Friday, August 29, 2008

McDonalds or Farmer's Market

Friday morning's I treat myself to a scone from one of my favorite bread vendors at the Farmer's Market in Union Square. I usually make my purchase and head straight to work but this morning I took a little time to walk the length of the market. The farmers were still setting up but customers were already strolling sleepily into their stalls to check out the fresh produce. Along the way I saw a Greenmarket manager give the egg lady a high five, maybe to celebrate that they made it to the end of summer. Another vendor was loading purple peppers into a milk crate and an organic milk vendor was knitting to pass the time between customers.
As I reached the north end of Union Square a well dressed young man was walking between two vendor stalls with a small red and yellow paper bag, his purchase from McDonalds. Every time I walk through the market, I marvel at these people that would rather purchase an egg mcmuffin than support a local small business. The same with the fruit vendor just south of the square. People line up to get bing cherries or bananas whose origin is unknown when they could have peaches and plums from local farmers if they walk another two blocks.

Am I the odd one or are they?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chenchita's Group Community Garden

This summer we (Phil and I) bought a membership at Chenchita's Garden.
The garden is located at 112th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem. We have a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed and in spring we planted a variety of plants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, lettuce. onions, all in that little space. I would have planted more but I was advised not to as some of the plants would crowd out others as they grow. Now that the plants are about 2 months old, we can see that more clearly. Today we staked up the tomatoes which had started to take over, weaving all over the other plants. Hopefully this will save the peppers and basil. Oh, we also planted broccoli.
Mirta and Jose are in the garden next door and they have a great cherry tree in the center of the garden. It's now fruiting and the cherry's are lovely. They were a special treat for all the work we put in, building more beds, transplanting and cleaning up the garden. My back is very sore as a result.

Monday, June 9, 2008

What is Protest?

I've been thinking about the concept of protest for a while.
Protest often evokes images of sign carrying and slogan shouting. It may also generate images of violence, of police, of hippies or counter-culture protesters. Those are the images that the media
show us and many of us have had some exposure to protest. Either we've participated in protests in the past (and still do), or we've seen them. A lot of people can say that they've never participated in a protest or wanted to. A lot of us assume that protesting is something liberals do, but this isn't true. Plenty of conservatives find issues to protest about. OK, so that's enough on the basics about protesting. People do it regardless of their political leanings.

What I've been thinking about is how people are protesting outside of this model. What are people doing that might be considered a protest? Why are they doing it? Would they consider what they do protest? So we're getting a good way into this without clarification. How about if we start with what a protest is? Saying the protest is an expression of disagreement with a prevailing opinion is rather simplistic, but accurate nonetheless. If we take this definition and look for signs of protest, there are plenty.

I just read an article about Richard Reynolds, a guerrilla gardener in London. Guerilla Gardening is a form or protest. Where urban land is laying wasted because there's no development or use on it, Reynolds will plant a garden. Somehow landowners, business owners and police have found this to be offensive and he has been harassed by all these groups. The point though is that his form of protest does not fit the prevailing image.

How about the many folks who live off the grid. Isn't their very lifestyle a form of protest. They have their own reasons for doing it, and yet they have decided that they do not want to participate in the same form of energy distribution and sourcing that the majority of people tap into in order to power their households.

Now that I've been seeing protest in many different forms, I've been watching for it and there are plenty of examples. Sandor Katz is a common name among people that are into fermentation. I look at this as another form of protest.

I think I'll stop there for now. More later.

Friday, May 30, 2008

An Escape Quandary

We're in a quandary. Here's the problem. We know New York City is not sustainable nor is it a place we want to be when people get panicy about an rotting economy, high food and energy prices and other signs of a collapse. But here we are, buying membership in a community garden, taking position on its board and helping to rejuvenate it. I'm talking about Chenchita's Garden at 112th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem.

We're really enjoying creating our little garden plot and helping to set up other plots and planting tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies. There's a lot of work that can be done there and it's exciting to be part of its transformation into a permaculture garden. You'd think we'd put our thoughts of escaping aside. Not really, but it's a source of more than a little confusion as to what we really want to do and how we want to extract ourselves from the city.

