HLS June

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Herkimer KOA, NY

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HLS photographs

Thanks Paula for the photos!



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Last Step, Next Step

It’s not that things aren’t happening, it’s just that there hasn’t been time to write about them. Things happen fast. I tend to make decisions rashly. And it usually works out pretty well. I currently find myself too excited to sleep, so instead of spending the next 4 hours editing photos and writing an amazing long article, I’ll give a quick overview of what’s to come. After that, this blog will die out pretty abruptly, I am afraid, but for a greater good.

BrightFarms brightfarms.com

I have just been hired by BrightFarms to not only continue to write articles about local food production, climate change, and the amazing people who are making waves, but to research, write press releases, and become generally involved with an unbelievably smart company. BrightFarms builds greenhouses on top of grocery stores, using their cooling systems and food prep areas as radiant heating sources. They grow food, and sell it to the grocery store, eliminating fuel to transport. This enables them to choose food varieties based on flavor and nutrition- not transportation durability. Perhaps the job will include some building, perhaps there will be some growing. I never thought I’d ever grow food without soil, but when Iook into the water, land and resources that these systems conserve, well, I think I’m ready to get acquainted. I begin working at the end of June, and will include a link to the new blog as soon as its published.

The Farm at Green Village thefarmatgreenvillage.com

Not a farm. That does not have anything to do with, but is interestingly related to this article: http://newjerseyhills.com/chatham_courier/news/article_141f1ae6-8c6c-11e0-93c1-001cc4c002e0.html#user-comment-area  Where to begin. I shopped here for soil and supplies for my veggie gardens. Then they let me take their recyclable containers to help build HLS’s 80% recycled materials (no that number has not been counted) garden. Then my Brazilian houseguest decided that we should get a fun, outdoor, no weekends included, job for the month of May. Then they started letting me organize things, plant vegetable beds, help people layout their gardens, design plots, and talk all day long about food production. There were also a few art projects in there. Oh yeah, and there are peanut M&Ms hidden for special people. And sometimes Sammy can spend the day getting his butt kicked by the boss’s dog. Somewhere in there I fell in love. The people are pretty ok as well, and writing a one-liner for the cast of merry men (and women) would be an article in itself. And I am still fairly new, perhaps my sense of humor will not yet be appreciated.

HLS hlsrestaurant.com

My baby. We’ve harvested salad mix and strawberries. Before that, I planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, greens, spinach (which got eaten by rabid garbage flies), scallions, lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, flowers, zucchini, summer squash, peas, green beans, and who knows what else. Before that, I shoveled (and by shoveled I mean bucketed) 4 yards of soil/compost blend into raised beds with the help of my special Brazilian houseguest, Paula. And before that, I built a raised bed out of old palettes that I took apart. It took forever, and I had to varnish the thing, so then I had to line it with polyethalene, so I decided that purchasing wood for the other two beds would be the smarter move. I also used a bunch of recycled bins to make planters.

Herkimer KOA herkimerdiamond.com

30 raised beds of fruits and vegetables (one bed per vegetable, more or less) for campers to harvest, and for use in cooking demonstrations. There is no fee to harvest food, but instead there is a donation box for a KOA charity for kids with cancer. 6 raised beds are in front of a completely off the grid solar powered lodge (which has AC and TV… and this year there are now 3 lodges) which are a mix of flowers are veggies. There would have been 2 more solar lodges if not for the floods this Spring. ( http://www.littlefallstimes.com/features/x482560481/In-Herkimer-County-clean-up-begins-as-flooding-subsides) But, back to the garden, there are 2 cold frames, newly amended soil, and a large number of trellises and vertical framework. Double bonus, I should be able to actually see it this year in full production.

My Parent’s Property

Between my folk’s cottage on Lake Winola, and their home in Maplewood, we have built a perennial sun garden, a vegetable garden, (tomorrow, I will build) a perennial shade garden; we have added blueberry bushes and grape vines into the landscape. Next step is to build a grape trellis, and convince them to let me add a couple cherry trees. There has also been talk of a mural.

Life is good. Except for two things. My pup missing spending his days passed out in the pickup truck, chasing the tractor, licking peanut-meal fertilizer as I spread it, edging along under me to stay in my shadow on hot days (or using me as an umbrella on rainy days), and getting lost in the compost yard for hours at a time. And no climbing yet this year, due to injuries that seem to lead to other injuries. But these things will come together with time.

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Urban Farm at the Battery

On a cloudy Friday that I was slightly underdressed for, I arrived at the Southernmost point in Manhattan, off the 1 train, to Battery Park. With my newfound free time, I decided to volunteer for a day at a brand spankin’ new urban farm in the big bad city. I needed to get out of Jersey for a few hours; perhaps the air seemed a little too clean over on this side of the Hudson, or maybe I was hoping to maneuver through even more traffic.

