Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


Leave a comment

Scenes from the field: 4.2.18

IMG_1243

The sun was shining and The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar  said it was a good day for transplanting. We were lucky to have friends free to help us move some things around. Here are a few highlights.

A peak under some of our caterpillars. Clockwise from top right – spinach under frost blanket (planted 2/5), potatoes under low plastic tunnel (planted 2/22: Thanks for the inspiration, Milan!), and the view inside our high tunnel panted with various herbs and greens in January).

Homeschool on the farm today included measuring and recording air and soil temperature in 5 different growing situations (high tunnel, low tunnel w/plastic, low tunnel with frost blanket, glass-topped cold-frame, and no cover.)

img_1255.jpg

The girls potted some plants for our upcoming sale with partial proceeds going to Red Oak Community School.

img_1260.jpg

Then the moms broke our backs transplanting hundreds of onion, kale, beet, and spinach seedlings. Like I said, it was a very good day.

IMG_1262

Advertisements


Leave a comment

More Stories of Life and Death on Our Little Farm

[Warning: This, like my posts about rabbits and voles, includes discussion and images of dead animals. Vegans beware.]

IMG_3284

Our first flock of hens are nearing the end of their productive egg laying years. As such, we’ve been having lots of conversations around the farm about what comes next, and seeking advice and options for how to make room for a new group of ladies. In the meantime, and after a long cold winter with many days when they didn’t want to leave their sheltered run, I’ve been letting our girls roam around the yard from dusk ’til dawn.

Leaving them out on their own while I’m not in the yard with them has always been risky. We’ve had our share of predatory visitors over the years – hawks, fox, feral cats… But those risks don’t seem worth worrying about much anymore. I figure if their time earth-side is limited one way or another, they should enjoy their days as much as possible.

Still, it was with a heavy heart that I found this old biddy Thursday afternoon. All signs point to death by opossum. The only thing I’m having trouble understanding is the time of day it happened. Right around 3:30 in the afternoon. And so, for the time being, the other ladies are on fairly strict lockdown.

As usual Thompson, our farm dog, found her first. He nudged her with his nose and I joined him to investigate. We have lost chickens before, but all to what seemed like heart attacks or some other internal failure. This was the first time I saw evidence of attack. The first time I saw bloody entrails and flesh resembling what you’d find at the butcher shop. I took a moment to examine the wound, to look at her insides now that they were on the outside. This brought me one step closer in understanding the creatures that have been sharing our yard. Somehow, in death, I felt closer to her and more responsible for her than ever before.

I picked her up without any hesitation and pet her one last time. Then, in keeping with Jewish tradition of burying the dead as soon as possible, I said my own silent blessings of thanks for the time we had with her as Dan, a neighbor, and I buried her.

img_0521

Postscript: Shout out to our friends at Two Blocks Away Farm and Foraged and Sown for their support and council during this event.

 


Leave a comment

Follow-up on The Columbus Dispatch Home and Garden Show

Last week I was offered tickets to attend the Home and Garden Show and to give tickets away to readers of this blog. (To see my original giveaway post, click here.)  Thanks to all who left comments. I’m excited to hear how your plans and commitments to local food systems progress this season! In this addendum, I wanted to share my brief review of the show based on my experience attending this past Monday with some friends of the farm and our children.

In a nutshell: 
Chances are, if you are reading this blog you shouldn’t go to the home and garden show.

I should have predicted this based on the show’s sponsors, but I like to think of myself as someone who’ll try anything once. In short, this is a trade show not befitting DIY homsteaders or urban farmers. It’s a place for people to find others to build and plant things for them and there was little to no mention of sustainable gardening practices, planting with native species, or growing fruits and vegetables. So do yourself a favor, and stay home and get to work!

All that said, if you enjoy visiting conservatories, you’ll appreciate the picturebook-themed garden installations at the show this year. I can appreciate the effort the nurseries and landscapers put toward bringing these spaces to life inside the Ohio Expo Center.

IMG_0460

The Lorax garden installation. Mildly amusing, but not really useful as urban farming inspiration.

