Jail Garden Part 1

This will be the first post of a three part series about my experience as an intern working to build an educational garden and compost system at the Franklin County House of Corrections.  I had originally hoped to be posting on this blog throughout the semester in order to document my experiences more throughout, however due to the understandably rigid bureaucracy of the Jail, and the evolution of how the program unfolded, these afterthoughts will have to suffice.

First off I want to say that this internship was not nearly as easy as it sounds.  I have a yearning to shoot mega doses of social justice into the places around us that need it most, but I’ve realized now how much of that work is tedious, monotonous, and down right clerical at times.  Much of the hours that composed this internship were spent with my eyes pasted to the screen of a computer, often with my phone sandwiched between my ear and my shoulder trying to sort out the logistics of this project.

For the first several months, given it was the coldest winter in years here in New England, the highlights of this internship were when I actually managed an in person meeting with someone who was helping me pull things together.  I say “actually managed” because the staff of the FCHOC are particularly overworked, and finding a time to meet that works for more than 1/2 of a person is quite tricky.  Luckily, other facets of my life have me visiting the jail on a regular basis so for the most part I could survey the human and physical landscape during my various times there.  Everyone has to sign into the jail upon arrival, and often I would sign in as a GCC visitor, leave for lunch, come back and sign in under another organization, leave and do it all again in the same day.  Kind of crazy making, and the C.O.’s had a particularly wonderful time trying to figure out what the hell I was doing there.  At some point, given that I also worked for Amherst College at the jail, they just started to call me “that teacher”, and it fit good enough.

That’s a good prelude to my next post which will follow shortly…

On a Whim

Today was such a productive Monday, following a very unproductive Saturday and Sunday. The weekend and my plans slipped away. However I woke up today determined to get things done!

Ian and I are trying very hard to keep this internship at lowest cost possible. We are actively sourcing, acquiring and making materials so that we don’t have to spend unnecessarily. Plus, it is like one big giant treasure hunt and puzzle figuring what fits and where to go. About a week and half ago Ian and I purchased the seeds from High Mowing and last, I believe, Wednesday they arrived. Very relieving news because we need to start planting so we can have starts for transplanting once the ground thaws and shows itself. With this in mind we realized we needed a good amount of soil to do such a task.

Ian brought to the table an option to use his father’s soil from a digging project that has left heaps of dirt behind. We decided that’s what we’d use. We then talked with Tony Reiber, Soil Science instructor at GCC, about what soil we were thinking of using on our plant starts. We told him about Ian’s father’s soil, and he immediately said ” you have to be careful of the weed pressure.”  What he was saying is that there could be a lot of weed seeds mixed in with the exposed soil. It really didn’t even occur to Ian or myself that this could pose a problem. It definitely would be one a big problem for maintaing weed growth in the gardens.

Ian remembered seeing the spot where the soil supposedly was being covered with weeds. So we went back to the drawing board. Our constraint now (being that we had already submitted the budget so we could not add potting soil to the cost) and NOW the seeds are already here, anxiously waiting to get planted. So I suggested seeing if we could get some soil donated by local farm and garden centers. Rockridge has a contract with Martins Farm in Greenfield that picks up their compost weekly. I pitched that we try to get in contact with them and see if we can recycle “their” compost back to Rockridge (talk about a closed loop system). That question is being worked on right now by the Head of Dinning Services. Hopefully we will be able to work with Martin’s down the road and have some nice compost to work with too.

Ok, now the preamble is over and the point of my story comes into play. (all above is important…just to note).

Today I was driving back from an interview in Northampton; I was driving along thinking about all the things I didn’t do this weekend and how am I supposed to catch up with my very fast paced life, when on a whim I pulled my car into the Hadley Garden Center and told myself I am going to go get some soil donated. I went in and ask the lady at the front desk who can I speak to about donations and do you do donations? She called Tom who came striding in with a huge smile on his face and said “What can I do for you?” I told him what I was doing and about GCC Farm and Food Systems Program and how I am working with Rockridge Retirement Community that is non-profit and that I am creating a garden for the use of residents, dinning service and staff. He stopped me and said, “What do you need?” I said sheepishly that I needed potting soil. He then proceeded take to a wide variety of potting soils and said, “Here is what you need, how many bags you want?” I said “two.” He grabbed two brought me back to the counter filled out a little slip, brought the bags to my car put them in and said. “To be honest I thought you were looking for a job. Do you need a job? ” I told him I was following up on some other ones but if they fall through I will definitely be back. I then thanked him and was on my way. THERE IT IS SO SIMPLE. TWO FREE DONATED BAGS OF TOP NOTCH POTTING SOIL! I was amazed. I have now been given a little more hope and confirmation that what I am doing will inspire others to help and change the system. THANK YOU Tom from Hadley Garden Center!

