Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Checking In: First Tertile Shimta Report

[Quick a first note on the title. Did you know “tertile” is the name for a third of a year? Or a third of any whole for that matter. I didn’t. Now we do.]

Dormant fig tree surrounded by rosemary bushes.
Pearlstone Retreat Center( Reisterstown, MD)

Well, a lot’s happened since my last post in which I announced that I was taking this season off from growing for our CSA. Click here to go back and read all about that announcement. In short, this is the seventh season for our little farm and, according to ancient Jewish wisdom tradition, we, and the land, are entitled to a sabbatical year. Back in November, I determined to take the break, since then I have gained a lot more clarity around why, and what the year off will look like.

As I said, we’re taking the year off from the CSA. Thus far that’s meant no member signups to manage and no crop planning to fill those orders. It also means no money coming into the farm account and mounting fears that I won’t remember what I’m doing when I get back to farming next year. But I’m also enjoying getting to know myself again and in new ways – reading lots of books, practicing yoga more regularly, and working to be more present in my interactions with people. The hope, of course, is that I will make these new habits that I can carry out of the year with me into the future.

I spent a good chunk of this first tertile studying about shmita and setting the parameters for my year. Since I am not mandated to observe the practice — Jews outside of Israel are exempt per Torah — and since I’m actively Reconstructing Judaism to fit my life, needs, and desires, I figure it’s my choice how I want to mark the year. I am also finding that some of the lines I initially drew for myself are fuzzier than others. I’m erasing and replacing them as time goes on. It’s a work in progress. Which feels right.

A sabbatical is about release, but not complete rest. As the academic is freed from teaching in order to pursue research, I am free from the cultivation of food in order to cultivate values. It’s time to think about what’s really important to me in the work I’ve been doing here, where I am, and where I want to go in the future.

So far I’ve re-learned that community is key to my project. The following are a few examples.

This past tertile I shared teachings on shmita with my Jewish community here in Columbus and at an international gathering of Jewish Famers. Ironically the conference, the first for the Jewish Farmer Network, was called “Cultivating Culture.” Through these talks, I was building myself a community of support for the break.

For a few reasons, I decided to hold my annual spring plant sale. The sale brings a lot of people to the farm to see our growing space and get inspiration. The plants we send out into the word are nearly all grown to support pollinators in our community. That’s important work that can’t take a break. The bees and their friends need us. In addition, while growing seedlings requires me a bit of work, it’s not much and it’s indoors which means our soil is still getting the reset it deserves.

I also decided to have the sale because I’ve come to realize I have become addicted to having something to tend. The winter gets long, even a mild one like we had this year, and by January I was itching to put seeds in soil and watch them grow. I’m sure this says something also about my inability to be still, I’m more a walking/moving meditator than a sitting Buddha, and perhaps I should have forced myself to feel the absence of seedling season, but I didn’t. Maybe in 2027. (Incidentally, I wrote about my seedling growing practice recently for Mother Earth News.)

I will be hosting the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club. For many of the same reasons as the sale. I’m happy to have the kids and their parents around and look forward to the field trips we’ll be taking as they fit nicely with my shimta goal of getting out and seeing other operations while I have the time.

And finally, I will be growing some food for me and my family and a few close friends and long-time CSA members. This was my latest decision and one I didn’t make lightly. Keeping our farm community going was part of the decision as was the COVID-19 virus which has me thinking about food security. With the threat of ongoing disruptions to all sorts of distribution channels, I just can’t justify not making plans to take care of ourselves. Just as I’m stockpiling coffee and toilet paper, I’m prepping produce for harvest. One could argue we should relaunch the CSA, echoing more loudly than ever the legacy of the Victory Garden movement. If things continue to go downhill perhaps we will. But in the meantime, if you have a patch of earth you can plant, do it. Then tend it as closely as you do your hand-washing routine.


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Embracing Persephone: My Shmita Year

Today is the start of Persephone Days in Central Ohio; we are about to dip below ten hours of sunlight per day, the darkest time of the year. Many of us feel this darkness deep within ourselves as we head towards the Winter Solstice. (For more on Persephone as she relates to farming practices and Greek Mythology, go back and read Preparing for Persephone.).

This time for slowing down seems as appropriate as any to publicly announce that Over the Fence Urban Farm’s CSA program will be on hiatus for the 2020 season. I have declared this year my shmita year.

Shmita is rooted in Jewish wisdom tradition. Various times the Torah makes mention of this as a sabbath for the land. Just as Shabbat (the seventh day of each week) offers us a day for complete rest and reflection, shmita offers year of release.  

