After a week away, it was good to be back home and at work. Sadly we had ZERO rain, but thanks to our irrigation system, we’re still growing strong.
Another busy week, including our first (and very successful) plant sale and hotter than normal temperatures combined with little rain.
Until next week.
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?
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.
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.
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!
Six word portrait of the day:
Sun shone down on Columbus today.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Like all bloggers, I tend to emphasize our successes in the field. (I did write about some ugly carrots at one point and I stand by my love of fruta feia.) Today I thought I would share a failure.
About 3 weeks ago, we set out some red cabbage starts. You can see them on the bottom right of this image. Looking back on them now, they definitely look like they could have used a few more weeks under the lights inside before transplanting. But, it was warm and the plants on the other side of the tray were ready to go.
Before planting, I consulted folks on the Ohio Homesteaders and Gardeners Facebook group.
As you can see, I wasn’t alone in my poor previous attempts. I took the comments about feeding cabbage well and providing a stable environment to heart and set them out with a nice dousing of fish emulsion and a frost blanket. I should have taken more seriously the post wishing me luck.
I’m sad to those seedlings are not looking great at this point. In the photo below you can see a few (top let and bottom right) which are pretty leggy and have burnt leaves. These were two of the best looking ones I found.
Thankfully, I had some cilantro and boc choi in need of a home so I spent yesterday afternoon interplanting those between a few cabbages that will get one more chance to get going. With overnight temperatures in the 20s expected on and off this week, their outlook is not all that great. I might try starting a few more red cabbage plants before we get much closer to the frost our date. Maybe.
Below is another problem we’re facing. The Napa cabbage we set out the same day as the red is looking good — leafing out and emitting a gorgeous green glow. However, slugs have been feasting on them. Yesterday I set out a few beer traps and hope to find some treats for the chickens later today. This is my first try with this so I’m not sure I did it right. I’ll be sure to report later.
Below is a shot of shows some of the plants that haven’t suffered much from slug attacks (see center row). I believe there’s hope for them yet…
I was recently asked to consider the following questions as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) Women Grow Ohio project. The group’s leaders are putting together a website and plans for a second annual farm tour and wanted input from urban growers to balance out the voices of those in more bucolic settings.
How do you view your title? Are you an urban farmer, homesteader, grower, livestock farmer, gardener, or something other?
The responses shared by others before me were so eloquent. So beautiful. So confident. I felt not only at a loss for words, but humbled to be included in their group.
See this response from Sarah Campbell Taylor, for example:
Well we do call our business Jedidiah Farm. But at the risk of sounding contrary… Even though I grow on a larger suburban plot and do sell my products I don’t consider myself a farmer. I feel like throughout history and even now in many places people have done what I do- working hard to nourish themselves and others, sharing the bounty of their harvest with their community- and not necessarily considered themselves farmers. Maybe because it was just a way of life and didn’t really need a name? I hope that what I am doing won’t be unique for long, and that even people who don’t aspire to be farmers can see something in my lifestyle that they can envision for themselves.
Things I consider myself:
A mom who loves good eats.
A revolutionary (I hope?)
A person with a conscience.
You know the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”? Well I love food. So I grow it and I share it.
When asked if she’d describe her approach “a homesteading lifestyle”, she responded:
Our lifestyle definitely includes homesteading, but I don’t think it encompasses the scope of what we are trying to accomplish because homesteading focuses on self-sufficiency while we our interests lean more towards sustainability, stewardship, community building and regenerative living.
Like Sarah, I named our project Over the Fence Urban Farm but felt a little funny about it for the first few years. Ultimately I called it a farm because it sounded better than Over the Fence Urban Garden. I second guessed my decision repeatedly and felt like a bit of a fraud when visiting larger operations. But, after a few weeks of thinking and living with this question, I am happy to call myself an urban farmer. Here are a few things that ran through my mind that helped me come to this conclusion.
After hardening off approximately 100 spring greens seedlings, I started sprouting another 100.
My yard doesn’t look anything like the (sub)urban lots around me. It looks like a farm. A small farm, yes, but a farm nonetheless.
Through my efforts I am feeding others. Our small, backyard CSA fed 20 families last season. Granted, we didn’t meet all of their produce needs, but we made a healthy contribution.
In the end, like Jedidiah Farm Over the Fence is not just about growing good food. I often refer to it as a community kitchen garden and feeding ourselves and others is certainly at the top of our agenda. But a large part of our mission is developing healthy soil and beneficial insect habitat, educating others to better grow their own gardens, and creative community building (see more on this in “Art Education in My Backyard: Creative Placemaking on an Urban Farm.” I don’t think these things are exclusive of being a farmer. To suggest otherwise ignores the role farmers play in our lives, communities, and ecosystems.