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A Shout-Out to Those Into Urban Ag Who Want a Stepping Stone to Leadership

Posted Mar 24 2013 8:05am
Click photo collage to view larger
So, you're thinking about starting a community garden, or perhaps starting some kind of garden or urban farm for profit? My opinion today is different than it was four years ago , when we were full of piss and vinegar, nothing was impossible, and I felt total flow like that turtle, Crush, riding the East Australian Current in the Disney Movie, Finding Nemo

My opinion today is--it's hard.  Not hard to start, necessarily, but hard to keep going. One drive around my metro area shows lots of amazing things going on, but also shows the overgrown or abandoned remains of piss and vinegar, partly because:

* People move on, especially the start-up people;

* Three whole generations didn't grow up with the knowledge of how to grow food so the learning curve is enormous;

* Barriers to producing good, healthy food such as affordable water access, local ordinances, insurance, deer, appropriate/affordable supplies, and more can be crippling;

* The amount of planning and supply sourcing to ensure peak productivity (especially when you're growing for those in need, or as your business) is never-ending

* And living somewhere where the movement is young makes it difficult sometimes to see where we are heading and to weather the bumps in the road. 

Wheat Street Gardens in January 2013
Yes, you can trust the journey (and I do), but if you don't take specific actions continually, you're going to miss whole seasons, period, and a garden can become unsightly and unproductive very, very quickly. Then, again, it's "just dirt," as my friend, Bob, says, and ultimately, like my back field grow space from last year with the middle school students , it can all be returned to nature, so perhaps you just relax into it. But that's hard for me. Virgo. Planner. Aware of what's possible (here is a picture of what was growing at my friend Rashid's in January, for instance). Knowing that hunger doesn't take a holiday or have an off-season.

These thoughts are heavy on my mind because my life is changing dramatically by August 1. After then, I most likely will not be available to go to the food pantry garden at the time of week when we currently hang out, plant, and harvest with the food pantry clients. I'm also feeling my personal path and pace pulling me elsewhere, and, as longtime readers of FoodShed Planet know, I trust this instinct of mine. 

However, this garden and the people involved have been very dear parts of my life for almost three years now, and I feel a huge responsibility to do all I can before that time to help position this very special garden for long-term sustainability. For the next month, that means:

* Planting an orchard ;
* Building locally-harvested bamboo tomato cages and trellis systems ( like the one I tested at my home last year , based on these elaborate ones I saw at a community garden comprised mostly of refugees-of-war);

* Sourcing summer transplants;

* Adding some fun, friendly signs in several languages (such as highlighting our new "potato bar," and these cute ones made by my friend Tracy saying to wait before harvesting the head lettuces Bob donated);

* And dream of dreams, maybe even adding a raised bed for those with disabilities, a bigger compost system, and a small shed with a little greenhouse section. (We are uncomfortable partnering with an organization that does a lot of these kinds of building projects but has a national policy of discrimination, so these projects are challenging to achieve.)

The biggest thing I think I can do is widen our circle and invite more people into the stewardship of this special little slice of land through my social media efforts. And so, I invite self-starter people with organic growing confidence, extensive local urban agriculture contacts, and a desire to get hands-on leadership experience in just a few hours a week for a year or so that you may be able to then parlay into a paid position somewhere else (the Community Food list serve out of Tufts University lists an increasing number of paid urban ag jobs nationwide almost every single day). 

Here is what the garden looks like right now. It is completely planted for spring and prepped for summer.
If you are a recent graduate of a college where you helped on the school farm or garden, or you are a landless Crop Mobber who is just itching to have a convenient place to dig in and collaborate with an extraordinary team making a difference for those in need (500 people a week) so you can add that to your resume, or an organic growing student of one of the excellent organic farmers in our area who needs more hands-on experience before making a career move into urban ag, please consider just showing up this spring and summer* and seeing if our garden opportunity fits your path and pace.

It's very casual. We have lots of fun . We've done some innovative things . We augment the amount of fresh produce we offer through David's gleaning , which is a very interesting topic in and of itself. There is all the help you could possibly need right there at the food pantry each week. But what we are doing doesn't "just happen" and a connected, take-charge person who has maybe four hours a week to invest in your urban ag future (two hours hands-on, and maybe two hours of planning, connecting, and supply-sourcing) is desperately needed within the next few months. Keep it in mind, pass this on, and, well, yes, let's trust the journey.

For those elsewhere on our FoodShed Planet who are looking to start paid careers in urban agriculture, consider volunteering for awhile with a local food pantry garden to get some incredible hands-on experience where every plant you grow truly matters. You won't believe how efficient and effective at growing food, community, and knowledge you'll become.

* Contact me for any additional needed details.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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