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.
This year we’re hosting the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club. I’m excited to be working in the soil with kids–seeing what works with little hands and lots of little bodies and what doesn’t.
The club currently has 8 members and we’ve had two meetings so far. We’ll be meeting formally ever other week, with some informal meetups and effort by Cora and other kids from our CSA in between to keep things growing. I have made a pact with myself to not work in the garden without at least one child present aside from watering.
Here are a few highlights from this week’s session.
Upon arrival, all members, including our youngest age 4.5, sign themselves in. This small gesture is a first step in giving the kids ownership of their time in the garden.
As I was setting up and getting my head together for our time together, I thought about how to bring the kids who missed the session (5 of 8!) up to speed on what they missed. I pulled out a composition book and started a garden club log. We’ll use this to keep track of what we do each session and I’ll record anything that happens when they are not around in the journal to give them a sense of what’s happening when they aren’t around. Each week, during our welcome time, we’ll review what happened the previous session and the interim. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for Week 1. The next pages included lists of everything we planted: transplants, seeds, and the volunteers we found on the site.
After the review, we went over the days agenda which I’ve been writing on a white board.
I planned for us to weed and then label plants but the moment we stepped into the space I realized that was backwards. We sat back down and the kids enthusiastically made labels to mark the plants we already had in place. Then we went back inside the gate, reviewed some of the common weeds we found – grass, sorrel (which we tasted and left a bit around for future snacking, and ground ivy.
We adopted a weed, seed, feed mantra for our work sessions. So, following some light weeding session, we spread compost and dug some fertilizer in around the tomatoes. We also planted a few seeds we hadn’t gotten in the ground the week before.
We ended the session with a scavenger hunt over the fence on the farm. The kids got to pick and taste a spectrum of things from sweet strawberries to spicy radishes. Not surprisingly, there were mixed reviews.
City Council Member Elizabeth Brown stopped by for a visit recently. I invited her over to “put her eyeballs on the land” as my friend Chris would say. The council is currently finalizing the Columbus Green Business & Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan, the focus which “is to enable, support, and grow green businesses and urban agriculture facilities within the City of Columbus (p. vi).” While a plan isn’t policy, but I’d like to think its progress.
After meetings with the OSU Franklin County Extension’s Columbus Urban Farmers Network, I have a developing awareness of the plan and some related efforts (See: Green Memo III and City of Columbus Food Action Plan). However, I still have a lot more questions than understanding, and I’m still unsure how such the plan will relate to my objectives and activities at Over the Fence. What is clear, however, is a need for advocacy for the work we and our friends on other growing sites in town are doing. As a group, the network has discussed communicating with elected officials about the work we are doing, sharing our triumphs and discussing our challenges. I saw the GBUA plan as a doorway, an invitation to a conversation with stakeholders and I was ready to knock on it.
Planning the visit with Elizabeth’s aides over email I confessed that I didn’t really know how to plan for our meeting. I wrote: “I’ve never done anything like this before so if you have any advice, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just plan to show her around, let her ask a few questions, and share a few of mine.” They said a tour and conversation would be great so when she arrived I took her out back.
My biggest regret from our visit happened at this moment. We stepped inside the gate, took a pause for an initial lay-of-the-land view and that’s where we stayed for the next half an hour. NOTE TO SELF: WALK FOLKS INTO THE SPACE, DON’T STOP AT THE GATE! The farm is an immersive experience. In order to get a sense of its magnitude, you must walk the rows and look at the variety of things growing. You can’t just peek over the fence, you must cross the threshold and step inside. Fortunately I convinced Elizabeth to harvest a little spinach before she left (joking that it would make a good photo op for us both – see below). So she had a moment in the space but next time around I’m going to make sure the tour is more active.
Elizabeth asked what policy makers could do to help folks like me and what they do that gets in the way. I reported that while I have supportive neighbors who are happy to see my farm from their backyards, others are not so lucky. Our city’s complaint-driven zoning enforcement means someone like me – a white, middle-class woman living in Clintonville (a progressive neighborhood) – can do pretty much whatever I want as long as I clean up my toys at the end of the day and don’t turn the radio up too high. Other friends north and east of here have had to talk to police summoned by neighbors who felt inappropriate things were happening, like vegetable plants in the front yard, chickens in the back. Should one of my neighbors sell their house and a new, not-so-hip-to-urban-farming individual move in, I might find myself in a different situation. I’d like to know that the folks downtown has my back, that there are some regulations in place that will protect my efforts from any one individual who might not be into what I’m doing.
