Sunday, March 3, 2013

Speaking to my soul (and stomach!): This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow

During the weekend of MLK Jr. Day I spent my time at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association's Conference absorbing as much information as I possibly could about organic market gardening. I'm hoping to take my urban gardening to the next level and recently a friend of mine offered up part of her backyard for the cause.  Knowing all of this, I've been snagging as many books as I can to help my venture.  While I was searching through through the stacks of new books at the conference's book room, I happened upon a shelf of inexpensive used books and the cover and title of This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow caught my attention.  I was ready to read something to learn from that wasn't simply a "how-to-book" or another manual on gardening/mini-farming (although there are some good ones out there-- some of which I already own).

While it took me nearly two weeks to finish the book, even though it's only 260 pages, it's a dense read.  I think this may partially be because of the stream of consciousness type feel to her style, which isn't all bad.  It makes it a bit difficult at times in that there are recipes interwoven into her story as she refers to the various veggies she's growing.  I'd like to save many of these for later, but I'm not feeling motivated enough to copy each one out of the book to add to my collection.  I can't help but wish that she'd simply placed these in the back of the book in such a way that it was more convenient to actually use.

The book starts off with Joan telling about how she ended up in her current gardening space, after moving with her husband from a large Victorian house to a river front lot with a folly of a house.  I found it interesting that she jumped back and forth between telling about the houses and it wasn't exactly chronological, but somehow the pieces fit. At this point it also became apparent that she also seemed to be using her writing to help her process her husband's death.  I really liked this aspect because it really brought the human element to the story and I feel she did a nice job telling about him and his connection rather than simply lamenting his loss.  By roughly halfway into the book she began to allude to his sickness and then the fact that he'd already passed as she talked about the connections her husband had with the community garden they created together and with the people who used the community garden.      

I also appreciated Gussow's discussion of the house situation and what it meant to her and her husband and their gardening.  I could relate to her emotional connection with the houses and the gardens, especially as she and her husband prepared the "new" house and its gardening area.  Again, she showed her humanity by telling of the frustrations with starting to renovate the house and then finding out it needed to simply be scrapped, particularly after they put in so much time and effort in preparation to restore it to its grandeur.  I also had many chuckles as she told of the misguided feistyness of her new neighbor and her anger in return.  I liked that she told of her anger and how her husband managed to smooth over the the situations as they arose, and with a seemingly good-natured and zen-like ability.  In this, I again felt like I could relate to her because I could envision friends and family similar to those she described-- again, all of them very human with their various skills and weaknesses.

I finally finished the book after I began reading in the early mornings as well as during the evening, and I'm glad I did.  It gave me lots of ideas for planting and cooking-- in particular with kale, sweet potato and onion.  She also made me aware of how many fruits and veggies I eat that are out of season and are shipped considerable distances just to satisfy my desire for fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas.  She also made me aware as to how tough mini-farming can be (as demonstrated by ravenous rats and catastrophic flooding in her yard), allowing for forgiveness for the consumer who resorts to buying the veggies and fruit that are simply available at the nearby store.   

Monday, February 18, 2013

OEFFA Conference

I'm still on a little bit of a knowledge-high since my return from the 2013 OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food & Farms Association) Conference.  I had an mind-blowing, though super-frigid, weekend at the conference, which was held in quaint Granville, OH (home of Denison University).  I just happened to find the ad for the conference in a Urban Farm magazine, and I figure with it being so close to home it was worth a shot.  Boy, was I right.

There were so many workshops that I had a hard time deciding which ones to pick. The workshops and speakers all centered around sustainability in farming, whether on a small scale or even the large scale. I settled on learning about Microgreens, Farm Regulations, Irrigation, Restoration Agriculture (most entertaining of all of the presenters I saw!) and two classes focused around Small Farm Business Planning.  I've had a chaotic year that's included trying to decide what to do with my life as I hope to transition into serious urban farming and even creating an urban teaching and learning garden/farm. This conference definitely helped me get a better idea as to what could be reasonable as a business and it also reassured me of the need for such urban-green education.  While there's always talk about how out of touch most "city folk" are about food production, the conference was reassuring in that there are many other people out there also concerned about the general disconnect between people and where their food is coming from. 

