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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our Widening Circle

Howdy Garden-friends - Thanks to the "atmospheric river" flowing over the Pacific NW right now (4-8 inches of rain expected this weekend!), we have time to catch up with you and share highlights from seasons past and our excitement at the year to come. 2015 will be the seventh season of the Sharing Gardens and we're poised for a year of abundant growth and continued generosity! Chris and I were sitting on the floor in our living room this morning and reflecting with a feeling of awe and gratitude about all the ways that we feel affirmed and supported by you, our community -- both near and far. This project would not be the success it is without your encouragement and participation.

What follows is a reflection on some of the highlights of 2014; a Gallery of Givers; updates on some of our on-going projects and a window into the "seeds" we've planted for 2015 and beyond.

OSU students help with the harvest.
For those of you new to the Sharing Gardens, or as a review for those who've been following us along the way...

Here's how it works: What makes this community garden unique is that, instead of many separate plots that are rented by individuals, the garden is one large plot, shared by all. All materials and labor are donated. During the summer months, volunteers typically come one to three times per week to help in all aspects of vegetable-farming from planting, through harvest. The food we grow is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way as well as with others who are in need in our community (through food banks and other charities.) No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
The Sharing Gardens also has a strong educational focus: participants learn about organic gardening, saving “heirloom” seeds, pruning and other food-growing skills. We encourage our volunteers to learn about canning and other food-storage techniques and this educational website reaches tens of thousands of people around the world.
Barbara and Kime with "starts" for their home-garden.
Giving and Receiving

There is a certain "miraculous" quality to our project. Since we don't charge money for the seeds, starts and harvest we share, we live by faith that "as we sow, so shall we reap". Our history is rich with examples of people, materials and financial resources coming to us in a timely and spontaneous manner. A significant example of this is the latest greenhouse we're building. We've dubbed it the Ark. A few months ago we received a call from Barbara Standley, a chipper and generous-hearted benefactor who lives in the nearby community of Santa Clara. She and her husband had built-up a huge nursery over the years and, at 92 she's ready to down-size quite a bit. Her daughter Gwen has taken over the business but at a much smaller scale so there are several large greenhouse frames standing empty.

Chris, our friend Dave Cook and I spent several sessions dismantling half of an 80' x 80' greenhouse frame which we are now in the process of re-assembling in a modified form.

Dave and Chris - de-nailing boards.

Llyn, loading salvaged lumber.

"The Ark" is launched!
The Ark will be 20' x 50' and made almost entirely from salvaged lumber.

We love being involved in salvage projects. There's something so satisfying about reclaiming materials that might otherwise end up in landfills or burn-piles. Giving new life to the resources is a way of stewarding the Earth that has meaning for us. There's something meditative about systematically dis-assembling a building, or other structure; pulling nails and stacking the boards/materials in an orderly fashion. The Sharing Gardens has become a hub for materials re-distribution. The supplies that we can't use are passed along to those who need them. Nothing wasted.

Mike and Barbara.
We are rich in greenhouses! Our neighbor Les Koltavary called us earlier this month. He has a 30' x 50' steel-pipe greenhouse frame that we will be dismantling and reassembling at the Sharing Gardens. It's tall enough that we will be able to plant some fig and lemon trees in it. With so much greenhouse space, we can plant much more of cold-sensitive plants (tomatoes and peppers) inside -- extending their growing season by several weeks. There will also be room for winter-greens and space enough to hold winter-classes under the protection of their cover.

Bluebird houses from fence boards.
Very Tiny Houses

Another of our salvage projects this Fall has been to convert 60-feet of cedar fence into birdhouses for our feathered friends. The western bluebird has consistently been pushed out of its natural habitat from human construction and farming practices, and competition from other bird species. Since we began putting up nesting boxes, we've seen a steady increase in their numbers in our garden. Other birds that call our gardens home include: goldfinches, wrens and chickadees. Since we don't have any cats or dogs, the birds feel safe. They also appreciate the many birdbaths scattered about and the abundant food we provide whether their favorite menu includes bugs or seeds.

On the subject of tiny houses, here's a link to our friends' program in Eugene, Oregon that addresses homelessness for people in a creative and inspiring way. Community Supported Shelters.

