Sunday, December 20, 2015

Partnering With Animals

In our quest to discover where our food comes from, we have learned about our relationship with farm animals as co-creators of abundance and fertility. On our tiny urban backyard in Cleveland, we’ve kept hens, ducks, and rabbits, and have had the privilege and pleasure of watching them, caring for them, and watching our niece and nephew chase them (endlessly hilarious!). I’ve trapped at least 10 raccoons trying to get to the chickens and on more than a couple occasions, run down half asleep in the middle of the night to throw whatever object I could find at the coons trying to get in the coop. Animals, like humans, are a lot of work. And yet, I’ve enjoyed the morning ritual of opening the chicken door and watching them trip over each to get out and be the very definition of life and energy. They are mini-dinosaurs in their constant quest to find bugs and worms and convert them into more energy and eggs. They eat all of our kitchen scraps and leave behind their nitrogen-rich manure that we toss into the compost bin and eventually into the veggie garden. They have been a blessing and a gift indeed. Did I mention fresh eggs?!

And yet, as Peter Bane eloquently states, “if we take animals into our care, we are accepting responsibility for their deaths, whether by disease, accident, predation or at our own hand”. With winter approaching, chicken food running out, the realization that the hens are older and are barely laying anymore, and the fact that we are going out of town for 10 days, it seemed like a good time, to say it nicely, to harvest them. In the process of harvesting the chickens, we are grateful. As seasoned gardeners know, feather meal, bloodmeal and bonemeal are garden gold. We drain the blood into the same bin that we pluck the feathers into. That makes it easy to put these gifts into our compost bin which will go onto the garden in spring. We also eat the meat, which on older laying hens, is best slow cooked or crock-potted. We then make bone broth, which is a delicious and nourishing treat in soups during the winter. Once the carcass is done in the crock pot, we take the bones and dry them in the oven. Once dried, we can crush them and throw them into the compost bin for a phosphorous boost.

We have put lots of time and energy into feeding the chickens, providing them shelter, changing out their frozen water trays in negative degree weather (!), opening the coop door every morning and closing it every night. And they, in turn, have taken care of our food scraps, increased the fertility of our garden, given us many hours of entertainment, provided us lots of fresh eggs, and finally provided meat to eat and feathers, blood, and bone for the garden. Being a part of this whole process has brought us much appreciation and reverence for life, death, abundance, and partnership.

(Here's a little sample of summer backyard activity. A group of garden students were over to process and eat the corn they grew in the garden.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Fresh Camp

For the past few years, my brother-in-law, Doc, has been running a summer camp for kids in our neighborhood called the Fresh Camp. He combines hip-hop, lyric writing, music production, gardening and cooking to create an experience for neighborhood kids that enables them to use their voice in finding and amplifying what is fresh in our community. Recently a short film about his project called "RE {FRESH} - It Takes a Village" was selected as an "early acceptance" for screening and competition at the 5th Annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. Here's the trailer (and I make a special guest appearance at 1:07).

Re{Fresh} (trailer) from Travis Pollert on Vimeo.

We've been supporting Doc in this endeavor the past 2 years and our involvement is even greater this year. Lynea was able to get a grant to put in 2 school gardens in our area, and the Fresh Camp students are learning and growing (pun intended) with her in the gardens.

Recently, someone came and ripped up all of the plants we had planted, leaving everyone frustrated, yet somehow motivated. We put the plants back in the ground, and (wisely) put up a fence. As momentum for this camp has grown, Doc has seen the value in doing it year round and he's got a Kickstarter campaign going to reach this goal. Looking for something good, inspiring, and fresh to donate to? Check out the kickstarter campaign here. He's trying to raise $12,000 in 29 days!
Prepping the beds.
Looking at different types of soil.
Did I mention Lynea rocks as a teacher!!
Planting with love.

Getting the crew ready to put those plants in the ground!
Here's a video Doc made after the recent plant disaster:

If you made it this far in the post, thanks. And if your so inclined, help spread the word to folks that might be interested in supporting Doc's kickstarter campaign.

Summer 2014 Begins...

Summer - the period of finest development, perfection, or beauty previous to any decline: the summer of life.

