Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Field Report: 2.21.2017

I have been doing a lot more reading, thinking, and planning for companion planting after hearing Dan Kittredge speak at OEFFA a few weeks back. (Read about the conference and talks in this post on OEFFA Conference 2017.) I’m interplanting things I haven’t mixed up before and looking ahead to what I can add later to long season crops beds I am sowing now. All this in order to create symbiotic relationships between the plants so they are feeding and protecting one another, and the microbes in the soil, better.

I’m also looking at the Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Calendar for some advice on optimal planting dates.

“The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar is determined by our age-old formula and applies generally to regions where the climate is favorable. Because the gardening calendar is based on the phase and position of the Moon, it is consistent across all growing zones.”

I’ve been wanting to get a better handle on biodynamics. Using the Farmer’s Almanac in conjunction with a few biodynamic calendars I’ve been consulting seems like a relatively easy way of getting started.

According to the calendar, today was an optimal day for planting root crops so I set some radishes, carrots, and beet seeds out. I added a bit of innoculant to the seed packs, per Kittredge’s suggestion that the minerals in this dust help germinating seeds develop the systems they need to absorb and digest nutrients throughout their lives. Kittredge compared this with the precious colostrum nursing mammals produce for their babies in the first few days of life. Colostrum helps human infants develop healthy gut flora. I want my plants to have healthy guts because I’m sure it’ll mean I’ll have healthier gut too!

Tomorrow is a good day too, so it isn’t too late for you to get busy on your own early-early spring planting plan. Here are a few scenes from the field this afternoon to get you planting your own fertile ground.

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Arugula.

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Winter Density & Bloomsdale.

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Red and Green Giant Mustard with Radicchio.

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Bloomsdale Spinach.

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Unidentified Red Leaf Lettuce, Raddichio, and Sassy Salad Mix.

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Vitamin Greens.

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Soil is starting to look REALLY good. Hard to believe this was compacted clay three years ago.

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Felt a little guilty moving these cilantro seedlings but they were in the high tunnel only temporarily and suffering because they were planted over a spot that had been compacted, wood-chipped lined paths.Hoping to see their leaf color and vigor improve in the field.

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Fall planted Red Russian Kale and Red Giant Mustard with January sown spinach coming in between. Under a low tunnel.

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All three kids ate a raw salad tonight! Green and Red Giant Mustard, Tatoi, Spinach, Winter Density Lettuce, Red Russian Kale, Mizuna, Vitamin Greens

 

 

 

 


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Field report: 2.16.17

The sun was shining bright in Columbus, Ohio today. The temperature only got to about 38°F, but it I had a purpose to be outside, down on the ground, with my hands in the soil. And I was glad for that.

I transplanted onions I started inside and moved around field sown spinach seedlings so they were more evenly distributed.

This is the last night forecasted to go below freezing for the foreseeable future. While it seems awfully weird, we’re going to take advantage of it. Hope this inspires you to do the same.

 

 


Inside the high tunnel.


Spinach sown in high tunnel November 5.


Winter density lettuce transplanted in January, Radicchio transplanted 2.15, Mizuna sown in November, Sassy salad mix sown in January.


Tatsoi, Kale, Chard transplanted in October. Pac Choi transplanted early February.

 

 

 

 


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OEFFA Conference 2017

This was my second year attending the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association  conference. I was invited last year to host a children’s workshop and got my entrance fee covered as a volunteer. I spent that day sitting side-by-side with large and small scale, rural and urban growers learning about various aspects of growing food organically. I was hooked.

Last year the conference was at Granville High School. Granville is a small town known as the home of Dennison University a small liberal arts school. I don’t really know much about the town other than it’s in a beautiful setting and full of homes that remind me of New England. It’s a high-end real estate market with a school to reflects the resources it has available. A large garden on the grounds is maintained by one of the teachers and his students. The school has its own chef who includes ingredients grown in the garden in his menus. The students eat with metal silverware off ceramic plates, glassware, and reusable lunch trays. Anyone who has been in a public school in the U.S. in the past few decades knows this is very rare. Many kids these days are being offered free and reduced lunches that don’t look much different from what’s served in prison off styrofoam trays that they through away after every meal. It’s a disgrace on too many levels to get into here.

Granville high reflected the values of OEFFA and the conference. This year, however, in an effort to accommodate more people the conference was moved to the Dayton Convention Center. In that setting it lost its small scale charm and sense that it is doing something differently. I’ve been to lots of conferences in convention centers and all the centers feel the same – oversized, anonymous, depressing… To make matters worse, OSU Extension was offering a pesticide application program at the center on Friday. The irony was not lost on any of us. It was hard not to imagine this is what it would have been like if Sanders and Trump had held rallies in the same place at the same time.


