Playing with our Food at Summer Garden Club.

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This summer, the Urban Gardening Coalition is hosting after-school summer garden club at North Waco Elementary and Crest View Elementary Schools.  We’ve been focusing our lessons on the USDA’s Choose My Plate Campaign – raising awareness amongst the kiddos that at meal time, at least half of our plates should be filled with nutritious, delicious fruits and vegetables.  Last week we focused on fruit, eating apple-grape-melon-strawberry fruit-kabobs.  (Shish-ka-bob is a new favorite word of many of our garden club students).  This week we’re focusing on vegetables, encouraging students to play with their food and creating vegetable art in the shape of silly faces and frilly flowers.  See some examples above of our students’ vegetable artwork at Crest View Elementary on June 19th – and some photos of their awesome garden barn and area!

Learning About the Man Behind the Day.

Below is a great list of resources for learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.  As suggested by Coalition-member Linda Lewis.

Three books for general reference:  The Strength to Love, Where Do We Go From Here:  From Chaos to Community and America During the King Years.

National service day website:

Songs/Videos: Martin, St. Martin  by Terry Collier Why? The King of Love is Dead by Nina Simone
Stevie Wonder’s Happy BirthDay song For Dr. King Sister Rosa  Neville Brothers

Foxfire Friday: Soap-making Workshop.

Join the Urban Gardening Coalition for the first of its Foxfire Friday Workshops.   Friday, December 3 – at 5pm, we’ll be making soap with goat-lady Jessica Bullock.  Jessica will be leading the group making one batch of soap (which takes about 2-2 1/2 hours).  Participants will learn hands-on how to make soap their own homes.  Soap takes 4-6 weeks to cure – so if you plan on making soap as Christmas gifts for loved ones, consider sending them a lovely IOU.  However, Jess will have soap available and discounted for your purchasing pleasure.

FYI:  We’ll be handling lye, which is a harmful substance until the chemical reactions finish occurring in the soap so  1) BYO kitchen gloves and safety goggles if possible. Everyone will have to wear them.   2) Wear closed toe shoes and long sleeves.

Location:  Hope Fellowship (1721 Sanger Ave.)

Please RSVP your attendance to Bethel Erickson (

Here and There Interactive Art Show – 10/23.

Here and There Interactive Art Show – hosted by Waco Arts Initiative and Project (254). 10:00am – 3:00pm. Common Grounds – 1123 S. 8th St. Support sustainability through the arts by making art and helping fundraiser for three local and three global organizations (including the Urban Gardening Coalition). Don’t miss out on the art auction, community mural, screen printing and portrait stations that will help benefit innovative economy in your neighborhood and around the world. Stick around for music by Ethan Durelle at 7 pm. Suggested donation $2, $4, $5.

For a flyer, click here: Here and There Interactive Art Show.

Agrarian Road Trip: Part Five.

Joe Louis welcomes the Agrarian Road Trippers to Detroit.

No Jobs, Bad Transit, Good Gardens:

the Agrarian Tour through Detroit

Finally arriving in our destination, we – Agrarian Road Trippers – jumped head first into Detroit’s urban agriculture scene to hob-knob with some agrarian minded folks in Detroit – the folks who will remain to keep on fightin’ the good fight, even after the Social Forum vacates the city.

Day Nine:

Upon arriving in Detroit, we ate lunch with folks engaged in the US Working Group on the Food Crisis, a collection of people assembled to reinvigorate local food systems, craft new policy, monitor faulty policies, and represent the voices of growers across the country. Then we settled into our living accommodations at Fort Street Presbyterian in downtown Detroit before heading out for a tour with Lindsay Turpin from the Greening of Detroit.

Lindsday from Greening of Detroit leading us on a garden tour.

Lindsay works for the Greening of Detroit’s Garden Resource Program, helping start and support neighborhood and community gardens across Detroit. Detroit is sectioned into eight clusters, with each cluster containing one garden leader who communicates the resource and technical needs of each of the gardens inside that particular cluster. Right now, the Garden Resource Program oversees over 1200 gardens in Detroit.

Lovely lettuce.

Detroit’s had her fair share of bad news: high crime, high poverty, no jobs, bad transportation. However, a growing movement in the city is drawing the attention of outsiders. Urban agriculture in the city of Detroit is thriving. No the flip side, access to fresh food is a great concern – as there are no retail food chains inside the Detroit city limits. Large chains refuse to move into the city, stating that the demographics of consumers in city limits are not economically viable. Not to mention Detroit’s population is on the decline.