I do love New York City, although it holds a very different feeling for me than most people. It represents what I was looking for at a very different time in my life. When I go back there for a night barhopping with high school or college friends, I always feel self conscious about how this isn’t my life anymore. For that reason, I rarely bother to make the trek into the city to explore some of the thousands of rad projects that I know I would adore.

So, today, I made the trek. I had the choice of showing up a half hour early, or a half hour late, due to train times. Because arriving a haf hour late meant that I would get there at the same time as the kids that I was supposed to be working with (ok let’s be honest, I’m stupidly punctual and bug out when I’m late), I arrived on site at 8 am. I walk out of the subway, wondering how long it’s going to take me to find this place, when POW, hello, right in your face, the Urban Farm at the Battery.

I sat outside the Starbucks across the street, drinking coffee with my legs hanging over the edge of the patio, feet dangling over the sidewalk. People walking by stared, yes, stared, at my state in the financial district. I don’t think they were staring at my tattoo, or my super awesome adidas kicks, but I do think they were staring at this girl who dared relax on a chilly morning at 8am when they all had somewhere to be 10 minutes ago.

Anyway, back to the important stuff. Do you think you could work at a vegetable garden with the smell of honey roasted peanuts in the air? Would it motivate you? Or would you always have to remind yourself that they are never as good as they smell? How can they be- it may be the best smell in the world, a little bit of nutty sweetness wrapped up in childhood memories of visiting Dad at work.

This farm is a combination of school gardens and community gardens. Who knew? It could work! The Battery Conservancy hosts this farm plot, which is lined by crazy bamboo fencing and is in the shape of  turkey. Some of the plots are reserved for classes at NYC schools, everthing from PSs to private alternative high schools. There is no fee for the plot, you simply reserve it, plant it, weed it, and eat it. Some teachers were showing up with full on battle plans for their small spaces, others were asking us to “just plant the cucumbers, we don’t care if they’re going to die”. The kids were mostly concerned the finding and collecting worms. Camilla, the head Urban Farmer, is young and psyched on life. Alexanna, an intern from NYU, has this working with kids thing down. Smiles across the board.

The other half of the farm is going to be planted by the conservancy, and will be helped by the massive onslaught of volunteers. Once things are ready to be harvested, the deal will be “you work it, you eat it”. The rest of the food will be donated to a city food pantry.

Working at this farm was a total trip. When I met up with Camilla, the rundown was basically “We have all of the schools that cancelled from this weeks rain showing up this morning. We’ll just throw you right in.” And so began my morning of showing kids of to transplant baby collard greens, and seed lettuce and root veggies. Sounds familiar. It is universally Spring. But there are a few differences between NJ and NY urban plots. Every time I got into helping the kids in the soil, I would eventually have to look up. And when I looked up, I was confronted with skyscrapers, the harbor, double decker siteseeing buses, street performers, lines for the ferry to Ellis Island, and yes, the wafting smell of honey roasted peanuts. Not to mention the rumbling subway that passes underneath your feet- cheers to radiant heating!

This is a site that I strongly recommend you all check out, whether you simply enjoy NYC siteseeing, or have a serious interest in local food production. This will not be my last visit. Check out their blog! Volunteer, or scope the system. http://www.thebattery.org/news/?tag=urban-farm.

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Bust… and Go

“If you love something let it go”, blah, blah, blah. “If it comes back to you, it was meant to be”. Blah, blah, blah.  Just like taking back that great guy from that horrible relationship, things never seem to work out the second time around. There are too many questions like “why wasn’t I good enough the first time” and “have either or us really changed?” I knew it the moment I got the call that the mystery school project had, in fact, been approved. I knew I would never be able to look at it the same way, because after months of work, I had to emotionally let this thing go. But, as is the beauty with work that you love to do, once I dove in my only focus became doing this thing right.

However, the project took a direction that I could not follow. It failed to be flexible in the face of changing needs and new information. I tried, I did, but I could not raise money, nor put in 15 hours/week on a project that I could only partially stand behind. Yes, my views of New Jersey have changed. In fact, this place has provided me with an emotional rollercoaster with thrilling highs when something start to burgeon, and severe lows when something tanks.

However, things are happening. All is not lost. Gardens will grow in New Jersey! They will be organic! They will pop out vegetables! And many of them will be done by me. So far, I have had my dirty little hands in 2 spring plantings, and many more to come.

Health, Love, and Soul, Maplewood, NJ

I am pretty sure that this is the very first restaurant garden in Maplewood, NJ and much of the surrounding area. A hip, young staff, and a super loyal customer base are going to have their first experiences with growing their own tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, salad greens, kale, lettuce, scallions, and many more staples of their menu. Well, watermelon isn’t exactly a part of their menu, but come on, its watermelon. I bet no one has tasted watermelon like this before, either!