I met an old acquaintance recently and we had lunch today. He told me that he and his partner bought a house hours from the city and he takes the train to and from every day. Initially, they had arranged that he would work from home several times a week so the commute wasn't an everyday routine. Then his employer changed the rules and he could no longer telecommute. Now they've told him that they are moving his department from Times Square to Seacaucus, NJ. Well there's no way he would commute there, there are no direct trains nor hardly any indirect trains that go there. That's the scary part of escaping to me, being stuck where you've escaped to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 NYC PDC Workdays - May 31 and June 1

This weekend the students and organizers of the 2008 NYC Urban Permaculture Design Certificate Course will be practicing what they've learned at two sites in the region.

On Saturday, May 31, 2008, we will be working in Chenchita's Community Garden at 112th Street and Madison Avenue, placing constructed raised beds and filling them with drainage material, compost and soil.

This Sunday, June 1, 2008, we'll be helping Kevin and Sarah of Regeneration CSA in High Falls, NY make sheet mulch beds and transplanting. We may also take on the construction of a hoop house at Epworth Camp.

To find out more about Regeneration CSA, go to their website at:

Workdays are free for 2008 NYC Urban PDC students; non-students are welcome to join us for a sliding scale fee of $10 to $40. Don't worry, you'll be put to work, and you'll learn a lot!

Here's some photos of the last workday at Regeneration CSA

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Spring Surprises

Well, I'm not so enamored with that squirrel anymore. I put out my planters to take in the fresh air and sun last weekend. The large planter, the one the squirrel used to live in, with a mint plant freshly transplanted in it. Then the long planter with it's lonely calendula sprout coming up. And finally a yogurt container with some poor soil and the sprouted black walnut inside.

Wouldn't you know, just as I'm leaving for work on Monday, I spy that squirrel jumping into the planter with the calendula. I run back in the house and open the window to scare him away and as he bounds off, he upends the whole long planter, dumping most of its contents on the fire escape. The mint was unharmed but I brought it in anyway fearing he was after it for the black walnut. I thought squirrels didn't have very good memory, so I assumed it had forgotten about it's little treasure. I neglected to bring in the yogurt container though and of course, he was back and raided it and the black walnut was once again in his possession.

Now I'm little gun shy about setting the remaining mint plant out to be raided again. I'm wondering if the smell of the mint repels squirrels and that was why he didn't get into it. Oh well, I'll have to be content with mint for now. I plan on bringing the long planter to Shabazz and Josephine's to get some cuttings of oregano or sage or rosemary. Spring marches on...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Surprised by Spring

Sunday, April 13, 2008 was a permaculture design course workday at our friends Shabazz and Josephine's home in Newburgh, NY. I was looking forward to it in part because we learned so much the first time (March 23, see some photos :
I was also looking forward to transplanting a peppermint plant I bought at the Farmer's Market in Union Square. I intended to transplant it into an improvised planter I got when Phil and I took an organic gardening workshop with Deb Tyler at Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge, CT. I used that planter last year to grow one basil plant and one mint plant. The mint didn't last too long, but the basil made it through the summer. I neglected that planter last fall and as the basil withered someone else took interest in it. A squirrel. Eventually that squirrel took up residence in the planter, somehow carving a home into the soil an adding much of its own accoutrements, like leaves, and bits of trash. I guess it lived there off and on for 3 months, but with the first warm days, the planter was empty and lifeless again. So I intended to reclaim it and on Sunday morning I retrieved it from our fire escape and brought it to Newburgh.

There was a lot of matted squirrel hair in it but also a lot of soil and leaves. I tossed the hair and turned the remaining soil, adding some root mulch to the bottom as instructed by Sharon Kimmelmann, our PDC co-organizer. But as I was emptying the soil out, Sharon spied something at the bottom of the planter. It was a large sprout. She inspected it for a while and proudly announced it to be a sprouted black walnut! It seems our furry friend had left a gift for the use of the planter. I now have that sprout in a small planter on our fire escape along with the transplanted mint plant and am looking forward to enjoying both as they grow this spring.