Such an environment has left Detroit residents no choice but to leave – or take up a shovel. With the help of the Greening of Detroit, folks are now gardening in full force, as well as learning how to keep bees and can and preserve their harvest. Greening has also started a youth employment program, called the Green Corps, to train youth in urban agriculture and urban forestry as well as teaching valuable job skills. Since 1998, over 500 youth have been employed through the Green Corps program.

Grown in Detroit - the documentary about Catherine Ferguson Academy.

One of the sites that we visited on our tour with Lindsay was Catherine Ferguson Academy – a high school for pregnant teens and teenage gals with children. The school has horses, chickens, bees, a mature fruit tree orchard, and over two acres in vegetable production. In addition to managing the livestock and tending the vegetables, the girls oversee a nursery and hoop house production to distribute plants to gardens throughout the city. Right now there are approximately 300 girls attending Catherine Ferguson – and all are allowed to bring their children to school for daycare services. Recently a documentary called Grown in Detroit was released, telling the story of Catherine Ferguson Academy.

I should also mention that it is against city code to keep livestock in the city of Detroit.

However, policies do not keep the Greening of Detroit from help more and more people grow and tend their own food sources. Partnerships are the background of the organization. The city helps with access to land – providing one year permits – while other land trust organizations with help community members buy the land over time. Greening is also fortunate to partner with Michigan State University’s Agriculture Department, so that a number of students complete their Ag Practicum in Detroit. Strong, diverse partnerships help Greening obtain funding from a number of sources: Kellogg and Kresge Foundations, MI AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA, and Workforce Development.

As far as the problem with keeping livestock, Lindsay says that you need to make sure you have good relations with your neighbors. Give them some vegetables. Agrarians in Detroit aren’t just farmers – they are organizers. Recently Greening has received some requests to help with marijuana – but that’s an area Greening chooses not to go.

Recycled tire art at D-Town Farms.

Our next stop was D-Town Farms, a garden operated by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. D-town is a 2-acre plot, growing vegetables as well as operating a city tree nursery, bees, berries and mushrooms. In addition to in-ground growing, D-town has a number of tire container planters. Farmers at D-Town sell at the Eastern Market on Saturdays, as well as help facilitate a market cooperative called Grown in Detroit (not to be confused with the documentary), helping small growers into market growing.

Broadmoor Community Gardens.

Brightmoor Community Gardens was our final garden stop for the day. Brightmoor is the exemplifies urban plight in Detroit: a crazy cycle of high rent without security deposit keeps renters on their seats until they lose their jobs and evicted. As soon as the house is vacated, the house is stripped – of plumbing and wiring – left an abandoned shell, useless as a habitation. The costs to fix up the house now outweigh its overall value. So the house sits vacant. Unless a nearby gang is hosting an initiation – which frequently results in the burning down of vacant houses. In the midst of the craziness, there grows garden – or two or three or four.

Riet's backyard garden/farm and greenhouse.

Brightmoor Community Gardens are headed by Riet Schumack, cluster leader for the area. She supervises the 22 kids who maintain the gardens, mow the grounds, paint garden murals, and plant fruit trees in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit. The kids are under the understanding that working in the gardens is not a job – it is a profit-sharing venture, the more work each kid puts into the garden, the more money s/he will take home from market. Riet works with kids ages 9-18, increasing her ranks from 12 kids in 2007 up to the 22 she has now. Last year they produced 1,300 pounds of food from their collective gardens – which is distributed to the neighborhood families, as well as sold at Eastern Market and to a variety of area restaurants. In addition to helping neighborhood youth, Riet oversees her own backyard farm-stead, tending a garden and greenhouse and keeping bees for honey, chickens for eggs, and rabbits for meat.

Riet's rabbits.

With a crash course on urban agriculture in Detroit under our belts, we head back downtown for the March to the US Social Forum and Opening Ceremony. Then an evening of preparing for our workshop the next morning.

End Day Nine. End Part Five.

Agrarian Road Trip: Part Four.

At Gather Round Gardens. Note: Billboard - from radioactivity to peace.

Changing Diapers – or the Politics of Urban Agriculture:

the Agrarian Tour through Ohio

In the Ohio chapter of our travels, we – Agrarian Road Trippers – transitioned from the rural to the urban visiting and trading stories with many agrarian minded folks growing goodness in Ohio.

