Author Archives: Stuart Hean '14

Future Sound

It has been almost a month since my last post. The garden is going bonkers. For the most part, I’ve been interacting with crops that demand the harvesting of all of their yield all at once. Such as sweet red onions, leeks, garlic scapes and garlic. The garden has progressed in to the hottest part of the summer, the time of the season when growth and production are most prolific. I am now able to harvest summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, basil, mint, rosemary and several varieties of pepper on a daily basis. Tomato, okra, beans (bush and pole), and watermelon should start mass producing soon which will render the garden completely capable of supplying a balanced and filling meal for many people.

There have been some troubling developments as well. Nearly all of the strawberry plants that I transplanted contracted a mysterious disease and died. Several of the zucchini plants have contracted mildew, and a few cucumber plants are suffering from bacteria wilt. With the exception of the strawberries, these maladies haven’t infected entire crops, and I’ve read that mildew and wilt can be solved by watering earlier in the morning.

Mildew is causing this leaf to gradually wilt.

Kentucky pole beans climb quickly, they are one of the most visible plants in the garden.

With the exception of driving an occasional plant support and adding new ladder layers for climbing plants to reach for, my work in the garden is still limited to watering (twice daily), and weeding. To fulfill the aspect of my internship that requires an academic project, I have been working to create a basic gardening handbook for future CPGC Haverford Garden interns, tentatively titled the Haverford Garden Almanac, which will hopefully decrease the slope of the learning curve that comes with cultivating a garden for the first time.

 

I’ve done some thinking about how the community could be encouraged to interact with, or at least care for the garden.  Community supported agriculture is made possible by likeminded people who come together to pursue a common goal, and out of their efforts, a garden, a farm or a farmers market is generated, making their vision more accessible to a larger community.  Historically, the garden’s produce has been intended to reach only those who work in the garden. I wasn’t aware of this precedent when I started the internship, and throughout the summer I have been harvesting produce for the entire community, instead of reserving it for only those who help. Consequently, I haven’t received much help, and frankly I’m not sure if it’s needed. The HGI internship is loosely structured, but on a basic level, the summer intern is being paid to maintain a garden intended to benefit the community.

White peppers, among other things are to be found hiding under a dense canopy of leaves.

Roy (left) is always quick to find the zucchinis I pass over. Finders keepers.

Throughout the summer I have been writing e-mails to summer residents on campus, providing notice of when certain crops have been harvested and are ready for consumption. Some of my friends working in labs this summer complain about feeling unproductive, contributing to a sense that their work is fairly meaningless. When I invite them to come work in the garden, they tell me they would rather not do my job for me. They have a point, gardening or farming is a job that requires specialized knowledge, just like any trade. So why demand that anyone who benefits from the fruits of my labor contribute to the production process? Electricians don’t ask us to route wiring so that we may use the lights in our house, they do it for us in exchange for compensation for applying their specialized knowledge.

The herb garden has taken off. Basil, rosemary, sunflowers and mint plants are pictured here.

Gardening is different from other trades though, in that there is a certain aesthetic to producing your own food, and a political glorification that accompanies independence from commercial farming. So that even if produce doesn’t generate profit, it may still generate personal satisfaction. I believe this is why some are willing to exert themselves in efforts that are ultimately less efficient than going to the store and returning home with a huge amount of produce, because gardening can be satisfying.

Community-supported agriculture serves a function similar to that of the current garden. Small local farmers generate produce, using ethical methods of cultivation, made more feasible by the scale of their operation. Produce generated is transported to appointed locations where subscribers to the farm pick up their share. This method of agriculture is currently predominantly accessible only to the people who can afford it. This is unfortunate but not unfixable, if more farmers were incentivized to practice this method of agriculture then conceivably, healthier, more ethically produced food would become more affordable. A key difference between the current garden and a CSA farm is size. Our pick-up stand is a straw-bale, and if the food produced were evenly distributed to the HCA population, we would be discussing how to create fractions of peppers and onions. My point is that while the garden does serve the community, there is much more serving to be done.

The garden serves as somewhat of a rallying point for supporters of local agriculture and environmentalism generally. When the raised beds were first established, Andrew Bostick generated interest among the summer community by holding events and hosting volunteer days, which are enormously productive in the short run. During the year the garden is maintained by the heads of the Haverford Garden Initiative, Siena Mann and Peter Kissin, who have done a great job getting people involved in garden work through similar methods. During the summer maintaining the garden falls to the garden intern selected by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship.  I think having an overseer who looks out for the wellbeing of the garden is necessary, but if the job of that overseer also includes generating community support, I don’t believe that a single person can generate enough interest or commitment to the garden space through singular events that have a tangible beginning and end, such as volunteer days. I would be interested to see how campus environmentalists would interact with the garden if it were transformed in to private plots instead of one large public plot. The current garden space could be split in to approximately 25 plots. The intention would be to give garden members the opportunity to develop gardening knowledge in a way that is not afforded by contained volunteer events. Ideally, this would foster multiple personal investments in the garden that would effectively form a community of individual supporters. This idea is born of some informal examples, namely Jake Hazen’s (2014) garlic plot which I harvested nearly two weeks ago, who has now agreed to contribute to the work in progress gardener’s handbook.

