Tag Archives: Urban Farming

Back and kicking it!

Before venturing to Australia and The Permaculture Research institute this past January, I’d found myself answering the same query over and over again “……O.K, wait, tell me again, what is Permaculture anyway?” And now, since returning from the PRI to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve encountered the same questions from friends and family though now with more of a peppered interest in where Permaculture might lead me. My answer is often less about where Permaculture is going to lead me, but instead us.

Being a trained observer of natural patterns, it’s pretty difficult not to notice an obvious dearth in awareness around the subject of Permaculture. Furthermore, I feel that it goes without saying that there’s an urgent need for permaculture education that is a direct conduit to action. Once one knows and deeply understands our global state of affairs and environmental situation through the educational lens of a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), it is difficult to not have a sense of urgency about permanent cultural repair. To me, it appears that this type of urgency isn’t often shared by those who don’t see the issues and the solutions through the lens of Permaculture and whole systems thinking.

While many of us are well-intentioned and passionate about change, we’re often at a loss to know how to tackle such large problems. As though many of us seem to be caught in the rapid current of a positive feedback loop, a lot of us have learned helplessness thus driving the problems deeper into the proverbial carpet. And as these problems become deeper and embedded so does our sense of frustration, confusion and ultimately apathy. Now the need for an interruption in this feedback pattern is evermore timely as an eponymous oil disaster in the American Gulf of Mexico sounds the environmental alarm. As each moment passes, the adoption of scaled design solutions, not only for disaster relief and aid work but for community organization and skills trading, become needed with increasing urgency. Though, despite this, It would appear that a lot of us are eager yet unprepared to make even the small changes that might set forth a pattern of positive change fueled by real solutions. And still, for so many Americans, it is easier to spend $20-$30 on an afternoon at the movie theaters than it is to spend hard-earned dollars on personal development. For instance, rentrack.com reports “Twilight: The Eclipse” generated nearly 70 million USD over July 4th weekend alone.

Well..” I asked myself “…how does one prepare for battle?”. “How do you get from couch potato to a sprightly spud?”. “You go to Boot Camp…Permaculture Boot Camp!” Actually, to be completely transparent, the design process didn’t exactly fall into place with such cinematic drama. In fact, the Permaculture Boot Camp at Hayes Valley Farm (HVF) in San Francisco, CA is an ongoing design project between myself and Chris Burley that aims to teach Permaculture to the masses in three short hours. The design for this class developed out of a design project for our Permaculture Design Certificate in 2009. Leaving the PDC we felt strongly that the needs of our community were expressed in its interest in positive change, but apparent lack of direction and cohesiveness to see results. Our desires to teach the lessons that were so powerful to us in our PDC experienced several evolutions before an opportunity aligned with our intent. Now with the Hayes Valley site, an experimental urban farm, getting deep community and media attention, we’ve found the it is the perfect platform for mass education. As the design continues to evolve, we’re getting indicators of success, full classes.

The real success has been in the timing. When Chris originally proposed the course as a one hour lecture, I almost thought he was mad. “Teach Permaculture in one hour? We’ll be lucky if we finish introductions in an hour!” Though after a few emails back and forth, we settled on the current format of two energetic 90 minute sessions. Feeling that it would be disingenuous to call in an “Introduction to Permaculture” we settled on Boot Camp. “Put em through the ringer!” we thought.

With the three-hour BootCamp, Chris and I offer a rapid-fire introduction to the basics of Permaculture. We begin with an active lecture on evidence followed by a Permaculture ethics and principles site tour where we demonstrate how HVF fulfills and acts on each of Holmgren’s principles and Mollison’s ethical framework . Teaching the course on site invites the students to activate their new-found perspective immediately. Our aim goes beyond the theory of Permaculture to introduce and actively forge a community through sharing and understanding the skills and resources of the people sitting next to one another. With interactive classroom exercises the students are encouraged to form quick bonds to leave empowered and active.

