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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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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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.


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Celebrating Earth Week Columbus with the Kids Garden Club

Members of the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club came to the farm today to celebrate Earth Week and get the garden ready for the 2018 season.

Here’s a few scenes of the garden before we got started.

One of my goals for the event was to move the fence from the edge of the raised beds to the space beyond them. This will provide the kids a lot more growing space and room to move. With the help of a few handy moms, we got that job done. Now the kids have a bigger space to grow, and the chickens have better boundaries.

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The kids cleared the straw blankets that were sheltering the soil over winter and spread compost all over. Then they played around with the broadfork.

We planted some seeds even though though my go-to garden calendar said it wasn’t a good day for it. We aren’t due to start regular club meetings for a few weeks. I’m hopeful that Persephone will look kindly on our efforts and the kids will have some seedlings to welcome them back.

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In all the excitement of getting to know new garden friends and keep activities moving throughout the evening, we forgot to water. Luckily, shortly after we said our final farewells, it rained. Fingers crossed for more good luck ahead…

Thanks to Trish Clark for suggesting we have a pre-season event as park of Earth Week, and thanks to Green Columbus for sponsoring our activity as part of Earth Week Columbus, “the largest Earth Day volunteer service opportunity in the nation, [planned] in partnership with community leaders, non-profits, and businesses.”

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Scenes from the field: 4.2.18

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The sun was shining and The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar  said it was a good day for transplanting. We were lucky to have friends free to help us move some things around. Here are a few highlights.

A peak under some of our caterpillars. Clockwise from top right – spinach under frost blanket (planted 2/5), potatoes under low plastic tunnel (planted 2/22: Thanks for the inspiration, Milan!), and the view inside our high tunnel panted with various herbs and greens in January).

Homeschool on the farm today included measuring and recording air and soil temperature in 5 different growing situations (high tunnel, low tunnel w/plastic, low tunnel with frost blanket, glass-topped cold-frame, and no cover.)

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The girls potted some plants for our upcoming sale with partial proceeds going to Red Oak Community School.

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Then the moms broke our backs transplanting hundreds of onion, kale, beet, and spinach seedlings. Like I said, it was a very good day.

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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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When One Season Ends, Another Begins.

As my touring season ended, it was great to start gathering inspiration for next year from Bernadette.

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City Council Farm Tour

Following my on-site meeting with Columbus City Council Member Elizabeth Brown in May, I was asked to plan an advocacy tour for other members of the council on behalf of the loosely-affiliated Franklin County Urban Farmers Network. I worked with Carl Williams from Council Member Priscilla Tyson’s office to recruit and organize the participants and Mike Hogan from OSU Extension who reserved a 25 seat bus to take us around. And so it was that I found myself downtown Friday morning at 9am picking up Council Members Tyson, Shannon G. Hardin, and Jaiza N. Page. Representatives of the rest of the council members were also with us as well as folks from the City Clerk and Legislative Research Offices, the Public Health Department, Ohio State University College of Agriculture, Local Matters, and Franklin Park’s Growing to Green Program.

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Following invitations from 10 operations around the city representing a mix of farms, community gardens, and homesteads, I decided to focus this tour on self-identified working farms in the city. Those of us who grow, sell, and regularly distribute produce through CSAs, farmers’ markets, and wholesale agreements face different issues than individuals and neighborhood collectives. The five sites we visited provided a mixed view of non- and for-profit operations, larger and smaller scale operations, on public and private land, in more and less densely populated neighborhoods around town.

Our first stop was Franklinton Gardens (FG), soon to be renamed Franklinton Farms. FG Director Nick Stanich described FG as a scattered-site farm that currently occupies 12 lots which total 2.5 acres of growing space, and more in the works. I have visited FG a few times over the years, but it had been awhile. I was amazed to see sites that were not in production a year ago filled with mature tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn. FG is a non-profit organization funded through an impressive combination of grants and donations, market sales, and a 40 member neighborhood supported CSA program. FG was a good place to begin the tour. Participants were visibly impressed and energized by the work Nick and his team are doing along with community volunteers and AmeriCorps VISTAs. Together they are transforming vacant lots of nutrient rich rich, flood-plain soil and run down houses which they have converted into meeting spaces and housing for their volunteers.

On the drive to our next stop, Mike Hogan spoke a bit about defining urban farming and differentiating it, and its challenges, from community gardening. He also raised issues related to zoning for high tunnels and on-site sales in residential areas (like ours) as they relate to the Food Action and Green Business and Urban Agriculture Plans City Council  recently adopted. I was happy to hear conversations are underway with the zoning office to set guidelines for people interested in erecting high tunnels; checklists stating what’s needed with regard to review and permits for structures under and above certain size thresholds. At this time, high tunnels under 2,000 square feet are not restricted so much as the rules around them are vague.

