Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Propagating with My Jewish Roots

 

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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, Farming, 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.


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Food for the Bees

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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!


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Columbus Home & Garden Show Giveaway!

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!


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Top 40 Urban Gardening Blogs on the Planet

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).

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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!


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Remembering a Mentor: JCV

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.

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Field Notes 6.19.17

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.

Napa cabbage was ready for harvest and Father’s Day cole slaw.

We’re continuing to enjoy scallions from various sites around the farm.

Roots are starting to come in

We harvested about 20 pounds of potatoes, from volunteer plants!

The last of the radicchio came out of this bed which is now interplanted with with a heat tolerant Sparx Romaine, ginger, Red Russian kale that is still going strong.

Another bed where we’re trying intensive intercropping. Here shallots, basil, and tomatoes.

These winter sown onions are just about ready. (Wish we had about ten times more than we do!)

Peas making way for lima beans as winter sown carrots make way for more carrots.

Hot temperatures meet sprouted ginger!

Mustard went to seed while we were away. So long…

Flowers are coming in to brighten everyone’s day!


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Field Report: April 16, 2017

Another busy week, including our first (and very successful) plant sale and hotter than normal temperatures combined with little rain.

 

 

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And neither does the tatsoi.

Until next week.