direct from me to you. no review. just posted as I saw it. -in the footsteps of a farmer
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.
* For others interested in exploring the topic, I suggest this comprehensive listing of Jewish Outdoor Food, Farming, and Environmental Education partners.
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 perennials we’ll be selling – Yarrow, Sedum, Aster, Purple Cone Flower, Chives, Bee Balm, Lavender, Lupine, Camomile, Iris – are mostly drought tolerant. This means you won’t have to water them once they are established in your garden. This is good news for forgetful gardeners and those interested in conserving water.
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.
See you at the sale!
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.
Looking forward to hearing all your plans!
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.
So, today we share the news that we were included Feedspot’s list of the 40 best blogs on the web about urban gardening. (We’ve made similar lists in the past. See, for example, 10 Urban Agriculture Projects Making a Difference in Columbus, OH).
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.
So long John. I hope you’ve found Eden.
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.