Well, the entire 2021 season has come and gone and I haven’t posted anything in this space. That last offering was about flowers (see Cultivating a Love of Flowers) and those were one of the few things that did really well this year. Guess this proves the notion that you get what you give. I put energy towards flowers in the spring and we reaped the benefits. That said, and despite everything I wrote in the spring about developing an appreciation for flowers, you can’t eat them, at least not enough for a balanced diet.
As always, I felt inspired to write, there was plenty on my mind. I maintained our social media feeds so at least there is some record there of what transpired. But it was a hard year. Global weirding was in full effect and we saw long periods of super hot and dry weather alternating with lots of rain and spells of unseasonable cool. My energy and enthusiasm waned – I didn’t go out to work as much as I used to or organize CSA work sessions as regularly as in the past. More wild animals came to dine at our salad bar than ever, causing crop failure on multiple fronts. And we saw diseases, like tomato mosaic virus, I’d only read about before.
So, I can’t say I’m completely sad it’s October. We’re cleaning up and looking to the future. But this time I’m playing a long game. Last month, at the Jewish holiday of Rosh haShanah, an official shmita year began. Some readers will remember this is the seventh year biblical sabbatical called for in the Torah of Jews living in the land in Israel. I planned to take my own shmita year in the summer of 2019 as it was out 7th farm season (see: Embracing Persephone: My Shmita Year). That plan was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic and I see 2021-22 (5782 on the Jewish calendar) as a second chance to take a much needed break.
As I look back on the year gone by and start to imagine the next seven, I have a few things I’m genuinely thankful for. Blessings worth noting and planning to make a part of our work moving forward.
First, Thanks to all the people who sent messages and photos of how the farm impacted your lives! From produce you turned into hot sauces, cocktail mixers, and new sandwich toppers to the seedlings you took home, nurtured, and enjoyed I’m grateful for your new ideas and appreciations. It’s so great to know what happens to the bio-mass we put out into the world.
Second, thanks to everyone who hosted me for farm and garden visits this year. From old friends to new acquaintances, to strangers I didn’t get to meet, I’m inspired by your work in rural and urban spaces throughout Central Ohio and beyond. Here are a few of the highlights.
Thanks also to those who visited the farm and reminded me its not like everyone else’s backyard. Where I saw mess, you saw magic. Where I saw what could be, you saw what was. Thank you for coming to sit by the fire pit for a chat, thank you for leading yoga classes in the driveway, thank you for sending your children to us for camp, and thank you for following us on social media and letting us know what we are doing is helping you see possibilities in your own spaces.
And finally, we circle back to the flowers. Thank Gaia for the flowers. I didn’t count the number of bouquets I cut this season, but I know it was a lot. As our friend Julian recently suggested, each one was a love song of sorts – a collection sown, grown, and gathered with love. And as our friend and yoga instructor Emily suggested, flowers offer us an opportunity to pay attention, to cultivate our mindful presence as we work to navigate and co-create new normals. That’s something I hope to do a lot of between now and Fall 2022. You may or may not hear much from me between now and then but I’ll look forward to being with you on the other side.
I came to flowers later in my gardening life. I cut my teeth growing edibles. As a new gardener, I had a set of self-proclaimed black thumbs, little knowledge, a limited amount of resources, and couldn’t fathom why anyone would spend time cultivating plants that couldn’t be eaten. What was the point of flowers, really?
I soon learned how important flowers are to a healthy vegetable garden – and which ones can be eaten! As Lisa Mason Ziegler teaches, Vegetables Love Flowers. And so do bees and birds and other bugs that help our ecosystems thrive.
The year we started the farm, following a lesson on pollinators during the OSU Master Urban Farmer training program, I planted a bee highway in two beds that stretched across the farm east to west. Many of the plants were native perennials I purchased through the Worthington Gardening Club – Aster, Coneflower, Bee Balm, Sedum. Over time I added more; Yarrow and Columbine, Chives, Coreopsis and Black-Eyed Susan to name a few.
When those plants outgrew themselves, I started dividing them and selling the offspring to generate additional funds for our work. At our first sale in 2017, I sold maybe 100 plants.
Fast forward five years and we have over 40 different types of seedlings for sale and have partnered with our fabulous friend Bernadett Szabo who grows mostly medicinal and culinary herbs. I’ve expanded my offerings beyond native and perennial flowering plants to annuals as well.
Over my time on the farm I’ve come to realize flowers have lots of purposes. In addition to supporting pollinators and adding color to the landscape, people love to give and receive flowers. Flowers bring people joy. They make an occasion feel special. Our CSA members enjoy receiving bouquets alongside their edibles, and the community has supporting the farm and other nonprofits through additional sales.
At a sale I had last fall – “Buy the flowers before the frost kills them!” – a women who purchased a bouquet turned me onto Lisa Mason Ziegler’s work. In addition to her treatise on companion planting mentioned above, she has a ton of resources on extending the flower growing season. She even partnered with Johnny’s Seeds, like Eliot Coleman before her, to offer tutorials and recommendations on seeds and other supplies for growing Cool Flowers.
