Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Embracing Persephone: My Shmita Year

Today is the start of Persephone Days in Central Ohio; we are about to dip below ten of sunlight per day, the darkest of the year. Many of us feel this darkness deep within ourselves as we head towards the Winter Solstice. (For more on Persephone as she relates to farming practices and Greek Mythology, read Preparing for Persephone. ).

This time for slowing down seems as appropriate as any to publicly announce that Over the Fence Urban Farm’s CSA program will be on hiatus for the 2020 season. I have declared this year my shmita year.

Shmita is rooted in Jewish wisdom tradition. Various times the Torah makes mention of this as a sabbath for the land. Just as Shabbat (the seventh day of each week) offers us a day for complete rest and reflection, shmita offers a year of release.  

The practice is outlined in the book of Exodus when, before Moses led the Jews into the land of Israel after their forty years of wandering, he agreed to a covenant with YHVH (aka G?d, aka the divine presence in the universe that exists within and between all things): after six years of growing on and harvesting from the land, farmers would be required to let their fields go fallow. It was an agreement made in recognition of the importance of the land and with reverence for its power and potential.

Questions abound as to whether or not shmita was ever observed as outlined in the Torah. Along with the year off for the land, Jews were called upon to relieve debts and release slaves. Humans, being the self-serving animals that we are – even those of us with the best of intentions – find it hard to let go of material possessions once we have them. And so, early on work-arounds were created to protect assets and income, for example transferring land possession to non-Jews for the shmita year.

Historically, Shmita was required only of Jews living in the land of Israel. (Even there, only the most Orthodox have observed it.) It was deemed an undue burden on those living elsewhere and according to Orthodoxy, such requirements are forbidden. However, 21st century Jewish environmentalists in Israel and around the world are finding inspiration in shmita. As we face the challenges of climate crisis and related issues of social justice, we ask what can shmita teach us? How can it help guide us to live our lives in respect and appreciation for the land and all it provides?

For me, as a part-time urban farmer who often finds herself juggling a one million and one responsibilities, I was drawn to shmita as an excuse to take a break. After six years of racing around balancing my work as an art educator, homeschooler, non-profit board member, and urban farmer running a community-supported agriculture project out of my backyard, I am exhausted. I am ready for a sabbatical and grateful to Jewish wisdom tradition for offering me permission to take a break. I need time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go next.

I am also convinced that the land needs a rest. The kind of intensive agriculture I practice—in which a single bed may host up to 4 crops per season—is taxing on the soil. This past season was so dry the land really suffered. I hope a year off, a year in which I feed the soil with deep layers of mulch rather than demand produce from it, might pay off in the years that follow. If what the Torah says is true we’ll be set for two years if we take this one off. If not set in food to eat, re-set mentally, spiritually.

2020 is not an official shmita year, which 2021 will be. But it is my seventh season on the farm and so I’m making it my sabbatical year. Some might not find this kosher, but they’re not in charge around here. I am.

In my shmita year, I would like to explore (without working too hard and ruining the whole point of my break) the possibility of sharing shmita with others. I’ll be sure to share ways to stay connected with this project in this space as it unfolds. Feel free to also leave comments below or email me with your comments and questions.

Peace out. Namaste. Shalom.

jodiK


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A New Place to Find Ideas from Over the Fence

Last month I started blogging for Mother Earth News. If you aren’t familiar with MOTHER, it’s a lifestyle publication with about 1.5 million subscribers that’s been around since 1970. It promotes conscientious living in various aspects of life, including organic foods, country living, green transportation, renewable energy, natural health, and green building. Launched the same year as the first Earth Day celebrations, the publication became a space for provoking further thought and action around the burgeoning environmental movement in the United States. Today’s readers still include environmentalists and politically and socially progressive homesteaders but also preppers and others survivalists.

I can’t remember when I started subscribing nor who or what inspired me to do so, but it’s introduced me to many great ideas and mentors over the years: Eliot Coleman the godfather of season extension, Ann Ralph on growing small fruit trees, Ruth Stout’s deep mulching methods, backyard chicken keeping, and companion planting to name a few.