The practice is outlined in the book of Exodus when, before Moses led the Jews into the land of Israel after their forty years of wandering, he agreed to a covenant with YHVH (aka G?d, aka the divine presence in the universe that exists within and between all things, aka you fill in the blank): after six years of growing on and harvesting from the land, farmers would be required to let their fields go fallow. It was an agreement made in recognition of the importance of the land and with reverence for its power and potential.

Questions abound as to whether or not shmita was ever observed as outlined in the Torah. Along with the year off for the land, Jews were called upon to relieve debts and release slaves. Humans, being the self-serving animals that we are – even those of us with the best of intentions – find it hard to let go of material possessions once we have them. And so, early on work-arounds were created to protect assets and income, for example transferring land possession to non-Jews for the shmita year.

Historically, Shmita was required only of Jews living in the land of Israel. (Even there, only the most Orthodox observe it.) It was deemed an undue burden on those living elsewhere and according to Orthodoxy, such requirements are forbidden. However, 21st century Jewish environmentalists in Israel and around the world are finding inspiration in shmita. As we face the challenges of climate crisis and related issues of social justice, we ask what can shmita teach us? How can it help guide us to live our lives in respect and appreciation for the land and all it provides?

For me, as a part-time urban farmer who often finds herself juggling a one million and one responsibilities, I was drawn to shmita as an excuse to take a break. After six years of racing around balancing my work as an art educator, homeschooler, non-profit board member, and urban farmer running a community-supported agriculture project out of my backyard, I am exhausted. I am ready for a sabbatical and grateful to Jewish wisdom tradition for offering me permission to take a break. I need time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go next.

I am also convinced that the land needs a rest. The kind of intensive agriculture I practice—in which a single bed may host as many as 4 rotations of crops per season—is taxing on the soil. This past season was so dry the land really suffered. I hope a year off, a year in which I feed the soil with deep layers of mulch rather than demand produce from it, might pay off in the years that follow. If what the Torah says is true we’ll be set for two years if we take this one off. If not set in food to eat, re-set mentally, spiritually.

2020 is not an official shmita year. But it is my seventh season on the farm and so I’m making it my sabbatical year. Some might not find this kosher, but they’re not in charge around here. I am.

In my shmita year, I would like to explore (without working too hard and ruining the whole point of my break) the possibility of sharing shmita with others. I’ll be sure to share ways to stay connected with this project in this space as it unfolds. Feel free to also leave comments below or email me with your comments and questions.

Peace out. Namaste. Shalom.

jodiK


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A New Place to Find Ideas from Over the Fence

Last month I started blogging for Mother Earth News. If you aren’t familiar with MOTHER, it’s a lifestyle publication with about 1.5 million subscribers that’s been around since 1970. It promotes conscientious living in various aspects of life, including organic foods, country living, green transportation, renewable energy, natural health, and green building. Launched the same year as the first Earth Day celebrations, the publication became a space for provoking further thought and action around the burgeoning environmental movement in the United States. Today’s readers still include environmentalists and politically and socially progressive homesteaders but also preppers and others survivalists.

I can’t remember when I started subscribing nor who or what inspired me to do so, but it’s introduced me to many great ideas and mentors over the years: Eliot Coleman the godfather of season extension, Ann Ralph on growing small fruit trees, Ruth Stout’s deep mulching methods, backyard chicken keeping, and companion planting to name a few.

A neighbor who’s a fan of the farm and MOTHER reader has been bending my ear for a few years about sharing our work with a wider audience. He suggested I reach out to the magazine about writing for them. I thought he was nuts but I finally sent an email to the editors and received a blogger application. I’m still feeling this gig out – it’s unpaid so I’m not sure who really won since I’m now providing free content to Ogden Publications, but I’m still really excited to be part of this legacy, sharing my ideas and advice with a wider audience.

Click here for a list of my published posts.


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Recognition of our Indigenous Past

With each year that passes we become a bit more aware of the painful truths that make up our collective national history. Last year, our mayor announced that Columbus, OH would no longer celebrate Columbus Day. Sadly, the change didn’t go so far as to adopt the name Indigenous People’s Day. We hope that in the future, the Columbus will consider such a move; honoring those whose ways of life were cut short by European colonization.

As we try to live in harmony with the Earth here on the farm, we work to reestablish a connection with the land which pays it respect as the native peoples did. And today we offer this land acknowledgement:

We, Over the Fence Urban Farm wish to acknowledge and honor the indigenous communities native to this region, and recognize that our host city, Columbus, OH and Clintonville neighborhood were built on indigenous homelands and resources. Today we recognize and pay our humble respect to the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware, who stewarded this land for generations.