A very romantic definition of summer, yet you have to admit that summer is pretty sweet! Our windows are open 24/7. We wake up to birds singing every morning. We sweat. Ah yes, we sweat! There's not much time to write, cause this is our season to "do." Late night dates consist of weeding and watering at Lynea's school gardens. Thankfully she's trained 2 teens to take over watering duty. As for my city farm job, we jammin'! Don't wanna speak too soon, lest our tomatoes fall sick to disease, but we've had a great spring harvest of lettuce, kale, arugula, swiss chard, and radishes. Here's a few photos as proof:

My co-worker manning our booth at the Farmer's Market.
Lynea has been working with Doc's Fresh Camp students, teaching in the garden. Did I mention she can teach like none other!
Planting up the school garden.

Lettuce grows in rows at my farm.
Cleaning radishes.
Only had 6 rows planted at this site last year. This year we have 42! It's been hand to the shovel and sore to the back. 

Planting pole beans.
Harvesting kale.
Swiss chard, kale, radishes, school bus.
Variety of radishes called Easter Egg.

Popping in Swiss Chard starts.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spring 2014

This past winter, Lynea applied for a grant to put in a neighborhood garden site that could be used for education, demonstration, and even job opportunities for teens. She got it! Problem is, we couldn't seem to get any land to put it on, despite all the vacant properties in our neighborhood. Through the arduous process, we learned a lot about who's in control of land and even how people get displaced from their land. Money is powerful.
But eventually, we are grateful to say that we found 2 schools that are allowing us to put school gardens in and grow food with the kids. It all happened really fast. And through it all, I was reminded how Lynea can get stuff done! Here's some photos:

Working hard in the rain! 
Planning and planting. 

Now to my job. I'm in the second growing season with Cleveland Crops, and we're off and running. Got lots of stuff in the ground: kale, swiss chard, leeks, collards, lettuce, etc. Feels good to move from the greenhouse back into the field. Did I mention I like hot weather?

Hydroponically grown mustard greens that are sold to the zoo for the gorillas to eat. Seriously.
Putting lettuce in the ground.
Making more rows with elbow grease.

Laying out lettuce starts to be put in the ground.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Paradise Lot

It's catching up time for the blog. I realize that I've been dropping the ball on this lately, but luckily this isn't football, so there's no coach yelling at me. Here's to picking it up again. I'll start with some thoughts on a recent trip to Massachusetts:

Lynea and I live in a city. Cleveland to be exact. It's part of a region some refer to as the Rust Belt. I'm sure wikipedia can give you more information about this, but basically, it used to be a booming, industrial city, and now it's not. There's lots of abandoned land, buildings, and factories literally rusting from un-use. One of the more viable ways to re-use land is to convert it into space for growing food. This meets many needs, a few including re-purposing of land, beautification, healthy food, and re-connection to the land that our food comes from. Having said that, Lynea and I are interested in growing food and education and we've been dreaming of ways to do both hear in Cleveland.

With this in mind, we heard about an urban homestead/farm in Holyoke, Massachusetts that's been doing this stuff on 1/10 of an acre of land. That's pretty small! But they've found ways to use every inch of the land with permaculture techniques, resurrecting what was once a junky piece of property into a Paradise Lot (the title of the book, written by Jonathan Bates and Eric Toensmier). So of course we did the only irrational thing possible: booked a 2 hour farm tour 8 hours away. Thankfully, we realized we had friends close by in Vermont and New York, so why not make a week of it! And that's what we did. So here's a few pics of the tour:

Inside the hoop-house/bioshelter where they grow food all year round. And yes, it gets well below zero in Massachusetts. Don't act like you're not impressed.
 The idea is to grow edible perennials (keep coming back year after year as opposed to annuals which only grow once), which most know to be fruit. But there are many varieties of perennial vegetables most folks have never heard. Luckily, Eric happens to be the world leader in growing perennial vegetables (another reason we booked the tour; he wrote a book with that title). Although not much had come up yet this spring, due to the harsh winter, we were able to get a visual on how everything works together as one system.

Jonathan explains sheet mulching.
A view of the back of the duplex where Jonathan and Eric live with their families and experiment with their small plot. Chicken coop is on the left.
Definitely got a lot out of this experience, and were able to visit some great friends in Vermont and New York. Here's some photos from the rest of the trip:

It's been 3 years since we began our farming journey at Taft Hill Farm.

Lynea at the sugar shack. Got to help out with Maple sugaring.
Seriously good syrup.
Robert's hand blown glass filled with his own maple syrup.
Ahh, memories.

We helped with honey extraction, too. I was told to "get in the picture and look like you're doing something." Me moving a box that did not need to be moved. 

Jake spinning hone.
With new friends, Brandon, Jessi, and Jake.

And finally, we stopped in New York, Brooklyn to be exact, to see our dear friends Vanassa and Denton. Oh, to be young and in love.