Arissa w/ beans.
A New Generation of Generosity

Over the past several years our project has developed a wonderful reciprocal relationship with two classes at Oregon State University in Corvallis (about 20 minutes from us). The professors of these classes have a strong commitment to hands-on learning and encouraging their students to  "give back" to their communities through service-learning projects. In this past year we have had one or two groups of 4-6 students come each quarter. We set up a variety of projects for them to engage in -- usually a mixture of "big-muscle" stuff like spreading mulch, along with some of the finer aspects of farming like transplanting starts.  Many of the students remark on what a positive experience it is for them. Our project gives them the opportunity to learn a bit about growing food and the students often remark on how good it feels to be involved with something that has the spirit of generosity at its core. It's uplifting for Chris and me to see these young people who are eager for what we have to offer, many of whom are already quite aware of issues of sustainability and looking for ways they can contribute to a better world. In 2015 we anticipate doubling the number of OSU groups coming to our farm each quarter.

The two faculty who are our contact people for the OSU service learning projects are Deanna Lloyd and Steve Cook. Though pursuing a graduate degree at this time, Deanna was the coordinator for the S.A.G.E. Garden in Corvallis (LINK) - a sister project to the Sharing Gardens  that functions both as a teaching-garden for school kids and a production garden (providing food for the South Corvallis Food Bank).

Steve Cook has a deep commitment to helping make the world a better place, and inspiring his students on this same path. He and his wife run a small non-profit that helps school kids in northern Albania. To read more about their project, go to LINK.

Here are pictures from the two OSU groups that came to help us this Fall.

Do these girls look happy, or what!
James in the tomato patch.
Jaye and Chris loading compost bins

Anna and Christine spreading mint-straw on garlic patch.

Makenna pulling up bean plants.

Jaye in the tomato patch.
OSU students harvesting dried beans.
Jackie with a Buttercup squash.
Alexis in Scarlet Runner bean patch.
Happy helpers with squash to take home.
Homes for the Harvest: A High-Quality Problem!

Each year, as our gardens expand and our efficiency improves, we face a growing challenge to find people and places to distribute our abundant harvest to. This past summer we were very pleased to begin relations with  Local Aid, (LINK) an organization that provides food, clothing, counseling services and modest financial support (assistance with utility bills etc) to low-income families in nearby Junction City. They have quite an operation! They give out food three days a week. Before we got involved, the fresh produce they had for distribution was often of the lowest quality; so far past freshness as to be almost rotten. Through-out the summer and fall, they eagerly receive our weekly donations of organic vegetables (happily delivered by Dave Cook) and save all their compost for us to feed to our worms. The Monroe Food Pantry has gone through remarkable transformations this year. They are the Food Pantry located adjacent to us on Methodist Church property. In June of 2014, a new management took over and has transformed the place. Now, recipients are able to choose the food they want in a "shopping style" set up (instead of receiving the same food in their box as everyone else). The weekly distribution has become a hub of socializing and community-connection with regular hugs and laughter and local-news sharing.

Here are pictures of the many folks helping grow and distribute the Sharing Gardens produce:
Janeece and David Cook - new managers of the Monroe Food Pantry
The Cook's niece and daughters in the onion patch.
Dustin with our Elephant Garlic harvest. Take a look at the size of those bulbs!
That's a lot of lettuce (one head of Red Sails)!
A great year for melons! Tristan enjoys a juicy snack.
Doreen and her niece Tiffaney with spring-time harvest.
Cathy Rose and Chris transplanting baby seedlings into six-packs.
Cindy Kitchen and Tristan hunting for Zucchini.
Kaitlynn and Llyn staking up a row of sunflowers which provide seed for the birds.
Gallery of Givers

Garden-soup ingredients.
In 2014, we had fewer numbers of volunteers helping us in the gardens (we call them share-givers). However, the core group that came were amazingly dedicated. Most came weekly for three hours, helping with whatever was needed. Here are pictures of both the core people and those who helped on a more sporadic basis. In 2015, we anticipate that the OSU students will contribute greatly to the Fall, Winter and Spring aspects of gardening - both the set-up and clean-up.  There will still be much need for on-going participation in nursery-work, transplanting, weeding and harvest (the Spring and Summer tasks). So if you're local and been wanting to get involved, there'll be lots of ways to join in the fun! Share-givers receive first-pick of all the harvests, including some foods that we don't have enough to pass along to the food-pantries. As a participant, you would also have access to large quantities of produce for use in batches of canning, dehydrating or other forms of food-preservation.
Shelling Scarlet Runner beans.
Adri and Tristan help Chris thresh dried beans.
Jim and Cindy Kitchen w/ our kidney bean harvest.
Jena and Tristan shelling beans.
Kaitlynn weeding.