Day Seven:

From the winding roads of West Virginia we traveled to northeast Ohio. We pulled our caravan into a greenhouse nursery and mail-order seed distributor turned church, called Common Ground Church Community located in North Lima, OH. We unpacked our belongings then settled into the sanctuary for an evening of agrarian theology and sing-a-long song sharing.

Three Sisters Garden.

First things first. Greg Bowman, formerly of the Rodale Institute, shared with us what I will call the Theology of the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters growing method (milpa) originated in the Andes and in scattered indigenous communities throughout the Americas. The Three Sisters are corn, beans and squash – related because of their beneficial interactions providing a natural habitat for little critters and a complementary nutrient give-and-take with the soil. Corn provides a trellis for vining beans to climb, as well as protection from the sun for smaller plants and animals. Beans fix nitrogen from the air (complementing the heavy nitrogen-feeder corn). Squash sprawls the ground acting as a living mulch for water retention and weed suppression. Now compare this to a mono-cropped field of corn – exposed soil, neat rows, minimal water retention, nutrient depletion.

How does this all relate to theology? Just like the Three Sisters, we work/live/pray better together than as individual people. The mouth needs a hand to eat, like the corn needs the nitrogen fixed by the beans. As we grow food and appreciate the complex relationship between soil and sun, fruit and flower, a spirit of gratitude is cultivated within us. In our fast-paced, fast food society, we are a people in search of gratification, often lacking in gratitude for the complexity and beauty of life and food.

Where have all the flowers gone? To Cleveland.

After a complex discussion about agriculture and theology, we needed a good sing-a-long. Guitars were plucked up from their cases. Congos and djembes pulled out from their nooks and crannies. And so commenced our own versions of Country Roads and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Our music leader specialized in James Taylor – so, as you may well be able to tell, our song list was confined to hippie-era music.

Day Eight:

Aerial view of the Goodness Grows Farm.

The next morning – a Sunday – we woke to wonderful hospitality and a continental breakfast provided by the folks of Common Ground Church Community, followed by a tour of their partner program, Goodness Grows. Pastor Steve Fortenberry stressed his strong belief in the church as a multi-purpose site, to partner with other community groups and people. Seeing as CGCC is located in an old seed shop and greenhouse, these folks saw it fit to start growing gardens – now expanded to 1-acre in vegetable production. The week of our visit Goodness Grows was starting its own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for 15 families. Goodness Grows has only one staff member and a rotating schedule of college interns to maintain the gardens. Volunteers are another main source of labor, coming from the church, as well as a special needs class and GED program in the community. Another special resource for the farm is access to all the horse bedding and manure from the county fair – the largest in the state of Ohio. Future plans include refurbishing the many greenhouses on site for extended season growing as well as aquaculture for heat and fish production, similar to Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI.

Greenhouse seedlings at Goodness Grows.

After worship, we had another round table discussion with Pastor Steve, politically-connected Greg Harget from OH Governor Ted Strickland’s office, and prophetic farmer Maurice Small. Greg Harget Ohio Department of Agriculture but now works with Governor Strickland’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives Program in Ohio, which facilitates the state’s summer feeding programs as well as re-entry programs to strengthen the family. Maurice Small, on the other hand, works outside of the conventional systems of institutional agriculture and government. Maurice Small started a Cleveland-based organization called City Fresh, expanding access to food through urban agriculture. Because of the success of City Fresh in Cleveland, Maurice was invited to Youngstown, OH to help invigorate new growing initiatives.

Itching to get outside, Maurice sped up our conversation and we caravan-ed into Youngstown. We jump out of the van and are greeted with Maurice’s first question: “What is the murder rate of the place you live? This is important. You don’t know it, you don’t know your people.”

Maurice - telling it like it is.

Background on Youngstown: Former steel town. 80,000 people. 20,000 vacant lots. Worst school system in Ohio. Enter Maurice Small, urban gardening pioneer. Maurice’s mission is to reclaim vacant lots – lots where abandoned houses have been torn down or are still standing – and using reclaimed windows and boards from those houses and buildings, build raised garden beds. The first block Maurice walks us through has 10 houses – only two of which have residents. This is a ghost town. Maurice shows us the foundation of a house, crumbling and exposed – left vacant for 20-some years. Beyond repair. “They left [this city, these houses] . . . to my imagination.” Let me repeat that one more time: “They left this city . . . to my imagination.” Awesome.

Maurice explaining what he'll reclaim from this house to build a garden.

