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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Yes, money really DOES grow on trees!"

Did you know that the average-sized deciduous tree can provide fertilizer for your garden worth about $50.00? This article outlines a few ways to utilize this mineral-rich resource, primarily through composting.
Greetings friends, here in our part of the world, we're headed into winter; the Gardens have (mostly) been put to sleep and we have time to reflect on this past season and share with you in a deeper way. Here's a post about  our new "budding" relationship with our local Grade School, and their help in gathering leaves for the Sharing Gardens.
Early in autumn, we were approached by the science teacher for 12-13 year-old students at the school that shares our back fence-line - Monroe Grade School. Marie-Louise has a classroom window that looks out on our gardens and had been curious for many years about a way to partner with the Sharing Gardens on a mutually-beneficial project. Her class was doing a unit on "Sustainability" and needed to find a way to perform "community service" (volunteering) that was related to living a sustainable lifestyle.

It's challenging enough to keep a small group of college-age students focused and busy so we needed a project appropriate to a large group of 12-13 year-olds!
We knew, from our experience coordinating "community service" projects with Oregon State University that it can be a challenge to focus the attention of even a small group of college-age students for an extended period of time so we had some concerns about bringing much larger groups of 7th-graders to help us directly in the gardens. After brainstorming for a few minutes, Chris had a great idea when he suggested we coordinate a leaf-raking project in our small town of Monroe, Oregon.
Llyn and Chris presenting info about mulching and compost.
In order to provide a context for the leaf-raking, Chris and I visited Marie-Louise's classroom with some samples of leaves and grass-clippings in various stages of decay to show the students how the leaves turn into soil-fertilizer. We explained that, at the Sharing Gardens, we no longer buy fertilizer from stores but create soil-fertility primarily by feeding the worms and micro-organisms in our soil. (We also use wood-ash from heating our house). The fertile soil then grows the nutrient-packed vegetables that we share in the community with those in need. (If you want to know more about how the Sharing Gardens work, click this LINK.)

We brought compost in various stages of decay...
A week later, the two classes of 16-18 students each, took a short, walking 'field-trip' to the Sharing Gardens. We toured the grounds in two smaller groups so they could continue to make the connection between raking leaves, and growing food, and living more sustainably. We were happy to see some of the young people show a real interest in what we do and how we live. One girl asked, "What's it like to be a vegetarian?". Another asked sincerely, "How do you cook anything without a microwave oven?". One young man found a moth that had landed on a plant and wondered if it would be alright if he picked it up. "Sure," I said, "as long as you're gentle. The insects are our friends in the garden." I watched him gingerly pick up the moth and shepherd it around for the rest of the tour, placing it gently on another plant as he left.
Garden tour: "Wow, compost!"

Garden tour: Everybody loves shelling beans!
We decided to make the leaf-raking itself - truly voluntary - so we wouldn't have a lot of students dragging their feet and resenting being required to do it. We set aside two Saturday mornings (and later picked one) in hopes of having good weather, and to assure that enough leaves would have fallen to make it worth everyone's time. Chris and I rode our bikes around town the afternoon before the Leaf-Raking Day in order to map out the route to rake the most leaves. Marie-Louise had her students make a few posters which they hung on community bulletin-boards so people would know we were coming. We also made fliers to distribute on the day of the raking that explained the project and told people how to donate more leaves, if they were interested.

It's easier to fill bags if you work as a team.
We picked a day after the leaves had really begun to fall in quantity.
We had a beautiful day to do the raking with crisp, sunny weather. We had eight or nine students come help with the raking along with four parents. We raked for about two hours and collected 37 giant bags of leaves. One of the parents had also done some raking with her two children at home and brought another nine bags!

Someone had heard we were coming and piled up all her leaves so all we had to do was bag them.

It takes a lot of leaves to mulch our entire garden, the orchards and greenhouses! So far, we've never had too many leaves but this year, we just might get close!
Leaf-raking isn't all work; here's one girl jumping in the raked pile.
Special thanks go to:
First Alternative Food Co-op - $30 gift certificate to buy organic apple juice and popcorn for snacks
Monroe's United Methodist Church (our neighbor) - who provided bathrooms for the rakers to use before and after the project
The parents who chaperoned
The students who helped with the raking and especially to Marie-Louise for reaching out to us and for doing all the extra work of getting permission-slips signed, buying the snacks and all the other steps that made this a successful project. We look forward to continued collaborations in the future!

