Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


Leave a comment

Spring Challenges, Maybe

I started farming again this season rather than follow through on my planned sabbatical to give myself something to do that I could feel good about. To have something to work on. To have healthy food on hand to feed my family, friends, and extended community. Sadly, it’s been the hardest start to a season I can remember us ever having.

A late freeze killed dozens of tomato and tomatillo plants early on the morning of May 9th. This was just days after we donated plants to food access programs so we had minimal backups on hand. Last week we got 4.88 inches of rain in five days (May 18-22) followed by temperatures in the upper 80s, at least 10 degrees hotter than normal. This caused major crop failure in our spring greens, just as we were getting ready to distribute them. These are the crops I usually feel the most proud of, so their loss really hurt.

The day after the freeze I was texting with my friend Bernadett (Bernadett’s Farmacy). We’d been swapping weather forecasts and plans for protecting our seedlings for days leading up to the big chill. When I told her we lost a bunch of plants despite all my efforts, she sent me a link to the story of the Taoist farmer.

The story follows a farmer who suffers a series of what most people would deem unfortunate events ending with something most would consider a lucky break. Regardless, the farmer is always hesitant to label anything lucky or unlucky. “Maybe,” is his constant reply.

After sitting on this story for a few weeks, working through more and more of what I would consider bad luck, hunting for the silver linings, today things started to click.

I had grown only three types of tomato seedlings – following my revised sabbatical plans of using only the seed I happened to have in the basement, not allowing myself to buy anything new. Upon hearing we’d lost all our tomatoes, friends, including Bernadett, offered us extra seedlings they had. Now we have a much larger variety than originally planned. It makes me think a seedling swap could be fun in the future. Like a next level seed swap. So maybe things worked out in the end. At least for that chapter of the story.

The verdict’s still out on the others. I’ll be sure to report back as I find them.


Leave a comment

UPDATE: Victory-Over-the-Virus Farm Report

The farm waking up. (Spring 2020)

Turns out, time flies when you’re living in quarantine, or as my friend Doug refers to it, “the Covidian era.”

It’s been six weeks since my last post. I’ve tried to write at least a dozen times, but I just can’t seem to focus. I hear that a lot these days from friends who write for a living.

While I haven’t been blogging, I have been busy. My daughter and I have led another 5 lunch and learn sessions for kids (you can see them all archived on our new YouTube channel). The farm appeared in two local news stories about increased interest in local foods and gardening in response to the pandemic. We also wrapped up another successful Pollinator Lovers’ Plant Sale, gave away tomato and pepper seedlings to families in need, and got 2 dozen Victory-Over-the-Virus Garden boxes out into the world along with video tutorials to those gardeners with advice on planting, fertilizing, and harvesting.

All of this has helped keep me distracted, feeling like I’ve been doing “something,” at a time when so many of us, don’t know what to do. But I don’t feel the same sustained energy I usually do from my efforts. I still wake wondering how long the virus will plague us and how our society will look, feel, and operate once when and if we get it under control. How will this experience change us long term? So, I’m pretty much back where I was when, filled with eco-anxiety and exhausted from years of juggling too many obligations, I decided to take the season off and reflect on the past and plan for the future.

I’m back to thinking the work I do on the farm is important and making a difference (in some small way) in my community but wondering, is it enough? Is there more I can do? What more could this project be if I focused on it full-time? Or at least more of the time? What would I have to give up in order to make that happen? What might I gain? And would that be worth the trade-offs?

I’ve read Ram Dass and know that, at least for now, all we can do is focus on today. And in some ways that’s the lesson the garden always teaches us. Over and over in lots of different ways. But it also requires planning, because it takes time to grow things. Like change takes time. And our lives are going to be changed as a result of this pandemic. They already have. So I need to make time to process that, along with all the other sh*t I planned to process this summer through my shimta (sabbatical).

While I’m glad to have the farm to focus on when focusing is so hard, I also need to find ways to let me mind wander, to slow down and work through some of the questions I have been harboring, along with the new ones we are all facing. I need to make time to face my fears, rather than distractedly hide from them among the plants. Right?

I hope you are all finding something to focus on, short and longer term. Something that gives you pleasure and feeds you, literally and figuratively. If not, at least we have flowers.

Apple blossoms. (May 2020)


Leave a comment

Victory-Over-the-Virus Farming Report: April 3

Morning on the farm.

Well, we’re another week into the Covid-19 pandemic response in the United States and my email is overflowing with requests from individuals to join the CSA, purchase seedlings, and come work on the farm, as well as from organizations (including Green Columbus, Local Matters, and Ohio History Connection) interested in partnering on Victory-Over-the-Virus programming. I’m literally overwhelmed by the response.