Late winter and early spring have been so much richer since I started growing seedlings a decade ago. Indoor seed starting gives me months more pleasure watching things germinate and tending to plant babies in the nursery. This year was no different. I started right around New Year’s and now the basement seeding station and high tunnel are packed with product for our 5th Annual Pollinator Lovers’ Plant Sale with Bernadett’s Farmacy and starts for our CSA.
I feel at once like the soundtrack for my life in this moment could be Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle Again” and The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun’.” This time of year is really busy on the farm and it’s also a time of rising up from winter’s slumber. We’re savoring the last days of “soup season” and enjoying the bright fresh herbs and greens. I’m working on this idea of holding conflicting ideas in my head at once. It’s a theme that seems to keep popping up for me.
All that to say that I’m happy it’s spring. Very happy. And I’m finding it harder than usual to dust off the tools and get to work.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been out back every day since mid-February tinkering, seeding, propagating, turning, pruning, spraying, moving. I am so grateful, once again, to have the privilege to work the patch of land we are currently stewarding. And, I’m really starting to feel my age – physically and mentally. I move a little slower and with more creaks than when we got this started and I’m more hesitant to put my ideas out in the world. Not quite sure whom I want to commit to being at the moment.
We are all coming out of our Covid-chrysalides and figuring out who we will be now. It’s an incredible opportunity, and incredibly terrifying.
One thing that’s helping me build inspiration for the growing season is visiting friends’ farms. Last year was really isolating. Farming is already pretty isolating but I really missed farm visits. I didn’t realize how much.
Last week I got to visit Rachel Tayse at Harmonious Homestead and Bernadett Szabo at the new location of Bernadett’s Farmacy. It was so energizing. If you have the chance, go visit a local farm or gardening friend in the next few weeks. Share your plans, ask questions, just look. Here are a few of my highlights.
Where are you finding inspiration? I can always use more.
This past winter, Hadassah magazine ran an article titled, “My Daughter the Farmer.” If you have a Jewish mother, you won’t be surprised to learn my mom (lovingly) urged me to read it. When I did, I was drawn down a rabbit hole into the world of Jewish farmers and food educators. I had some idea of the Jewish environmental movement, particularly the concept of eco-kashrut, but the details were fuzzy. The article provided stories of individuals and links to organizations* bridging the gap between ancient Jewish wisdom about connecting with, dwelling in, and tending the earth and contemporary issues around sustainability and access.
As a result, I joined the Jewish Farmer Network on Facebook and began using Jewish hashtags on Instagram in order to connect with a new set of growers and community activists. In August I clicked on a link and applied for a scholarship to attend the Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) Network Gathering. A few weeks ago I was notified that I received the award and made plans to travel to the retreat, in the woods north of Detroit.
I didn’t start farming with Jewish values in mind. I am actively wrestling with the distinction Adrienne Krone, a scholar of religious studies cited in the Hadassah article, makes “between Jewish farmers and farmers who happen to be Jewish.” But when I stop to think about it, being Jewish is a huge part of my identity as an Earthling, and the Jewish values I was raised with are always with me. Growing up kosher made me actively aware of what I eat from an early age. In some ways it seems natural that I became a vegetarian as an adolescent, a cook in my twenties, and a gardener in my thirties.
But through the farm, specifically as it relates to environmental stewardship and social engagement around issues of sustainability and self-reliance, I have come to new questions and new understandings of what it means to mean to be Jewish and new ways to engage Jewish thought and practice. The JOFEE gathering showed me that I had only scratched the surface. I met too many amazing people, was exposed to too many new ideas, and experienced too many ineffable things to describe them all here. This winter I’ll find more time to reflect and write about them. I hope to also – and wrote about this in my scholarship application – find ways to share them with my kehilah (my Jewish community) here in Columbus.
Thursday, I joined other JOFEE participants in Detroit on an urban farm tour. I was excited for this opportunity to check out a scene that I heard referenced many times in conversations with other urban farmers in Columbus. I joined the tour late but got to check out three sites – Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, Coriander Kitchen & Farm, and Keep Growing Detroit (clockwise from left below).
While my time at each site was brief, it was great to get my eyes on new land. It is truly astounding how much of this once densely populated city has been razed and how much vacant greenspace there is. I got a personal tour and some history while driving Keep Growing Detroit’s Eitan Sussman back to his car after the tour ended. Through our conversation I learned that while the Detroit community gardening and farm scene is thriving, it’s still hard for farmers to earn a living doing this work. In addition, Billy, the farm manager at Oakland Park shared that it’s hard to get fresh food into people’s kitchens even when it’s free.
