Category Archives: farm tour

photos from around the farm june 2012

a little late, as i try to get these up in the first week of the month, but better late than never.  i actually took the photos in the first week. echinacea flowers

orange butterfly weed aka pleurisy root

flowers in front of the community garden



the grapes leafed out and the new salvaged cedar posts from reclaim detroit.

the greenhouse mostly empty

red raspberries

red currants

the hoop house

tomatoes, peppers and squash in the hoop house.

black raspberries

the compost pile, greatly diminished

potatoes hilled

potato flower



that is all.  what is happening at your garden or farm?

p.s. let us celebrate, this is my 400th post.


warren wilson college film

quick little film of some of the critters at warren wilson college

that is all.

photos from the first week in january

i’m bit late with the posting, but not with the photos – they were still taken all in the first week of january.  its been a strange january, sunny days, several days above 40, and no snow on the ground.  it’s made my mental attitude excellent, and bike riding much easier, but i’m still plagued by the idea that we are gonna get slammed with super cold and snowy weather soon.

on with the photos

bees out on a sunny daydrinking from the bottom of a bucketinside the hoop housespinach inside the hoop houseswiss chard inside the hoop housethe largest garden, no snow, hoops in the background, some kale still holding on. garlic sproutonions under the quick hoops

ghost town farm

a couple of years ago my friends billy and novella visited detroit.  they stayed with us and we toured them around the city.  novella was on a book tour, but didn’t bother doing a reading or workshop – she had been told that detroit couldn’t really learn anything from her.  while i was certain that detroit had plenty to learn from her – she was unwilling.

they were pretty insistent  that we come and visit and stay with them in oakland – so when i found out the community food security coalition conference was going to be in oakland – i texted novella, and she said to get some plane tickets.

i went a day early so i could hang with novella and billy and check out some other garden projects (more on that later).  novella was supposed to meet me via BART to help me navigate the public transit, but she decided to pick me up in her car – and who could blame her – she is eight months pregnant and the BART ride takes like 45 minutes each way, and don’t forget about the cost.  i was pretty certain that novella’s vintage biodiesl bentz was the classiest ride i could get picked up in.  i got a quick orientation of oakland and then tacos – mmmm tacos.   novella lives in ghost town. the reason for its name are left to speculation, but it’s generally agreed that the term ghost riding came from this neighborhood, i kept myself planted firmly in her car.  i liked ghost town as soon as we pulled up, this giant mural was painted on the building just across the street from her.  the dj in the mural features the unmistakable logo of detroit techno label underground resistance.  i felt at home already.

novella was having her last market of the season, and some oakland folks over to meet me that night, so after picking up some beer, we got to work in the garden harvesting and processing turnips, greens and radishes, i imagined myself to be her wwoofer.  after finishing the harvest  i poked around the garden – there was a lot of to find in a little space.some buddhist muscovy ducks.  i found ripe figs to eat – some were a really over ripe, which the ducks happily gobbled up.  artichokes growing in the parkway next to the sidewalk limes! and tons of them – it was november and rather than the season ending it was just changing, envy was starting rear its ugly head.pomegranates! holy shit! i was downright jealous!  even if novella did say they never got sweet, sour pomegranates are a lot better than no pomegranates.  it was quickly dawning on me why folks were so fond of living in the bay area.  i was having trouble recovering from the shock of all of this, and trying to justify in my head my decision to live in detroit, but hearing the rent prices helped to put me back in the proper mind-set.

i kicked back with a beer, complemented with a fresh lime out of the garden, and welcomed the few visitor to the garden – it was a failure as a market, but we had plenty of food to eat, and i went up and whipped up some kale salad while billy made chicken and rice, waxing poetically about the qualities of peanut oil.  other folks stopped by and i had the chance to catch up on the gossip of oakland’s urban agriculture scene.  i enjoyed it very much.

the next morning i went to meet the chickens and goats that live in the backyard.i’m not sure which ones these are.  i know one of them is bebe; the mama, but i don’t think she is in this picture.  i forgot to ask novella if the reason for naming her bebe is so they would be bebe’s kids – this link may offend some folks, robin harris is pretty raw.  novella’s land lord is a lot cooler than most – i don’t think i’d let my tenant have goats tearing up the back porch.

i loved hanging out at novella and billy’s house.  novella is relaxed and easy to get along with, and billy might easily be one of the funniest people i know,  and their  idea of a good night out – eating sweets at the yemeni  grocery store and watching al jazeera,  picking lemons out of vacant lots matched well with ma and i.

novella has written the enjoyable book called farm city about billy and her adventures in oakland, and her friend willow and her have an urban farming how to book coming out in a month called the essential urban farmer.  you can also check out her blog – ghost town farm.  go check em out.

the stop

i’m not sure when i first became aware of “the stop”.  it may have been in a presentation on projects in toronto, report outs from friends visiting, or maybe it was from folks from “the stop” coming to visit.  regardless, i have know about it for a number of year, and been wanting to visit and check it out.

there is a huge amount of similarity to the work i do at work and that of the stop. we both work in low-income communities, we both run kitchen’s, both have gardens, both are working to redevelop local food systems while preserving traditional food cultures.

