Category Archives: urban farming

photos from around the farm april 2012

april already?  this year has been flying by.

asparagus is up about a month early this year, but now that the temperatures have returned to normal, it is really grown slowly and some crowns have still not put any spears up.  usually once its up i’m harvesting something like 10 to 15 pounds a day.  this year i’m harvesting like 3 pounds every other day.  strange year.

the greenhouse packed pretty tightly.the hoop house fully planted.  we have been harvesting about 75 pounds of greens a week out of it.  tomatoes and peppers get planted this week.  currant flowersgooseberry flowerserviceberry flowersthe garlic on the left and overwintered onions and leeks on the right.  uncovered for weeding.  the sifters set up and ready for action.  we have had a number of alternative spring break groups come through, and they have been really excited about sifting compost, which means we have been able to get a pretty good amount of compost sifted.  we even have a little in reserve for a change.planting collards and kale.what’s happening with yr garden or farm?

photos from the first week of march 2012

welcome new readers!  we have had several new subscribers.  hope you will make some comments – it adds to the fun.

we made it to march.  as mild a winter as its been, it’s still be a long one.  i’m still ready for spring, and march helps me to feel like it just might come.  maybe.  so lets proceed with this months batch of random photos.

do you ever get sick of these shots of the inside of the hoop house?  i don’t.  lots of little spouts coming up.

freshly transplanted kale in the hoop house.

a praying mantis egg case on one of the currant bushes.

a service berry bud swelling and about to open.

a pile of branches from the recent pruning of the currant bushes.

collard transplants in the greenhouse.

tomato transplants.


new prototype compost sifter.  more on it later.  maybe a short film of it in action.

overwintered leeks.

compost laid down on beds to be planted in peas in a few weeks.

looking down through all the piles of compost.

garlic sprouts popping through straw.

writing soundtrack = can – tago mago

winter harvest carrots and spinach

we harvest the last of the bulk of the winter harvest out of the hoop house this week.  we left a little chard, spinach and lettuce, but all the carrots have now been dug.they are a little smaller than we would like but, on account of getting them in too late, but they are about as sweet as any carrot i’ve had.  i couldn’t resist eating a handful of them raw while washing them up.  roasted with a little orange juice and cumin and they were wonderful.

now that the hoop house is almost fully cleaned up, and the weather is starting to break, we have started  harvesting out of the hoops in the field.we easily harvested eight pounds in about 15 minutes, there is so much under the hoops, and we barely made a dent.  it’s not nearly so big as last years spinach, but very healthy all the same.

it feels pretty good to be able to harvest 50 pounds of carrots, plus plenty of greens on the last day of february.

detroit farm and garden

i’m super excited about the opening of detroit farm and garden.  i’ve been talking with my friend jeff, who is the mastermind behind it, for a couple of years about the opening of this space.  today i was able to visit it for the first time during the open house.  i was especially excited about the giant banner, as ma had a major hand in the logo design along with our friend nina.

what is detroit farm and garden?  well its pretty much what you would think, it’s a farm and garden store for detroit.  what will it stock?  that remains to be seen.  todays open house was part of deciding what would be carried.  there were stations though out the space where you could sign up for what you want to see carried.  looks like lots of great tools, cover crop seeds, soil amendments and plenty of compost.  this is just another reason why i love the idea behind the shop, not only is it serving an obvious need in the city, but it also has customers directly involved in deciding what they want carried.  i think it bodes very well for the space.  i also saw lots of awesome urban ag folks milling about, and enjoyed great snacks.

the build out is gonna take some work – right now its pretty much just an open layout where trucks are parked and materials are stored.  rumor has it they plan to open in the next month so it they have a lot of work to do.  best of all, it’s just a short bike ride away from home!  sorry for low quality photos – if you want to take good photos, i don’t care what anyone says – you should use a camera, not a phone.

soundtrack = dj rupture on wfmu

photos from the first week in december

i’m falling more and more behind with updates! not that i haven’t been writing, but mostly that i’ve been working on other writing projects, more on that later. glad ma is helping take up the slack with soap posts.

we have really turned the corner into winter in the last few weeks, light snows falling most evenings this week.  We have a nice inch blanketing the ground right now, wet and stuck to trees and making everything look so lovely.  since it has become so cold, it means most of our work is moving indoors into the hoop house, where many of these photos were taken.