In the meantime, my friends and I will be dreaming up plans for a home and garden show befitting our kind. A good place to start would be visiting any number of farms and homesteads, like ours, that host open houses throughout the growing season. Stay tuned for updates on our 2018 open houses and Ohio-based events hosted by Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and OSU Extension.


Leave a comment

Planning for the future, Looking back on the past

This time of year, backyard growers around these parts are starting to dream about getting our hands back in the soil. We are pouring over seed catalogues and planning our planting schedules. We’re also cleaning up messes left from last season and setting ourselves up for success in the new one. Around here, in the dead of winter, that means cleaning up the basement.

And so it was that I came across some garden plans Dan (also known to readers of this blog as The Spurgeon General) made for a garden back in 1994 in the liner notes for a record he put out with one of his bands – the cover was a painting of a farm issue license plate…

 

I knew I loved this guy and I knew he had some experience gardening when we first met, but I cherished reading these notes; a window into his life with plants before I knew him.  All these years later, tomatoes are still his favorite crop and we have a rototiller parked in the shed.

My own crop planning continues to evolve. In addition to planning for rotations and making sure I balance membership commitments and seed orders, I’m trying to get more sophisticated about tracking weather patterns and best planting days for different types of crops according to biodynamic calendars. I spent the last week of winter vacation comparing temperatures from last January and this one. This was my first observation for the new year.

26168397_1941247412802398_2944699520203172238_n

Things haven’t changed much yet, but they’re looking up and I’m hoping to get out to the high tunnel and seed some beds this weekend.

 

 


Leave a comment

Reflecting on Food security from a Jewish Perspective

Friday night I had the honor of participating in an interfaith panel on food security hosted by The Ohio State University Muslim Student Association. My fellow panelists were Sister Dorothy Hassan (Muslim community activist with My Project USA), Bryan Snyder (Director of OSU’s Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation who happened to train as a Christian pastor), and Michelle Kaiser (Professor of Social Work at OSU).

I felt a bit uneasy and ill-prepared to represent the Jewish perspective*, but found in my preparatory reflections, and even more so in sharing them during the event, that I had unique ideas worth sharing. As an urban farmer who thinks of her work, not always but at least sometimes, through a Jewish lens, I wrestled with the questions the panel posed as I pulled together my talking points. These included:

  1. How is food security assessed? What makes an entity “food secure?”
  2. What is the most common misconception surrounding this issue?
  3. How can a community mitigate the stigma surrounding food insecurity?
  4. How does religion aid you in approaching the prospect of food insecurity? (ex. Religiously approved food).
  5. What entity should spearhead the issue of food insecurity?

Honestly these aren’t the kinds of questions I think of regularly in relation to Over the Fence. Mostly when such questions come up I feel guilty that I’m not doing more to help increase healthy, fresh food access to people in Columbus who live on public assistance in food desserts. But thinking about them in relation to Judaism gave me new this to think about and goals to work towards.

All on the panel agreed that food security is not just about having access to calories, but a regularly balanced diet of quality foods. Currently, an overwhelming majority of the USDA budget pays for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps). Seems the USDA ought to be doing more to support entities like OSU and other land grant university’s extension offices, working in partnership with community organizations and farmers to produce more food on the local level. We all agreed that the industrial food system is broken. At Over the Fence we are experimenting with one model for growing food differently, in community, ensuring food security for those who participate in our CSA program in the form of access to high quality food from a known source.

I shared my sense of working in relationship with the natural world as it is informed by Jewish understandings and traditions which celebrate, for example, eating seasonally, attending to the phases of the moon, and recognizing the powerful importance of water. Jewish blessings over food often make mention of the source of particular ingredients in the food being blessed such as wine being the fruit of the vine. While I don’t say them regularly, I appreciate the potential of those blessings to remind us that food doesn’t come from the grocery store; it comes from the earth, with help from the farmers who send it to our plates. At least real food does.

The other thing I thought of as I prepared was the saying, “If you give a person a fish they’ll eat today, teach that person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.” I did some digging and found that the original sentiment of the phrase, though not this familiar wording, dates back to a medieval rabbi, Maimonides (check out Quote Investigator for a complete discussion). As luck would have it, Maimonides, who was born in Spain, did a lot of his work as a physician and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt, working with Muslims as well as Jews. Seemed like the perfect person to talk about at this event.