I now conclude my story with these words instilled in my head by wise old grandmother, “There is absolutely no shame in asking.”  Thank you for reading.

Writing is Fun

Oh it’s nice. It’s nice to feel like things are easy and stress just isn’t around. They just decided to stay away for a bit, not bother. Because writing is fun, and when it just happens it’s magical. Words just flow. Words that mean a lot to the writer, and will probably have a similar effect on the reader.

This Garden Guidebook that we are creating to help Rockridge Retirement Community manage their gardens into the future is a blessing, for me, and for Olivia I know it is too. It blows our mind on the regular. Some days one of us will look at the other and just say,”you know we’re pretty much writing a book.” I don’t know if I have fully realized the magnitude of the thing we are working on, but I know when we talk about it, when we run into Abrah or Tony and tell them the latest on the project, it’s like we realize a little more and a little more what we are really helping to create. We’re facilitators, and I am super happy with what we are facilitating.

No pictures this time, just words. Words.

The Art of Teamwork

Olivia Holcomb and I were lucky enough in the Fall to have gotten ourselves involved in the same internship, and now that we are deep in the planning for it (the internship consists of managing the already existing vegetable gardens at Rockridge Retirement Community, designing new raised beds for more gardening, and creating a guidebook including plant information and a comprehensive management plan for the gardens) I am incredibly thankful for having a teammate as great as Olivia. We have been able to get together at Rockridge, coffee shops, and our homes to work together, and then also put in time individually to make progress on a project that has us both really excited.

Just a couple of days ago we convened at Olivia’s apartment, with the broad goal of working on the project. This seems to me the way the internship has gone of late for the both of us: each of us having a serious desire to put time and effort towards developing plans for the gardens, but feeling like we didn’t know where to begin. On Monday when I went to her place, we shuffled around from the living room to the kitchen, taking on pieces of the project together and individually, and without a doubt feeling like we were doing good things. However, there was still a feeling of squirminess that was apparent in each of us. Thank the Heavens at some point Olivia looked at me and said something to the point of “Ian I need something real, something I can hold and write on and touch.” Her statement was in response to the fact that a lot of what we have been doing has been on the computer. We have been in email contact with the Volunteer Director at Rockridge, Abrah Dresdale at GCC and now have multiple Google Docs that contain most of our planning and guidebook efforts to date. What happened after she said that was kind of hilarious, and incredibly productive all at once. We each finished the tasks we were working on and then proceeded to grab a stack of computer paper and spread out across her kitchen floor creating a sort of storyboard/outline of the guidebook and all of the individual pieces of our larger mission.

Olivia's Olivia's

 

When she proposed the idea I thought it was really great and could tell it was exactly what she needed, so naturally I was all for it. What I didn’t realize is how invaluable it would be to me. It was EXACTLY what I needed too. The outline we created is amazingly quite thorough. Not that I didn’t expect it to be, but rather I didn’t have any specific expectations because it happened so fast. We were planning on taking 20 minutes to finish what we were already doing, then move to the storyboard. Less than ten minutes later we were spread out across the kitchen floor 5 pages in to what became an organized and nearly complete “guidebook” for ourselves to create a guidebook. 

Sometimes all it takes is a shift. Sometimes all it really takes is trying something different, and then fireworks go off (appropriately we were listening to a musical group named “Explosions in the Sky”). Sometimes all it takes is a friend, a partner to collaborate with, someone to shake you and say “this way isn’t working! Let’s try this!” Boom before you know it you’re making more progress in 45 minutes than you have made in three weeks. Teamwork is beautiful. It’s enjoyable, it’s tough, it’s inspiring (Olivia blows me away with her creativity) and it’s helpful. I really feel blessed. Since the beginning of this internship Olivia and I have been dumbfounded by this opportunity. I couldn’t think of a better culminating project for either of us. I just graduated and she is nearing the end of her Farm and Food Systems Associates Degree, and this endeavor brings together all of the things we have been learning about and allows us to practice them in a setting where we can give back. It feels appropriate. Since I started at GCC I have found myself increasingly becoming a part of a larger community. One that is really, really beautiful.