I left Detroit and drove about an hour north to Tamarack Camp in Ortonville. Tamarack is a beautiful 1,500 acre Jewish sleepaway camp and retreat facility. I didn’t realize how much I needed a few days in the woods with spotty cell phone service. The night I arrived, the temperature dropped into the 40s for the first time this fall. Facing the brisk breeze, with not quite the right clothes, added to my sense of being on retreat. It forced me to pay attention to my body and the very air I was breathing in ways I might not have had it been a bit warmer.
The program provided many options for networking over communal prayer, study, and meals. The current political and environmental crises we face were ever-present, particularly last week’s United Nations intergovernmental report on climate change. It was comforting to be in communion with people who not only care deeply about this news, but are working, and encouraging others, to respond to the predictions.
While I can’t say I have figured out what it means to me to be a Jewish farmer, I came home ripe with things to think about and new intentions for of approaching my work on the land and in the community I tend alongside our plants and poultry. How can I make the earth under my feet the promised land? What would it mean to create forms of restraint that feel delicious? What do I love about living on Earth? How can I feel and express gratitude throughout my days? How can we increase our grit and resiliency? How can we connect with the inter-breathing spiring of the world?
While few of our CSA members are Jewish, we can all use some healing and I hope to find ways to do that on and through the farm in the coming years.
NOTE: I’m grateful to all the folks here in CBus who helped hold down the fort and farm while I was gone. This post is dedicated to them and everyone else who continues to support my exploration of the edges and overlaps of Over the Fence and other aspects of my life.
April 14th we’ve hosting our Second Annual Pollinator Lovers’ Plant Sale & Open House. In addition to making a few bucks for the farm and our friends at Red Oak Community School, we use this sale to share some of what we’ve learned about feeding the bees and butterflies that help feed us by pollinating our plants. This year we’re offering a buffet of perennials and annuals. This post offers a bit of a shopping guide for people who are coming to our sale.
First, I remember when I was first getting into gardening I didn’t know the difference between a perennial and annual. Perennials are plants that come back each spring after a winter of hibernating, annuals need to be replanted each year.
The annuals we’re selling – Cilantro, Parsley, Calendula, Safflower, Forget-me-Not, Sun Ball, Gilia Globe – include herbs and flowers which provide food for us as well as the bees and other cutting flowers. Generally, annuals need more attention than perennials, including more food and water.
The second important thing to consider when planting for the bees is flower timing. Ideally, you want to have things blooming throughout the season to keep the bees coming to your yard. Here’s an example from spring through fall: Chives –> yarrow –> calendula –> purple coneflower –> bee balm –> sedum –> aster. Use the links above to find combinations that might work for you.
One final note, once bees find a place to feed they like to return, and bring their friends! So placing varieties of plants in groups can help you not only attract the bees, but keep them around. In other words, consider buying more than one plant of each variety you choose and spacing them close together in your garden.
The Columbus Dispatch sent me tickets give to readers for the 2018 Home and Garden Show (February 17-25 at the Ohio Expo Center). I haven’t been to the show before but there are some interesting events planned. I’ll plan on attending with some farm friends February 19th when the Columbus Metropolitan Library is on site for some special presentations. And I will be sure to share what I see and learn, here and on our Facebook page.
If you would like a pair (2) of tickets, leave a comment below sharing something new you plan to do in 2018 to connect you the local food system. Are you adding something new to your own food garden, joining a CSA (you can read about ours here), buying local meats and honey…
I select two winners at random on February 16th and arrange for ticket pick-up.
Groucho Marx famously declared he didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. In similar fashion, I’m not usually one for superlatives and am uncomfortable with praise, but every once in awhile it’s nice to be validated.
I appreciate Feedspot’s metrics and they give us some idea of what we’ve done well in the past with regard to sharing our work in the field with folks online. I know people around the world are reading about us through this blog and I hope we are inspiring others as we were inspired by our mentors (here in Columbus, across the country, and around the world. The metrics (see blow) also serve as a reminder of what we need to do to keep our momentum going.
Google reputation and Google search ranking
Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
Quality and consistency of posts.
Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review
I promise to keep posting to this space and hope you will keep reading!
Whenever I give a tour of the farm, as I did last Sunday for a group of folks who came out for our leg of the Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series, I talk about a friend who helped convert me from a black-thumbed New Yorker to a green-thumbed Ohioan.
That man was John Vogel.
John was an Ohio State trained landscape horticulturist who offered me some of my first lessons on identifying and growing plants. He taught me how to lift sod – which became my obsession for a time – leading to a complete overhaul of our yard, including, eventually, Over the Fence Urban Farm. John implored me to pull a weed whenever I saw one. “Don’t plan to come back and get it later, you never will.” This is a lesson that plagues me – the weeds are never all gone! – but has also helped me keep the farm looking like something my (sub)urban neighbors don’t mind living next door to.
John left us last week without warning. I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye. I’m sorry I didn’t share more of my harvest with him. I hope he knew that without him none of it would have been possible.