Archive for the 'Other People’s Gardens' Category

Guest post: A garden out of control

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Chase Ledebur, my cousin Kären’s son. Chase has been gardening this summer for the first time at home, and I wanted you to hear from this wonderful and talented 12-year-old in his very own words.

Hi, I’m Chase – welcome to my garden. This is the first vegetable garden I’ve had at home. At school I was a part of planting a community garden, but it is a flower garden.

My Mom and I built the raised bed together and then planted 4 varieties of tomatoes, summer squash, three kinds of peppers, zucchini, Japanese eggplant, basil and oregano.

I have really enjoyed watching the plants grow and bear fruit. At first it started out small, but it’s now out of control. It’s so out of control that we had to cut back all our plants, stake some of them, and we are constantly harvesting all of our vegetables.

I love the whole process. Next year I think we’ll plant less, or maybe we’ll add another bed.

Photography shouldn’t distract from weeding

On my way out to Oakland from Iowa, I made a stop in Grand Junction, Colorado, at my cousin’s house. She and her son Chase had planted their first vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed off one side of the house. Tomatoes, squash, basil, oregano – the garden was still filled with seedlings when I got there, but had the promise of an amazing summer of production.

Chase gave me a tour of the garden before I headed out toward Salt Lake City, where I had a dinner planned with Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, and I started shooting pictures almost as soon as I got out there. Chase put up with my paparazzi-esque behavior while he weeded the garden, but only did so for so long.

“Genie,” he said, looking up at me with a pointed look. “You really could stop taking those pictures and start helping me with the weeding.”

Well, I did help. A bit. And just recently, I asked my cousin if Chase might be interested in giving my readers an update on how the garden is doing, now that the summer season is in high gear and veggies are popping out all over. As it turned out, he was interested, so stay tuned – on Wednesday, I’ll be turning the floor over to Chase, who is more than just an excellent gardener – he’s a fantastic kid!

The tomato bed

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Tomatoes in the Victory Garden

Bed 10A. That’s the location, on the official Victory Garden Map, of the tomato plants. During my first morning as a volunteer, I kept wandering over there, checking out the tiny yellow blossoms, eyeing the green tomatoes weighing down the branches, and admiring the basil and Italian parsley companion-planted throughout the bed.

Then I noticed suckers growing from the stem junctures on some of the tomato plants, and reached down to pick one. Even in the chilly mist, there was no mistaking the smell that wafted up. That green, tomato-plant smell that I love so much? Turns out it’s just as good even when the garden isn’t really yours and you aren’t even going to get to eat any of the tomatoes.

I’m already looking forward to Saturday, when I might just stand by Bed 10A for as much of the day as the Garden Educator on duty will let me. I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk to the plants, but I’m definitely going to be looking for suckers to pluck.

Heck. If no one’s looking, I might just have to hug one of the plants. Trust me. In that neighborhood? That kind of behavior wouldn’t even come close to making me stand out in the crowd.

First day at the Victory Garden

I very nearly left the house without a jacket on Sunday morning.

Two hours into my first stint as a docent in the Victory Garden, I was simultaneously applauding my decision to actually grab my favorite grey hoodie and kicking myself for not grabbing my fleece jacket to go over it.

“I’m freezing,” I muttered to Lauren, who was volunteering with me that day. “I cannot believe I almost didn’t bring my hoodie.”

Lauren shook her head and zipped her fleece (while I stifled inadvertent envy) up a little further. We both eyed the cloud-thick sky. I wrinkled my nose at the mist. It felt like early spring in Iowa, not even close to what I consider summer.

Regardless of weather-related challenges (Note: bring many more layers this weekend…), this was a fairly low-key volunteer effort. I spent much of my time wandering around the garden taking pictures, and having conversations with the English-speaking visitors. As much as I like opera, I was of no help with the busload of Italian tourists who came through about 45 minutes into the morning, and even though I live in Oakland’s Chinatown, I wasn’t any help with the Chinese tourists, either.

At one point, the Garden Educator on site to keep us on task asked me to help her water some plants. I said I would, but then a woman walking by stopped at the fence around the garden to ask if there was a need for more volunteers, and so I wrote down the volunteer coordinator’s email address for her and talked to her for a few minutes about the garden, and by the time I turned back around, another volunteer had picked up the watering can and had taken over that job.

Dirty hands? Not really. But I can’t complain about spending a few hours wandering aimlessly through a pretty spectacular garden.

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.

A gardening season potentially washed away

One of the things that has been most strange to me about the Flood of 2008 coverage is that I actually recognize the landmarks. In the past, most of my flood experience has been virtual – I’ve watched the news and sympathized, even sent money for relief, but never actually recognized the locations involved. It’s a completely different experience, the recognition something akin to seeing an ex-boyfriend on the street with a new girl. It’s the same sickening drop in the stomach, no matter how glad you may have been to leave him behind.

Now the floodwaters are being to recede, but that means the recovery is just beginning. And what a recovery it’s going to be. After all, floodwater is dirty-nasty-foul stuff. Oh, toxic sediment, thanks for stopping by (not that you were actually invited to the garden party).

Yeah, speaking of that garden party, I had never given a second of thought to what happens when your home garden floods until I read the Johnson County Extension’s list of warnings and admonitions. The basics? If you had raw sewage in your garden, don’t eat the food. In fact, quit growing any more food, because now you have contaminated dirt. For 90 days.

There are some other suggestions from the Extension: Get rid of leafy greens. Don’t eat your strawberries. Discard anything that was covered with water, even if it was a root vegetable like potatoes, carrots or garlic.

I realize I’m not there to work in my old garden, but when I read that advice (wise as it is), I felt that corresponding sickening drop in the stomach. As if the flooding wasn’t bad enough already, the thought of missing the entire growing season (because a 90-day growing ban would, for all intents and purposes, cause just that) is pretty horrifying.

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.


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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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