Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Homeless Garden Project

I love community gardens; love the idea, love the practice, love how they look like a bunch of different puzzles mashed together, love what they give to the landscape and what they give to the residents. The thing I don't love about them is the competition to get a bed in one of these community gardens. It can take years to get a sliver near your home. Some people will travel an hour just to get to their plot, but getting their hands dirty means that much to them and so they go.

All that aside, I read about The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California and think it is an incredible idea. The idea is to employ homeless people to harvest organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers and sell the crop as CSA shares, in their gift store or to local restaurants.

A little history:

In 1990, The Citizens Committee for the Homeless in Santa Cruz took a quarter acre in a community garden and started The Homeless Garden Project. The City of Santa Cruz got wind of this exciting project and made 2.5 acres available for use which allowed the Homeless Garden Project to sell their crop to cover costs of labor. This garden became the country's first Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. Over the years it grew, the garden moved to different spots around the city, taking up residence at the Natural Bridges Farm. In 1998, The Homeless Garden Project became independent from The Citizens Committee for the Homeless.

Quickly after establishing its own identity, The Homeless Garden Project was granted a substantial and permanent site by the City of Santa Cruz. This 9-acre site, located in a 650-acre open space the city had put aside, solved many problems and rocketed the Project to a new level.

In 2002, The Homeless Garden Project even opened their own retail store selling mainly wreaths and candles made through the Women's Organic Flower Enterprise, or WOFE, which expanded over the years.

Currently, The Homeless Garden Project offers kitchen lecture series, children's nature programs, job training and transitional employment and two hot meals a day to anyone volunteering.

As of 2010, The Homeless Garden Project employs 14 homeless trainees, learning skills to make them more marketable in the job world, and provides 80 CSA shares per week.

Pretty awesome if you ask me.

Want tips on how to start a Homeless Garden Project? You're in luck!

Great article on Grist with some fantastic photos.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Green future for Detroit

Perhaps it's my family connection to Detroit or that it's become the symbol of economic hardship in this country, but I keep thinking about that city’s state of being. I have long since thought the best way to improve the economy there is to invest in green automotive technology, whether it's through hybrids or electronic cars. Take that existing knowledge and invest in the future. Maybe the turnaround wouldn't be immediate but at least it provides an optimistic future for the city. But why stop at automotive technology? Why can’t this largely abandoned city become the new green metropolis? Why can’t it raise the bar for all cities to become green? This is why I am intrigued by the idea of turning Detroit into farmland, originally proposed decades ago.

John Hantz of Hantz Financial Services is bringing this very idea into reality by investing $30 million of his own money into repurposing Detroit’s land. The thought on the largest of scales is that if you take the mostly abandoned neighborhoods and consolidate the residents into one area, you can turn those abandoned neighborhoods into farmland. I am not a fan of eminent domain, I think taking people's social network away from them is detrimental to their health, but if the outcome is that the city can provide more jobs, better services, more effective hospitals, better performing schools and a positive outlook to an otherwise grim future, I think it is worth the adverse effects.

On a smaller, more practical scale, it's using the unutilized land from abandoned houses, warehouses or state attractions.

On both scales, it's investing in land and finally getting that property back on the tax roll to provide much needed taxes to to the city.

Hantz Financial Services issued this in a press release on March 23, 2010:

“In addition to food and trees, Hantz Farms will harvest wind energy and utilize geothermal heat and biomass fuel from recycling compost”

Hantz Farms plans to use both traditional farming methods and newer methods such as indoor hydroponics, constructed wetlands and harvesting water runoff to save costs. They will use organic farming as much as possible, but keep in mind the bottom line for this for-profit company is of course profit.

With a group of experts at his side, including the newly appointed president of Hantz Farms, Mike Score, he has launched this exciting project, ready to buy 40 acres of urban land, currently the unutilized State Fairgrounds and now is waiting to get approval from city officials. When he gets that approval, he can start farming overnight. His first crops are planned to be apples, lettuce and tomatoes.