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OTFUF Supports Local Matters

Five years ago, The Spurgeon General and I attended our first Local Matters Harvest Ball. We bought tickets to the event to force ourselves out of the house to which we’d been tethered for some years by our love children – one human, the other agricultural.

That night we learned about the organization behind the bumper stickers as we wined, dined, and danced. Each year since we have become more invested in the mission of this organization that partners with so many central Ohio organizations working on issues of food security, health and wellness.

This year, we donated $1,000, about 1/4 of our CSA proceeds, and challenged our friends and followers on Facebook to match us. While we didn’t meet our goal of $1,000 in a weekend, we got pretty darn close. Check one more box in the “Hope for Future” column. (Click through the link for another example from OTFUF history.)


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End of Season Report – Kids Garden Club

It’s been a tough season on the farm. July into August was SUPER hot and SUPER dry. It was hard to get our CSA members motivated to come out and work. It was hard to get myself motivated to work.

A shining point was the Kids Garden Club, subsidized by the Clintonville Farmers Market. After three seasons leading the group, I felt like I hit my stride. We had a few established traditions to build on and fresh faces and energy to keep things interesting.

Yesterday I received a thank you note validating my feelings. This parent and her child showed up the second week of club and when I asked, “How did you find out about the program?” she told me she saw a picture of a friend’s child holding one of our chickens and she was sold.

She wrote, “When I signed H up on a whim after seeing a friend’s Facebook post, I figured she would get a little hands-on experience…. Instead, she got something much better; she learned (through fun!) about the many ways food gets to her plate. Your approach—field trips to local farms, stories, marketing lessons, talking to the kids like the intelligent, creative beings they are—made this an exceptional experience. Watching the kids debate the charity they would designate their remaining funds to was one of the best moments in democratic debate I’ve seen in some time. So thank you, thank you. I wish every child could experience this club. I firmly believe it would make our community, nation, and world a better place.”

Oh my god. So lovely. And just the validation I needed at this time in the season, and with big changes happening in other parts of my life.

Here are a few snapshots of the final third of our season. For more check out Season 3: Kids Garden Club and Update on CFM Kids Club.

We wrapped up our field trip circuit with a late July visit to Mother’s Peace Urban Farm located just a few blocks from us. As we walked through an ocean of zinnias in Fawn’s backyard, it dawned on me just how incredible it is to share with kids (and their parents) different ways to make use of one’s greenspace. We’re privileged to have land at our disposal and it still amazes me to imagine all the possibilites for using it beyond a boring patch of grass.

Fawn also talked with the kids about her bee hives and showed them some of the tools she uses (and generously lets me borrow from time to time).

Our second sale at the market was a success! At the meeting prior to the sale we reviewed and expanded on ideas for how to engage customers and lure them into our booth. One of the kids suggested tap dancing chickens which we all found hilarious. When she arrived for her shift the morning of the sale, she was disappointed I didn’t have any with me. Without hesitation, she stepped out in front of our table and started singing and tapping her feet. It was a riot and definitely got us some attention.

The kids sold out of everything we brought to market – tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, flowers, garlic, peppers, flowers, and zucchini banana bread. They earned over $175 between the two sales, half of which was spent on an end of season pizza and ice cream party (before you start wondering what kind of garden club this is, there was also garden salad and veggie snacks!) and a donation to the Ohio Wildlife Center.

I had a wonderful time getting to know these kids and seeing them open up over the course of the season. And I’ll look forward to seeing them, and their folks, around the neighborhood.


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Tomato Photo Dump

Tomatoes are the number one crop grown in home gardens. For many, they are synonymous with summer. However, folks who grow tomatoes know it takes until at least the 4th of July before our latitude sees a harvest.

Since we got started, we’ve grown A LOT of tomatoes. This is the time of year our kitchen, and my phone, gets jammed with them. Here’s a few selections of what we’ve gathered so far this season.


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Update on CFM Kids Club

The Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club is having a great season. In late June we visited Swainway Urban Farm’s indoor growing facility for our second field trip. The kids were interested to see how Joseph mimics natural temperature fluctuations and creates humid conditions that encourage mycelium to fruit into mushrooms, even if most of the kids said they had no desire to eat them. The parents, on the other hand, were all drooling at the sight of the oyster, shitake, and chestnut mushrooms we saw.

As we moved from the mushroom tunnels to the microgreens grow room, Joseph surprised the kids when he announced, “Please don’t pet the greens!” But as soon as we were inside, we all understood the nature of his request. Trays full of thousands of tiny plants sat under grow lights, glowing like pillows of moss in the forest, begging to be touched. Joseph described his schedule for germinating and growing the greens as well as the rich compost he makes with the potting soil and roots they leave behind.