A neighbor who’s a fan of the farm and MOTHER reader has been bending my ear for a few years about sharing our work with a wider audience. He suggested I reach out to the magazine about writing for them. I thought he was nuts but I finally sent an email to the editors and received a blogger application. I’m still feeling this gig out – it’s unpaid so I’m not sure who really won since I’m now providing free content to Ogden Publications, but I’m still really excited to be part of this legacy, sharing my ideas and advice with a wider audience.

Click here for a list of my published posts.


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Recognition of our Indigenous Past

With each year that passes we become a bit more aware of the painful truths that make up our collective national history. Last year, our mayor announced that Columbus, OH would no longer celebrate Columbus Day. Sadly, the change didn’t go so far as to adopt the name Indigenous People’s Day. We hope that in the future, the Columbus will consider such a move; honoring those whose ways of life were cut short by European colonization.

As we try to live in harmony with the Earth here on the farm, we work to reestablish a connection with the land which pays it respect as the native peoples did. And today we offer this land acknowledgement:

We, Over the Fence Urban Farm wish to acknowledge and honor the indigenous communities native to this region, and recognize that our host city, Columbus, OH and Clintonville neighborhood were built on indigenous homelands and resources. Today we recognize and pay our humble respect to the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware, who stewarded this land for generations.


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OTFUF Supports Local Matters

Five years ago, The Spurgeon General and I attended our first Local Matters Harvest Ball. We bought tickets to the event to force ourselves out of the house to which we’d been tethered for some years by our love children – one human, the other agricultural.

That night we learned about the organization behind the bumper stickers as we wined, dined, and danced. Each year since we have become more invested in the mission of this organization that partners with so many central Ohio organizations working on issues of food security, health and wellness.

This year, we donated $1,000, about 1/4 of our CSA proceeds, and challenged our friends and followers on Facebook to match us. While we didn’t meet our goal of $1,000 in a weekend, we got pretty darn close. Check one more box in the “Hope for Future” column. (Click through the link for another example from OTFUF history.)


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End of Season Report – Kids Garden Club

It’s been a tough season on the farm. July into August was SUPER hot and SUPER dry. It was hard to get our CSA members motivated to come out and work. It was hard to get myself motivated to work.

A shining point was the Kids Garden Club, subsidized by the Clintonville Farmers Market. After three seasons leading the group, I felt like I hit my stride. We had a few established traditions to build on and fresh faces and energy to keep things interesting.

Yesterday I received a thank you note validating my feelings. This parent and her child showed up the second week of club and when I asked, “How did you find out about the program?” she told me she saw a picture of a friend’s child holding one of our chickens and she was sold.

She wrote, “When I signed H up on a whim after seeing a friend’s Facebook post, I figured she would get a little hands-on experience…. Instead, she got something much better; she learned (through fun!) about the many ways food gets to her plate. Your approach—field trips to local farms, stories, marketing lessons, talking to the kids like the intelligent, creative beings they are—made this an exceptional experience. Watching the kids debate the charity they would designate their remaining funds to was one of the best moments in democratic debate I’ve seen in some time. So thank you, thank you. I wish every child could experience this club. I firmly believe it would make our community, nation, and world a better place.”

Oh my god. So lovely. And just the validation I needed at this time in the season, and with big changes happening in other parts of my life.

Here are a few snapshots of the final third of our season. For more check out Season 3: Kids Garden Club and Update on CFM Kids Club.

We wrapped up our field trip circuit with a late July visit to Mother’s Peace Urban Farm located just a few blocks from us. As we walked through an ocean of zinnias in Fawn’s backyard, it dawned on me just how incredible it is to share with kids (and their parents) different ways to make use of one’s greenspace. We’re privileged to have land at our disposal and it still amazes me to imagine all the possibilites for using it beyond a boring patch of grass.

