Archive for the 'Do unto others' Category

Victory! Or, I found a garden (for the time being)

When I looked for apartments near my work in Oakland, I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I knew I had some very simple, non-negotiable criteria: I wanted to be able to walk to and from work. I wanted a decent kitchen. I wanted something safe, and I wanted to try to avoid paying my entire annual salary in rent.

Slow Food Nation's Victory Garden sits in the shadow of City Hall.

Slow Food Nation's Victory Garden sits in the shadow of City Hall.

It might come as a surprise, based on the name of this blog, that having some space to garden or plant was not on that non-negotiable list. But I had this feeling that, somehow, I’d figure out a way to get my hands in the dirt, even if that way was unconventional.

Sure enough, a way presented itself. Slow Food Nation is bringing its foodie parade to town over Labor Day Weekend, and one aspect of the conference/festival /concert/celebrity-chef-sighting-opportunity is the Victory Garden planted in front of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Patterned after the Victory Gardens that fed the nation during World War II, the main garden at Civic Center is slated to provide fresh vegetables a few weeks after the Slow Food Nation gathering to those with limited access to produce in San Francisco.

The garden’s been attracting a little bit of nay-saying, particularly over at Garden Rant and the San Francisco Bay Guardian Politics blog. It’s temporary, they say. It’s expensive and a waste of resources. It’s a photo op. It’s a pale imitation of a real urban gardening program.

Victory gardener at work

Victory gardener at work

I went down to see the garden on my birthday, the day after it was planted, and I’ll admit, the temporary nature of the garden surprised me. I expected something much more permanent. But I have also noticed that I have yet to mention the project to anyone who hasn’t heard about it and who doesn’t think community gardening is a good idea.

Now, to be fair, a lot of people I talk to in my ordinary life are foodies, gardeners, or public health folks who are predisposed to applaud veggies growing just down the steps of City Hall. But this story is being told, and there are people making sure the story doesn’t end on Labor Day. Besides, Alice Waters is behind this, and I defy anyone to say she’s not vehemently committed to the principle of equal access to fresh, local produce for all. This might be a photo op, but awareness has to start being raised somehow.

Regardless, I’ll be able to get a firsthand glimpse of how the garden is growing and how people are responding to it. Starting Sunday morning, I take my first turn as a garden docent, a volunteer position that might include giving garden tours, answering questions about vegetables (Apparently the volunteer coordinator doesn’t read this blog…), and helping with garden maintenance.

I may not have my own garden right now, but I’m about to start experiencing the photo op up close, and I can’t wait to get in there and see what it’s all about.

Free Seedsavers plants available for gardeners who are rebuilding

Tomato seedlings of the kind you can get for free. FREE.On Wednesday, I got an email from Seed Savers Exchange—turns out, they have tomato and pepper plants left over from their spring sale, and while they’re too tall to ship anywhere, they’re perfectly healthy.

And they’re available, for free. Free. All you have to do is drive to Decorah, Iowa.

I realize this is a stretch of a drive for some folks, but I have to tell you…if I was one of those folks in a floodplain, and I needed to make sure I got my tomato fix before the end of the season, I’d be getting in my car, gas prices be damned. These are good, heirloom plants, you people of Iowa. For free.

Go and get ‘em. But call first, in case all the other people who got the email already beat you to it.

You can pick up the transplants at the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center at 3074 North Winn Road, Decorah, Iowa. Call (563) 382-5990 before you go, just to make sure the trip is still worth it.

And another reminder. Small family farms. They need your help.

How you can help Midwestern farmers

Back in the 1980s, when the farm crisis was breaking America’s heartland, my Uncle Charlie got involved. He was an economics professor at Iowa State University, and he focused on Extension and public policy issues. He, along with my Dad and their four other siblings, grew up on a small dairy farm in Upstate New York, and they knew what it meant to be farmers and to be poor.

In 1988, my Uncle Charlie sat down with the good people of Ottumwa, Iowa, and started a strategic planning process to help them recover from the devastation the crisis had wreaked on the community. He stepped up. He used everything in his toolkit to do what he could for the state he had adopted as his own.

My Uncle Charlie died in December 2006, so he’s missing the mess left behind by the Flood of 2008. I’m sorry he’s gone, but I’m glad he’s not seeing the water pull back slowly—the effects of the flood are just beginning. From the towns that were underwater to formerly-submerged farmland, word from there is that now the problem is clean-up and recovery.

As I said earlier this week, the team at Edible Iowa River Valley and other organizations like Local Foods Connection are doing everything they can to help out the farmers affected by this flood. On Wednesday, they worked with Farm Aid to get a donation program off the ground. Farm Aid has done so much, starting with that farm crisis of the 1980s, to help American family farmers get on—and stay on—their feet, so it makes perfect sense that they’re involved again this time.

