making dried tomatoes. Here's a delicious recipe if you have that "high-quality problem" of too many dried tomatoes!


Dried Tomato Pesto
2 cups dried tomatoes
1 cup coursely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup dried basil (or a few tablespoons basil pesto)
4 cloves garlic -chopped
2 Tablespoons balsamic or other good vinegar

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add a little water if it seems too sticky, but it should remain thick enough to spread on a slice of bread.

This and other delicious recipes are available here: click here

Friday, June 10, 2011

Giver's Gallery, Gratitude and Updates

Lettuce ready for planting - April 2011
We've been watching the dramatic weather world-wide; floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves and record snows! It seems more important than ever to be helping people learn this basic skill of growing food while building community ties amongst neighbors. We are very grateful for the surge of support that has come to us since we lost greenhouse access and the big grant we applied for. All told, we received close to $2,000 in donations from people near and far. We have also received materials donations and the warming weather here in the Pacific NW has brought out droves of volunteers, both new faces and familiar friends from last year.

Our garden "palette" to choose from - May 2011
We have been moving forward in faith, trusting that there is some greater purpose to recent events. We don't want to miss it by wallowing in regret or judgment. We feel on-purpose again and happy to honor the commitments we have for growing food for those in need, and continuing to develop this model of gardening that builds community and helps increase local food security. We have some exciting prospects calling us forward and are freeing-up our energies to pursue those. Thank you to everyone for your wise words and all the ways you have shown us that this program matters to you. It has really helped.

A few highlights since our last post:

Jan with lettuce for the Food Bank
Harvest has begun: We've begun to harvest from the gardens! The cool, wet spring has been very good for our lettuce and kale. Volunteers have been taking home as much as they can eat, we took thirty lettuce-heads to the food bank last week and another twenty to the Monroe Legion Hall: they serve lunch to seniors twice a week and appreciate the fresh vegetables we're able to provide. The seniors take home whatever isn't used in the lunches. This week's lettuce harvest was over 40 heads!

Llyn with spring's bounty!
Straw delivery: We are extremely grateful to Mark Frystak, a resident of Monroe who saw our recent wishlist posted in the Tribune News and came through with 55 bales of straw for us to begin to mulch the gardens. Everyone agrees that the straw makes the garden look so tidy, volunteers love the dry comfort of weeding from straw paths and the worms, snakes and other garden-friendly wildlife appreciate the food and shelter it provides. We can still use much more straw, and will continue to have need all through the season. We used about 10 tons last year and had about a third less garden in cultivation. If you know of anyone with bales to donate, we can probably arrange for pick-up. Here's a link to our full wish-list.

A-Frame - tomato cages with mulch on the paths
Young people in the garden: The last day of school is June 10 but we're already receiving lots of help from some of the local young people. Weeding, mulching, planting seeds and transplanting starts...all these tasks provide meaningful activity and fun in a town without much else to do after school. One afternoon last week we had five kids stop by; some just to visit, and others to help out.
Seth and Ricardo take lettuce home to their families after helping us mulch the garden paths
Volunteers: We've got some new faces and many of the core group of volunteers coming back from last year. Today we had five people helping with the harvest and other tasks. These included Pastor Mark Peterson from the nearby Monroe Church of Christ, Jim and Cindy Kitchen who are the coordinators for a garden modeled after the Sharing Gardens, in Corvallis and Larry Winiarski who went above and beyond the call of duty and patiently took apart our donated lawnmower that hasn't been working at all this season. He finally sleuthed out the problem and got her running! Now maybe our garden paths won't look quite so shaggy. Thanks to all the rest of you who have been coming out to help.

Jan, spreading mulch
Jennifer and Llyn planting tomatoes
Larry (the lawnmower doctor) starting seeds at the Monroe garden
The gardens are starting to take shape. We've been preparing beds and planting almost every day. Here are some pictures of the garden's progress:
"Butter Crunch" lettuce
Pepper plants interspersed with red lettuce. The lettuce will be harvested before the peppers get too big.

Much thanks too to all the people bringing us your used pots and flats. We're glad to give them new life. Phyllis Derr has been calling us to pick up her lawn clippings in Monroe. We use them to mulch. We've received financial donations since our last post from Jennie and Kris Rhoads, Craig Erken, Karen Josephson, Angee Costa and Chuck and Betty Conway. And thanks to Steve Rose who, once again has grown hundreds of tomato starts which he gives away to food-bank recipients, volunteers and provides us with the surplus at the Sharing Gardens. 

It looks like we'll have quite a few extra tomatoes to give away. First come, first served. Stop on by the Monroe garden during volunteer times if you'd like to take some home to your own garden.