A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our Widening Circle

Howdy Garden-friends - Thanks to the "atmospheric river" flowing over the Pacific NW right now (4-8 inches of rain expected this weekend!), we have time to catch up with you and share highlights from seasons past and our excitement at the year to come. 2015 will be the seventh season of the Sharing Gardens and we're poised for a year of abundant growth and continued generosity! Chris and I were sitting on the floor in our living room this morning and reflecting with a feeling of awe and gratitude about all the ways that we feel affirmed and supported by you, our community -- both near and far. This project would not be the success it is without your encouragement and participation.

What follows is a reflection on some of the highlights of 2014; a Gallery of Givers; updates on some of our on-going projects and a window into the "seeds" we've planted for 2015 and beyond.

OSU students help with the harvest.
For those of you new to the Sharing Gardens, or as a review for those who've been following us along the way...

Here's how it works: What makes this community garden unique is that, instead of many separate plots that are rented by individuals, the garden is one large plot, shared by all. All materials and labor are donated. During the summer months, volunteers typically come one to three times per week to help in all aspects of vegetable-farming from planting, through harvest. The food we grow is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way as well as with others who are in need in our community (through food banks and other charities.) No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
The Sharing Gardens also has a strong educational focus: participants learn about organic gardening, saving “heirloom” seeds, pruning and other food-growing skills. We encourage our volunteers to learn about canning and other food-storage techniques and this educational website reaches tens of thousands of people around the world.
Barbara and Kime with "starts" for their home-garden.
Giving and Receiving

There is a certain "miraculous" quality to our project. Since we don't charge money for the seeds, starts and harvest we share, we live by faith that "as we sow, so shall we reap". Our history is rich with examples of people, materials and financial resources coming to us in a timely and spontaneous manner. A significant example of this is the latest greenhouse we're building. We've dubbed it the Ark. A few months ago we received a call from Barbara Standley, a chipper and generous-hearted benefactor who lives in the nearby community of Santa Clara. She and her husband had built-up a huge nursery over the years and, at 92 she's ready to down-size quite a bit. Her daughter Gwen has taken over the business but at a much smaller scale so there are several large greenhouse frames standing empty.

Chris, our friend Dave Cook and I spent several sessions dismantling half of an 80' x 80' greenhouse frame which we are now in the process of re-assembling in a modified form.

Dave and Chris - de-nailing boards.

Llyn, loading salvaged lumber.

"The Ark" is launched!
The Ark will be 20' x 50' and made almost entirely from salvaged lumber.

We love being involved in salvage projects. There's something so satisfying about reclaiming materials that might otherwise end up in landfills or burn-piles. Giving new life to the resources is a way of stewarding the Earth that has meaning for us. There's something meditative about systematically dis-assembling a building, or other structure; pulling nails and stacking the boards/materials in an orderly fashion. The Sharing Gardens has become a hub for materials re-distribution. The supplies that we can't use are passed along to those who need them. Nothing wasted.

Mike and Barbara.
We are rich in greenhouses! Our neighbor Les Koltavary called us earlier this month. He has a 30' x 50' steel-pipe greenhouse frame that we will be dismantling and reassembling at the Sharing Gardens. It's tall enough that we will be able to plant some fig and lemon trees in it. With so much greenhouse space, we can plant much more of cold-sensitive plants (tomatoes and peppers) inside -- extending their growing season by several weeks. There will also be room for winter-greens and space enough to hold winter-classes under the protection of their cover.

Bluebird houses from fence boards.
Very Tiny Houses

Another of our salvage projects this Fall has been to convert 60-feet of cedar fence into birdhouses for our feathered friends. The western bluebird has consistently been pushed out of its natural habitat from human construction and farming practices, and competition from other bird species. Since we began putting up nesting boxes, we've seen a steady increase in their numbers in our garden. Other birds that call our gardens home include: goldfinches, wrens and chickadees. Since we don't have any cats or dogs, the birds feel safe. They also appreciate the many birdbaths scattered about and the abundant food we provide whether their favorite menu includes bugs or seeds.

On the subject of tiny houses, here's a link to our friends' program in Eugene, Oregon that addresses homelessness for people in a creative and inspiring way. Community Supported Shelters.

Arissa w/ beans.
A New Generation of Generosity

Over the past several years our project has developed a wonderful reciprocal relationship with two classes at Oregon State University in Corvallis (about 20 minutes from us). The professors of these classes have a strong commitment to hands-on learning and encouraging their students to  "give back" to their communities through service-learning projects. In this past year we have had one or two groups of 4-6 students come each quarter. We set up a variety of projects for them to engage in -- usually a mixture of "big-muscle" stuff like spreading mulch, along with some of the finer aspects of farming like transplanting starts.  Many of the students remark on what a positive experience it is for them. Our project gives them the opportunity to learn a bit about growing food and the students often remark on how good it feels to be involved with something that has the spirit of generosity at its core. It's uplifting for Chris and me to see these young people who are eager for what we have to offer, many of whom are already quite aware of issues of sustainability and looking for ways they can contribute to a better world. In 2015 we anticipate doubling the number of OSU groups coming to our farm each quarter.