I have a peeve for things that seemingly don’t have a purpose. Intro to Fitness, nihilism and dog sweaters really get my blood boiling, but it is somewhat defeating to feel like the garden doesn’t serve a real purpose here at Haverford. We are so lucky to have plenary, an opportunity to direct the institution. If a community of supporters of local agriculture existed here I imagine things would develop quickly. Maybe we could even convince Facilities Management to take over the operation of a farm, in the meadow by Lower Featherbed.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading so far.

Best,

Stuart

 

 

The first furry cantaloupe emerges.

This winter squash is one of several early risers.

Volunteer cherry tomato plants have produce the juiciest, tastiest orange cherry tomatoes I've ever had.

The okra grows tall. I look forward to deep-frying it. I've heard this may be the only way to enjoy the vegetable.

Finality

As of today, June 18th, I feel like I’m finally living up to Phil Drexler’s (2014) frequent assertion that I don’t have a real job. Since my last post, I have been working to fill all of the available space in the garden, with seedlings both purchased and home grown. The raised beds now boast a production capacity that I’m proud of. Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, peppers and strawberries constitute much of the new space, while cucumbers, squash (winter and summer), pumpkins, zucchini, garlic, okra, beans, onions, chard and kale are taking up most of the original beds.

I recently handed Claudia $600 in receipts from Home Depot and Orner’s Garden Center (unfortunately they have no official website), that have accumulated through the purchase of seedlings, trellis materials, straw, sprinklers and a new hose. I felt slightly sheepish when I told Claudia how much I have spent. When I say $600 without justification, I feel as though I went overboard. Gardening can be done with the money it takes to buy seeds, a good hoe and cultivator, and the utilities cost that accompanies all the water the plants need. However, when I look at the straw that carpets the new beds, keeping the quickly growing basil hydrated, and the twenty foot arcs of water spewing out of the garden’s three new sprinklers, I feel like I’ve put CER’s money in to a worthy investment.

But sometimes I think I take myself too seriously. There was a party on HCA green last weekend, which took place fairly close to the garden. I was happy that the garden was being used as a gathering space for the community that is forming here among HCA summer residents. I was sad to see in the morning however, that some party-goers had trod on the cucumbers and peed on the zucchini. I’ve received a lot of praise for my work so far, and it feels like the community appreciates the garden, but based on this experience, it makes me wonder if the people who don’t speak up in favor of the garden could care less about the well being of the space.

Despite the haters, the praise I have received for my work so far has fueled the generation of even loftier goals. Someone asked me yesterday what I think about during the more mundane tasks that go with garden stewardship. I answered that I think about how to make gardening more exciting, namely through expanding the space, and the impact that the space has on the community. Before I graduated high school, a family friend hosted a dinner for a group of college students and recent graduates who were working for, Pick Up America an organization whose members walk along America’s major roadways picking up trash. The organization’s campaign is impressive in the dramatic inefficiency of it’s mission. A few hundred Bohemians traipsing across the country can hardly hope to clean up the nation as quickly or as efficiently as state and federally funded prison laborers might be able to. But because these unreasonably idealistic young people believe in their purpose and do it for free, they are able to have a significant impact, not only because they actually do clear hundreds of tons of trash from roadways every year at no cost to taxpayers, but because they serve as examples of those who find value in creating, or contributing to movements that are not yet institutionalized, or re-forming institutional practices that do exist, but are perceived as flawed. In contrast to commercial farming, small-scale gardening is similar in this respect. It is not very efficient to spend a majority of my day working a plot to produce what will supplement the diets of close to one hundred students, who may easily ignore the free fresh produce because they can acquire the same fruits and vegetables at a local supermarket for a cost diminished by the convenience of the one stop shop phenomenon. But it feels like an important step in the direction of making Haverford a place where local agriculture is an important part of the institutional culture. I feel very fortunate to be working in an environment where the potential to affect institutional culture is salient.

It feels strange to that the bulk of my work in the garden is coming to an end while I still have six weeks left in the summer term. I want to keep up this momentum, I want this garden to be important to the Haverford community, and I want local agriculture to be part of Haverford’s institutional culture, but I’m not sure how this is possible. Part of me thinks that I should sneak in to facilities one night, hijack a tractor, and till up all of HCA green so that in the morning, our residents wake up to a small farm. Another part of me wants to make find a way to have HGI produce go directly to the Dining Center. The latter thought is more realistic, but the size of the garden is such that the former might need to happen before such a thing is possible. While I mentioned earlier in the post that I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, I see so much more room for improvement. The garden is at an interesting point in its capacity, where it can do more than garnish the plates of Haverford residents, but less than feed them.