Fawn also talked with the kids about her bee hives and showed them some of the tools she uses (and generously lets me borrow from time to time).

Our second sale at the market was a success! At the meeting prior to the sale we reviewed and expanded on ideas for how to engage customers and lure them into our booth. One of the kids suggested tap dancing chickens which we all found hilarious. When she arrived for her shift the morning of the sale, she was disappointed I didn’t have any with me. Without hesitation, she stepped out in front of our table and started singing and tapping her feet. It was a riot and definitely got us some attention.

The kids sold out of everything we brought to market – tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, flowers, garlic, peppers, flowers, and zucchini banana bread. They earned over $175 between the two sales, half of which was spent on an end of season pizza and ice cream party (before you start wondering what kind of garden club this is, there was also garden salad and veggie snacks!) and a donation to the Ohio Wildlife Center.

I had a wonderful time getting to know these kids and seeing them open up over the course of the season. And I’ll look forward to seeing them, and their folks, around the neighborhood.


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Tomato Photo Dump

Tomatoes are the number one crop grown in home gardens. For many, they are synonymous with summer. However, folks who grow tomatoes know it takes until at least the 4th of July before our latitude sees a harvest.

Since we got started, we’ve grown A LOT of tomatoes. This is the time of year our kitchen, and my phone, gets jammed with them. Here’s a few selections of what we’ve gathered so far this season.


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Update on CFM Kids Club

The Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club is having a great season. In late June we visited Swainway Urban Farm’s indoor growing facility for our second field trip. The kids were interested to see how Joseph mimics natural temperature fluctuations and creates humid conditions that encourage mycelium to fruit into mushrooms, even if most of the kids said they had no desire to eat them. The parents, on the other hand, were all drooling at the sight of the oyster, shitake, and chestnut mushrooms we saw.

As we moved from the mushroom tunnels to the microgreens grow room, Joseph surprised the kids when he announced, “Please don’t pet the greens!” But as soon as we were inside, we all understood the nature of his request. Trays full of thousands of tiny plants sat under grow lights, glowing like pillows of moss in the forest, begging to be touched. Joseph described his schedule for germinating and growing the greens as well as the rich compost he makes with the potting soil and roots they leave behind.

Honestly, this tour was a little tough for the kids because it was inside, in a small space. But I’m glad we went. I’m glad they got to see that people are growing food professionally in spaces like this. With climate change, more people are talking about the future of indoor farming.

And, this trip offered a clear example of how this club benefits parents, not just their kids. Some asked if they could join the outing even while their kids’ were away at camp or visiting relatives. They had a desire to peek behind the curtain at one of the longest growing and commercially successful farmers in Clintonville. I don’t blame them. I’m always inspired when I hang out with him too.

July 13 we had our first sale of the season at the market. This is always exciting for the kids. Our group is on the young side this year and the crowds intimidated some of them, but others jumped at the opportunity to talk to people who stopped by and get them to buy the vegetables and herbs we brought from their garden.

(Photo Note: we had our potatoes and garlic in the basket seen on the left for the first hour or so of the market. Once we took them out and put them on the table, as seen on the right, they started selling better. Lesson learned about booth display!)

I also continued the tradition of bringing an activity to extend the garden club members’ learning and help them introduce market patrons to new things. In the past we held a basil versus radish leaf pesto taste test (guess which won?!) and blindfolded herb identification test (sniff sniff). This time we brought eight flowers blooming in the garden and on the farm.

We had lots of folks (mostly women and girls now that I’m thinking about it) stop by to play “Test Your Flower Power.” We all had fun watching them try to match the flowers with the cards I made with their names and some information on their growing habits, benefits for pollinators, and medicinal and culinary uses. Potato proved the toughest to identify. Others included borage, mint, chamomile, tomato, calendula, yarrow, and nasturtium.

The little kitchen scale I bring along isn’t certified for sales, but it is a big hit. The kids love to try to get to a perfect pound. And I am always impressed, and cheer loudly, when they do!

Our next sale is August 10th. Come find us!