Here is an article that we wrote about using grass-clippings and leaves as fertilizer.

Feel free to pass this post along to the teachers in your life. Raking leaves can be a fun and meaningful way for students to be of service in your community. We'd be glad to share our experience and provide templates for permission-slips and fliers.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Give Till it Feels Good!

This post is meant to share with you a bit of the philosophy behind the Sharing Gardens.

Many times, when people visit the SG for the first time they notice a pleasant feeling on the land and they comment on it. They ask, "What makes this place different?" or, "How does this garden work?". We believe that they are feeling the effects of our gardens being non-commercial in nature. All help is voluntary, there are no membership fees, we never sell the food that we grow and we have made it a priority to provide food and habitat for wild animals to be at home in the gardens as well.

It's not a perfect system. Sometimes we have felt taken advantage of and have had to create healthy boundaries towards those who take more than their share -- like putting up a fence to keep the deer out, or signs at the food pantry guiding people to take smaller amounts of the produce in short supply. On occasion we've even asked certain people to stop volunteering at the gardens when we felt that their attitudes were not in alignment with the values of the project (though in truth, there have only been a few).

Some 'people' are not very good at sharing. Deer are voracious eaters and it's difficult to convince them to leave behind plants for others to enjoy. We've heard of people who have established a truce with deer through communicating with them in their hearts and minds but we haven't refined the skill well enough yet  to take down our deer-fences.
But overall, people haven't abused the project's generosity. We find that people are instinctively drawn to the Gardens because it is a sanctuary apart from any kind of commercial transactions. It is a relief to let go of accounting for ones giving and receiving and to step into "nature's economy"; a miraculous web of interconnected relationships that, if honored and respected create sufficiency for all.

The project still isn't self-perpetuating in terms of the cash-outlays we must make to pay for things like gas, electric and phone bills and other materials we must purchase new. But overall, we see a growing trend of support coming from the small town of Monroe where we live; in our relationships with people and institutions in the surrounding areas, and others in the broader community we touch through this blog. We are grateful for this growing web of community-connections and remain curious to see how this experiment in 'full-circle' generosity will continue to be supported.

The SG's are meant to demonstrate what can happen if we gradually begin to expand our definition of "family" to include people who we share common values with; the natural world that supports us in its web, and through our donations to local food-charities, to stretch ourselves also to care for those in our immediate environment who are struggling just to get by. Most people take care of their families without charging money, or keeping track of how much they are owed (can you imagine if your parents had kept a running tab of all the time and money they spent in raising you and presented you with a bill once you left home)? They gave to you out of a natural spirit of generosity and wanting you to thrive. You are an extension of the Life they were freely given. We believe it is with this same spirit that the gardens continue to thrive and grow.

Sabine, her Mom and her baby Caleb - How would our world be different if we cared for each other, and the environment as an extension of our family.
By continuously 'giving without thought of receiving' we have been delighted and amazed at the many miracles of generosity that have blessed us, and the project. (HERE is a brief history of our lives since we began the project illustrating this path we have chosen.) (Here is a link to a post chronicling the long stream of generosity that has blessed us since the gardens began in 2009:  - It Takes a Village

If you've ever wondered what it is that inspires us to keep going, it is the generosity of others -- not necessarily just towards us either. When we read stories on the web, we are always filtering for examples of others who are living examples of  'nature's economy'. We love what Nipon Mehta is doing with Service Space and Pay-it Forward Restaurants, and Peter Owen Jones through his experiments in living without money, and boldly stepping into the 'Age of the Environment'. Here are links to some of their presentations: Peter Owen Jones - What Future?
Nipon Mehta - Designing for Generosity 

And, as a wise man once said:

Give Long and Prosper

Abundant peppers!
Greetings dear people - Well, the gardens are basically done for the season. We still have some lettuce, kale and beets to harvest but all the heat-loving plants are done. These past few weeks we've been removing the old plants and beginning to prep the beds so they'll be ready for next year's plants.