Maimonides wrote about 8 levels of charity, the highest being helping someone in need help himself. Over time, his ideas were converted into the proverb we’re familiar with today. Seems pretty clear that more people would be more food secure if they controlled the knowledge and tools to produce their own food. I hope that as time goes on Over the Fence can extend our capacity to make that happen. I feel proud of the tours we give and this blog for sharing our work, but I would love to engage in more direct action towards fulfilling the educational aspect of our mission.

*If you’re interested in reading more on this see: “I’m Not Really A Chaplain, I Just Play One to Pay the Bills.”


Leave a comment

Over the Fence @ Pecha Kucha Columbus

Last night I had the honor of sharing a story at the 43rd Pecha Kucha (PK) Columbus. It was based on an experience I had this past spring which I blogged about in Rabbit Roller Coaster.

For those unfamiliar with PK, speakers create 20 slide Powerpoints and set the slide transition timer to 20 seconds. So you have 20 seconds to talk about 20 slides for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Sounds like a nice chunk of time but it flies by!  My presentation wasn’t flawless and I cursed a few too many times, but I’m proud of my efforts. I had a good time and I hope that I got some folks thinking more about where their food comes from and the trials farmers go through to get it to them with my photographs and my remarks.

I’m posting a video of the presentation here for people who couldn’t make it out to the event. I’ll be writing more later about the experience of prepping for and delivering the talk on Art Education Outside the Lines. It was a creative experience I relished and would encourage others to try. Pecha Kucha is a great venue for our stories about farming and how our food gets to people’s plates.

Special thanks to those mentioned in this story including:

Dan Spurgeon – Husband and Co-conspirator

Todd Shriver – Rock Dove Farm

Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse – Foraged & Sown

Milan Karcic – Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm

Jerah Pettibone – Pettibone Urban Game


Leave a comment

Preparing for Persephone

This fall I watched from afar as my students in Texas and Florida prepared for hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I felt powerless to help them, and guilty that my house was standing tall, dry, and coursing with electricity. But as autumn settles into central Ohio, I’m preparing for the coming of another powerful force of nature: the Persephone Days.

IMG_2102

From The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus by Aliki.

I first learned about Persephone Days from Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook (you can read an excerpt here). Put simply, folks who grow food in areas with sub-freezing winter temperatures must think as much about hours of sunlight in planning crop rotations as the cold. The Persephone Days are those with fewer than 10 hours daylight. (See a timetable for your zip code here.) Here in Columbus that means mid-November through late January.

If you plan right -Coleman has lots of recommendations – you can harvest greens and some root vegetables (including the most amazingly sweet winter carrots) grown in the fall and stored in your garden throughout that dark period. Just don’t count on your plants doing much new growing. Coleman suggests things be at least 3/4 of the way to maturity before the coming of Persephone.

I started paying  more serious attention to these dates last fall as we began using our high tunnel and did some winter-sowing for early spring harvest. This year I feel behind. I didn’t get a full crop of fall greens out early enough for our family’s winter harvest, let alone a fall or winter CSA, which has been a goal for the past few years. Looking back on this field report, however,  I realize I am ahead of where I was last year so… I’m learning.

This year I am homeschooling our daughter, Cora, 2 days a week. We have spent the past two months studying ancient history with a strong emphasis on the stories of the Greek gods and goddesses. Through the process I spent more time with Persephone. I got a refresher on her mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest and fertility) and Hades (god of the underworld) who, with permission from her his brother, the all-powerful Zeus, abducted Persephone to keep him company in the underworld. In her loneliness and suffering, Demeter caused a famine. Eventually Persephone was returned to her mother, but because she had eaten four pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she had to return to the land of the dead for four months each year to keep Hades company. We experience these months as winter, the time when nothing grows. (Click here for an extended version of the story told from a contemporary and feminist perspective.)

Unlike the ancient Greeks, I don’t need a story to help me understand why the days are shorter and the nights are colder this time of year. I don’t need one, but it certainly makes things more interesting.