I don’t have a solution for this problem and I’m not saying this as criticism. It is meant as a candid critique in hopes that perhaps it will be somewhere else next year. It’s great that the conference is growing! But is there someplace we can grow that might better reflect OEFFA standards?
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I spent three hours Friday morning listening to Dan Kittredge talk about biological systems and creating healthy ecologies for soil, plants, and humans on our farms. While a lot of the concepts he talked about were not new to me, he spoke about them in new ways–mixing scientific knowledge with a deep understanding and respect for the development of human life, as well as plant life, and making comparisons between the two that anyone could understand. They got under my skin. By the end of his sessions, I was ready to run home and get working on new experiments with the land instead of just on my land.

 

 

Here are a couple of key concepts and quotations Kittredge presented that might get you inspired. I encourage you to check out the Bionutrient Food Association he helped found for more information on his philosophy and approach to farming.

On monocropping he asked “Is it good for all six-year-olds, or 12-year-olds for that matter, to be sitting in a row alone all doing the same thing removed from society?” Those who know me know that I am deeply skeptical of the prevailing educational model currently being employed in this country. Thinking about my plants and their relationship to the environment they’re growing in and how they collaborate and work together is something I’m going to give a lot more thought to. I started some new experiments with cover crops this past fall and Kittredge’s idea of maintaining them alongside, and in some cases up against the cultivated plants has me thinking about what’s next.

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Kittredge emphasized the importance of how plants are treated at the beginning of their lives in relation to how they will do later on. He compared mineral inoculants offered to seeds before they’re planted to the colostrum breast-feeding mothers gift their babies upon birth. In each case, each supplement, help develop digestive capabilities. He questioned the use of cell trays. And asked “Would you put a child in a cell? What happens when you put a child in a cell?”

 

Kittredge shared a lot of information on both political and economic history of agribusiness. He added so much to the scaffolding I’ve been building on this subject, the fears I’ve been harboring about our food system, and what we might do to change them. Decades ago, Rachel Carson documented ways the government transferred World War II biological weapons research to the production of insecticides and herbicides. Kittredge reported they also started funding research at land-grant universities and directed those research projects in order to promote the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides in a vicious cycle that strips the land of its lifeforce. This has made the US farmers, as a whole, more dependent on the companies that sell fertilizers another artificial inputs and control measures and reduced the quality of the food supply, making us sick. Kittredge suggested, health care costs, not military or infrastructure spending is what will bankrupt our country. If, as Hippocrates taught and Kittredge reminded, we thought of and raised food to be our medicine, we wouldn’t might not get sick in the first place.

 


I spent lunchtime meeting with Gina Freeman who has run a “Giving Garden” program at the Columbus Jewish Day School in New Albany for the past few years. The program is funded by a grant from the Columbus Jewish Foundation for community partnerships. She and her students harvest the food they grow and deliver it to various residential facilities and shelters around Columbus. She’s a friend of a friend whom I was very happy to meet and share ideas for the future with over an amazing, locally-sourced meal.

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After lunch I walked around the exhibitions hall. Sampled some tofu coming soon from Shagbark Seed & Mill (!) and spoke with some vendors about soil testing, seed saving, and mineral amendments.

After lunch I jumped around between a few sessions – one on cover cropping in community gardens, another on growing tomatoes in high tunnels, and finally to my femfarming friend Rachel Tayse’s presentation on Mindful Growing.


I look forward to talking with her more about the ideas she shared and my own interests in bringing mindfulness to my farming practices. I have written about the repetitive practices of some contemporary artist that I love and how they help me think about my work with the land as a creative practice. I feel like there’s a lot more room to explore a synergy between creative practices in the art studio and creative work on the farm. In addition, I’m interested in exploring farm work in relation to Jewish mysticism.

My final time at the conference on Friday was spent leading a workshop on rock painting with insects for about a dozen 6 to 10-year-olds. By the time I got to them at 4 PM, the children were bouncing off the walls. They were all eager to paint the rocks. But only a few of them painted insects. He’s one of my favorites.


Saturday morning I attended a session with Jim Riddle, whom the OEFFA conference catalog listed as “a 30 year veteran organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst, and activist,” titled “An Agenda for Organic America.” Riddle was the keynote speaker Friday afternoon, but I missed his talk due to my volunteer shift. Riddle’s talk was based in his experiences as an organic fruit farmer and former member of the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board. The content of presentation could easily be its own post.

He presented the agenda for the session was: gains, stop bad things, build on success, what we need, and what you can do. As he presented this list, however, he acknowledged that these categories of information are not divorced from one another. Here’s an example.

