Category Archives: The Latest

Food for the Pantry

Last Thursday I delivered a few mixed bags of kale, lettuce, spinach, chard, mint, and radishes to the local food pantries.

The Bryn Mawr pantry, aka the Ada Mutch Community Resource Center, is located near the hospital and library. They are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-12 and 2-4. Here is their facebook link: www.facebook.com/AdaMutchCommunityResourceCenter. This pantry is only for people with personal incomes under $16.5 k

The Ardmore pantry, aka the St Mary’s Episcopal Church, is located at 36 Ardmore Ave also next to the library and about a five minute walk from the garden! The food pantry is located inside the Parish House and operates on Mondays from 9:30-11:30 (I’ll be heading over for a second time right after this post) and Thursdays from 6-8 pm. The only requirement to get food from here is that one must live in Lower Merion County. The pantry used to accept everyone until too many people from Philadelphia came over and the pantry ran out of food rather quickly. More info on this pantry here: www.stmarysardmore.org/content.cfm?id=330

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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

 

Dinner from our backyard

The basil plants have grown about a foot in the past three weeks which means one thing to me: PESTO.
So last night I grabbed some basil leaves and headed for my less-than-ideal blender to whip some up.
I know the picture gives a murky green seaweed-like representation, but really, it was delicious. I substituted out the pine nuts that most recipes call for, in favor of the more budget friendly sunflower seeds (you could also use walnuts).
Paired with freshly picked cauliflower and green beans, this has definitely been one of my favorite meals from the garden this summer.

Political Gardening

I’ve been back at Haverford for about the past 3 weeks now, and the garden is so alive! It’s in that wonderful summer stage, when the heat forces inches of daily growth. To understand my love of gardening, I should first explain my past with it.

My first experience on a farm came fall semester of my sophomore year. I took dean’s leave and went WWOOFing on a small organic farm in northern Ecuador. Then, after returning to the Ford for one semester, I applied for CPGC funding to intern with the farm educator at Weaver’s Way Farm in Northwestern Philadelphia. Along with the production farming, farmers markets, and lessons with school-groups, one of my fellow farmers started a “farmer book club.” These potluck style meetings, held once every other week, were used as a means for all of the Weaver’s Way farmers to get together and discuss some societal or political issue relevant to farming (such as seed saving and intellectual property rights, the politics of definition (organic versus conventional), urban hunger and food deserts, squatting rights and urban institutionalization of community gardens). This furthered my interest in the academic side of food production.

Now I’m knee deep in agrifood texts, trying to hone into a specific research question. I’m currently reading about our dominant system of agriculture, and its effects on poor neighborhoods in the US. (and learning the different roles for civil society and government). My research thus far has been a little circular and somewhat frustrating, as much of this literature is currently emerging.

A Generative Summer Concludes

Friends,

Never in my life has a summer seemed to flash by so quickly. It feels like just yesterday that we were moving into our summer residences, and the garden consisted of a few seedlings poking their green heads out into a vast world. In reality, roughly three months have passed, the majority of us gardeners have gone home for August, and this blog’s time has run out.

And yet, what a sizable amount of growth fit into such a little span! In a physical sense, our garden transitioned from a barren patch of compost, woodchips, and stones into a flourishing oasis complete with shoulder-high tomatoes and many a rambunctious weed. In a not so physical sense, the students who worked in the garden grew as well. The lot of us, who began as true garden novices, evolved into an efficient team. Stepping lightly between rows and surveying weeds with a critical eye, the members of the Garden Initiative truly became gardeners in the fullest sense of the word: people who tend the garden with skill and devotion.

For such an opportunity—to raise a garden from seed and to work with such a brilliantly enthusiastic team of volunteers—I feel incredibly lucky. Financially, the project would not have been a possibility without the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. And, pragmatically, all of the gardening could never have been accomplished by one man. Thank you, therefore, to all who were involved.

So, where do we go from here? At the current moment, three members of the Initiative who live in the area are tending to the garden and will continue to do so through August. When the semester arrives, we will start recruiting freshmen in an effort to increase our organization’s chances of long-term success.

At the same time, I am working on the final copy of “Generative Gardening: A Proposal for an Expanded Garden Program at Haverford College,” which will be presented to the Office of the President of the College and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. With their support, we hope to expand our garden and to increase its efficiency in the next growing season.