the way that we execute them certainly has some difference, and i’ve long admired “the stop” for what they were doing right (as a side note – an apron from “the stop” is ma’s first choice apron to wear).  a visit to visit “the stop”  was prime on my list of place to visit in toronto.

the stop has two location – one the older location which has ben around for over 15 years, and a new one “the green barn”  which they have been at for a little over three years.

the original davenport location is on the first floor of a government housing structure.  despite its institutional location, folks have done a good job making the space feel as warm and homey as possible; murals are all over the place, and in the dinning room flags of all the countries residents of the neighborhood hail the dinning room they serve a few hundred meals a day, do cooking classes, teach about neonatal health, do social justice discussions and organizing. they also have a food pantry program which allows folks to choose what sorts of foods they need based on dietary restrictions.

gardens are close by, though not directly on the grounds of the stop. food from the gardens is not used too much in the kitchen for meals, but does get used in some cooking classes. much of that food goes home with gardeners or gets sold at a farmers market they do.

all of this is great, but its the little things that really grab me. at least 50% of the folks that volunteer at “the stop” are people receiving services. they train folks coming to the stop to be paid “client advocates” to help those coming for services better connect with other organization, they bring in lawyers, even barbers to provide additional services.

some of the smallest details i think really helped me get a feel for where the values of the organization lie.a community phone is available to use, even with the rising availability of government issued cell phones – access to a phone is still a huge need where i work.board games are available to play – to me showing that folks are welcome to hang out, and that it’s a welcoming space.

the newer stop couldn’t feel much different.  it’s located in a much more affluent location, and in a beautifully renovated trolley barn.  call the wychwood barns, they were renovated by a local arts group, the space contained 4 old trolley bays, one rented out as work/live and studio space for artist, an area rented out to various nonprofits, a theater group for youth, and “the stop’s green barn”

when first approaching the green barn, you are led though the world gardens in which crops from all of the world of represented.  the idea to show that the need to import foods from around the world is largely unnecessary – many can be grown in ontario.
the philippines, tibet, somalia, and many others are all represented.  i expected greater diversity of crops, but looking at each of the garden plots, one starts seeing the same things, maybe different varieties, and growing methods, but the similarities were more than the differences.

entering into “the stop” green barn proper is a court-yard garden, complete with the ubiquitous toronto outdoor oven.outdoor ovens seem to be in every garden – if every detroit garden needs a hand painted sign to have arrived, toronto needs an oven.  the oven is used for pizza bakes with the kids which attract plenty of parents too. the walled gardens remind me of traditional english gardens where the brick walls act as passive solar energy collectors.  of course english garden’s walls are only about 6 feet tall, not the 20 feet that this garden featured.  like other gardens i’ve seen planted in old buildings, this one seemed lacking in light.

the inside features a large gathering area with a library, offices, a kitchen and huge wooden tables that could be pulled together for giant communal meals.  unlike the institutional  feeling of the stop’s old location this one is open, and kind of modern feeling.  but it also feels a little less personal, i like the murals and personal touches of the well used space.  the new space reminds me of something that i would encounter in a scandinavian country with its clean lines and reused materials.  i sort of felt like i was in an ikea catalog.  saturday features a farms market, and the stop also provides meals for shoppers in an impromptu cafe.i wish that the cafe was serving while i was there, i was really hungry.

past the community gathering area is an enormous greenhouse.the greenhouse faced the same limitations as the walled garden; a serious lack of light.  while the space was really neat, the sodium vapor light cast a yellow light on everything thing making everyone appear jaundiced.

i left the stop feeling a little confused, and little introspective.  on the surface it would seem the stops new location would be the better location, after all, they were able to do a complete build out and make it what they needed.  but i couldn’t help but feel like some of the charm and homeiness of the original location was missing.  the new stop was nice, maybe a little too nice.  at work we have been dealing with the fact that we are extremely cramped, and contemplating a move of at least part of us to a new space.  i’m looking at the stop for lessons of how we could do better to connect to community and develop more community ownership, but also a cautionary tale, of how careful one needs to be as they move forward, of how much intent one needs to have in each of their moves.

johnny’s test farm tour

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like a dream come true, i was able to spend an afternoon touring the johnny’s test farm – with our host johnny’s seed rep ken fine.

but before we are able to get to that, we went on a quick tour to check out the warehouse!  most of it was what you would expect, loading docks, shipping area, bins full of cardboard boxes.  the real difference was in the cave. the cave is the cold storage area for bulk seeds.  seeds, seeds, seeds.  so many seeds packed floor to ceiling, row after row.  seeds from all over the world, purchased by breeders and grows from across the us, japan, china, and italy.  the smell of carrot and parsley seed pervaded the air.  i found it both delightful and overwhelming.

while seeing the warehouse was fascinating, the real focus of the tour was to see the research farm where the breeding and trialing happens.  flower trialscarrot and chicoriesleek and onions trialsfall lettuce trials – testing for cold hardiness. radicchio trials

what is going on with all these trials?  two things.  the first is to compare the johnny’s breeding projects against other varieties to make sure they are performing as well or even better than competition.  that’s only a small part of the trialing.  the majority of the trials are comparing varieties that are not breed by johnny’s but they sell.  tons of new seed offerings come on the market, some are improvements over old ones, some are not, the only way to know for sure is to grow them and compare.