So far, one raised bed has been built, and is filled with a thin layer of gravel under an entire yard of topsoil! (That’s 27 cubic feet, this is a pretty massive bed!) Also, I built this bed from recycled palettes, so score one for keeping those out of the local landfill. I seeded some stuff that has yet to germinate, and transplanted some kale and flowers. I’ll call this the “soft opening” for the veggie garden. By May, I will have more beds built, more soil delivered, and more seedlings ready to plant. Cucumbers, green beans, peas, and morning glories will grow up the courtyard fence- so this is a site that is not to be missed!

I may not be climbing much, but at least Im still using backup knots

The Gould School, North Caldwell, NJ

I spent about 2 or 3 hours working with these 4th, 5th and 6th graders to fill 2 beds with soil. I left there ready to pass out. I forgot how much energy bounces off of those little people! I love seeing kids excited about gardening, but in the future, I seriously need an attack plan for how to give them structured tasks. It’s not really fair to them when more than half of that time has to go into simply filling the beds when we only have 2 wheelbarrows, and a full bucket of soil weighs as much as many of them. However, all of this only added to the energy and excitement of the day, and while exhausting, it was also super fun.

The soil ended up being a little wonky too. The topsoil that was delivered by donation turned out to be a large pile of large dirty rocks (which became even more apparent after a good rain), which must have been a simple mistake. So, we remained flexible, and we planted into the subsoil mixed with compost, both donated. We covered both beds with row cover to keep the frost off, and are waiting to see some results. We remain skeptical about the growing capabilities of sand, but we’ll remain positive, knowing that we have new topsoil coming for our second planting! Our second planting is next week, and we will have strawberry plants going in!

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Operating Instructions?

The list of tools needed for my IKEA drafting table included solely a screwdriver. In reality, I broke out the power tools, because as is the case with most mass produced goods, I got to a point where things ceased to make any sense. Do actual people write these instructions? They’re not in English, or even, in words. They are in the universal language of pictures, which really equates to no language, especially when some of the pictures are incomprehensible variations of lines and dots, implying that certain pegs fit in certain holes except for the fact that we are about ¼” off in every direction.

This post is not about IKEA. But it is about operating instructions. (Sure, in the post modern intellectual phase that I fall in, sure it’s about IKEA and all other things too)This blog is about the direction of schools in NJ. The Maplewood Green Team and Seton Hall University hosted a conference for integrating sustainability into school curriculum for the Maplewood/South Orange school district. ( http://www.maplewoodisgreen.org/ )

We played a game (we played many games, in fact), similar to musical chairs, except the goal was less individual. While the music was playing, chairs were being taken away. Every time the music stopped, everyone had to find a seat. So, people had to share, sit on the floor, sit on the table, get a little creative. When we talked about what we were supposed to learn from this exercise, I offered the point that we need to learn how to use fewer resources for more people. Ok, maybe, but missing the point. The fact is that we follow rules that do not exist because we assume them to be there. People were getting out of the way, allowing for chairs to be taken. People were groovin’ to the music, rather than turning the music off, which would stop the chairs from being taken away. What rules and laws do we assume in everyday behavior that limit our actions pertaining to environmental degradation?

Further, we all agree that we follow certain laws and principals. We don’t drive on the wrong side of the road just because we physically can, we follow the courteous manners that our parents bequeathed on us (somewhat), and for the most part, we do so willingly. However, we fail to follow the only rules that are actually laws, true, unquestionable, constants. And those are the laws of nature. The fact of the matter is, the world already has the exact amount of matter and energy that it has always had, and will ever have. You cannot remove matter, nor can create it. However, for example, if you live in a human cultural group, chances are you do throw it “away”. And, as anyone who has been to the Jersey shore 10-20 years ago knows, “away” usually comes back to bite us. However, if we educate out children to think critically, see the world plainly, and focus their passion, then they will be able to make steps that we don’t know how to make.

You can’t ask the next generation to do what you’re not willing to do. You can’t live your life the way you’ve always lived it for the sake of not wanting to change, and pass the baton to the next group. And when I say “can’t” I don’t mean “shouldn’t”, I mean it won’t work. You learn from what people do more than what they say because we all need to contextualize information. If kids spend their lives valuing video games, then they are more likely to grow up to manufacture those games than to manufacture innovative farm tools. If they spend every day learning passively from a teacher who only lectures, then they are likely to find comfort in shutting off in front of a TV.

If you aren’t concerned with the future environment and social structure for the next generations, then that’s your prerogative. No one can tell you what to do, what to think, what to care about. But then it is your responsibility to let those kids know that you don’t have their back so that at least they know they have to figure things out on their own. And regardless of whether we are there to help, they need to know that we have no operating instructions for a sustainable future. The best we can do is provide them with all available tools to work with, and beyond, what we can give them.  (Paraphrased, Jamie Cloud, the Cloud Institute). ( http://www.cloudinstitute.org/sites-learn/new-jersey-learns.html ).

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