Girl-friends in the beet patch.
Adri uses her hat for a seat and her shoe as a water-toy!

Trimming onions gives Barbara some special time with "Grandpa" Jim. (Not her grandpa).
Llyn beginning construction on The Ark greenhouse.
Grateful Gatherings

Now that we're rooted in one place, we look forward to hosting several seasonally-relevant gatherings per year. We'd like to host celebrations/work-parties so we can gather in the spirit of community and take care of the important tasks of increasing our local food self-reliance while getting to know our "neighbors".
Harvest celebration with Growing Organic gardening club. For more info see Ten Rivers Food Web

Chris and Tristan salvaging some lumber.
Doreen with our gorgeous artichokes. Our plants produced "fruit" the first year. These gorgeous Green Globes gave us two harvests and dozens of "fruits" off the 10 or so plants we grew. Yumm!
Food for Thought: Our contact person for OSU students, Steve Cook, recently shared with us that, at the end of his classes he shares two quotes with his students. We'd like to pass them along to you:

"If you can't feed a hundred, feed one."  Mother Teresa

And Edward Abbey: "Do not burn yourselves out, be as I am a reluctant crusader, a half-hearted fanatic . . ."  Do what you can do and then be happy about it.

So to all the half-hearted fanatics in our ever-widening circle, we look forward to hearing about all the "people you are feeding". Much love, Llyn and Chris

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter Solstice Musings

...A re-post of our Winter Solstice posting from 2009. Still just as true today.

Mandala by Llyn

Winter Solstice was only meaningful to me on a rather "intellectual" basis when I lived in the city. Each year, as Autumn days drew shorter and evening commutes occurred more and more in the dark, I vowed to "pay attention to the seasons" and aspired to live a life in tune with natural rhythms. I was only ever marginally successful. These last two years, since living in rural Alpine, Oregon and growing a garden, the seasonal changes have become very real to me. The sun is setting these days at about 4:30 here, and doesn't rise again till about 7:30. I am acutely aware of just how few daylight hours there are and eagerly await the turning point of Winter Solstice. Even though winter will still have its grip on things  - weather-wise, I know the days will start getting longer and for this I am truly grateful.

I know many of you who receive these posts from Chris' and my garden blog are probably faced with your own winter blues these days. Even if you live in a city with its artificially extended day-light hours, you can't help but be affected by the turning seasons, the dour headlines, economic stress and other challenges of being human.

I send along this slide-show I put together with a song whose lyrics are meant to inspire you to keep looking for simple ways your bliss and gifts can intersect with the world's need. (link below)

"Light is returning,
Even though this is the darkest hour,
No one can hold
Back the dawn." Charlie Murphy

LINK: The Forest of a Million Trees

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Join the Occu-Pie Movement

Making Pumpkin Pie – from scratch

Sugar-pie pumpkins; a variety bred for sweet, smooth flesh.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch is truly a labor of love! How much easier it is just to open a can of puree. In the spirit of the slow food movement, we start making our pies back in April when we first plant the seeds! The small vines are transplanted into mounds of compost we've made ourselves, mulched, watered and weeded through the summer and harvested by the hundreds of pounds after they get their first kiss of frost.

This year, pie-making took place over two full days! From two Provence pumpkins (they're the big lobe-y ones in the picture to the left that look like Cinderella's coach!) we made enough filling for 23 pies! The fillings are stacked neatly in our freezer and will make it easy, over the next few months, to thaw and bake up this delicious and nutritious reminder of the garden's bounty.

