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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Conscious Cultivation: A community food solution flourishes in rural Oregon

By Tuula Rebhahn

This week's Sharing Gardens post is actually a re-post from our new friends Hannah and Tuula - two brave adventurers who are weeks away from embarking on an epic 5,000-mile journey from Eugene, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Along the way they will work and stay at farms in order to bring awareness to issues of local food, and bicycling as important ways of reducing one's "carbon footprint". Here is an article Tuula wrote about their recent visit to the Sharing Gardens, and our tiny home in the woods. We feel the article really captures the spirit of our lifestyle and why we do what we do. Enjoy!

Hannah and I hopped off our saddles when our tires turned on the gravel parking lot of Monroe, Oregon's stately white church, the tallest building in town. We pulled in under a sheltered picnic table made from a single 100-foot slab of Douglas fir. Immediately, we knew two things: One, that this place has hosted meals of epic proportions. Two, we would be glad we made the trip out this way. What we didn't know that the afternoon would change the way we thought about our relationship to the world, our community, and to each other.

It had been a slow start. With the wind blowing the rain sideways, and our lack of experience doing day trips by bike, we were nervous. I packed extra snacks and cinched my rainpants on tight.

As we pedaled north out of Eugene, suburban sprawl slowly dissolved into farmland, and the horizontal rain gave way to occasional drizzle and a road-spanning rainbow.  With the squash harvest just completed, the sunlit fields gave off a dizzyingly sweet aroma of baked pumpkins.

Hannah grazes on roadside blackberries on the way to Monroe.
This is one of my favorite regions of Oregon - the picture-perfect fields, barns and country roads that roll over the landscape from our valley to the coastal mountains make it a cyclist's, as well as a farmer's, paradise. In all of this agricultural richness, however, many lack access to fresh foods. Monroe, a community of about 700 people living 15 miles from the nearest grocery store, is the perfect example of this. Or was, at least, until Chris and Llyn moved to town in 2008.

My estimate of how long it would take us to ride the 23 miles from our house to Chris and Llyn's garden project was a bit conservative. For once, I was early. As we waited for our hosts to arrive, catching glimpses of the garden through the fence beyond the picnic table, Hannah started asking questions, questions I didn't have the answer to.

"So, who are these people again?"

"They run this thing called the Sharing Gardens." Hannah is always up for a bike ride, and I'd coordinated the destination. I'd heard about Llyn and Chris' innovative take on community gardens, and Monroe was about the right distance away for us to begin training for longer bike rides. They'd responded to my email with enthusiasm. That's about all I knew so far.

Finally, an old green GMC truck pulled into the gravel drive, and the faces I saw through the windshield beamed a warmth and light that cut through the drizzle. We were rewarded for our trek by a hug from Llyn and a couple of pears harvested from a nearby tree.

October 2012 - preparing ground for cover-cropping
The garden was pretty much done for the season, all the crops harvested and the beds turned over, but as we walked between the rows, I could tell by the richness of the soil that these guys knew what they were doing. Inside the tiny greenhouse, we found proof in the gorgeous ripe tomatoes, as well as racks of drying peppers and bean pods. Designed and built by Chris and Llyn, the greenhouse was a tropical oasis this time of year. As we basked in the warmth, the couple told us their story.

Five years ago, they were fed up with paying too much in rent, working unrewarding jobs, and not being able to exercise their full ability to help the community. They were searching for a way to redefine the living standards that most of us in this country take as non-negotiable: You work, you pay for a place to live and for food to eat, and if you want to do anything more, you incur debt.

In Monroe, they found what they were looking for: a tiny house whose owners were willing to let them work off a portion of the rent, leaving them with free time to pursue other projects. The fact that the tiny house is a travel trailer with less floor space than some people's bathrooms didn't deter them. In fact, they considered a healthy way to eliminate all but the essentials in life.

Staking out the garden - March 2010. 
The couple founded the Alpine Garden in a tiny community just west of Monroe in 2009. Finding that they needed a slightly larger population to sustain the garden, they put feelers out again for the perfect plot of land. When they spotted an empty lot behind Monroe's church, they knew they had found what they were looking for. They contacted the owner of the property, who not only agreed to allow the couple to plow up the grass and plant a garden, he also offered to pay the water bill - a big deal for gardeners in a valley that receives almost no summer rainfall.