Beyond my general concerns about some unknown the future, I am concerned about growing my operations and encouraging others to start similar projects. The latter is a prime objective of mine. I’d like to see a farm like ours on every block of the city, with neighbors working together to feed one another. But, as far as I understand, under current zoning rules, a CSA (community supported agriculture) endeavor is considered a business and therefore not permitted off a residential lot like ours. Elizabeth and I discussed the complications of rezoning a single lot as agricultural and the possibility of some sort of permit or certificate to operate a small scale farm like ours as a business on a residential plot.
I’ve had a few other thoughts since Elizabeth was here. One relates to water. We’ve been having major dry spells this spring and I’ve had to water the plants a lot. I am still hoping to have a deduct meter installed so we don’t have to pay sewer fees on water we use on the farm, but that is a process that involves not only installation but also certification with the city’s Public Utilities office. From what I have heard, the city has not made this process easy for folks in the past. I wonder if the GBUA plan can help us get some kind of urban farmer water policy and practices put into place. For instance, if residents have water restrictions placed on us during a drought, could we have a variance to water our crops to keep them alive?
I hope more folks trying to make a living growing food in Columbus will get in touch with Elizabeth and other members of the council to keep the conversation going. Mine is only one perspective, one experience in urban agriculture, and I think it’s important for policy makers to hear, and to see first hand, the spectrum of activities being done in Columbus in the name of urban agriculture.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last field report. I’ve started and saved this field report with three different dates. It’s gotten longer and longer every time and its time to let it go!
Made my first restaurant sale! 11lbs of greens to Rooks Tavern. Chef Aaron was a great customer. Flexible and appreciative. Not sure when I’ll get back down there again, but at least now I have an idea of how the wholesale thing works.
Carrots and radishes coming up where cucumbers will eventually dwell. Radish is supposed to repel cucumber beetles, one of my greatest nemeses! Will report more later on the results of this little experiment.
Visited with Columbus City Council member Elizabeth Brown to talk about the City of Columbus Green Business and Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan. This deserves a blog post of its own. Will get to that ASAP!
Beyond thrilled to be planting the majority of our sweet taters at our friends’ Melissa and Andrew’s new place, our farm annex this year. I’ve missed being in the garden with them, so much. If ever there were folks who wanted a BIG garden in their yard its these two and I’m so psyched to see them get growing.
I’ve been going out at night to hunt slugs. Seems to be making an impact on the cabbage patch. Next up, strawberries…
This is Leo.
In February, he wrote me this email:
Hi my name is Leo and I’m currently a freshman at Ohio State. I happened to find the Facebook page for Over the Fence Urban Farm, and immediately knew it was something I wanted to support. I’m originally from Hawaii, where through school trips and community service opportunities I was able to go to and help out at multiple local organic farms. I would love to be able to come and help out in your garden. Please email me back with any info regarding ways I can help.
I wrote back and let him know things would get going in March and gave him a rough idea of what days of the week might be good to come around. Low and behold, the first week in March, he got back in touch! He wanted to try to come around before he left for spring break. Things didn’t work out that week, but once he was back in town and completed his midterms, he reached out again. We went back and forth for a month and a half until, yesterday, we connected, just days before he leaves for summer recess.
Leo showed up on time. He was enthusiastic about what we’re doing here – asked questions, shared stories from his own experiences, smiled, helped with the chores, played with the chickens, and took a big bag of greens back to the dorm to make a salad for his friends.
Thank you, Leo. Thank you for reaching out and keeping in touch. Thank you for giving me hope for the future at a time when so many things in our country and around the world seem to be upside down and falling to pieces. Thank you for being a mensch. Have a great break and we’ll see you again in August!
(If you’d like to read more about young people working on the farm in this post from last summer, “Help from Abroad.”)
Happy Earth Day. Thanks for making this visit to the farm part of your celebrations. It’s cloudy today in Columbus. These photos were taken yesterday afternoon when it was a perfect combination of sunny and cool. The way spring ought to be.
This is a post dedicated to local greens geeks everywhere.
Napa cabbage. Interesting to see how it is doing up against various companions. Parsley and yarrow seem to be the winners.
Loads and loads of lettuce.
Garlic up front with radish, carrots, peas, and parsley in the back.
Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.
Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.
Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.
Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.
Trimming and thinning recycling team.
Another busy week, including our first (and very successful) plant sale and hotter than normal temperatures combined with little rain.
Until next week.