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Our second stop, Clarfield Farms, is operated by the MidOhio Foodbank as one mechanism for reaching their overall mission of ending hunger in Central Ohio. The farm sits on land beside a former Columbus City School building, breathing new life into an underutilized civic space. Before the farm was established in 2012, the school had been vacant for nearly a decade. While I have been invited to Clarfield at least half a dozen times, I never made it down before this tour. I’m glad I finally got to see what they have going on and hear more about their programming. Along with 3 – 20×96′ high tunnels and field crops, they host a u-pick plot for neighbors, and a weekly pay-what-you-can farm stand. The farm works with other branches of the foodbank (see for example South Side Roots),  partners with other local non-profit organizations, and maintains relationships with local chefs. The farm also hosts a summer youth program that gives teens with 10-week apprenticeships during which they learn life skills they can apply to various personal and professional situations. We heard one young woman  report on the impact the apprenticeship has had on her; at 15 she was able to clearly tell us direct and indirect ways she’s developed as a result of her time at Clarfield. Through its portfolio of operations, Clarfield demonstrates myriad ways urban farms can connect with and serve their communities.

On the way to the next stop I talked a little more about deduct meters – which came up at our first two stops. With this device installed on our water lines, urban farmers can avoid sewage charges for water that goes into the ground. Having these permitted and installed is time consuming and costly, but can save lots of money over time. Making that process easier, maybe even giving farmers a a subsidy  to help pay for installation, would go a long way in supporting the work we do in our communities. I also reiterated the needs Mike set forth for clear guidelines regarding high tunnels, noting a recent round of federal grants that were offered to urban farmers in Columbus, some of whom passed up the money due to uncertainty about regulations.

Our third stop was another from my bucket list – Project Aquastar (PA) at St. Stephen’s Community House in Linden. The project has a relatively new manager, Max Slater who has a degree in urban planning and identifies as a self-taught farmer. PA is going through some restructuring including moving it aquaponics production into a new greenhouse. The project currently distributes produce through a new buy one/give one CSA program and through the St. Stephen’s food pantry. Like Clarfield, they host teen apprentices in the summer months. They have great infrastructure and it will be exciting to see how they reinvent themselves in the coming years.

Between this and our next stop, Adam Ward, Director of Government Affairs for the OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences spoke for a few minutes. He talked about the university’s Discovery Themes, specifically the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT). InFACT recently received a major grant from the Kellogg Foundation for the Buckeye ISA (Institutionally Supported Agriculture) program to help mentor low-income families interested in growing food for themselves, their neighbors, and the university. This proposal generated a lot of questions from the council members and staff, as it has in the urban farming community, and served as an interesting point of transition to our next site.

Foraged & Sown is a for-profit venture led by two women in North Linden – Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse. The pair sell wild edibles (foraged) and grow their own (sown) culinary herbs for chefs and home chefs and tea drinkers along with other value added products like seasoned salts and jams. Like other of us farming on the north end of town (Swainway Urban Farm, Peace Love and Freedom Farm, Pettibone Urban Game), Kate and Rachel grow in their front, back, and side yards – anywhere there is soil. This kind of amped-up edible landscaping, like what we do at Over the Fence — using available space to grow food, rather than lawns — builds capacity for sustainability and resiliency in the city.  But it’s not always appreciated, nor profitable.

Kate and Rachel shared challenges of dealing with formal and informal complaints from neighbors initially skeptical of their activities. Over time those have diminished, due largely to their persistence in speaking with agents who came out to investigate the complaints and inviting neighbors to see what they are doing during open house tours. Foraged & Sown provides an example of issues addressed by individual residents interested in farming on their property as opposed to the other operations we visited growing on vacant lots obtained from the city land bank, leased land from public entities like the school district, or non-profit managed properties. Legislative Analyst Sandra Lopez suggests folks like us go to our local area commissions to introduce ourselves and let those groups know what we are doing and what impact it makes on our neighborhoods. Adam Ward echoed this saying, “The worst time to build relationships is in times of crisis.” Council Member Tyson agreed suggesting “Introduce yourself when you don’t need anything, so that when you do, you’ll have relationships to fall back on.” That’s what this tour was largely about.

Our final stop was a quick swing by Over the Fence. On our short drive over, I told everyone a bit more about how I got started farming, a bit about the finances of my operation, and the ways CSA members help me keep things going and looking good. I hope I made clear that our community kitchen garden is not only providing produce to 18 households this season including my own, but also providing a space for building community. It truly takes a village to run this farm. Over the Fence is not a 501c3 but isn’t really a for-profit enterprise either. My profits are not easy to calculate; the come mostly in the forms of food and friendship. That’s alright for me, a middle-class woman with another job as well as a well-employed spouse with great health insurance, but it wouldn’t work for everyone. It requires not only additional income, but also a reimagining of how we define, and measure, profits. I’ve struggled with quantifying this in the past but I think such numbers would speak volumes to legislators, community organizers, funders, and potential future farmers.

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Photo credit: Michelle Moskowitz Brown

All the farmers we visited with have already expressed interest in working together to continue communications with City Council.  You can be sure I’ll blog about it here.