asparagus mulched for the winter and turning a lovely shade of yellow.the greenhouse, new floor installed and cleaned up.  i feel bad that i have to mess it up by growing in it. a pile of bee equipment ready to get cleaned up and stowed for the winter.compost pile in the hoop house, full of lots of fresh spent grain and worms.  we have been collecting lots of worms out of this pile for worm bins.  this is turning into very, very nice compost once it breaks down.  it gonna be so much fun to spread it out in a couple of months when we begin planting again. row cover over the crops in the hoop house.  we need to get cloths pins to hold this taunt, it should not sag like this.  spinachscallionshakurei turnips! so sweet!swiss chardsnow gathers on the side of the hoop house.mustard greens these are the same ones i took photos of last winter.  they just keep holding on.  row cover over onions and spinach.  still in need of plastic over them.compost piles!  we are just about out of room in our current area.  time to move to the spot by the hoop house!

photos from the first week of november

i had big plans to get this out a couple of weeks ago before i took off  for the west coast, but it didn’t happen – so it’s happening now.  the west coast was great, and i’m currently jet lagged and bleary eyed from the overnight flight, but very glad to be back in detroit.

so even if they are late, here are this month’s addition of photos.

the late fall bounty at the market table.fall color on the service berriesthe recently flipped compost pile.  new compost piles! so neat!burdock seeds – getting stuck to all my clothes.onions ready for the winter.leaves down on the beds for winter.greens growing in the hoop house. sifted compost stowed in the hoop house for the winter.the last of the tomatoes in the hoop house.asparagus fronds turning yellow for fall.the greenhouse floor getting new fabric put down. bounty of winter squash

i hope to get west coast updates soon, but its gonna take awhile to sort though all the info and thoughts.

traffic jam rooftop garden

they already made their own bread, beer, ice cream, and cheese.  now local restaurant traffic jam can add growing their own vegetables to the list.  about a month ago while waiting for a table, my dinner companion, asked if i had seen the roof?  it seemed like sort of a strange question, as i’ve not seen the roof of any local dining establishments, but when i replied that i had not, she requested manager, who is a good friend of hers, to take me up to the roof.

after a long series of doors, twisting staircases, and what looked like an old apartment, we open the door to be greeted to this sight.

a roof top full of herbs and vegetables, all growing in bags filled with soil.  i’ve been hearing about rooftop gardens for years, but i think this is the first i know of in detroit.

many of the crops were suffering from the august heat, which was pretty intense on the roof top.  with such small amounts of soil they must be utilizing some sort of supplemental fertility, but the gardener was not available for questions.  it seemed like more of an experiment than perfected.  but still i have to say it’s a pretty neat idea, and with some time i expect them to get it in better shape.  maybe expand to the whole roof, and maybe be able to supply more of the food for the meals.  it’s a big roof, and add rain water catchment from the air conditioning units?  but like so many things they do at traffic jam, i have to ask, is it all for novelty? or is it economically viable.

another trip to growing power

it’s not my first trip to growing power.  i actually got one in last year.  i went back this past week for an intensive leadership training that was connected to the growing food and justice initiative’s yearly gathering.  one day was spent at growing power, and the other was spent in class room settings.  the first day was more hands on, the second more discussion, but they both featured how to do this work from an anti-racist perspective and infuse that into our work.

even though it was more hands on, most of the day was still spent with this view.sitting at a table in discussion and dialog.  we were well fed, i met good people and beers were brought out with dinner!

we got what was supposed to be a 1/2 hour tour but i think turned into a 1 1/2 hour tour.  growing power time goes at its own pace, something i could learn from, but often leaves those who are used to schedules frustrated. a few highlights of the tour.

in a few spots they had this tag that would provide you with information on your smart phone.  someone had to show me how to do it, but then quick as could be, their phone listed a bunch of info on pea shoots. pretty neat!

in order to keep the tour more exciting will would feed the fish in each of the aquaponics tanks to get the fish hoping around.  they like food.