Start with this gain: A new Organic Farmers Association group is going to be formed out of a Rodale Institute initiative and the Organic Farmers Alliance. Riddle highlighted that this will be a farmer-led interest group serving on behalf of farmers themselves, not industry lobbies which speak in favor of increasing organic consumption with little regard for production. Shift to stopping this bad thing: With farmers largely absent from policy conversations in the past, the size of the organic market grew built on the backs of foreign imports. International imports are not held to the same standards as US products. Some might be higher, some lower. But the regulations do not require imports to be labeled as specifically as homegrown organics, there is no traceability. Not only does this mean that we don’t really know what were eating, but it also depresses prices and market share for US growers who have to keep lots of records and pay lots of fees to be certified organic.

Riddle suggest that we build on successes like relationship marketing like “Know your farmer” projects. This is an idea Over the Fence Urban Farm is built. I hope that following our story will inspire folks, whether they are part of our CSA or not, to seek out the stories behind what they are eating. This also seems to be the only way to REALLY know what you are putting in your bodies.  Riddle argues we need more advocacy – through regional farm bureaus, letters to the editor, and educational initiatives like farm-to-school programming – to highlight the relationship between human health and planetary health as well as providing more funds for those who want to transition to organic from conventional farming. This was a perfect lead into keynote speaker Robin O’Brien.


O’Brien spoke from her experience growing up in an extremely patriotic Texas family. It was America first all the way, she said. She went to business school and became a Wall Street analyst with a focus on the food industry. She watched the organic movement growing in the early 1990s, but just thought of it as a good marketing idea.

She had her come to Jesus moment after one of her children had an allergic reaction to something he ate. This tipped her off to the fact that not all food is created equal and that we’re not really sure what the foods that are genetically modified or consuming are actually doing to our bodies. She did research on GMOs and Monsanto and found a correlation between the number of hospital visits for children with food allergy reactions and the rise of Monsanto in the mid-90s. Building on her business experience and relationships, she got the ear of many executives and politicians who were willing to listen to her and shared that they also feared what they were selling and didn’t want their families to eat it.

Much of what she shared about GMOs and related pesticides was not new information for those in the room. As organic growers and consumers we already new about the proven and yet-to-be researched risks of GMOs on human people and the planet. But O’Brien brings lots of incredible statistics to the table about corporations like General Mills and Kellogg buying small companies like Annie’s and Kashi and then struggling to scale-up production using USDA organic raw ingredients like corn, soy, and wheat. We are currently importing large more than half of these from other countries. (Note how this links back to Riddle, above.) The good news, these corporations are now putting money towards helping American farmers transition to growing more organics so they don’t have to import them. While the news wasn’t all good, O’Brien suggested the time is ripe for Washington to pay attention to organics, and build on the new president’s “America First” and job creation focii.

I spent a few more hours in the exhibition hall and communing with Central Ohio femfarmer friends over lunch before heading home. All in all, it was a great weekend that got me revved up for the 2017 season!

 


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Field Report 2.3.17

Six word portrait of the day:

Sun shone down on Columbus today.

In the high tunnel: Catching rays building heat and humidity.

Winter density lettuce. In the high tunnel. Under frost blanket. Transplanted 1.22.

Spinach sown in high tunnel, under frost blanket, late-October. Mustard to the east, not shown, doing even better. Starting to grow thanks to the end of the Persephone Days. Needs to be spread around via transplant. Find space. Maybe between the lettuce?

Cilantro and parsley, PAC choi, arugula, and tatsoi transplanted in high tunnel under frost blanket and low tunnel, inside the high tunnel , late January. 


Low tunnel spinach, October sown.


Low tunnel spinach, sown late-January.


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Validation by Six Year Old

An important mission of our farm is demonstrating that good food, lots of good food, can be grown within city limits. I am particularly excited about passing this knowledge on to children, so they might imagine a new future for our public and private spaces. And so, it was with GREAT joy that I opened this text from one of our CSA families this morning.

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And then…

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So yeah, I’m feeling pretty validated today. Thanks Ezra.

Note: This post was previously called “Validation by Text Message” but after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t the texting that made this exchange so powerful, it was the sic year old behind it.

 

 

 


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A Tasty Look at Our Regional Food System

I recently had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion organized by Edible Columbus and hosted by Chef Bill Glover at Galerie Bar & Bistro at the Columbus Hilton. When I say it was a pleasure, I mean a pleasure of both the brain and the palate. The conversation was interesting and the food was delicious – a variety of dishes featuring Ohio-sourced produce and proteins that I might never have tried if they weren’t served to me, family-style, at a table full of folks I hadn’t met before that meal.