I'm also particularly excited because I got 6 new/used books which are This Organic Life (Gussow), How to Grow Perennial Vegetables (Crawford), The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop (Miller), Small Green Roofs (Dunett, Gedge, Little & Snodgrass), The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook (Green), and Landscaping with Fruit (Reich)

So what am I feeling so inspired to do because of the conference?  I've got a list going and I'm trying to figure out what to do first, so for now, it's in no particular order:

1. Learn more about Microgreens and begin safely growing these greens
2. Find out about the regulations for becoming a vendor at the local farmers' market.
3. Learn more about indoor/year round and urban farming.
4. Learn more and visit "garden schools".
5. Continue to sign up for and take classes- i.e. Veggie School (The Going Green Store), Germination Classes (City Folks' Farm Shop)
6. Get more info. on licensing and insurance
7. Get my business plan together!
8. Talk with/e-mail the great new people I met!

Most people say that this is the slow time of year for gardeners.  That said, I guess I'd better get started...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

An Ohio Urban Farm (Ohio City Garden)

For the Fourth of July my husband and I ventured north to Cleveland,OH to take in some sights and experience fireworks at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River (which caught on fire in the '70s because of the pollution).  Along with our plans to see the fireworks and attend an Indians' game, we also checked out the Cleveland Museum of Art (Faberge Eggs and imaginative medieval weaponry) and went on a quest to find the urban farm I kept hearing about.

Earth Borrower & Husband at Ohio City Farm (Cleveland, OH)
We found the urban farm my family and friends had described in Ohio City, which is a neighborhood in Cleveland sandwiched just Southeast of Lakewood and just west of Downtown Cleveland.  Ohio City is also the home of the Great Lakes Brewery (Burning River Beer is my husband's fav.) and some fabulous little vintage shops. I'd heard about the farm because of I've been telling people about my love for urban gardening-- particularly with veggies and herbs and because of my desire to one day open an urban gardening store of my own.

The farm didn't seem be open for sales even though it was the middle of a week day, but my husband and I wandered into the area through an open gate and briefly talked with some of the workers just to ask if it was OK if we looked around.   What's so amazing about the farm was the amount of space-- 6 acres-- dedicated to it.

Ohio City Farm (Cleveland, OH) with apartments nearby
From the middle of the farm there were high-rise apartments on one side and the skyscrapers on the eastern horizon.  As well, there seemed to be quite the irrigation system and a fence around the entire perimeter of the growing area-- which had a large, wide-open gate (when we wandered in).

The farm included a large walking strip that bisected the rows of crops: lettuce, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, beets, and then different varieties of Lillies at the end of each row.  I also noticed that there were numerous sections of beds that lay unused, as if something had been pulled up recently or as if the bed were set aside for future use.  One thing that particularly stuck out was the 12 foot poles with strings rigged for a beans.  I was amazed at how tall the poles were and I'm flabbergasted as to why the poles would need to be that tall.  Can bean really grow that tall?  Are they worthwhile fruits if they put so much energy into growing tall rather than just stocky?  I don't know.
Earth Borrower's Husband (6'2") and 12' bean poles

Overall, what sticks with me the most was the feeling of pride.  I wanted to shake every worker's hand and say: "Nice Job!"  I did tell a few of them the it was beautiful and that I was really impressed (which is true).  I had to chuckle at how much I could see their chests swell with pride and I instantly received smiles and nods because they knew that I KNEW how much work a venture like urban farming takes.  I was also filled with pride for Cleveland because of the entrepreneurs willing to put in the time and effort to refuse to let Cleveland become a healthy food desert.  Bravo, Ohio City Farm, Bravo.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Attempting to "Stop the Frack Attack" in Athens, OH

Madelline ffitch (sic.) at the Ladd Ridge Road Injection Well Site photo courtesy of Eco Watch:

As I was killing some time in Athens, OH recently  between my classes, I picked up the Athens News because of the cover: "Fracking Protester Peacefully Removed From Injection Well Site Southwest of Athens."  The notion of old-school green sit-ins was scintillating.  I just couldn't help myself from reading, particularly because of my similar concerns regarding fracking and because of the protests I recently attended. 

What stuck with me from the article was the response to the woman's protesting.  There were other protesters there to support her, but who had chosen not to fasten themselves to barrels of cement like she had and there was the opposition-- in the form of ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources-- who are the supervisors for all things fracking related in Ohio) and then the local police presence.  The woman seemed to go peacefully [to jail], but only after the police informed her that they'd be using the jackhammer on the cement to get her out if she wouldn't release herself.  She was also fined $7500 for "creating a panic."