i’m constantly struck by how much stuff they have crammed in the place.  aquaponics systems set up where ever you turn, pots hanging everywhere and more pots on the ground.  very little space is wasted, with mushrooms up in the dimmer spots.  since fish farming is so water intensive, they have one big rain water catchment system for their old school a-frame greenhouses.  but now they are digging a second one for the hoop house out on the back forty.   seems the bobcat was able to do most of the work on this ditch, but  the final grading was being done by these poor souls, who seemed in surprisingly good spirits.   this is the first time i’ve encountered this type of hive – which they were calling a vertical hive.  anyone have more info on this guy?  this is not its ussual orientation, seems to have been laid on its side for honey harvest.  goats sitting in their feeding troughs.  fancy compost sifter.  this is what i want to get for the farm.  anyone know plans to build this?  or where to buy it?  i’d want to convert it to bike powered of course.  if anyone wants to buy or build one for me, i’d be oh so very grateful.

after the tour we worked on a project together – i think most of us were happy to be able to expend a little enegry as we had spent a couple of hours having a difficult conversation around race.

a work list was building a couple of compost piles and filling worm bins.  the compost piles were built in six-sided containers built from old pallets, we alternated wood chips and kitchen scrapes.  much of the kitchen scraps were melons which were starting to rot, and it was recommended that we smash them in order to get them to breakdown faster.

most of us had a good time with this.  the bins were built surprisingly fast, and then the only thing left was to climb on top and pack them down.i think that the idea behind this activity was to point out that when we all focus on doing a project together and focus on our shared goals, that issues of race seem less important.  perhaps, but it still felt like there were many looming issues left undiscussed.  but we were assured that there would be time for that the next day.

farm photos for the first week in august

orange cherry tomatoes a sea of winter squashzinnia  italian frying pepperstomatoes in the hoop househot pepper flowerthe lush mid summer growth, summer squash in the foreground, and tomatoes behind.the first of the eggplant

whirlwind cleveland tour

i had the opportunity to get a one day whirlwind tour of cleveland with a little toledo and oberlin thrown in the mix.  myself and five other detroiters departed at 7:30am along with a host of ohio folks, and were not back until 11:30pm.  it was a long day.

the first stop was in toledo at toledo grows.  i’m friends with michael who directs the program, and have visited several times, i always enjoy seeing him.  since the last time i was their, they have greatly expanded there rabbits and aquaponics. when i  went to explore the rabbit area i was expecting to encounter meat rabbits, not these cute and fuzzy mini rexes.  Ma obsessed over the mini rexes somewhere around 2004 – 2005, hence my familiarity with them.  The young man who oversees the rabbits explained that while they do raise meat rabbits, most of the youth are more into showing rabbits, some of which were at the state fair, and had already won a prize.  if anything really comes though with toledo grows, it’s youth leadership development, they work with some truly remarkable youth.

also greatly expanded was compost, this view only shows a small part of the operation.  the key to the development of this larger compost system was a tractor.  while i don’t like the idea of utilizing machinery, it’s looking more and more like getting a bobcat is the way to go.  maybe i could do a conversation on a bobcat so it could run on veggie oil to make me feel better.

on to oberlin, a place i have never visited, nor really had the desire to.  the only thing i knew about oberlin was that david orr taught there, and that it was full of hippies.  the jones farm we visited did little to dispel the hippie idea.  i didn’t get a chance to explore that much but it appeared to be about 3 acres of veggies, and a lot of weeds.  i’ll assume this is because they hire hippie college students to be farm hands.  they did have some very interesting features including a walk in cooler made of straw bales, and a hoop house framed in cob.  while i understand that the thermal mass of the straw bale should increase night-time temperatures, i wonder how it compares to a clear end wall.  overall energy into the system is less with the cob wall, but does the thermal mass make up for it?  i was under the impression that they also had a straw bale hip board going around the edge, which makes more sense, as it help insulate the ground from cold and wet as well as creates thermal mass.  the walk in cooler made a lot more sense to me without question.  i know of a lot of folks that have constructed coolers like this utilizing closed cell foam insulation, but straw bale seems very well suited for this situation.  they used an old air conditioner and a coolbot controller, replacing the old, and expensive compressor.

with oberlin done, it was time to move onto the goal: cleveland.  somehow and for some reason the first stop was a shopping mall.  it did have a small hydroponics demo, but that’s no reason that i should have to come all the way to cleveland to hang out in a mall and to eat lunch at a food court.  with all the rich food culture in cleveland, i was forced to spend one of my precious meals in a mall.