The two faculty who are our contact people for the OSU service learning projects are Deanna Lloyd and Steve Cook. Though pursuing a graduate degree at this time, Deanna was the coordinator for the S.A.G.E. Garden in Corvallis (LINK) - a sister project to the Sharing Gardens  that functions both as a teaching-garden for school kids and a production garden (providing food for the South Corvallis Food Bank).

Steve Cook has a deep commitment to helping make the world a better place, and inspiring his students on this same path. He and his wife run a small non-profit that helps school kids in northern Albania. To read more about their project, go to LINK.

Here are pictures from the two OSU groups that came to help us this Fall.

Do these girls look happy, or what!
James in the tomato patch.
Jaye and Chris loading compost bins

Anna and Christine spreading mint-straw on garlic patch.

Makenna pulling up bean plants.

Jaye in the tomato patch.
OSU students harvesting dried beans.
Jackie with a Buttercup squash.
Alexis in Scarlet Runner bean patch.
Happy helpers with squash to take home.
Homes for the Harvest: A High-Quality Problem!

Each year, as our gardens expand and our efficiency improves, we face a growing challenge to find people and places to distribute our abundant harvest to. This past summer we were very pleased to begin relations with  Local Aid, (LINK) an organization that provides food, clothing, counseling services and modest financial support (assistance with utility bills etc) to low-income families in nearby Junction City. They have quite an operation! They give out food three days a week. Before we got involved, the fresh produce they had for distribution was often of the lowest quality; so far past freshness as to be almost rotten. Through-out the summer and fall, they eagerly receive our weekly donations of organic vegetables (happily delivered by Dave Cook) and save all their compost for us to feed to our worms. The Monroe Food Pantry has gone through remarkable transformations this year. They are the Food Pantry located adjacent to us on Methodist Church property. In June of 2014, a new management took over and has transformed the place. Now, recipients are able to choose the food they want in a "shopping style" set up (instead of receiving the same food in their box as everyone else). The weekly distribution has become a hub of socializing and community-connection with regular hugs and laughter and local-news sharing.

Here are pictures of the many folks helping grow and distribute the Sharing Gardens produce:
Janeece and David Cook - new managers of the Monroe Food Pantry
The Cook's niece and daughters in the onion patch.
Dustin with our Elephant Garlic harvest. Take a look at the size of those bulbs!
That's a lot of lettuce (one head of Red Sails)!
A great year for melons! Tristan enjoys a juicy snack.
Doreen and her niece Tiffaney with spring-time harvest.
Cathy Rose and Chris transplanting baby seedlings into six-packs.
Cindy Kitchen and Tristan hunting for Zucchini.
Kaitlynn and Llyn staking up a row of sunflowers which provide seed for the birds.
Gallery of Givers

Garden-soup ingredients.
In 2014, we had fewer numbers of volunteers helping us in the gardens (we call them share-givers). However, the core group that came were amazingly dedicated. Most came weekly for three hours, helping with whatever was needed. Here are pictures of both the core people and those who helped on a more sporadic basis. In 2015, we anticipate that the OSU students will contribute greatly to the Fall, Winter and Spring aspects of gardening - both the set-up and clean-up.  There will still be much need for on-going participation in nursery-work, transplanting, weeding and harvest (the Spring and Summer tasks). So if you're local and been wanting to get involved, there'll be lots of ways to join in the fun! Share-givers receive first-pick of all the harvests, including some foods that we don't have enough to pass along to the food-pantries. As a participant, you would also have access to large quantities of produce for use in batches of canning, dehydrating or other forms of food-preservation.
Shelling Scarlet Runner beans.
Adri and Tristan help Chris thresh dried beans.
Jim and Cindy Kitchen w/ our kidney bean harvest.
Jena and Tristan shelling beans.
Kaitlynn weeding.

Girl-friends in the beet patch.
Adri uses her hat for a seat and her shoe as a water-toy!

Trimming onions gives Barbara some special time with "Grandpa" Jim. (Not her grandpa).
Llyn beginning construction on The Ark greenhouse.
Grateful Gatherings

Now that we're rooted in one place, we look forward to hosting several seasonally-relevant gatherings per year. We'd like to host celebrations/work-parties so we can gather in the spirit of community and take care of the important tasks of increasing our local food self-reliance while getting to know our "neighbors".
Harvest celebration with Growing Organic gardening club. For more info see Ten Rivers Food Web

Chris and Tristan salvaging some lumber.
Doreen with our gorgeous artichokes. Our plants produced "fruit" the first year. These gorgeous Green Globes gave us two harvests and dozens of "fruits" off the 10 or so plants we grew. Yumm!
Food for Thought: Our contact person for OSU students, Steve Cook, recently shared with us that, at the end of his classes he shares two quotes with his students. We'd like to pass them along to you:

"If you can't feed a hundred, feed one."  Mother Teresa

And Edward Abbey: "Do not burn yourselves out, be as I am a reluctant crusader, a half-hearted fanatic . . ."  Do what you can do and then be happy about it.

So to all the half-hearted fanatics in our ever-widening circle, we look forward to hearing about all the "people you are feeding". Much love, Llyn and Chris