THE GREAT EXPANSION

Olivia and Ian here,

O: On Friday January 17th, Ian and myself presented all the rough drafted material we had to the chefs, Kelly, Brenda and (lucky us) the Executive Director of Rockridge, Beth. Included was a budget and list of all plants we were thinking of growing, little information blurbs about each species and the guidebook. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and excitement on everyones’ faces when they looked at the work we have done. One Chef, Will, took a look at the amount of plants we were thinking of growing and point blank questioned,  “you’re gonna grow all this?”  we replied, ” yes, yes we are.”

I: Our biggest challenge seems to be balancing expanding and growing more things, while assuring that everything we create is manageable.  Olivia and I will be interning through the spring semester, and we each plan on devoting enough time to take care of anything we create during 2014. We also are creating an informational guide for the community to reference in order to be informed about how to take care of their gardens. The goal is to establish a system that is productive but also low maintenance, consists of plants that are useful to the kitchen, and is set up to succeed. What that means to all of us involved is that when Olivia and I move on to other projects, whoever follows us (ideally more interns from GCC and possibly also the five colleges) have infrastructure in place to work from in order to keep a functional system operating. Rockridge hopes to make strong connections with the agricultural departments with the surrounding schools in order to have consistent internships to manage their gardens.

O: Our breakthrough at the meeting and the most exciting news is that we are approved to expand the garden, that means we can grow more! We now have two more sites in which to work with. One site specifically that Ian and I are psyched to work with is a small triangle where we are thinking of planting a Three Sisters garden of beans, corn and squash. The three women in attendance at the meeting were beyond joyous at this idea. Next steps for this project is designing the expanded area, finalizing where we are going to get seeds and proposing a final budget. Lets get working!!!!!!! Happy January!photo

Warm winter fires

An encouragement to expand is a wonderful thing.

It’s the middle of the winter, and I’m thinking about gardening. I’m thinking about broccoli florets and colorful tomatoes.  I’m thinking of raised beds filled with beautiful annual vegetable crops, and little niches getting occupied by blueberry bushes. I’m thinking about what all that will be like when the snow melts, the grass turns green again, and the deciduous trees are all bearing leaves again. It will be beautiful, there is no doubt about that.

All of that said, what I’m really thinking about right now, is winter. It’s winter. I love winter. Just like I love the spring, in all its beauty, it’s freshness, I love the winter.  I love the way that the cold permeates your skin, into your bones. The way everything slows down, the quiet, the hawk overhead, undeterred. Winter is special, it allows for many things. Our biome has evolved to exist with winter, and its biota is dependant upon it. Many seeds of plants native to the Northeast require a cold dormancy period, in order for them to be viable come springtime. I think I need a cold dormancy period.  Maybe I’m more like a grown up perennial plant.  I’m not quite dormant, I’m already born, just bracing myself for the winter. Taking the time to reflect, time to slow down and think, remember what shoots and roots succeeded where I sent them, what seeds blossomed in what places, which neighbors were easy to work with. Winter is special.

This winter I have been using my time to plan. To do what a plant does, prepare. Olivia Holcomb and I have been working with the wonderful folks at Rockridge Retirement Community to coordinate their raised bed vegetable gardens. They have 15 4×4 beds, that they have grown various annual and perennial plants in. In the fall we cut back and pulled plants, added rich horse manure compost from Full of Grace Farm, and sheet mulched. We met with Kelly and Rachel at Rockridge and the two main chefs there. All this is in preparation for glorious spring when we will be implementing the planting plans that Olivia and I are in the thick of designing.

There are many amazing things about this project, from the simple pieces like tending the garden, to interacting with the wonderful folks at the community, to working with Olivia on something we both love to do. I think right now, however, the thing that excites most, is that not only is there encouragement, but there is a written requirement for expansion. We must grow their growing operation. Thankfully, that is exactly what Olivia and I want to do.

With warm winter fires and flowers blooming in mind, I say cheers, enjoy yourselves.     Ian Walton

Beyond the gardens, there is a lot of space to expand.

Beyond the gardens, there is a lot of space to expand.

My favorite things

My short experience at Just Roots for the fall semester was so incredible.  I witnessed many vegetables I had never seen before and I experienced many sensations I previously missed in this lifetime.  I am glad to have them now! Here are some of my favorite things:

Touching the soft yet particulate dirt on your hands as you pull up a big fat beet from the land.

Hearing the rain pitter patter on the plastic sides of the greenhouse while you are warm and dry and planting lavender.

Seeing a little bit of a potato hidden in the upturned soil as you search the rows for potatoes that were missed during harvest

Tasting a fresh slice of watermelon radish for the first time WAHOO

And Smelling the sweet strong earthy smell of a carrot plucked from the ground is just perfectly divine.  Ain’t nothin like it!