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The panel was facilitated by Nicole Rasul – a writer for Edible Columbus who recently took on a new role working on sustainable sourcing for The Ohio State University.  Participants included:

Chefs:
Bill Glover, Gallerie Bar & Bistro
Matt Heaggans, The Rossi
Seth Lassak, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing

Producers:
Bryn Bird, Bird’s Haven Farms
Rob Phillips, RL Valley Ranch
James Anderson, Anderson Farms

Connectors:
Piper Fernwey, Bon Apetit Management Co., Denison University
Darren Malhame, Northstar Cafe

The discussion revolved around challenges and successes in connecting chefs and diners in central Ohio with locally-sourced ingredients. As a small-scale grower, most of the questions were above my pay grade. Over the Fence has run on a CSA model from the start and 100% of our produce goes to our supporters and to feed our own family. I have considered restaurant sales as something we might scale up to one day and have spoken to fellow urban farmers about their wholesale experiences, but hearing from some chefs about their desires and needs was illuminating. I realized that the impact we are making to the families we serve and those who follow our growing stories online is completely different than selling to restaurants, something I’m proud of and enough to keep us busy for the foreseeable future. So, don’t plan on seeing OTFUF produce on restaurant plates any time soon, though we’d love to get into the home kitchens of some area chefs.

As someone who was raised kosher, lived as a strict vegetarian for more than a decade, and now considers herself a qualitarian (I eat meat only when I know where and how it was produced), I really appreciated the discussion of locally raised meats. James Anderson, whom most folks know as the proprietor’s of Ray Ray Hog Pit but who also raises his own award-winning swine (read about it in Stock & Barrel’s recent portrait), proclaimed “I don’t grow hams, I grow hogs.” Chef Glover responded that hearing and considering  the challenges associated with processing the best animal proteins available in Ohio he has challenged himself to buy, butcher, and cook with whole animals, using all their parts. I appreciated his comments about how this challenges him as a chef, an artisan of food.

While chefs know the best ingredients are local, and therefore seasonal, it would seem most of their customers don’t. Chef Heaggans reported that, on average, diners like to eat what they like to eat, where they like to eat it. In others words, if you are a fan of the hamburger at The Rossi (which I hear is excellent), that’s what you’ll order when you go there, 9 times out of ten. I totally get that. Take me to Tip Top Kitchen and I want the pot roast sandwich. Sadly, this ties chefs hands. In order to keep customers happy and coming in the doors, so they can pay their employees and their rent, they have to keep their menus consistent.

One way to transform the way diners make choices about what they order is through education. Telling people where their food comes from might inspire them to eat differently. Glover also told stories of visiting Anderson and Philips’ farms – seeing how they raise their animals and getting to know the men and their families. That background contributes to his appreciation for the meat they produce. Some would argue it makes them taste better. I would. I think the local stories we associate with what we eat, stories which Edible Columbus helps share, have real value and I hope to see more of them on menus and in economic impacts studies in the future.

Darren Malhame of Northstar Cafe said their menu is designed to allow for seasonally sourced ingredients without changing the diners’ experience too much. Ever notice, for example, that sometimes there is lettuce and sometimes kale on your Northstar burger? He suggested we need to think of a continuum of definitions for what it means to eat local, from Alice Waters and farmer’s markets to what’s sold at the large scale grocers.

While I’ve read Bryn Bird’s commentaries in Edible Columbus before, it was inspiring to hear her talk about her family’s vegetable farm, her perspective on how food policies are impacting local production, and her experiences working with Dennison University. Piper Fernway who manages dining services at Dennison, reported about how that school has increased its locally-sourced ingredients over the past few years. She and her staff have worked on various strategies to engage students in thinking about where their food comes from and working with local producers to find ways to get their products on more students’ plates. A few examples: merging local whole grain cereals and fruit syrups to produce an original, bright-colored, sweetened cereal students love and using a coloring page of a chicken to help students trace the parts of the animal they’ve eaten in a week, pushing them to get beyond the breast.

Edible Columbus introduced a new tool to connect producers and consumers of local foods. They hope Edible Connector will provide: “A new way for Columbus area farmers, growers, producers, chefs, institutions, food artisans, markets, consumers and others to connect and grow.” I’m looking forward to exploring the site further and seeing how it might help us extend the vision and scope of Over the Fence in the coming years to do our part to get more local ingredients into the hands, and stomachs, of central Ohioans.


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Tunnel Visions

Thanks to a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service High Tunnel Initiative program we are building a high tunnel to expand our season extension practices. The kit has been hanging out in the garage waiting for the sweet potatoes to come out of the ground. Now that they have, the location for the tunnel has been sited, posts planting, and hoops installed. Stay tuned for more updates on the progress.

Thanks, as always, to The Spurgeon General for his building assistance.