Here in the USA, it's time for the holiday of Thanksgiving.  Typically this is a time for gathering with family and friends for a big feast and reflecting on all we have to be grateful for. We'd like to use this time to express our gratitude to the many supporters of the Sharing Gardens - human, and non-human alike!

Chris and Adri washing carrots together for snack-time.
Below are examples of how community-support has been manifesting at the Sharing Gardens in 2017. If you appreciate what we do and would like to express your support, here is a LINK to our wish-list. And thank you for the ways you are already expressing generosity beyond your own inner circle - extending the definition of "family" to include people you are un-related to, and the natural world within which we live and are intimately dependent on for all our needs.

First we'd like to extend our gratitude to all the staff at Oregon State University (OSU) who are developing a strong curriculum for sustainable living and for the myriad of students who come to the Sharing Gardens each year for 'service-learning' and give of their time to help the project move forward with the 'big strokes' -- tasks that would be prohibitively time-consuming for Chris and I and our core group of volunteers to do on our own. This includes things like planting trees, sifting manure, compost and coffee-grounds, dismantling garden-beds and mulching them for the fallow season. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
OSU students offering the ancient greeting of all happy volunteers: "Give long and prosper!"
Next, we'd like to extend a hearty "thanks" to all the people who come and actually help us in the gardens with the tasks great and small; those who are willing to get their hands in the dirt in service of the project. We call them "share-givers":

Sabine, shelling walnuts, has been coming for three years. We never know what sort of "organic" treats she's going to bring -- to share at snack-time, or leave in our pantry.
Jim and Cindy Kitchen flank Chris with a tray of home-grown watermelon; they too bring us gifts of food, clothing and housewares, garden-tools and building supplies and have begun to include us in their family gatherings as "uncle" and "auntie".
Rook Stillwater has become a regular addition to the 'sharegiver family'. His soft-spoken nature and willingness to learn and to serve are a real delight.
This year we have also been grateful for intermittent volunteer help from other folks in the Monroe community: Eva Fife (who also donated surplus apples from her trees, building supplies salvaged from a previous employer who needed to sell her property suddenly). Christina O'Bryan who, despite having very challenging health issues came consistently for several weeks during peak-weeding season. She also gave us a spade fork for extra-tall people and  introduced us to her neighbor George Estey who used his professional sharpening tool to sharpen our riding mower and refused to take more than $10 for his services! Wanda Foster also joined us during our peak weeding season and, when she had to leave town for a few weeks brought back a big bag of wild Chanterelle mushrooms she'd gathered. The first of the season!

We are grateful for our neighbor, John Kinsey who shares with us hundreds of pounds of coffee-grounds he gathers from a local coffee shop, worm castings/compost he makes from kitchen scraps, leaves and lawn-clippings.
 George and Irene Dougherty always donate lots of leaves and this year, when they heard of our herbicide contamination gave us about a dozen zucchini plants as well! Steve Rose - tomato starts, grass hay, mushroom spores to start our own mini mushroom farm. Pete Alford - picks up surplus produce from the Gardens and delivers it to Local Aid - a Food Pantry in a nearby town.

Tina and Swede Johnson donated five "rescue" blueberry bushes and about 8 gallons of un-shelled walnuts they gathered from their tree. Yummm!

We have several neighbors who donate leaves. Here's David Crosby with his helper Brandon. Victor Stone also contributes leaves from his 20+ maple trees. Stay tuned for our post about the Monroe Grade School's leaf drive.
Janaia (l) and her partner Robin (not pictured), on a visit last year, brought many hand tools, DVD's and books they thought we'd find useful that they'd culled from their storage unit in a thorough 'down-sizing' process. Here's the journal entry Janaia wrote following this dinner of almost entirely local foods: "Not food? No eat!".
Mid-summer, we had a huge give-away of surplus accumulated pots and flats that had been donated over the years and were way more than we could ever use! Four different groups of people came , each filling their car or truck! The last two, Gloria and Lynda insisted on leaving us with a $40 donation!

Much of what we need to run the gardens comes in the form of donations of time and materials but for those things that require money, we're very grateful for cash donations.