fortunately there was a food cart across the street with soul food that at least allowed me to sample some locally prepared cuisine.

with the mall quickly transformed into a distant memory, buried as deeply as possible into the recesses of my memory,  we  hit the first of the many excellent urban farms of cleveland, stanard farms aka cleveland crops.  located on an old school yard and buzzing with activity, the farm is largely staffed by developmentally disabled adult, and very well-organized and managed.  the hoop houses have a very interesting retractable end wall, a design i had never seen.they have a hand crank inside which allows you to lift them up, and when they are down, large anchors to secure it.  the interior of the house is lush and full of life.  i was also very impressed with the well-organized wash area, pack shed, and storage area.  a tent was simply put up between two storage containers.  i’m of half a mind to do this a work and help address a multitude of our problems.

after stanard farms, it was on to chateau houghlittle more than a few vines on a half-acre of land, it’s the dream of the charismatic mansfield frazier, who is chomping on a stogie when we roll up and explains in detail the economics of wine grapes.  while mansfield is unsure of where is wine grapes will end up in the future,  he seems pretty positive that good things are to come.

 i quickly bore of the wine grapes, i need diversity and i was growing impatient.  our cleveland hosts seemed to greatly overestimate how long we would want to spend at any one location, how little i wanted to hear people talk and how much i wanted to go running around fields, like a kid in a candy store.  i’m not used to being at the mercy of others for transportation, or staying in one place for very long.  i was growing impatient, and i’d run out of water, and the offer of artificially flavored bottled water didn’t suit my snobby needs.  the next stop had no potable water either, i was gonna lose it.

with my patience greatly tried i, i tried to take in everything.  the zone they called it.  22 acres of land that had been cleared and was slated to be land for market farmers, surrounded by metal scrap yards, a few residents remained, and i was curious how they felt about being surrounded by farm land.  i could help but feel like i was seeing the foreshadowing of detroit, and i had major mixed feelings about the situation.

the only part of the “zone” that had been developed into farm was the rid-all rotc farm.  i wrongly assumed that this was sponsored by the army, but realized that it stood for regional outreach training center, and was affiliated with growing power.

while i’d like to never say a bad thing about growing power, i find that often the sites that it works on are high on vision, and not as much on detail.  but it’s easy to talk smack, especially about a place like rid-all which has only been going in the current location for a few months.  the soil sucks, they don’t have much compost, and need a bunch more time to get everything up and going.   but they seem like really awesome people, even putting together a comic book featuring will allen as “worm man” who saves the soil from lead poison by inoculating it with massive numbers of worms.  when i visit in a couple of years, i expect them to be up to great work.

next stop is city fresh – which seems on paper (since we had a guide to our trip that included descriptions ) completely uninspiring, turned out to be the sleeper of the trip.  we had the chance to get some unflavored, straight from the tap water. with my attention span restored, and a shady spot, next to the bounty of city fresh’s veggie table i was able to listen to the charismatic founders, maruice and brad.   city fresh is sort of like a csa that isn’t run by farmers, and is focused on serving low-income populations.  it works by having some shares full price and some lower cost.  the higher cost shares subsidize the lower cost shares.  so long as the ratio is 30% reduced cost shares to 70% full priced shares, the whole thing works without outside input.  they do about 700 shares a week, and source from over a dozen farmers most of which are amish.  they only have two employees to do this, but depend on massive volunteer labor force of dependable people.  the boxes are not packed, items are spread out on the table with a list of what should be taken and there is a swap box for folks to take what they want and leave what they don’t.  the whole thing is so simple, but seems to be achieving results very well.

final visit before dinner is ohio city farm, a huge and well-tended 6 acre parcel right next to the historic west side market.  i’m a little overwhelmed by the size and scoop.

it’s a shared project, one group works with and trains refugees, another is for beginning farmers who lease land.  it’s the first farm where they realize my need to just get out and run around.  i bound out ahead of everyone else and explore the crops, meet one of the farmers and talk shop.

cleveland seems to have a few legs up on detroit for urban agriculture.  a much more cooperative city government, some visionaries willing to try some radical ideas, and local foundation support.  seeing all these projects made me excited to get back to detroit and the next morning, i was glad to be back to a place i carried for myself instead of just touring other projects.  no matter how cool other projects are, i feel very lucky to be working where i do.