One of the biggest issues students mentioned as being problematic in their worlds is a feeling that their community has been lost. Our answer is part of the course design. The class is typically offered on Sundays twice per month just before the weekly public volunteer workday at HVF. By the time the class ends at 1:30pm the urban farm is buzzing with bodies from all over San Francisco digging, raking, sheet-mulching and planting.  The Boot Camp appears to be a perfect entrée to direct action; incentivizing community collaboration over more commercial forms of entertainment. As the students get to know their class and their classroom we remind them “Your lack of community ends here!” Moreover, because the Hayes Valley site has been almost entirely built with volunteer labor and community support, it quickly is becoming the community. It’s drawn hundreds of volunteers and visitors on weekends since January 2010 when its gates opened, and continues to need helping hands to make it truly demonstrate the capacity of Permaculture design solutions. The design of the BootCamp allows for people energy to be delivered to the site and ensures continued support for the site, not to mention a little revenue. What’s more, is that now with three BootCamps offered since May, we’ve taught nearly 60 students, 7 of which have gone on to take the Urban PDC with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody, and many more of which are now regular volunteers at Hayes Valley Farm.

The course costs anywhere between $60-$75 dollars with scholarships available for eligible applicants. What’s really encouraging is that there are a great number of people willing to spend that money on a weekend learning to help save their community. In a city known for its love of hedonistic options for ways one can spend a dime, it is nice to know that there is a growing number of hedonists turned activists. The next BootCamp is being offered at Hayes Valley Farm in San Francisco on Sunday, July 11th. For more information or to spread the word about what’s happening in urban permaculture visit hayesvalleyfarm.com.

David Stockhausen

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The weekend works.

This past weekend was a busy one for me. After a week of working on landscape art projects for the Presidio, I was ready to get down to business in the garden. My focus was to begin the spring planting with the long-term goal of diversifying our crops. When I arrived at the garden I was pleased to see that our potato towers have sprouted and are now covered in new growth.

Also, the fava beans were starting to flower and green garlic is plentiful.

After this bit of garden porn it was time to get to work. I started by mapping out the garden and loosely planning our crop rotation. I say loosely because we have some big changes coming in the near future for our first garden, but more on that in later posts. After that I dug into the seed box and realized we desperately need some seed. It was then that I realized that we should start a CSA (community supported agriculture) to provide us with some income at the start of the season. It always seems to be the time of year that farms need the most and are the most broke due to the winter. The good news is that it is early enough in the season to put in seed orders. Also I was able to plant some early and hardy crops such as radish and collard.

I decided that I would try using straw mulch when planting. The mulch will serve to keep the soil slightly warmer and suppress the early weeds. Mulch has the added benefit of breaking down over time and providing the soil with nutrients and humus. As the temperature starts to rise and rain fall lessens a mulch layer also helps to keep moisture in the soil and evenly distributed.

As Sunday came to a close I realized how much there is left to do. I made a lot of progress, but really only scratched the surface as we have two other gardens that are ready to be jump started into spring. I would like to put out a call for volunteers. If anybody would like to get involved and get dirty I will be coordinating work parties primarily on weekends as that is the only time I really have free. Also I would like to put out a request for old windows that can be donated to build a cold frame for vegetable starts. I can be reached at eben.bell81@gmail.com and would love to hear from readers who would like to volunteer their time, money, or materials as well as anyone who just wants to say what’s up. I’ll leave you with a photo of the garden as she stands.

-Eben

detroit:green

More on the Detroit urban farming movement. A video from Sara Cross:

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Jack Frost.

Around the gardens here in The Mission, we’re packin’ up for winter.  As I write this, record low temps are due for the entire Bay Area tonight that dip below 30*.  This frost is most certainly a game-changer for our greens.  While there are many ways to prevent frost damage, luckily Amyitis doesn’t have all that much to protect at the moment.  Most of our space is now occupied by frost-hearty cover crop or planted deep with garlic and potatoes.  Some of these root crops have sprouted and I am curious to see how the frost affects them, the garlic shoots in particular.

In Vermont, November garlic plantings very quickly faced low temperatures and light.  This didn’t allow them time to sprout before the snows of winter; they lay protected under the ground until spring.  Here however, all of the garlic planted in November has seen the light of day due to our easy climate…. and now BAM!  An edge event like this frost can be quite destructive for a region unprepared for such weather.  I guess I’ll see tomorrow morning.