tons of seed varieties are taken off the market each year.  often old favorites that are popular with small growers are deemed no longer to be worth the trouble to grow by the companies that supply johnny’s.  so they need to find a replacement.  many of those growing and breeding seeds are looking for things like uniformity, disease resistance, and a yield.  while all of these things are important, johnny’s is primarily interested in eating quality.  as ken is quick to point out it’s not johnny’s seeds – it’s johnny’s selected seeds.  one of the main reason to grow all these seeds out is to actually taste them and compare flavor side by side.

we stumble upon this testing in the melon patch where the discards of the mornings testings were fine wine tasters they just cut out a chunk, taste it, and spit it out moving on to the next one.  the remains are left to the yellow jackets and butterflies.  a lot of food gets wasted on the farm.

moving from the trial plots to the breeding plots we come upon row after row of what look like the same varieties, but are carefully tagged and/or flagged for easy id of the different breeding stock.acres of tomatoes ripening in the field, soon to be picked and processed. an ocean of squash, the selected flowers are bagged to keep out pollinators, then hand pollinated with the prescribed cross, and tagged.  its hugely labor intensive work, done by local hired hands that act as “bees”while we are touring one of the farmers was out making notes about which lettuce seed to select.  since bolting lettuce is so unpalatable, it always gets ripped out around our gardens, but its nice to see how beautiful the lettuce is as it goes to seed.

on the way back to the car we look at the construction of these small hoop houses, made with just a pipe bender, chain link fencing top rail, and a couple of other parts.  we have been thinking of trying to put some up at work, and i wanted to look more closely at the construction.  seeing my interest in these, ken shared the next trick johnny’s has up its sleeve, a homemade rolling greenhouse.  they were still working out the kinks in the design but i’d expect to see the tools and plans in next years catalog.  it will be very similar to the hoop house seen above constructed from fence top rail.

after a couple of hours  is was time to head out and get on with our travels to visit family, and enjoy some relaxing on the maine coast.  ken was kind enough to guide us to the coast, and point us in the direction of our next stop.

you don’t have to have a tour guide to check out johnny’s test farm – it’s open daily for self guided tours!

added value brooklyn

i carved out a little bit of time to visit one of the many urban farms in new york while visiting the city.  added value is among the better known and longer functioning.  i’d heard about it for years in news reports, videos and photos.  on saturday morning i headed out from harlem for what turns out to be a pretty long trip via public transit.

added value is on a large chunk of land, or actually asphalt, as it’s located on former park land that is covered in black top.  compost and soil are mounded up about a foot thick, and plants are growing surprisingly well on what would at first glance seem pretty inhospitable.  certainly it proves how much can be done with underutilized spaces and a bit of creativity.

about 2 acres are cultivated and in the background can be seen the giant ikea store.  when added value was started one of the main ideas was a catalyst for improving community health.  i’m pretty sure the ikea store across the street was not part of that vision.

they have some of the most epicly large beds i have ever witnessed, eight foot across, with three feet walk ways in-between.  folks still have to walk in the beds to plant and harvest.  seem a little awkward to use to me.  garlic looks great.  didn’t ask what variety.they have a really nice outdoor pack area made up of bathtubs and simple plywood tables, with  a salad spinner stand type thing.

this stand puts the spinner at a better hight for proper spinning and also helps keep the spinner from rocking around nearly so much as you turn it.the pack shed also functions as a staging area, where they have excellent signage of the field, as well as the work list for the week, and day.the shelves inside the tool sheds are of well-organized with bins and labels.  i post this photo mainly to remind myself that it is possible to have a well-organized shop space.

a new composting project has just started this year.  i was surprised that they have been going for so long without a large-scale composting project, it would seem that growing on asphalt you would have to spend a good amount of money on compost to keep the system going.  even with the large amount of compost they are processing it seemed pretty small by comparison to the composting we are doing at work.  but it was also better managed.  leaf bins made out of chain link fence are used to hold leaves gathered in the fall until they can to be used in compost.  food scraps and field refuse are the other major component for compost.  all of these buckets are filled with food scraps. no really.  after the leaves and kitchen scraps have been mixed, piled, turned and allowed to break down for several months they get run though this sifter.   what comes out is some very lovely compost. for local community members a self-serve compost tumbler is made available to use.  it includes detailed signage and instructions.

much of added values work is based on improving access in the community for local food and to that end they sell to local restaurants and also have a farm stand.  they are also  training another generation of farmers, and have a crew of very talented young people working with them.  much of what they are doing overlaps with what we are trying to do at work.  it would certainly be worth another visit to spend more time and work side by side with the crew.

while touring the farm it is mentioned that a number of food trucks gather every saturday just down the street and serve up some of the best food from south american cuisines.  i find this difficult to pass up, and finish  my morning with a plate full of pupusas and a glass horchata, while sitting in the sunshine.  what a great morning day.