Llyn's mom Judy,  always comes for an extended visit to help in the gardens and makes a generous annual donation. Thanks, Mom!
Rob (pictured) and his wife Elisa made two significant cash donations this year. Rob also brought a huge load of high-quality potting soil we'll be using with next year's 'starts'.
We love our local Food Pantry!
The South Benton Food Pantry - who receives the majority of our garden-produce, donated $500 cash for the third year in a row. When we have extra garbage (the rare items that can't be recycled, re-purposed, composted or burned!) the SBFP lets us add it to their weekly pick-up service. This year they also paid for the Gardens to buy a used-refrigerator that we could set up in our garden shed for the massive amounts of surplus produce that need refrigeration until it can be distributed to charities. LINK

We have a funny story about the refrigerator that the SB Food Pantry donated to our project. We already had two refrigerators on the premises - one in our kitchen and one on our back porch. The porch one was mainly used for surplus garden-produce that we were going to 'can' or dehydrate but, in peak season, we also stored produce waiting for distribution at the Food Pantry as their three fridges are often too full to receive any surplus.
Sometimes, during times of peak-production, we have too much produce to fit in our refrigerators! That's what we call a "high-quality problem"!
We went to St. Vincent de Paul's - a store for used-items and picked out the one we wanted. As they were setting up the delivery time, they asked us if we already had a fridge (they give priority to people who are without a fridge). We didn't know that and said we already had one so the manager, Jennie, said she thought it would come in about 10-days. "Ten days!?!" we exclaimed, "That's too long to wait!". We told her about our project and what the fridge would be used for and she said, "In that case, how about we deliver it in three-days?". "Much better." we said, "That would be great.". Two days later, we got a call from Jennie and she said, with a smile in her voice, "How about the guys bring it over in a few hours?". Perfect. And they did.

Garden abundance!
The real punch-line of this story is that, that very same night, with no warning, our porch-fridge just completely died on us. We discovered it the next morning before things had had a chance to warm up or thaw very much and we transferred everything over to our "new" fridge. If it hadn't been for Jennie's generosity and persistence to get our fridge delivered as soon as possible, it's likely that much of the food on our porch-fridge might have been irreparably spoiled.

Gratitude to the children who come to the Gardens and remind us to keep things fun!
Gratitude to the birds, the bees and other pollinators, worms, snakes and great Web of Life that makes this all possible.
 And remember...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Still Going Strong!

A great year for blackberries! Yumm!
I'm writing on a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Gentle  rains began to fall last week breaking the long stretch of hot, dry weather. Lush summer greens are shifting into muted browns, golds and russet-colors signaling the end of another fertile garden season.

Despite the devastating setback of herbicide contamination to our potting soil mix (LINK and LINK), the gardens rebounded amazingly. Harvests have been averaging over 400 pounds/week since early August and, with the majority of our winter-squash still to go, and quite a few tomatoes still ripening, this average should extend through much of October.
Tomatoes thriving after initial set-back. A new variety: Amish Rose. Thanks to Steve Rose for his tomato-plant donations.
Cabbage was not affected by the herbicide and we grew a record amount! Chris, "going up for a shot!".
Our relationships with people and agencies continue to grow throughout our small town of Monroe (population 680). The main recipient of the garden's surplus produce (after feeding the coordinators, volunteers and other local donors) continues to be the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK). We are so grateful for our growing partnership with SBFP -- they have given us three, $500 grants and covered the cost of a supplemental refrigerator to handle the overflow of summer harvests. The director, Janeece Cook has also been refreshingly open to suggestions of increasing the number of whole, unprocessed foods offered by the Pantry.

Llyn with part of a week's harvest delivered to S. Benton Food Pantry.
We have also shared weekly harvests with students in a class offered by our local, award-winning Health Clinic (LINK) who are pioneering a "Food as Medicine" program promoting a Plant-Based diet to address the epidemics of diabetes, hypertension and obesity that effect both rural and urban communities alike.
Garlic- food as "medicine!
Adri-11 months - 2012.
Other occasional recipients of our produce have been Junction City's Local Aid, the Monroe Gleaners, the Senior Lunch Program of Monroe and Muddy Creek charter school where one of our younger garden members, Adri, - just started kindergarten (she's been coming to the gardens since she was first born!).
Adri and Bella - best garden buddies - 2017.