Provence, Buttercups and Sweetmeats.
When you're planning your garden for next season, consider sketching out enough space for plenty of winter-squash. Winter squash are the varieties that have a harder skin and store well for enjoyment all through the winter.  "Pumpkins" are just a variety of the larger category of "squash". Pumpkin pie filling can be made from sugar-pie pumpkins, or any kind of sweet, golden-meat type of squash. Delicata, Buttercup and Sweetmeat are all good varieties. If its too late to grow your own this year, or you don't have room in your garden next year, look for these varieties at your local market. Sometimes we combine two types of squash/pumpkin to make one batch of filling. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good to use as they are not bred for sweetness and the meat can be quite stringy. Our current favorite is the Provence pumpkin, an heirloom variety that has the sweetest meat we’ve found. It tends to grow quite large so it provides filling for many pies but, because they tend to be so big, they're not often grown commercially (most people can't use that much squash before it goes bad) so, if you want a Provence, you'll probably have to grow your own.

We make many batches of filling at once and freeze them. If you’re going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make it worth it! Be sure you have plenty of all the ingredients you’ll need on hand. Or, you can also bake the squash and freeze it in 2-cup batches plain, using it much like you'd use a can of store-bought puree.

To bake the squash: 
The Provence is one of our favorites for pie.
Preheat oven to 375
Wash pumpkin/squash and dry skin 
Cut it open: Use a stout, sharp knife on a table or counter low enough that you can use the weight of your upper body to quarter the squash.  Doing it on the floor might even be easiest. 

Use a strong metal spoon to scrape out seeds and loose pulp/strings. You can put the seeds and pulp outside to feed birds and squirrels or separate the seeds, oil, salt and bake them. You probably won't want to save the seeds for planting, unless you're certain that they haven't "crossed" with other varieties. 

Cut into smaller pieces: Though it can be quite a challenge to cut these large, winter squash into smaller pieces for baking, you’ll be rewarded with a much shorter cooking time.

Orange, sweet flesh, yum!!
Place squash with skin facing up in a baking pan that has sides that are at least a two-inches deep. Many squash give off quite a lot of juice and can make a mess in your oven if the juice spills over the side of the pan. A roasting pan is ideal.

Bake squash/pumpkin for one hour, or until a fork pokes easily, deep into the flesh.

Once done, allow to cool. Scoop flesh out of the skin and compost the skin.  If you’ve chosen one of the juicier squashes, you’ll have best results by putting the flesh in a large colander over a bowl to drain any excess juice. The juice makes a delicious soup stock. Note: Delicata squash have tender skins that can be eaten along with the flesh, saving you an extra step (just use your food processor: skins and all).

To make the pie filling:

Sydney w/ a Provence
In a food processor, combine:

2 cups squash/pumpkin
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup soy milk (or cow’s milk, almond or coconut milk)
2 TBSP powdered milk (or soy protein powder)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt

2 eggs (leave these out if you are freezing multiple batches)

Puree till smooth

Pour into your favorite pie shell and bake for 1 hour at 375 or until lightly browned.

To freeze filling for later:

Combine everything except the eggs. Make one batch at a time. Each batch is a little less than a quart so you can put it in your favorite freezer-containers. We use qt-size plastic zip-lock bags. Label them with blue, painter’s masking tape (it won’t come off in the freezer and you can peel it off after you empty the bag, wash the bag and re-use it.) I always write a reminder on the label to add two eggs. Lay the bags flat and you can easily stack many of them in your freezer.

When you want to make a pie, thaw the filling, add the eggs and use a blender, a mixer or food processor to mix it all well. By mixing in the eggs right before baking, you’ll have a fluffier, more pudding-like pie. Bake as above.

If you run out of any ingredients, before you've used up your squash, just freeze bags of the plain squash puree' and add the other ingredients right before baking.

James and Jaye holding Buttercups; a drier, sweet, golden squash.
Flaky Rolled Pie Crust – YIELD: Two pies without top shells

2 cups whole wheat or unbleached pastry flour
1 scant tsp. salt
½ cup oil (chilled is best) - use something mild to the taste like sunflower or safflower oils. Don't use olive oil or sesame.
¼ cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt. Pour the oil and water into a cup but don’t stir. Mix with the flour. Press into a ball. Cut into halves. Place between two sheets of 12-inch waxed paper. Dampen a tabletop to prevent slipping. Roll out until the circle of dough reaches the edge of the paper. Peel off top paper and place the crust face down in a pie tin. Peel off the other paper and press dough into tin.

Llyn, w/ Sugar-pie pumpkins.