Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Over the Fence @ Pecha Kucha Columbus

Last night I had the honor of sharing a story at the 43rd Pecha Kucha (PK) Columbus. It was based on an experience I had this past spring which I blogged about in Rabbit Roller Coaster.

For those unfamiliar with PK, speakers create 20 slide Powerpoints and set the slide transition timer to 20 seconds. So you have 20 seconds to talk about 20 slides for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Sounds like a nice chunk of time but it flies by!  My presentation wasn’t flawless and I cursed a few too many times, but I’m proud of my efforts. I had a good time and I hope that I got some folks thinking more about where their food comes from and the trials farmers go through to get it to them with my photographs and my remarks.

I’m posting a video of the presentation here for people who couldn’t make it out to the event. I’ll be writing more later about the experience of prepping for and delivering the talk on Art Education Outside the Lines. It was a creative experience I relished and would encourage others to try. Pecha Kucha is a great venue for our stories about farming and how our food gets to people’s plates.

Special thanks to those mentioned in this story including:

Dan Spurgeon – Husband and Co-conspirator

Todd Shriver – Rock Dove Farm

Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse – Foraged & Sown

Milan Karcic – Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm

Jerah Pettibone – Pettibone Urban Game

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On Site with Columbus City Council Member Elizabeth Brown


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.

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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.


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Hope for the Future

This is Leo.

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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.”)


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Field Report: Earth Day 2017

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.

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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.

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Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.

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Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.

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Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.

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Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.

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Trimming and thinning recycling team.

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Field Report: 2.21.2017

I have been doing a lot more reading, thinking, and planning for companion planting after hearing Dan Kittredge speak at OEFFA a few weeks back. (Read about the conference and talks in this post on OEFFA Conference 2017.) I’m interplanting things I haven’t mixed up before and looking ahead to what I can add later to long season crops beds I am sowing now. All this in order to create symbiotic relationships between the plants so they are feeding and protecting one another, and the microbes in the soil, better.

I’m also looking at the Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Calendar for some advice on optimal planting dates.

“The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar is determined by our age-old formula and applies generally to regions where the climate is favorable. Because the gardening calendar is based on the phase and position of the Moon, it is consistent across all growing zones.”

I’ve been wanting to get a better handle on biodynamics. Using the Farmer’s Almanac in conjunction with a few biodynamic calendars I’ve been consulting seems like a relatively easy way of getting started.

According to the calendar, today was an optimal day for planting root crops so I set some radishes, carrots, and beet seeds out. I added a bit of innoculant to the seed packs, per Kittredge’s suggestion that the minerals in this dust help germinating seeds develop the systems they need to absorb and digest nutrients throughout their lives. Kittredge compared this with the precious colostrum nursing mammals produce for their babies in the first few days of life. Colostrum helps human infants develop healthy gut flora. I want my plants to have healthy guts because I’m sure it’ll mean I’ll have healthier gut too!

Tomorrow is a good day too, so it isn’t too late for you to get busy on your own early-early spring planting plan. Here are a few scenes from the field this afternoon to get you planting your own fertile ground.

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Arugula.

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Winter Density & Bloomsdale.

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Red and Green Giant Mustard with Radicchio.

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Bloomsdale Spinach.

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Unidentified Red Leaf Lettuce, Raddichio, and Sassy Salad Mix.

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Vitamin Greens.

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Soil is starting to look REALLY good. Hard to believe this was compacted clay three years ago.

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Felt a little guilty moving these cilantro seedlings but they were in the high tunnel only temporarily and suffering because they were planted over a spot that had been compacted, wood-chipped lined paths.Hoping to see their leaf color and vigor improve in the field.

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Fall planted Red Russian Kale and Red Giant Mustard with January sown spinach coming in between. Under a low tunnel.

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All three kids ate a raw salad tonight! Green and Red Giant Mustard, Tatoi, Spinach, Winter Density Lettuce, Red Russian Kale, Mizuna, Vitamin Greens

 

 

 

 


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Field report: 2.16.17

The sun was shining bright in Columbus, Ohio today. The temperature only got to about 38°F, but it I had a purpose to be outside, down on the ground, with my hands in the soil. And I was glad for that.

I transplanted onions I started inside and moved around field sown spinach seedlings so they were more evenly distributed.

This is the last night forecasted to go below freezing for the foreseeable future. While it seems awfully weird, we’re going to take advantage of it. Hope this inspires you to do the same.

 

 


Inside the high tunnel.


Spinach sown in high tunnel November 5.


Winter density lettuce transplanted in January, Radicchio transplanted 2.15, Mizuna sown in November, Sassy salad mix sown in January.


Tatsoi, Kale, Chard transplanted in October. Pac Choi transplanted early February.

 

 

 

 


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Validation by Six Year Old

An important mission of our farm is demonstrating that good food, lots of good food, can be grown within city limits. I am particularly excited about passing this knowledge on to children, so they might imagine a new future for our public and private spaces. And so, it was with GREAT joy that I opened this text from one of our CSA families this morning.

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And then…

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So yeah, I’m feeling pretty validated today. Thanks Ezra.

Note: This post was previously called “Validation by Text Message” but after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t the texting that made this exchange so powerful, it was the sic year old behind it.