"Well, shall we sit at the picnic table and shell beans while we visit?" Llyn asked. I could see how her energy contributed to transforming what was a weedy patch of grass in the beginning of 2010 to what the Sharing Gardens is today: A vital source of fresh produce for 75-100 families in the area. We grabbed tubs of dried scarlet runner beans and made our way back to the wooden benches.

Monroe Sharing Garden August 4, 2012
Most community gardens comprise individual garden plots assigned to families, who are then completely responsible for keeping up that plot year-round. At The Sharing Gardens, all the spaces are communal, allowing everyone to grow more in the long beds than they could ever do in shorter, individual ones. Working like peas in a pod has its challenges, but with Llyn and Chris as the dedicated core volunteers, the garden has the leadership and communication structure to stay productive.

While only a handful of people appear at the garden regularly to help out, around fifty are part of the volunteer network. Others give in other ways, with donations of cash and materials. It's all paid off for the community: This year, the garden produced 30 different crops, and the top ten producers weighed in at 6,200 pounds.

Dipping into the tub of pea pods, Hannah broke her silence with a typical to-the-point inquiry.

"Don't you worry about healthcare? Retirement? Getting away once in a while?"

Our hosts smiled serenely. They are perfectly healthy, they told us. They never want to retire. When they feel the urge to travel, they get in their roomy van (their second vehicle) and go camp out somewhere. Other volunteers run the garden while they're gone. Of course, they do rely on cash for some living expenses, and continue to use their savings while their new way of life comes to an equilibrium.

We needed to know more. We invited ourselves to Chris and Llyn's travel trailer to explore their take on efficiency housing - the sharing philosophy applied to their own lives. They kindly accepted our invite and drew us a map, promising to follow in their truck once we'd gotten a good head start.

So far, the biking part of this journey had been easy (ie, flat). Now, we were climbing a long, windy hill into Christmas-tree-farm territory. Ten minutes later, wheezing, we took a right turn and were headed down again, accelerating a bit recklessly, my hair beating against my helmet like a hundred tiny flags snapping in the wind. As soon as I remembered to check the numbers on the mailboxes as we flew by, we had arrived.

Chris and Llyn live in the 'Spartan Imperial Mansion' on right (320 sq/ft). The 23-foot trailer on the left serves as a guest room and extra storage.
As we turned into the driveway, the big green truck rumbled up behind us. We got out of the way. With a light tap from the truck's bumper, the big metal gate flew right open. Sheep galloped to the fence bordering the driveway, serenading us with comical bleats. We closed the gate and followed the truck up the hill.

The travel trailer was just that, and nothing more. The special thing was how Chris and Llyn used the space. Most of the trailer's storage goes to food - jars of applesauce, dried beans, onions, canned tomatoes - most of it from the Sharing Gardens. They removed the table and benches that normally take up most of a travel trailer's living area and laid down a beautiful rug. Now, the space functions both as a Japanese-style eating area and a yoga studio, dance floor, or whatever.

Inside their home. This view is from the loft-bed, looking into the kitchen.
We stepped back outside to tour the outdoor kitchen. Llyn made the excellent point that most kitchen activities that require a lot of space - canning, dehydrating, juicing, etc - can be done on a nice day in a covered area that doesn't necessarily need to be indoors. On the porch attached to the trailer, they installed a counter, sink, and propane burner. They do all their everyday cooking in the trailer, and they use the outdoor kitchen for bigger projects.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the rug, sharing a bowl of walnuts harvested on Chris' recent trip to California and a quart of homemade grape juice. We told stories and discussed the obstacles people face in embracing a shared lifestyle.

The Sharing Gardens has been a success because it lives up to its name; everyone in the community has access to the bounty, and the shared space makes the best use of everyone's skills. On a personal level, Chris and Llyn, who had only been together two years before they launched into the full-time-volunteer lifestyle, have been able to live in a tiny space on a very limited budget without going crazy because they have an exceptional ability to respect each other's needs.

"We're cultivating we-consciousness," says Chris.