Aside from these facts, was the fact that ODNR apparently was trying to figure out if the protesters were organized in any way through a given group and they went as far as to take pictures of all of the protesters' license plates if they were parked nearby.  As well, it sounds like there may have been a bit of an attempt to shield the protester from the public eye (on part of the injection well's company truck drivers) for whatever reason and one of the protesters shouted to the truck driver that they were only hurting their own cause. 

These facts are what stood out to me because they're a reminder of how much shielding of facts is being used as a tool to manipulate the public.  I commend Athens News on this because they aren't shying away from making the debate public.  It's also very telling as to how our State government has decided to operate lately. They don't seem to want to really get the facts out to the public about the repercussions of fracking and exactly what fracking fluid in someone's backyard may mean for their property and health. It also told me that they're nervous because they're trying to crack down-- with the heavy fines and with the documentation (i.e. pictures) of the protesters' license plates.  This also tells me that the protesters were doing something right because it not only brought attention to the public, but it slowed down the injection well's capability to operate normally and it created a stir among the authorities. 

It's time that ODNR be reminded that we've done our homework and that Athens is full of students and teachers of Thoreau, Ghandi, King, and Malcolm X so those lessons won't be lost anytime soon. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Protesting at the Statehouse with Don't Frack OH!

Last weekend my husband and I dug some cardboard out of our recycling bin, slathered on the sunscreen and packed our lunches to join other concerned Ohioans in Columbus for the "Don't Frack OH" protest.  We tried to make our protest signs snarky but informative since we know that the easiest way to grab someone's attention is through humor and great visual aides (being teachers we have lots of experience with this).  We had numerous onlookers chuckle at our signs and lots of "atta-boy" and "atta-girl" comments.

On the Ohio Statehouse Steps

The protest was to draw attention to the recent legislature that passed regarding fracking in Ohio-- SB 315.  Some of the main components of the legislation included disclosing (but not really..?) the chemicals in fracking injection fluid, as well as a gag order for medical doctors regarding issues concerning fracking.  My husband and I have been concerned about fracking since we first found out about it and while most topics become less scary the more someone becomes educated about the topic, I've found the exact opposite with fracking.  I've basically found that the Ohio State Government (i.e. Kasich, numerous representatives & senators) is doing all it can to court the gas industry (and you can check out the political donations from the gas industry and see how this tit-for-tat mentality has been playing out). 

Josh Fox, director of Gasland, speaking at the Don't Frack OH! protest

Josh Fox, the director of Gasland made an appearance at the rally and spoke both before and after the march from Arch Park to the Statehouse.  He was even harrassed by a seemingly disturbed man to the point that the police had to usher the man away from Fox.

Inside the Ohio Statehouse with the Don't Frack OH! protesters

While much of the protesting included chants, walking and listening to testimonies from homeowners living near fracking sites, I felt particularly invigorated in that my husband and I were able to contribute our concerns through a handful of interviews conducted by various media sources.  While I know how important it is to physically be present to voice concerns and protest with the facts in hand; knowing that my concerns were heard made the trip even more worthwhile.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Deadly Nightshade (Lovely Ms. Bell A. Donna)

Because I'm an unruly house guest, I ripped out grasses and "weeds" in my good friends' (Joe & Mary) backyard.  While most people might wait quietly as their hosts prepare dinner, I couldn't help myself to head to the backyard and begin pulling some grasses, thistle, saplings and weeds that had invaded the mulched garden.  (I did ask before beginning to pull the weeds since Mary kept mentioning how much she needed to weed.  And, I have a weeding compulsion!)

After I managed to pull the grasses and handful of dandelions, I tromped inside for dinner and to ask about some vines, that I was pretty sure were Nightshade plants.* Mary wasn't super familiar with Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladona), but I wanted to make sure that she was aware of the potential danger in her backyard.   Sure enough, upon further inspection, I found that they were based on a a few of the distinct attributes.  While I wasn't sure at first, what did I check to positively ID the plant?  First, I looked for the small dark purple flower with a yellow center.  Many of the plants that were cropping up weren't to the flowering stage yet, but I did find one with this flower.  Secondly, I observed the upright, but vining structure of the plant and the arrow + heart shape of the leaves.  The leaves are similar to that of an ivy, but with longer and more slender leaves and ulterior motives.  Lastly, I found small berries on some of the other plants with the similar leaves and structure.  This sealed the deal.  I didn't even need to see the color of the berries, because they'll changed so many colors until they're finally "ripe" (again, just as deadly as the immature berries).
(Bittersweet Nighshade photo from