Thus, this summer has proven to be exactly what the internship was titled: Generative Gardening. In such a short span of time, we generated a vast quantity of food and, much more importantly, a wealth of interest in the student body. I hope that this blog has stirred the slightest of gardening interests in your own soul, for we are all united by our simplest need: food. Thank you ever so much for reading

With gratitude,

Andrew

The Garden’s Best Harvest

Friends,

As I mentioned in the brief post yesterday, a large group of students met in the garden last night to harvest some of the vegetables that have been maturing since late April. As I walked to the garden at 7:05pm, thinking I would be the very first to arrive, I was stunned to find a huge group of eager students waiting for me.

Throughout the summer, I have often made the same walk to the garden to find very few people ready to help. Of course, there is the regular cast of characters that have remained dedicated to the garden since day one. These HGI-affiliated few have had the pleasure of seeing the garden growing from the day we planted our seeds – and they deserve many thanks for all their help.

Thus, when I walked into the garden yesterday to find not one, not four, but twelve people ready to help, I was floored. Here were roughly eight new faces, people who I had seen around but with whom I had never spoken. How exciting! It truly seemed as if the word was getting out about the joys of gardening…or maybe just about the copious amounts of produce we were about to harvest. Either way, I was delighted to have so many volunteers.

Right off the bat, we divided into two action teams. One of the HGI regulars took the first group off to begin harvesting the green beans. The six of them quickly learned to lift the delicate leaves of the short plants to reveal a wealth of dangling treasures beneath. With the other six, I waged war on the weeds – our most dastardly foe. Invasive plant after invasive plant fell before our indefatigable attack and, before we knew it, the rows were as clear as they had ever been.

After the preliminary tasks were complete, the first group dove into the pepper picking process. With eyes newly adjusted to differentiate between the vegetables and the leaves, they ripped through four rows of peppers, amassing a pepper pile worthy of a farm stand. Meanwhile, my group forayed into the herb patch where we plucked the heads off of the basil to encourage more plant growth and to concentrate the herb’s essential oils.

Yet, perhaps the most moving moment of the evening was when the entire group came together to harvest three rows of potatoes. Kneeling on either side of the rows and digging vigorously into the loose soil, the volunteers extracted golden and ruddy tubers with glee. A competition soon arose to see who could harvest the most, and the potatoes veritably leapt from the ground. Smiles abounded at the simple joys of the harvest.

In the end, we twelve found ourselves standing around the largest pile of green beans, peppers, and potatoes we had ever seen. Soon, shirts were filled with produce and small talk arose as people were amazed by the quantity of vegetables we had harvested. For me, however, the purest joy lay in a different type of cultivation: the fostering of agricultural interests in other students. Put simply, twelve previously unacquainted students gardened together and learned about real food – to me, that is the best thing the garden has yet produced.

Best,

Andrew

Hot, Hot Days

Friends,

As it has been about a week since the last post, I wanted to give you a brief update about life at Haverford. In a word, it is HOT! While cool, morning breezes occasionally refresh us, the burning sun never fails to heat the day, leaving us sweating in 90+ degree heat and extreme humidity. It is as if the saturated air is trying to smother the life out of us…

We humans are not the only ones suffering, however. Our tender garden plants — the green shoots that once vied for the sun’s attention — now crumple beneath oppressive heat of the day. Several bean plants have wilted, the lettuce plants have bolted (i.e., gone to seed), and the tomatoes are suffering from blossom-end rot, a disease that stems (no pun intended) from a lack of both water and calcium in the soil.

So, since the heat is threatening some of our crops and next week marks the end of students’ time on campus, we have decided to make an extensive foray into the garden tonight. Our goals are simple: (1) weed all of the rows to reduce competition for water in the soil and (2) harvest everything possible. Hopefully, we will come away with a large crop of potatoes, green beans, beats, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and brussel sprouts.

Pictures and a post on that adventure soon to come.

Best,

Andrew

A Slow Week

Friends,

After the craziness of the past weekend with the rain storms and the Garden Party, the Garden Initiative Crew and I have been taking things easy. Last night, we finally summoned the strength to do a little work in the garden and were stunned by how much we harvested. The ground was literally covered with bell peppers, onions, and potatoes — so much that we had to work hard to give all the produce away. It turns out that even a small plot of land, when nurtured well, can produce A LOT of food.

Anyway, in keeping with our collective low-energy level (we can blame it on the July heat), I am going to keep this post short. Here is a montage of photos that show how much growth has occurred in the garden over the past few months. It is a testament the vivacity of our short-lived friends, the annuals.

I wish you all a relaxing weekend.

Best,

Andrew