As you can see summer is in full swing here and we are all accomplishing a lot at the small farm unit. We have crafted a gigantic compost pile out of turkey litter and straw, evenly moistened and covered with black plastic to heat up to 150 degrees. Through careful timing and management of the summer field we have been able to get far enough ahead of the nutsedge so that competitive advantage has been established. We have achieved this through tilling in between the rows of the till side of the summer field and hand weeding around the tomatoes and peppers. On the no-till side we have been mowing and weed whacking around the squash, cucumber, and melon plants to continuously deplete the energy of the nutlets. One of the best ways to accomplish these tasks in record time is to invite ten interns to assist you in your efforts! The interns arrived from various corners of the country to learn more about organic production and we could not be happier to have the chance to meet such an enthusiastic group from various fields of interest in sustainable agriculture.
We have also been very lucky in that the Caterpillar company was generous enough to donate new work boots, gloves, safety goggles, and shirts to the interns and apprentices and we are all truly grateful for this quality equipment.
In other news, the guys are very excited about the blueberries that have been ripening and bursting with flavor, I keep catching them in the bushes.
Ray and I work in the long term farming systems research unit every Thursday, and lately we have been marking off plots for soil sampling that will occur later in the season.
Community work has been going well and everyone is excited to have the opportunity to work with children in the garden on various topics related to food production, healthy eating, and gardening. I have three interns, Jules, Alison, and Chris, who are assisting me and Maria (the Food Corps lead at Dillard Academy) with the summer program. We hope to have some educational activities and nutrition lessons for the kids in the coming weeks.
Marisa organized a family field trip to Virginia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. for all of us. We piled into the coach van and started our adventure, which I was very excited about because I did not bring my car to Goldsboro. Although I made that economical decision, you can understand why I was excited to go on a three day trip!! We stayed with Justin’s family in Fairfax where we were treated like royalty. I had the most comfortable queen size bed of my entire 26 years of life on this planet. Thankyou Carrie Brill, you do not know how much that meant to me.
Our first stop was in Monkton, Maryland where we visited Connor and Christy who were apprentices with CEFS several years ago. They both run 12 acres of vegetable production at Little Gunpowder Farm, half an hour north of Baltimore City. We discussed the dynamic of being supported by the nonprofit Civic Works, whose mission is to work on community improvement, workforce development, education, and green programming throughout Baltimore. Connor and Christy run a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that has been pretty successful!
We proceeded on to Baltimore where we met a young woman named Sasha who works as a food justice consultant for the health alliance in the Park Heights neighborhood. She is organizing all aspects of a one acre community garden through which she has created the foundation for a truly bottom-up strategy of addressing urgent food security needs in her community.
Sasha’s work is inspiring because not only is she working to directly address food insecurity in Baltimore she expands and connects this issue with the lack of adequate health information and adequate access to care experienced by many in her community. This part of Baltimore is recognized as a literacy desert due to multiple libraries being closed down. Sasha provides books for people to take to their families when they come to get their share of vegetables. I am a more optimistic person after visiting with Sasha and seeing how possible it is to take a multifaceted, bottom up approach to community development and be successful.
We proceeded to visit Whitelock Community Farm in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. Whitelock Community Farm is a resident-driven farm which aims to pursue affordable and sustainable fresh food sources, provide neighborhood job creation, and help revitalize the neighborhood through greening and positive community activity. The farm operates a farmstand, a bike powered mobile market, neighborhood composting program, and CSA. The farm began in 2010 when Reservoir Hill residents converted a vacant lot into an active urban farm with the help of hundreds of volunteers. This serves as a model community based project showing that providing neighborhoods access to land and resources is a sustainable way of revitalizing urban environments and building communities that flourish for all. In my opinion, this is the kind of investment that can bring returns we could only dream of seeing for many of our struggling urban areas across the US.
Next we met up with one of last year’s apprentices, the one and only Myeasha Taylor. She is kicking butt in Baltimore managing a piece of land on a vacant lot for the nonprofit Civic Works.
Myeasha showed us the site she has been managing, where infrastructure plans are subject to the hurdles of zoning laws in the area that have left many vacant lots growing delinquent, and where many people have been moved out as a result of demolition. In the middle of such an economically disenfranchised environment, Myeasha is growing a whole variety of different vegetables and plans on hosting community film screenings and yoga classes for the public. One of the challenges of the reality of doing this work within the overarching power structure of a nonprofit is that the people doing the service everyday within a given community are often pulled in two directions by a desire to respond realistically to the observable needs and palettes of community members, and at the same time follow the protocol of the organization which is usually predetermined with less personal understanding of what the situation looks like on the ground. Myeasha walks this tightrope with grace, and we appreciate her taking the time to meet with us and help organize the sites we visited, making for a well balanced and insightful trip.
Our last trip was to Washington, D.C. where we stopped in at Eastern Market, the oldest fresh food public market in D.C. It was a great experience to see all of the different vendors selling amazing produce and cut flowers.
After Eastern market we went to visit another star apprentice from last year, Philip Sambol, who is managing a grocery store called Good Food Market located in northeast D.C. Good Food Market offers produce, staples, some meat and cheese, and other groceries in a neighborhood that has traditionally required a bus trip for residents to get to a grocery store. We had a tour of the 1,000 sq foot store which offers a great variety of affordable foods, most sourced as locally as possible and with a generous blend of organic and conventional products that make the store approachable and accessible and not another high-end niche natural foods store. I appreciated this aspect of the store the most and feel that Philip is on to something great, as difficult as it is to operate a business with little space and equipment that would assist with keeping produce fresher longer. I bought rhubarb which warmed my spirits because I am used to picking it in Maine and have not been able to find any until I went to Good Food Market. Philip is responsive to what his customer base wants, and is open for suggestions, which is key for keeping a young business on its feet.
We had a great trip, and this experience gives me more motivation to continue to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities for education and practical application that I have as an apprentice at CEFS. I appreciate how lucky I am to be in this position right now and plan on using what I have gained here fully when I leave the program in November.
The magic continues…