Honestly, this tour was a little tough for the kids because it was inside, in a small space. But I’m glad we went. I’m glad they got to see that people are growing food professionally in spaces like this. With climate change, more people are talking about the future of indoor farming.

And, this trip offered a clear example of how this club benefits parents, not just their kids. Some asked if they could join the outing even while their kids’ were away at camp or visiting relatives. They had a desire to peek behind the curtain at one of the longest growing and commercially successful farmers in Clintonville. I don’t blame them. I’m always inspired when I hang out with him too.

July 13 we had our first sale of the season at the market. This is always exciting for the kids. Our group is on the young side this year and the crowds intimidated some of them, but others jumped at the opportunity to talk to people who stopped by and get them to buy the vegetables and herbs we brought from their garden.

(Photo Note: we had our potatoes and garlic in the basket seen on the left for the first hour or so of the market. Once we took them out and put them on the table, as seen on the right, they started selling better. Lesson learned about booth display!)

I also continued the tradition of bringing an activity to extend the garden club members’ learning and help them introduce market patrons to new things. In the past we held a basil versus radish leaf pesto taste test (guess which won?!) and blindfolded herb identification test (sniff sniff). This time we brought eight flowers blooming in the garden and on the farm.

We had lots of folks (mostly women and girls now that I’m thinking about it) stop by to play “Test Your Flower Power.” We all had fun watching them try to match the flowers with the cards I made with their names and some information on their growing habits, benefits for pollinators, and medicinal and culinary uses. Potato proved the toughest to identify. Others included borage, mint, chamomile, tomato, calendula, yarrow, and nasturtium.

The little kitchen scale I bring along isn’t certified for sales, but it is a big hit. The kids love to try to get to a perfect pound. And I am always impressed, and cheer loudly, when they do!

Our next sale is August 10th. Come find us!


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Scenes from the Field: July 15, 2019

Wow. What a difference a month makes. The last time I posted, it was unseasonably cool and rainy. Now it’s hot as Hades and hasn’t rained in nearly two weeks. I HATE JULY. This is the time of year when I feel like I’m failing as a farmer. Every damn year.

Turning over from Spring to Summer crops is hard. Our small scale, with related drawn-out harvests, and intercropping practices are part of the issue, but also a benefit. Our celery and radicchio bed, for example, provided offerings for over a month. But for much of that time I was in a holding pattern planning for what would come next. Once enough of that spring crop was harvested, I set beans. They germinated well but it will be a little while until we’re eating from them. Where the garlic came out a few weeks ago, I had winter squash seedlings ready to take their place, but keeping those happy in their move, as the sun beat down on them, wasn’t easy. There were casualties. But we carry on…

Radicchio interplanted with Blue Lake bush beans.

Today, as I take a break from the hot jobs of moving compost and fiddling with the irrigation system, I’m happy to share some images I captured during the past month.

We enjoyed lots more greens and herbs…

… roots …

…and the first tomatoes of the season.

Members of the CSA have been showing up to help get the irrigation installed in an effort to ensure the second half of the season is as strong as the first.

For more regular updates about what’s happening around the farm, follow us on Instagram and/or Facebook.


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Scenes from the Field: June 11, 2019

What a week. The weather here in central Ohio has been off the charts. It’s currently 56 degrees and raining. That’s downright nasty for this time of year. But in the grand scheme of things, we’re lucky.

Large scale farmers in the region have been struggling with too much rain, combined with unseasonably cool temperatures that have prevented evaporation, and have abandoned the idea of planting their fields this year. Too bad those folks are so big into corn and soy that they can’t imagine how to shift gears to something else. There’s still SO much time left in the season.

Here’s a few shots from the field I took earlier in the week.

Welcome to the jungle.

There’s a lot growing out back at this point. The spring crops are just about gone and the summer stuff is taking over, slowly. Will be interesting to see if there are long term implications of tonight’s 50 degree dip.

The hens are driving me nuts. They refuse to stay on their side of the fence. In good moments I imagine they are eating the squash bug larve. But most of the time, when they’re scratching indiscriminately (uprooting seedlings) and eating the kale, I just want them out!

Cora’s poppies are doing great! She and I harvested seed for these from a neighbor’s yard last year and she set them in soil in the basement over the winter one day (on her own!). We sold a bunch at our plant sale in April and I’m hearing good reports from friends who took them home. I’m a proud (human and plant) momma.