So what did I do once Mary and I were sure that she definitely had Nightshade in her back yard?  Well, we didn't throw it a welcome party.  But, we didn't nuke it with weed killer either.  Instead, we broke out the protective gear.  Because Atropa belladona is such a nasty bugger with its ugly effects (nervous system damage, heart arrhythmia, terrifying hallucinations, and then death), I wasn't about to chance it.  I put on my sunglasses (protective eye gear), put on the long sleeves, and pulled on some gloves.  I then carefully pulled each and every vining, arrow-leafed plant and piled the up to dry out in the sun in order to be roast in a lovely bonfire.**  This being said, I have not heard of putting oneself at risk my burning Nightshade and I even checked with my resident expert about this.  I wanted to cover my bases since other plants are known to create problems in this way (i.e. POISON IVY should NEVER be burned-- it can create allergic reactions and nasty rashes from burning it and then coming in contact with the smoke.)

After clearing out the Nightshade and paranoidly looking for rashes and expecting a sudden death figuring that the Nightshade would try to exact some sort of revenge, I washed my hands, arms and face thoroughly with soap and warm water.  Mary thanked me for all of my help and I just smiled knowing that her future babies could be just a bit safer playing in their backyard.    

*After reading more & searching for photos (since I destroyed the only plants I've seen recently), I found that Mary's plant was most likely a "bittersweet nightshade" (Solanum dulcamara), which is also deadly, but is what I found, rather than the true Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladona). 

**Does anyone have any more info on the effects of burning nightshade and whether or not this could be risky?  (To be even more safe, it could just be thrown in a bag and sent to the landfill.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Flora-Quest Memories from our hike at Snake Hollow

It's taken me a while to get up some of my Flora-quest photos because I've been busy wrapping up classes for my students.  But, I finally made it happen last night.  I've included a handful of my favorites with a quick run-down of my experience of the weekend. Flora-Quest is a great way to support the local economy and the environment because they try to promote environmental education and eco-tourism, proving the business is directly helped by environmentalism, rather than the old argument that environmentalism hurts business.   Check out the Flora-Quest Facebook page to see more photos and get a better idea what Flora-Quest is all about!

I started off the weekend by helping with registration with the brand new Flora-Quest Fellows.  The Fellows helped make the weekend as smooth as possible and they added some great energy to the group!  After registration, Guy Denny started the weekend off with his presentation on "Ethnobotany", which focused on plants the Native American indigenous to Ohio used and revered.  My husband and I later joined Megan Bihn and Tim Fulz (two of the Fellows) for a campfire, which included their great musical entertainment.

Flora-Quest Fellows: Mike Wang-Bell and Carmen DeLeon
The next morning my husband, Mark, and I grabbed some breakfast and met up with our group.  We were supposed to go canoeing, but because we'd had so much rain the previous night and days leading up to the event, our group decided to play it safe and just hike instead.  Because Raven Rock was obscured with fog, we hiked at Snake Hollow first and then we made the vertical climb up to the summit of Raven Rock in the afternoon hoping it would clear up once the sun was up for a while.

Group 1 at Snake Hollow
At Snake Hollow, we saw some interesting things and heard some great stories from our group leaders, Kevin Bradbury and Martin McAllister.  Martin told us about the local flora as well as the old furnaces in the area and how the logging industry used to function back when logging was done with horses. I particularly got a kick out of one of the other group members who was constantly eating and chewing on whatever edible plants she could get her hands on!  It became a game to find the next edible plant to supply her with.

Snake Hollow was unique in the beautiful gorge it boasts and the large number of pink lady slipper orchids.  What's interesting about lady slippers is the fact that they grow with the help of an underground fungus, so it's not like they can just be uprooted and brought home to enjoy.  They're very picky growers.

I also found an interesting fungus I'd never seen before and I was told it's called Devil's Urn.  I just really liked the distinct shape and striking black color.  As well, there was an abundance of red-spotted purple butterflies hanging around some horse poo and on the nearby elms. My husband was amazed to find out that so many butterflies love to nectar on dead animals and poo.  He said he'd take it as a personal insult if a butterfly came over to land on him (which did happen the next day-- after he'd been out hiking for a while and was nice and sweaty).  

Devil's Urn