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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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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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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Scenes from the Field: July 15, 2019

Wow. What a difference a month makes. The last time I posted, it was unseasonably cool and rainy. Now it’s hot as Hades and hasn’t rained in nearly two weeks. I HATE JULY. This is the time of year when I feel like I’m failing as a farmer. Every damn year.

Turning over from Spring to Summer crops is hard. Our small scale, with related drawn-out harvests, and intercropping practices are part of the issue, but also a benefit. Our celery and radicchio bed, for example, provided offerings for over a month. But for much of that time I was in a holding pattern planning for what would come next. Once enough of that spring crop was harvested, I set beans. They germinated well but it will be a little while until we’re eating from them. Where the garlic came out a few weeks ago, I had winter squash seedlings ready to take their place, but keeping those happy in their move, as the sun beat down on them, wasn’t easy. There were casualties. But we carry on…

Radicchio interplanted with Blue Lake bush beans.

Today, as I take a break from the hot jobs of moving compost and fiddling with the irrigation system, I’m happy to share some images I captured during the past month.

We enjoyed lots more greens and herbs…

… roots …

…and the first tomatoes of the season.

Members of the CSA have been showing up to help get the irrigation installed in an effort to ensure the second half of the season is as strong as the first.

For more regular updates about what’s happening around the farm, follow us on Instagram and/or Facebook.


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Scenes from the Field: June 11, 2019

What a week. The weather here in central Ohio has been off the charts. It’s currently 56 degrees and raining. That’s downright nasty for this time of year. But in the grand scheme of things, we’re lucky.

Large scale farmers in the region have been struggling with too much rain, combined with unseasonably cool temperatures that have prevented evaporation, and have abandoned the idea of planting their fields this year. Too bad those folks are so big into corn and soy that they can’t imagine how to shift gears to something else. There’s still SO much time left in the season.

Here’s a few shots from the field I took earlier in the week.

Welcome to the jungle.

There’s a lot growing out back at this point. The spring crops are just about gone and the summer stuff is taking over, slowly. Will be interesting to see if there are long term implications of tonight’s 50 degree dip.

The hens are driving me nuts. They refuse to stay on their side of the fence. In good moments I imagine they are eating the squash bug larve. But most of the time, when they’re scratching indiscriminately (uprooting seedlings) and eating the kale, I just want them out!

Cora’s poppies are doing great! She and I harvested seed for these from a neighbor’s yard last year and she set them in soil in the basement over the winter one day (on her own!). We sold a bunch at our plant sale in April and I’m hearing good reports from friends who took them home. I’m a proud (human and plant) momma.


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Scenes from the Field: May Catchup

Here’s a bunch of photos from this past month. Those who follow us on the book of faces or instagrams might have seen some of these already. Lucky you. Reruns in the age of media bombardment ain’t all that bad…

May 19th we had a HIGHLY productive work day. A steady stream of CSA folks through the gates helped get lots of tasks knocked off the chore list.

I continue to be amazed by how great everything is doing this season. The plants in the ground are booming and so far the succession planning is going well. CSA members are impressed by the size of the bags they are picking up. One this past weekend asked, “This is all for us?!”

I’m going to say no more lest I jinx the whole thing. You can see the bounty for yourself. I’m proud.