Whoa. For Hannah and I, it's been one thing to work together, live together, and plan the Food Cycles tour together. Functioning as a single cognitive unit? This was a whole new level to consider.

Llyn on loft-bed. Food storage below.
The travel trailer was a sanctuary and Chris and Llyn felt like old friends, but we had to get back home while the sun was still awake. With bellies full of tree protein and heads swimming with ideas and wisdom, we strapped our helmets back on and rolled down the driveway. The sheep shouted their goodbyes.

All the way home, I turned over Chris and Llyn's simple but transformative act of building a garden in a community that desperately needed one. Can it be replicated elsewhere? People like them don't come along every day - Chris and Llyn have a lifetime of experience in sharing through communal living situations, were prepared to go minimalist and didn't have debts to pay off or chronic health issues. Then again, even if they did, I had the feeling they would probably still find a way to make it work.

Volunteers select produce for personal use. No one is ever charged anything for the food.
The Sharing Gardens isn't just a way to get fresh food to a community that lacks it. It's a gathering point and educational tool; this fall, the group hosted a 150-person "Farm to Farm" bike ride, and is offering potlucks and beginning cooking classes in the church. For Chris and Llyn, it's been a path to fulfillment and a way to test and strengthen their relationship. Maybe all food-culture transformations have to happen this way, with a deep dedication to sharing, not only of our time and energy, but also of our philosophies.

City lights welcomed us back home as we pedaled the final miles. When we walked back into our small two-bedroom house, it seemed cavernous and excessive. Still, the ride had been a success, food for the soul and for the body: Llyn and Chris had sent us home with a bag full of the best walnuts we'd ever tasted.

To find out more about Hannah and Tuula's Food Cycles Bicycle Tour visit their site HERE.
Click here to read Bios of Tuula and Hannah

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The "Beet" Goes On

Monroe Sharing Gardens - August 4, 2012 (Grade School in background)
The Sharing Gardens project demonstrates an efficient way of growing food that is light on the Earth, builds community, and provides ample surplus for those in need. We have steered away from seeking large government, or private grants because, in order to be sustainable, we must demonstrate that this type of garden can thrive through the support and participation of the community it serves. This year has been an amazingly successful demonstration of these principles in action.

Llyn, with Striped German tomatoes
For the 2012 season, expenses specific to the gardens, were just under $2,800. This included gas and up-keep for the farm truck, materials for a 12'x40' greenhouse as well as other garden-growing basics. With the stipend that Chris and I receive from the project, to cover some of our living expenses, the total comes to $11,350. With these financial resources we were able to grow (on a piece of land 110' x170') over 30 varieties of vegetables. Our top ten producers yielded just under 6,200 pounds of food, including over 500 heads of lettuce, with a total market value of $15,800!

This food has gone to feed people at four charities in the area, the volunteers, and other contributors -- all free of charge. Because we are growing food in such volumes, many of our volunteers have 'canned' and dried food for winter storage as well.

The gardens would have cost much more to operate if it weren't for the community support we have received in materials-donations, tools and equipment, a trailer and RV we fixed up and re-sold, and countless volunteer hours - (our core group of gardeners each gave 3-5 hours weekly). We are grateful too that many people have offered their grapes, apples and nuts to glean and share. The project has also received many cash donations ranging from $20 to $3,000.

As we look to the 2013 season, we're excited about a growing partnership with the United Methodist Church adjacent to the gardens. It looks like we'll be cooperating on a series of classes, movie nights and potlucks meant to inspire and educate people about healthy eating, food preservation, organic gardening and other relevant topics. CLICK HERE

We continue to be thankful to the Crowson family for the use of the land and water on their property in Monroe.  We've recently tilled up an additional 8,000 sq/ft to include more winter-storage crops such as squash and potatoes, and to expand the existing orchard area to include figs, berries and more apples and plums. This brings our garden-area total to 2/3 of an acre! We are also determined to build a second greenhouse. CLICK HERE for an expanded list of donations given in 2012.