That’s all for now, I’ll update soon with where I decide to focus my efforts. See more pictures of recent developments below.

Stuart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Spring Becomes Summer

Hello, this is my first post in which I will make an effort, perhaps inadequately so, to describe all of the exciting developments that have been happening around the garden since I arrived back at Haverford for the Summer on May 20th. I spent a week at home, discussing my goals, plans and sometimes-unrealistic visions with some of the more pragmatic and experienced agriculturalists in my family. Their feedback was supplemented by my own prior experience; I created a garden last summer. I cut the weeds with a machete, tilled the earth, put the seeds in the ground and proceeded to wake up at 11:30 am, full of inspiration, to find that I could manage to bear the summer’s heat for upwards of ten minutes a day. Needless to say, the weeds became overgrown, and the wild reclaimed the garden that I had originally held grand aspirations for. I acknowledge that this was a failure, but perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit. There were some days when I could harvest a few watermelons and several pounds of tomatoes and peppers, but it is fair to say that my first garden did not reach its full potential.

Today is Thursday, June 7th, and I am close to concluding my third week of work in the garden. The week between the end of classes and the beginning of the summer term was critical in establishing my motivation for this project, and so far I believe I have lived up to my expectations. In 2010, Andrew Bostick and many dedicated volunteers and members of the Haverford Garden Initiative established an impressive set-up, consisting of four permanent raised beds, approximately 25 feet long and 3.5 feet wide, and one non-permanent raised bed, approximately 25 feet long and 15 feet wide.

After I arrived and moved all of my college belongings from HCA 26 to HCA 10 with the help of a giant rickshaw, I then went about installing the remainder of the fruit trees leftover from a planting day organized by the Committee for Environmental Responsibility. These trees have been planted all around the perimeter of the Haverford College Apartments, and should begin bearing pears, cherries and apples in a few years.

I then went about preparing the garden for the summer’s growth. There were several crops that had impressively survived through the winter, but were unfortunately inedible. I pulled beets, string beans, bush beans, kale and broccoli out of the ground and proceeded to re-till the soil with a long  handled manual cultivator after adding some student generated compost to re-juvinate the beds’ nutrients.

The rest of the remaining crops, lettuce, chard, spinach, arugula, and radishes were thriving and ready for harvest. I invited the students living in the apartments for the summer, and the faculty that I interacted with by chance to come and grab salad fixins’. By the time the greens had gone to seed I was surprised to see that the Haverford community had barely made a dent in the amount of produce available. I took home ten pounds of radishes myself, and passed another ten off on a friendly dog-walker named Suzanne. I am grateful to be living with an inventive cook this summer, Avi Bregman ‘14, who quickly discovered that radishes are highly edible after being steamed, buttered and salted.

The greens going to seed marked this garden’s transition between spring and summer, a process that has continued as the peas and some golden beets have become ripe. In the past two weeks, I have planted and impatiently enjoyed watching the summer squash, cucumber, zucchini, winter squash, tomatoes, beans, onion, shallots, chard, kale, okra, basil, mint, rosemary, pepper, watermelon, cantaloupe, eggplant, pumpkins, and strawberries grow centimeter by centimeter.

In line with my goal to expand the garden as much as possible, I have constructed five new raised beds. Three are 8 feet by 8 feet, and two are 6 feet by 6 feet. Claudia Kent, the Assistant Director of Facilities Management told me that when they were first established, installing the raised beds required close to fifteen students, to cut, drill and dig. I suppose I am fairly lucky then because I’ve been provided with raised bed corner connectors, that make it much easier to construct the beds. The process of bed construction for me entails digging the soil to a depth of 1 foot with a pick-ax and shovel, and asking Claudia to deliver a couple bucket-fulls of 50-50 top soil compost mix with the back-hoe.

Many of the late summer crops, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkin are still growing in the greenhouse and I hope these new beds will provide convenient homes. Though, there are close to 200 seedlings in the greenhouse so there may be some more tilling required in the near future. Claudia has been incredibly helpful so far. She has encouraged me to wake up early, and has taken me on several trips to the local Home Depot to pick up lumber for the new raised beds. Additionally, she ordered a new shed for the garden, which I constructed last Friday with the help of a friend, Harvey Fulton ’14. She has also made funding available through the  to cover the cost of miscellaneous garden needs such as seeds, seedlings, garden markers and trellis materials.

That’s all for today, I hope to post again soon with news of further progress.

-Stuart