Remember when we were kids and we used to have to write about what we did on vacation? Well, last Wednesday I took a vacation day.
A group of friends and I travelled across the border to Detroit, and spent the day volunteering for(morning) and touring (afternoon) an urban farm called "Earthworks".
You can read more about the wonderful things and projects they do here. I spent a glorious morning pricking seedlings out of trays and transplanting them into cell packs. I have never done this before, in all my years of seed starting. I always figured it was just adding work. But now having seen it done, I think I understand it. It takes less room to start more seedlings, and you have less risk of losing a cell in a pack to a seed that doesn't sprout. You can also cull any that don't look strong. We were using bamboo chopsticks, and though I thought the roots would be so tangled that for sure we would damage the poor seedlings, they came out with no trouble and all and seemed not the worse for the wear.
After eating lunch in the soup kitchen (a very good lunch, btw. On my tray was what tasted like a green chili stype stew, two pieces of whole grain bread, some lunch meat and a slice of cheese, a handful of assorted crackers, salad, a piece of cake, and packets of mustard and mayo. I also took a glass of milk). For sure, this was a larger meal than I needed, but I am not trying to pack all of my daily calories into one lunch. I did like the fact that it included a salad, and the stew was very hearty. Other trays had what looked a red chili that was more beef cubes than sauce. I did not see one, but was surprised that they offered a vegetarian tray as well. The Capuchin soup kitchen also serves breakfast and will often use produce from the gardens in the menu. After lunch, we were treated to a tour by the best tour guide ever, Shane. We shared a peaceful moment near the bee hives. Last year they suffered a loss, so they did not harvest any honey. I have heard a similar story from several people this spring. Hopefully things are better this year. That is Philippa, part of our WECSA farm, Chicken Co-op, and the Ford City Community Garden. I hope she got a good picture of the bees going in and out!
We coveted their hoop house and the green house. Most of the time you see plants growing up on tables in something like this. In one of these structures, they were growing the plants right in the ground. Right now there are radishes and several crops of greens like lettuces, exotic salad mixes, turnip greens, and chard. Later in the season, they will plant tomatoes in here, and we were told they will grow upwards high enough to brush the top of the structure. You can see where they have hung and pulled back some floating row covers in the back.
They have a comprehensive compost system, taking not only their own waste from the gardens and kitchen, but also waste from local businesses (such as spent grain and hops from a brewery) to make giant piles of slowly percolating "black gold". We were told that 20% of the land was left to cover crops to "rest" each year. That along with the compost, and crop rotation will go a long way to help rebuild what years of industry and urban living have taken out. Another coveted item, their compost sifter!
There is far too much to write here about the experience. To see people working together...volunteers, interns, people from the community. To sit and break break with people from the community who are there to garden, to eat, to just spend some time. To see the carefully tended plots and raised beds on a city lot right next to a burned out house. Piles of detritous composting happily lined up in an alley nestled behind a business. We learned some things, and shared some ideas. My heart is in going back again, later in the season to see what has grown and changed and developed since this early spring visit. Social Justice? Humanitarianism? Food Security? Nah, I just came to play in the dirt ;).