Let us know if you would like to participate in any way. We can always use more donations of cash, building materials, tools, garden supplies, leaves and hay (either to expand the existing site or spawn some new sites in surrounding communities.) Contact us: ShareInJoy@gmail.com - (541) 847-8797 - www.theSharingGardens.blogspot.com/

John Kinsey and Chris Burns wrestle buttercup squash vines over to the compost bins!
Top Ten producers - 2012

Sweet, ripe melon!
Beets: 462 pounds
Bell Peppers:135 pounds
Cabbage: 330 pounds
Cucumbers: 950 pounds
Lettuce: 511 heads
Melons: 185 pounds
Potatoes: 315 pounds
Tomatoes: 2,450 pounds
Winter Squash: 1050 pounds
Zucchini: 300 pounds

At local market values (not counting the 20 other crops grown) this comes to a value of $15,800.

Pie, "Oh my!"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ride of the Century!

(l to r) Gini, Dan, Linda, Danielle and Christine harvest fresh produce to be used in the dinner meal.
For the past two years, the Sharing Gardens of Monroe, Oregon have catered an event called the Farm to Farm Century Ride. This year, we'd like to tell the story of the ride's success, in pictures. To read more about this unique 100-mile bicycle tour that features four small-scale working farms in the southern Willamette Valley, you may follow the links at the bottom of the post:

On the day before the event, a team of volunteers showed up to help with preparations. First they went to the garden (right behind the United Methodist Church) and harvested ingredients.
Gini Bramlett, editor of our local, weekly paper (Tribune News) thins carrots.
Jud and Mike picking nasturtium flowers to spice up the salad.
Janeece Cook does a pre-rinse of lettuce heads. We harvested 60 for the ride!
Kaitlynn Cook harvests kale (for a garnish).
On Friday, after the morning harvest, our kitchen crew prepped much of the food so it would just need assembling for the Saturday event. Our menu included vegetarian chili, basil-hummous stuffed tomatoes, green salad, cornbread and corn on the cob. Most of the produce was either harvested from our garden, or gleaned locally (corn).
Danielle scoops out Roma tomatoes (to be filled with basil-hummous).
Christine Musacchio and Linda Sebring prepping cucumbers (all from the garden).
Dallice steps outside for a breath of fresh air after making salad for 200 with her husband David Roux.
Betty and Sierra Briggs fill the tomatoes.
Linda chops peppers for chili (all from the garden).
Saturday morning, the cyclists began arriving at 6:45. The kitchen crew was struggling with the only real glitch of the event...the coffee-maker on loan came without instructions and, as we poured water in the top it flowed right out the holes spreading water and coffee grounds over the counter. Fortunately, the church had some other coffee makers that we could figure out and no-one had to wait very long for their first cup of Joe!
Cyclists arrive at the church for a breakfast of porridge, granola, fruit and coffee. (all donated)
Quite a sight, seeing 150 bicycles on the church lawns!
Such a happy buzz in the room as cyclists prepared for departure.
Meanwhile, Cameron...
...and David Crosby began husking the 400 ears of corn donated by local farmers.
We didn't take a lot of pictures during the morning/middle of the day set up. Volunteers put the last touches on salad; Chris cooked the chili in our new 40-qt. stainless steel stock pot. The composting/recycling center was moved outside (another year of very low-waste! All dishes and flatware were compostable, contributing to the health of next year's garden-soil.) We learned that we don't need to have quite so many volunteers for this middle stretch but when the cyclists returned, boy were we ready for them!
...Not to mention locally-made pie and ice-cream for dessert!
Green salad with nasturtium blossoms and 'toppings' behind.
We had no volunteers signed up for the afternoon of the event (all other slots filled up fast) but when it came time to serve, people were standing in line for a chance to feed the hungry returning cyclists.
Sisters Doreen and Denise, Azra and Kaitlynn in the serving line.
Llyn Peabody performed two sets of 'originals', and folk-classics.
Johan Forrer filled the air with sounds of the sixties on a guitar he built himself. His music added such a festive feeling!
An early wave of cyclists.
The evening meal was served on a 100-foot long table (made from a single board!). What a great place to have a party!
A good time was had by all!
Mike Hall was a great help in the kitchen.
Still smiling, Chris Burns set up an outdoor washing station to finish clean-up the day after.
A very special thank-you to the Monroe United Methodist Church (pictured) for allowing us to host the event on their premises with no cost to our program.
None of this would have happened without the initiative and hard work of Jenn Hughes and David Kunes - the organizers of the event. We thank them for their very generous financial contribution to the Sharing Gardens. We hope to see you all back again next year!
There were many more volunteers and riders that we didn't take pictures of but this gives you a feeling for the event. People had fun, ate great food and experienced first-hand a taste of "eating local".