Bella and Adri digging up potatoes. When kids help grow and harvest their own food, they're more likely to eat it!
Our relationship with Oregon State University continues to thrive and deepen. On average we're bringing two groups of six-students each to the gardens for four-hours per term of "service-learning" (volunteer-work in the community). These visits  are a highlight of each season as it is refreshing to see the students' slow turning towards greater ecological consciousness coupled with a willingness to put these ideals into action. The students also get a huge amount of work done!

Christy and Chelsea - planting garlic - Sept. 2017.
Visiting OSU class on Sustainability - the "V" sign means: "Live long and volunteer often!" This class actually brought posters they'd made, mapping out our valley's local food-system.
Lucas and Savannah - OSU giving final presentation about the Ecological sustainability of our local food system. Other groups explored the Economic, and Social aspects of Sustainability
OSU students spreading wheat-straw as mulch.
Llyn and Haley sifting compost. Scarlet runner bean blossoms in foreground.

Shawn (r) was a service-learning student in 2016 and returned this summer (with sister Sheila) to continue to learn about gardening. He is always a big help - great thoroughness and attention to detail!
We're excited about a new relationship forming with the Monroe Grade School (kindergarten through 8th grade) that shares our back-fence property line. We've been approached by a 7th grade teacher who is teaching a unit on Sustainability. Students choose from a menu of actions  that help them live more Earth-friendly lives and will also join the Gardens in a morning of "service-learning"--spreading out through the town with rakes and recycled leaf-bags to collect as many leaves as they can to fill our compost bins and help cover our garden-beds for the winter.

Organic gardening requires A LOT of organic material for soil-fertility. Here, OSU students "turn" a compost pile composed of leaves, grass-clippings and garden "waste" (weeds and plants pulled up after harvest).
One, giant  'volunteer' squash plant grew out of our composted manure pile and produced all the squash pictured above! An inedible 'ghost pumpkin'  -- we'll be offering these squash to MGS students as a thank-you for raking leaves.
This year we have had a much smaller core-group of volunteers. This was a conscious decision on our part as we noticed in previous years that by having a weekly group of 4-6 "share-givers" that a) Chris and I often held off on doing certain projects so there'd be enough for them to do; b) 'staging' the projects and keeping everyone engaged on volunteer days was sometimes more tiring than actually doing the projects ourselves and c) with that many people coming at once, we rarely had time to visit with everyone and enjoy the social time that the gardens were meant to provide. We are grateful to everyone who has come volunteer this year but a special thank-you goes out to Jim and Cindy Kitchen - participants since 2010, who have come almost weekly this summer and continue to find ways of showing their support through little treats they squirrel away in our pantry; clothes, tools and housewares they offer to us to use or pass along and a general feeling of including us as members of their extended "family".
"Husky" Grandpa Jim - husking blue corn to be dried and ground. We're finally growing enough corn (and beans)  to share with our volunteers this year (and enough for Chris and I to eat year-round).
Adri and Grandma Cindy in the bean patch.
And finally a hearty welcome to our newest garden-member: Caleb Deweber, born late December 2016, he's finally accompanying his mom, Sabine who is in her third year of helping in the gardens. Welcome Caleb! (Thanks also to Sabine and her family for all the "goodies" they've been stocking up our pantry with - yumm!)
Caleb, already a big fan of tomatoes! "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face!"
Gratitude to other volunteers who have helped throughout this season: Eva, Rook, Christina, Shawn, Sheila, Judy-Mom, Uncle Craig, Manfred, Yvonne, Wanda, Becky - we appreciate you!

Sabine's parents - Manfred and Yvonne visited from Germany this year. We look forward to seeing you again next summer!

Christina and Rook weeding the beet-patch. We sure had some interesting discussions, didn't we?

Jim and Llyn - autumn tasks in the greenhouse. Llyn is setting out sunflower heads to dry for winter bird-seed.
A great year for artichokes - here is an artichoke left to go to seed. "...mmm, so fragrant! The bees love 'em!"