And his imagination envisions life and food, bountiful as the Garden of Eden. In addition to using reclaimed materials, Maurice builds raised beds from straw bales, with composted horse manure as his soil The straw bales are great for two reasons: 1. As the straw bales break down, they become organic matter to enrich the soil, and 2. Straw bales provide a sitting area directly in the garden. Maurice purchases the bales from a local farmer for $2.75, has horse manure donated from the county fair, and receives woodchip mulch and water from the city for free. He plants perennials and fruit trees and envisions the neighborhood children grabbing an apple on the way to school. He envisions neighborhood farm markets on garden property, where eater and grower get to know one another.

Straw bale beds - with composted horse manure soil.

Besides building gardens, Maurice is all about building community. While Maurice’s visions are beautiful and inviting, he is adamant that people do not flock to the places romanticized for their poverty or their potential. No gentrification. White people stay out. Help where you are from. This must be an indigenous revolution. The community must do for themselves. Then integrate slowly. Although Maurice is from Cleveland, he has been invited into Youngstown to help. Maurice has $400,000 over the next three years to jump start the gardens. He hopes to be out as soon as possible and let neighbors take the initiative to keep growing. Pointing to his toddling son, “I’m just here to change their diapers – then get out. Set ’em on their way.”

Maurice Small - the prophet of Youngstown, aka the Jamacain Farmer.

With heads still whirling from the wisdom of prophet and poet Maurice, we jumped in the vans and headed towards Cleveland to dine with and tour the gardens of some folks involved in an entrepreneurial market garden program in and around Cleveland’s EcoVillage.

Market Gardens in Cleveland's Eco-Village.

Day Nine:

After a much needed deep sleep, we took to the road again to explore the urban agriculture scene in Cleveland – as led by Maurice. We Road Trippers continually made comments about Maurice’s incredible ability to identify every pocket garden and food project around the city – indicating some extremely detailed mental map of urban agriculture craziness inside his head.

Garden craziness at Gather Round Garden.

Our first stop, Gather Round Garden. Planted on top of a parking lot of an old convenience/liquor store transformed into a childcare center. Lots of amoeba-shaped raised garden beds in every shape and form. Bantam chickens and roosters cluck out of their coop refashioned from old windows and boards. Food goes to a store-front shelter and soup kitchen organized by a Catholic Worker House – as well as being distributed throughout the neighborhood. Worked out a lease with the landowner for $1. Been growing for 4 ½ years.

Gate to Kentucky Gardens, Cleveland, OH.

Second stop: the Kentucky Gardens. Been around for over 50 years. Less than one acre. 200 families. Community greenhouse. Plots are rented out by the summer growing season – $10/large bed, $5/small plot. Each gardener is required to contribute so many hours of service to the maintenance and upkeep of the property each year. Has a fruit orchard and beehives. Here we met Maurice’s mother.

Back alley garden for chef of Marigold Catering.

Third stop(s): two chefs. Chef one – growing in an alleyway betwixt two very large buildings. Marigold Catering. Herbs, edible flowers, vegetables, and mushroom logs. Chef Two – Chef Karen Small of the Flying Fig. With the help of youth recruited and trained by Maurice, built raised beds in her backyard. Grows herbs, vegetables, and watercress (in a simple outdoor aquaculture system) for use in her restaurant based around local foods. Here our fingers – and lips – became stained with the purple blood of mulberries, as we avidly harvested backyard berries at Karen’s invitation.

Road Trippers picking mulberries in Chef Karen's backyard.

Fourth stop: Vel’s Purple Oasis. Started in 2008 by a grandmother and her granddaughter Kayla. Bought land 20 years ago with the dream of someday having a garden. Named after Vel’s love of the color purple – which represents majestic royalty. The garden is an oasis in the midst of Cleveland’s death and drought. Rebuilding the soil by solarizing the weeds, laying down cardboard and sickle-cutting hay to build lasagna garden beds. Built a strawbale greenhouse with the help of Brad Massey at the New Agrarian Center in Oberlin. Recently bought some nearby house to open as a community kitchen and place of holistic healing.

Farmer Kayla tours us through the herb spiral at Vel's Purple Oasis.

We were unable to visit the New Agrarian Center in Oberlin, OH, due to the craziness of our schedule and the wealth of information already clogging our noggins. So we went to the West Side Market (Cleveland’s year-round indoor market) or falafels. That evening we enjoy a sunset – and the Summer Solstice – on Lake Erie.

the Summer Solistice on Lake Erie.

My closing thoughts:

“To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted, a time to kill and a time to be healed.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

End Day Nine. End Part Four.