For more info about the ride, follow these links below:
"More Than a Bike Ride" Tribune News article (Sept.18, 2012): LINK
"Stream Lining the Waste Stream" (about our successful efforts at making this a low-waste event as we compost and recycle the majority of materials that otherwise might end up in the waste-stream): LINK
"Info, Gratitude and Stories" from the 2011 Ride - LINK
Farm to Farm Century Ride's Home Page: LINK

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Real People, Doing Real Things"

Volunteers select their produce from the day's harvest. Monroe Methodist Church in background.
We had the good fortune of a "senior" visitor in the garden last week. Lodie, the 85-year 'young', mother of one of our volunteers came to help us during one of our harvests. At the end of the morning she said, "My daughter Cathy keeps telling me about all you do and I am so proud of you! You're real people, doing real things." We appreciate the acknowledgment, Lodie; it takes one, to know one!

The year's growing season has been a full one! We've barely had time to write posts with our news and highlights; acknowledgements for the continued generosity of our near and far community,  and all the great help we've been receiving from the dedicated core-group of volunteers. Hopefully this visual record, showing some of the highlights of our harvest so far, will hold you over till the peak activity of harvest, food-storage and our upcoming benefit are behind us.

As many readers already know, food grown at the Sharing Gardens is distributed first amongst volunteers and others who have contributed in some way. The considerable surplus is then shared with various local charities. This summer our food has gone to the South Benton Food Bank, Harrisburg Gleaners, Calvary Church Food Pantry and South Benton Senior Nutrition Program (a bi-weekly lunch served to Seniors in Monroe). Here's a list of our big producers. We'll publish a detailed total at the end of the season.

Beets with greens: 98 bunches
Celery: 98 pounds
This has been an especially good year. Our celery looks, and tastes as good as 'store-bought'!
Cucumbers: 709 pounds
We've had plenty of both 'slicers' (for salads) and pickling cukes Volunteers take turns taking home the week's harvest so they have enough to make a full batch of pickles.
Savoy Cabbage: 279 pounds. Our cabbages have ranged in size from six to nine pounds!
Green beans: 106 pounds. Beans that get too big and 'woody' are left on the vine or bush for next year's seed, or soup beans through the winter.
Green, and Banana peppers: 64 pounds. An excellent year for peppers.
Lettuce: 376 heads. Our lettuce gets so big, we can hardly fit them in a produce bag. Some hardly fit in a plastic, shopping bag either!
Summer Squash: 233 pounds, and that's just from eight plants.
Kale/Chard: 101 bunches
Tomatoes: 782 pounds. We have 180 plants this year; 12 varieties - all "Heirloom' (non-hybrid). It looks like we may be only half-way through the harvest!
Sunflower seeds: at least 6 gallons. We use them to grow sprouts in the greenhouse through the winter, and also to feed the birds. Each year the heads seem to get bigger! Variety: Mammoth Russian.
Mid-Spring. Row of shallots on left. Bamboo tipis.
Being relatively new to vegetable gardening, I find it fascinating to experience the subtle variations year to year; the weaving of weather, soil conditions, seed-varieties and other factors that produce a tapestry of garden beauty and bounty. There truly is an artistry to farming. The soil is your canvas and you "paint" with the plants you grow; how you place them, feed them and nurture them to maturity. Your "vision" must include anticipating the plants' spacing and height during all the stages of their growth.
July 2012. Delicata squash - beneath tipis. Sunflowers getting bigger.

Garden at peak; late July. Pink cosmos in foreground.
Such beauty!

 The mysteries of weather, seed variations and unforeseen events and challenges make gardening a dynamic artistic expression calling for intuition and creativity. How fun it is to watch the garden mature through the seasons, and evolve from year to year!

(To learn how to grow sunflower sprouts, a delicious and nutritious winter "green", CLICK HERE.)

The Sharing Gardens is a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)