In a city so starved for investment, it is hard to imagine not embracing this, but there are critics who worry about this for-profit venture. Will he sell the land to developers if he gets a discounted rate? Is he just in this to get rich? The bottom line, however, was well put in his interview with The Atlantic on May 27, 2010:

“I'd like to promote the idea that we need business as part of the plan in Detroit. We need jobs; we need entrepreneurialism. Those are ideas that aren't mainstay right now. But you can't build a tax base on all government and non-profits. It doesn't work. There needs to be a balance.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tomatoes and peppers

Yep, I'd say chopping up those tomato plants was a good idea. This is today's loot of tomatoes and cherry peppers.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Finally done!

I figure I should update with the real final pictures of the backyard. We pulled it all together for the big first birthday this weekend. This is the back:

We repurposed oddly placed brick borders from around the house to line the patio and make better outlined flowerbeds on the side. Of course now it is too hot to plant all the pretty flowers, but got some stuff in at least for the party. Next year, we'll plant at the right time and really make it pop.

What we did do though is transplant some hostas from one side to the other, transplant coneflower, yarrow, geraniums and black eyed susans from my mother's house to mine. We will see what survives...

Next project, as it always leads to something else, a pergola! okay, maybe not seriously (though my husband is dying to put one in), but something a little prettier than the shade we have up now.

These are the steps:

(ignore the trash heaps on the side!)

Monday, July 12, 2010

ok, this makes me feel better

I just read this on local blog "Project Woodhaven" so I don't feel so bad. I couldn't say it was definitely the sun because isn't summer always sunny and hot? I've managed to be much more successful in years past so I started doubting the soil or perhaps something I was doing, but it appears everyone is having trouble. I should have known it was this excessive heat though since all my neighbors' front yards look burned up too.

I also seem to live in a weird vortex where it never rains. Other neighborhoods around us will report rain but there's not a drop on my patio.

In good news, trimming up/shaving off most of the tomato plants was a success. Several ripened overnight with more on the way. And no more blossom end rot. Yay!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

heat wave!

This heat wave is killing me and my plants! Everything is wilting, even those immortal hostas are browning.

The saddest thing are the two new blueberry "bushes". I put that in quotes because look at how positively sad this one has become

Next on my sadness scale is my meadow sage. dead, dead, dead. My only glimmer of hope is the tiny green leaves sprouting up from beneath the soil. Please grow, please grow!

I have the same glimmer of hope for my salvia, which are obviously the deadest shade of brown, but there are a few green buds coming in if you look hard enough.

The peppermint and daylily have succumbed to the unbearable heat, drought, construction and concrete sprays. RIP. See you again next year.

We are having people over in a week and I really wanted the back to look lovely and colorful, but every time I plant something, it quickly dies and I quickly melt outside.

update: is seems that in addition to all the flowers dying, my tomatoes have blossom end rot. sigh.... I cut off all the dying branches and got rid of the rotted tomatoes so hopefully all the energy goes into healthy fruit. And hopefully it cools down for a few days (or at least gets under mid-90s), hey and maybe even rains - imagine that!

What a disappointing year so far as far as plants go. :(

Thursday, July 1, 2010

backyard transformation continues...

The big project continues with the back steps...

First let's look back on how they were; a hot mess! They were completely unsafe, especially for a wee tot, crumbling, slanted and poorly designed. I am betting that the previous owners did this themselves, as they did many (odd) projects. The only good thing about this photo is that adorable dog!

Case in point on the poorly constructed steps. When they cracked open the old steps, they uncovered bricks thrown in heaps and then leveled off. No wonder they were falling apart!

But now, well now, the steps are beautiful...red brick to match the house and limestone for the steps. They widened the steps so they ran the whole width of the mudroom, but didn't do rails. I don't know, I think it'll be fine without rails as long as we line it with pots. Maybe I'm delusional and my daughter will need a rail. I just imagine her scooting up and down like any other baby would.

Only problem, it really accentuates our door which is in dire need of paint!

I've been working on clearing out the sides of the yard and creating flower beds, but more on that some other time.