Farm Aid seeded the pot with $10,000, and they’ve got the venerable Willie Nelson putting his weight behind the effort. He’s playing in Tama, Iowa, on Saturday night, kicking off a several-night stretch where he performs in Iowa and Wisconsin, raising awareness as he goes.

The money will go to help the farmers who aren’t involved in ginormous agribusiness operations—although those folks are no less affected by this natural disaster. The difference? The farmers this fundraiser will help are the small and mid-size farmers who run community-supported agriculture operations and help supply the local farmers’ markets with fresh food and generally make Iowa a better, healthier place to be. But these are the farmers who don’t have flood insurance. Or crop insurance. These are the farmers who have to have their wife or husband work an office or factory job so they can get health insurance.

These are the people working on sliver-thin margins, and those margins just drowned.

If you think you can help, please visit the flood relief donation site and give what you can. I admit I’m feeling pretty helpless from here, but in the spirit of my Uncle Charlie, I’m using what I have in my toolkit. I have some money, and I have a blog. I can use those tools to help rebuild the state that let me make it home for nearly three years.

I ask for your help and your support. If you can’t give money, help raise awareness. Pass the word about this fundraiser to your friends, neighbors, and fellow bloggers. Food bloggers, I’d love it if you’d post something in support of this.

But most of all, if you’re at a farmers’ market this weekend, stop and take a look around. Be grateful for what’s there. Imagine if it was all gone. Then decide what it’s worth to you and help out these farmers. You never know when the good people of the Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri might just need to return the favor.

Your stories and pictures can help Midwestern farmers

By now, unless you live under a rock, you’re probably aware that Iowa is suffering from some of the worst floods in memory. I’ve been watching the news from Iowa City with my mouth hanging open, and have mostly relied on reports from the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Cedar Rapids Gazette to keep me in the loop on the latest news about what’s under water.

Both newspapers are keeping unbelievable photo galleries, both from the ground and the air, up to date. And I’ve been hearing from friends who are sending their own photos around. For example, check out my friend Kelly’s round-up of photos from inside the Alliant Energy Corporate Communications department offices—I worked for almost a year and a half in the cubicle right next to Kelly’s, and can’t even imagine how long it’s going to take before she and the rest of my former co-workers can return to the office. The Alliant Energy tower, for those of you not familiar with Cedar Rapids, is right downtown, about a block from the Cedar River.

But the story that has not been told, that I have not seen reported, is the story about the small, local farmers that provide all the food I wasn’t able to grow in my own garden. These are the farmers that rely on the summer farmers’ markets to keep them going, the ones who aren’t involved in big, commercial agribusiness, the ones who don’t get a bunch of government subsidies or crop insurance to cover their flood-damaged produce.

They are not forgotten. There is a movement afoot to raise money for these folks, and for anyone in the Iowa farming community affected by the flooding. I’ll have more information on how you can help, from wherever you may be, as soon as there’s information to share. In the meantime, though, I’d like to put out a call for photos, videos and stories about farms and farmers in Iowa and Wisconsin affected by the flood.

I’ve volunteered to be one of the collection points for this material, which will be used only for purposes of fundraising and possibly in an upcoming issue of Edible Iowa River Valley. There is no compensation available in return, but your contribution of your material will help raise awareness on behalf of these struggling farmers and those who work for them. In addition, while the details are still being worked out, any material submitted will be forwarded on to the appropriate organization for archival and historical purposes.

Please email anything you have (or links to where the material is located online) to genie (at) theinadvertentgardener (dot) com. Please include in your email a statement that notes you give your permission for the material to be republished without financial compensation.

More information will come as soon as I have it. Thanks so much, in advance, for your help with this project. And please feel free to forward this to anyone you know in the Midwest. The more stories and pictures we have to illustrate the devastation as it has affected farms, the better we can tell the story and, in turn, help the folks who have nowhere else to turn.

Support your local family farm, and meet the IG!

I know my readers come from far and come from wide. There are those of you who live in Eastern Iowa (particularly in the Cedar Rapids or Iowa City area), though, and I just know some of you were jealous of me when you read about my coolest-ever CSA farmer last year.

There’s no need to be jealous anymore, ’cause I have an opportunity for you.

A week from today, Local Foods Connection will be rocking the Robert E. Lee Community Recreation Center, at the corner of Gilbert and Burlington Streets in Iowa City, for their annual Community Supported Agricultural Fair. From noon to 4 p.m. on March 22, you can come meet local farmers and sign up for a CSA share.

What does that get you? Well, weekly fresh and local produce. Seasonal stuff. Those goodies that just aren’t the same when you buy them at your local, faceless grocery store. Plus, by purchasing a share, you’re guaranteeing income for farmers, which means they’re more likely to continue providing healthy, local produce, and continue being good stewards of the land.

If that’s not enough for you, you’ll be able to meet me! I helped organize the fair this year, and I’ll be there with some Inadvertent Gardener swag that you can take home with you.

Hope to see you out there!


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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