 

seeing these fractal patterns in this sacred veggie are a trip!

seeing these fractal patterns in this sacred veggie are a trip!

MMMM the smell of garlic! pungent and sound, keep the vampires and disease away!

MMMM the smell of garlic! pungent and sound, keep the vampires and disease away!

bathing broccoli beauties!

bathing broccoli beauties!

wash that kale! no one likes chewing gritty leaf, but a cold crispy dip will do the trick!

wash that kale! no one likes chewing gritty leaf, but a cold crispy dip will do the trick!

misty morning view

misty morning view

beans in the forefront

beans in the forefront

Getting started at Just Roots

My first day at Just Roots farm came on a late September morning.  I awoke to the dark morning excited for the day ahead-the sun was just peeking through the misty morning sky as I drove to the farm.  I had no idea what to expect as I had no farm experience what so ever. I  was grateful for the opportunity to finally be able to get my hands in the dirt after a few semesters of taking classes for the Farm and Food Systems major.

I drove down Glenbrook drive and there was the big red barn of Just Roots farm. I parked and walked down the gravel driveway to the fields behind the greenhouses. The air was chilly and the grass was wet.  I found David, Just Roots head farmer, harvesting some little white crispy looking radish things. Hopefully by the end of this internship I’ll be able to tell what they are!!

Over the course of the day I harvested purple beans and washed the day’s harvest to be sent out to the CSA and to be sold whole sale to Greenfield’s Market.  Who knew that there was such thing as purple beans! I did not-until today.  My fingers were freezing as I picked the beans from their dewey homes but the fresh air and wonderful sites around me kept me content. They hung gracefully off of their stalks and before I knew it my bucket was full of these long and luscious legumes.  The deep rich purple skins are truly magical. I will have to test it out for myself but apparently they do not stay purple once you cook em.  The amount of beautiful diverse funky vegetables that is kept from the public for the sake of the industrial ag industry must be enormous!

just roots

ROCK RIDGE RETIREMENT

 

 

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Fall 2013: Here lay the current garden at the Northampton Rockridge Retirement Community. They have fifteen beds with an array of different community planted and donated herbs and flowers. Most of the beds are vacant, they were once planted with annual vegetable produce. Ian Walton and I are tasked with recreating a low maintence , high production annual and possible perennial vegetable garden to be utilized by the chefs, residents and visitors of the community. We just recently put the garden to bed using, a lasagna composting layering technique where we first took out all dead/ annual/ unwanted plants, dead headed them and cleared them from the bed. Then proceeded to place compost from a local horse farm donated and free! After that we placed cardboard and hay on to beds to provide an insulating layer. The idea behind this layering technique is to boost the organic matter and contain the soil within the beds over winter. imageThis is mid process. photo Here is what it looks like after all hay is finally dispersed.

Stone Soup Cafe

My Summer internship at Stone Soup Cafe has been going really well. For those of you who don’t know, Stone Soup Cafe is a community cafe in Greenfield, MA that functions on a pay-what-you-can model, inviting anyone who can afford to make a donation for their meal to do so, and those who cannot afford to are still able to eat. We all eat a as local-as-possible meal that is lovingly prepared by volunteers…together as people.

The meal is made possible by local volunteers, farms, and various vendors who donate their time, efforts, produce, products and love. We thrive as a community without barriers created by economic differences. No one goes hungry. There’s usually live music, as well as an assortment of wellness offerings throughout the year from places like Greenfield Community Acupuncture. Delicious produce and other products are provided by places like Just RootsAtlas FarmFranklin County Community CooperativeKatalyst KombuchaFoster’s Market, and The Barn.

Lovingly prepared, local and organic when possible. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve met a lot of amazing people and continue to feel part of a community of incredible people here in Greenfield and Franklin county. It feels great to be a part of an organization that is not only doing wonderful things to fight hunger in our community, but also encouraging and setting examples for communities across the U.S.

Radishes donated by Just Roots in Greenfield. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve had the pleasure of doing various activities for the cafe, including working in the kitchen on Saturdays and prepping for the meal throughout the week. I meet weekly with the cafe’s coordinator, Ari Pliskin, to discuss internship goals and projects. I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts, a weekly e-newsletter, and assisting with outreach. I’ve even gotten to experience a leadership role in the kitchen as head chef, which was an awesome experience and something that I never thought that I’d have the courage to do. Stone Soup Cafe is a wonderful, encouraging, and loving environment that I hope all of you will have the pleasure of being a part of in any way that you can. As a volunteer, the next Stone Soup intern, or as a cafe patron at a weekly meal…your presence matters.