Frost occurs when a (deposition) surface temperature falls below that of the dew point of the surrounding air.  Plants not protected by a thermal mass or with exposed foliage quickly fall below dew point temperatures on these extremely cold nights and begin to collect ice crystals.  These ice crystals can destroy cell walls of many vegetable plants turning them black and rendering them “compost” within an hour.

Above and below are a couple of pics from a potato planting day.  The cut halves of the seed potatoes are dipped in ash ( highly alkaline) to prevent seed rot.  Tomorrow I will be experimenting with potato towers to examine the difference between methods.

Until next time,

Happy gardening.

-David

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From massive failure comes radical ideas

A city long on the decline, Detroit now finds itself essentially in ruins. And yet, necessity being the mother of invention, Detroit is positioning itself as the forefront of the nation’s urban farming movement, using radical and innovative ideas outlined by Aaron Renn in this fascinating article. According to Renn, Detroit has become “a blank canvas” and “the ultimate arena in which to prove yourself” for urban farming and other alternative urban ideas.

Renn quotes Mark Dowie from Guernica:

“Were I an aspiring farmer in search of fertile land to buy and plow, I would seriously consider moving to Detroit. There is open land, fertile soil, ample water, willing labor, and a desperate demand for decent food. And there is plenty of community will behind the idea of turning the capital of American industry into an agrarian paradise. In fact, of all the cities in the world, Detroit may be best positioned to become the world’s first one hundred percent food self-sufficient city.”

Renn writes, “He documents several examples of people right now, today growing food in Detroit. It wouldn’t surprise me, frankly, if Detroit produces more food inside its borders today than any other traditional American city.”

From Guernica:

“About five hundred small plots have been created by an international organization called Urban Farming, founded by acclaimed songwriter Taja Sevelle. Realizing that Detroit was the most agriculturally promising of the fourteen cities in five countries where Urban Farming now exists, Sevelle moved herself and her organization’s headquarters there last year. Her goal is to triple the amount of land under cultivation in Detroit every year. All food grown by Urban Farming is given free to the poor. According to Urban Farming’s Detroit manager, Michael Travis, that won’t change.”

Renn, “The fact that Urban Farming moved to Detroit is exactly the effect I’m talking about. To anyone with aspirations in this area, it is Detroit that offers the greatest opportunity to make your mark.”

Detroit seems to have turned into a vibrant incarnation of the American dream. A counter point to the idea of the wild untamed west, is this ruined, collapsed and abandoned west. The American imagination loves the idea of making something from nothing, in a setting of partial anarchy. Detroit has become a space to re-imagine urban American. And urban farming, Renn argues has been at the forefront of this re-envisioning.

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Lunch!

Lunch!

My lunch was so delicious and aesthetically interesting today I just had to share.
Kale from my backyard, chicken (not from my backyard), olive oil, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, and lemon. It’s redundant to mention salt as an ingredient right?

 

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“Elmo, you and I are going to plant some carrot seeds.”

Michelle Obama has proven herself to be (probably) the most powerful ally in the local food movement.

With the White House Kitchen Garden, Mrs. Obama is showing the country that the best way to change eating habits is to get out there and start digging in the ground. The vegetable garden has been a rousing success, and sparked a lot of dialogue, school field trips, TV show appearances, and apparently some really amazing yams.

Via Huffington Post Green

Mrs. Obama has created both the White House Kitchen Garden and the White House Farmer’s Market, and she is actively striving to create a discourse regarding changing the way we eat. She commented, “I hope the garden will be an introduction to a new way for our country to think about food.” (Via Huffington Post Green.) Recent television appearances all seem part of her plan to mainstream the discussion of local, safe, and nutritious food.

Michelle Obama stopped by Sesame Street yesterday and spoke to Big Bird and Elmo about growing food and being healthy.

A White House Kitchen Garden Top Chef episode featuring Mrs. Obama is coming soon.

Via The New York Times

Plus, she really truly does have some amazing clothes, doesn’t she?

The official Kitchen Garden video:

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