Monday, December 22, 2008

Growing Revolution in Our Gardens

I just finished reading an inspiring book called Where our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov'v Quest to End Famine by Gary Nahan. I liked this book partly because it is somewhat of a biography and a glimpse of history that I love to read. This book covers so much more though, including a real world view of climate change on our planet, a glimpse into how other people and cultures grow and eat food, what corporations are doing to our food supply, etc.

More than anything I have read, it clearly highlights the debate about how to deal with the issues of hunger and food insecurity in the world and in our local communities. This is something I have thought a lot about and why I started the Free Farm Stand. On the one side are the people who believe in the technology intensive "modern" approach to agriculture versus Gary's approach which is to support local and traditional agriculture that fosters small scale diversity and isn't aiming for mass maximum production values. The world can seem pretty depressing while reading his book, but there does seem to be hope nestled in between the pages and he presents a lot of examples of evidence of a growing movement of people's efforts to turn things around.

Yesterday was the solstice and the days now will be lengthening. Now is a good time for us all to gather up our spent energies during the last year and get inspired again to plant new seeds come spring. We the people are the ones that have to make the changes that are needed in this world (that is what I always come back to, especially after reading inspiring books). I just ordered 18 trees to plant at our new garden on Potrero Hill and I can't tell you how exciting that is to me. Planting fruit trees is one of the best votes for hope one can make. I was thinking that we should have at least one hands-on workshop on tree planting in January and also one on grafting.

We had another cold and rainy day at the Free Farm Stand. I got no leftover produce from the fancy farmer's market, though I still had small bags of Brussel sprouts and radish left from last week (and I will be out next Sunday, but I really am not expecting to have much right after Christmas).

My surprise was that the combination of the three gardens I work in produced an ok amount of food to give away. I bought a scale recently and this week I weighed some of the produce I harvested. I picked a total of two pounds of baby greens from the gardens. With the exception of Treat Commons, the places where I am growing food are pretty shady. I would love to learn what others are growing now and it would be great if serious city growers could get together and exchange notes on what grows best for them and in what conditions (shade, sun, a little sun, etc).

My big discovery this week is to realize that arugula is a great plant to grow in a shady spot in the garden. It is so easy to grow. In a lot of shade the plants don't get very big, but I did manage to harvest quite a lot. And in full sun where we grew some too, I got so much bigger plants and the yield was terrific. Arugula is in the cabbage family and is nutritionally good to eat and I think we can throw some not only in our salads, but throw the small greens on foods that we cook, like in the end in soups or on pizza right out of the oven, or in tofu scrambles. The same with baby greens or baby stir fry mix, just throw it in with our salads or cooked dishes at the very end.

So our table, despite the lack of huge amounts of farmer's market produce had a nice display and variety of more locally grown food. Besides the baby greens and salad mix, I harvested almost the last of the hot peppers from the sunniest garden. And I also had basil from the African Blue basil plant (it 's flavor is not as strong a basil flavor as regular basil). This is an amazing perennial plant that is still growing very well in the full sun. I plan to make some cuttings to propagate it, because it is a hybrid and doesn't produce seed. I cut up a giant pumpkin I found on the sidewalk last week and tried to give it away. Some people took it. Myself I am not a big pumpkin eater and this pumpkin was very orange inside and was probably loaded with vitamins and minerals, but it was rather bland tasting at least raw. Good to throw in a soup perhaps. But twenty pounds of food in the start of winter is something not to turn away from. I was talking to Greg a neighbor at the stand and he came back later with a friend and brought some Meyer lemons from his backyard which was really great.

To cheer things up a bit, I put on my Santa's hat and gave away gift wrapped jars of honey from our bees and olives from the tree down the street. Cynthia processed most of the ones I gave out using just salt and water. I can't believe she hand slit each olive. For the ones I processed I used lye which is faster though the final taste may be slightly different. And some sad news is that Jamie the bread girl lost her job at the bakery. She showed up to get some produce. I am now picking up the bread and if anyone wants to take that project on please contact me (it needs picking up at 7pm on Saturday night and a vehicle or a big bike cart is needed…I have a medium size bike cart that would be available and another cart that needs rebuilding).

I didn't make it to the last work Friday workday at 18th St. and Rhode Island, though others showed up and pulled ivy and built stone retaining walls. We are trying to determine now if anyone wants to come out after Christmas this Friday to work. I will probably show up to visit the garden in any case and see how things are doing. Last week there was some frost on the berms that David photographed with his telephone camera. No real damage was done to anything is what I heard.


Corinne said...

awesome slideshow! and, man, that was a big pumpkin!

Jeremy said...

If you're interested in finding out more about NI Vavilov, you might like to visit <the Vaviblog, where we try to brinbg his work to a wider audience and to update the great man.