As I wrote last week, one silver lining of this horrible disaster seems to be that people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from and increasing their desire to grow more of their own and/or find local sources to purchase from. Environmental, spiritual, and culinary reasons aside, a friend sent me this image which appeals to our growing awareness of how many hands touch the things we touch and, in this case, eat.

I tried to find attribution for this but can’t. If anyone knows, please update me!

Last night, on a call with the Jewish Farmers’ Network (JFN), I learned of a national initiative to get more people planting food gardens in response to the virus. Cooperative Gardens Commission (#coopgardens) was started by a JFN member, Nate Kleinman of the totally amazing Experimental Farm Network and a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The initiative started with an Instagram post, moved to a Google Form, and within a week had 1,000 participants assigned to different teams to help convert supplies and expertise into action. The New York Times and Civil Eats have already reported on the project. I was thrilled to learn about it and I’m excited to see how our Victory-Over-the-Virus Garden initiatives might fit in.

This past Wednesday, I piloted “Live from the Farm!” a lunchtime program on Facebook, geared mostly for kids but also appealing to grown-ups who have watched and given me feedback. The first week’s theme was Seeds (click here to watch the recording), and next week we’ll be talking about Worms followed by chickens, bees, water, and compost.

Preliminary plans are also in the works for a sister series, “Happy Hour on the Farm,” in which I will answer questions from folks who purchased Victory-Over-the-Virus seedlings and others who are getting new and existing gardens going this season. Follow the farm on Facebook for more on that.

Over the Fence is quickly getting cleaned up and we have more than half the beds seeded or filled with transplants plus a few germinating spring cover crops (fava and cow peas). We moved most of an enormous pile of woodchips, but still need to clean the chicken coop which keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the list. (Sorry ladies! Totally unfair since you have been doing your part to supply us and the extended family with tons of beautiful eggs.)

Hope all’s okay where you are and that if you haven’t already, you find a spot where you can grow something to feed not just your stomach, but also your soul.


1 Comment

Victory-Over-the-Virus Gardening: Sabbatical in the Time of COVID-19

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
from In Flanders Field, by John McCrae (WWI solider)

Well, like everything else in the world at the moment, our plans on the farm have been evolving day-by-day. As a reminder for readers who don’t regularly follow this blog, I was supposed to be taking a year off from farming this season. (Go back to Embracing Persephone for more on that.) I was going to give myself, and the land, a much needed rest. I was going to travel, read more books, take more walks in the woods and learn to hunt mushrooms and other wild edibles, do more yoga…

I’m taking more walks and doing more yoga, and I was reading more books until the world shut down and now I’m back to the basement starting seeds and the backyard prepping beds. 

The worldwide COVID-19 outbreak has made the mission of our little farm more clear. We need to increase food sovereignty, our power to grow our own healthy, delicious, safe food. In the spirit of the Victory Gardens of WWI and II, I am stepping back into production and trying some new strategies to promote Victory-Over-the-Virus Gardens this year, to keep our community stocked with healthy, delicious, and safe produce. [Shout out to Ed Fallon in Iowa, via local friend of the farm “Jimmy Christmas,” for introducing the term which he shared on his blog last week.]

While addressing this moment of crisis as a window of opporutnity to get more people growing, I am also trying to maintain a sabbatical mindset. As scholars use their “year of release” from teaching to pursue research, I’m testing out a few ideas I’ve been thinking about but hadn’t gotten around to. Here are a few I’m playing with.

I) Working through my seed stash
One of my shmita plans was to “clean out the pantries.” In other words, I wanted to pay more attention to the abundance I already possessed rather than buying more, more, more. Towards that end, 99% of the seeds I’m growing were already in my seed library. I will miss the things I’m out of and would have purchased – especially the wide variety of tomatoes – but missing them is kinda the point. Sabbatical time, like crisis time, needs to be marked by some difference in order to make a lasting impact on our mindset.

II) Farm stand
I have been wanting to try a weekly farm stand for a long time. I hope this will attract more folks in my neighborhood to the work we are doing. Columbus is currently working on new zoning regulations to allow on-site sales for urban agriculture, so the time seems right to give this a shot. (With social distancing and hand sanitizing enforced, of course.)

III) Victory-over-the-virus Garden-in-a-Box
Finally, after a few years of successful perennial flower and herb plant sales, aimed at increasing pollinator habitat, we will be offering a series of plant collections to get more people growing, and growing more, this season. Ongoing conversations about climate change and research on bionutrient density loss through travel have promoted sourcing greens locally for awhile, but COVID-19 crisis has brought a new sense of urgency to that work. Faced with empty grocery shelves and halts to distribution, Americans are quickly waking up to the notion that food sovereignty is something we should all be concerned with.

And now, enough with the typing, I have work to do…