Pollination Takes Many Forms

Recently a group of middle-schoolers from Edna Martin Christian Center‘s teen program came to Rivoli Park Labyrinth to find out what the pocket park is all about.

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Walking the labyrinth

The park’s founder, Lisa Boyles, led the youth on a walk through the labyrinth, which is beautifully ringed by wildflowers this summer.

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bumblebee

Sharp-eyed kids spotted some of the critters that make the park their home.

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on the butterfly bush

As a certified wildlife habitat, the park provides food, cover, water, and nesting places for creeping and flying insects, toads, birds, and small mammals–and it is managed with sustainable gardening practices that are wildlife-friendly. (Lisa recently saw a falcon with a mouse in its talons, high in one of the trees.)

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View from the butterfly bush

After the walk we talked about why it’s so important to support pollinators … without which it would be difficult to find actual food. When one of the boys said something about licking a flower, we picked red clover petals so everyone could try a sip of nectar. Tasty!

Soon the park will be designated a Monarch Waystation with the addition of milkweed, which monarch caterpillars eat. The kids got to sow milkweed seeds in small pots to take home and start their own monarch-friendly habitats.

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Starting milkweed seed in peat pots.

Each teen also went home with a kit to make a butterfly feeder and instructions to make more nectar (1 part sugar to 1 part water, heated until sugar dissolves, then cooled).

A simple butterfly feeder.

A simple butterfly feeder.

Lisa notes that you can also attract butterflies with fruit. Butterflies are reported to love oranges, watermelons, mangoes, kiwis and apples. Fruit slices can be put on a plate with some water, or they can also be added to the sugar water feeders for added variety for the butterflies.

Pollination takes many forms. Insects pollinate flowers, while a woman like Lisa pollinates young lives by sharing a quiet space in the middle of the city’s hubbub.

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A contemplative moment in the center of the labyrinth

All are welcome to explore Rivoli Park Labyrinth’s beauty, spread a blanket for a picnic, or walk the labyrinth anytime between dawn and dusk.

For more information on creating a certified wildlife habitat, see the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife site.

Deep Learning Continues at Avon OLC

Guest blogger Jennifer Davies updates us on her work at Central Indiana’s Avon Outdoor Learning Center. We first posted about this phenomenal program last February, in Portal to the Wider World.

Guest post by Jennifer Davies

For those of you who have been following me and my stubborn refusal to walk away from my job teaching at and coordinating the Avon Outdoor Learning Center since our funding was cut in 2011, I have some good news! I first should point out that Carol Ford and I basically made up this position when I stumbled across the place, back when I moved to Indiana in 2006…and they let us, just to see what we had in mind.

We had just planted the garden (built with grants & volunteers), and hosted more than 7,000 students for the year, when a town referendum failed and the district had to shave $9 million from its budget. Since then I’ve relied on grants, fundraising and donations for my salary. Last year we served 9,100 children with programs designed to supplement classroom instruction with active, outdoor activities.

Planting garden at Avon Outdoor Learning Center

Planting garden at Avon Outdoor Learning Center

We’ve had fantastic community support, with students literally giving me their piggy banks and tooth fairy money. A new Superintendent is behind us. We have a rock solid belief that this patch of earth shows how public education can inspire lifelong learning—and a deep connection to one’s community. (And by “community” I mean local and global, human and otherwise!)

With the current administration turning over every rock, squeezing every penny, and encouraging this community to urge changes in recent school funding legislation, positive change is afoot: The district will be able to hire 20+ teachers to ease classroom sizes, and they are going to fund two-thirds of my position. I’ll still need to raise the remaining one-third, again looking to this community for their help in doing so.

A career path I’d recommend? Probably not. Job satisfaction? HIGH. I had a kiddo tell me two days ago that he tried three new foods (radish, green onion and spearmint) during his visit and he liked them all. Can you test that? Nope. But I’d be willing to bet the experience will be with him for a lifetime and might even help shape the way he looks at the world around him and his place in it.

Harvest time at Avon Outdoor Learning Center

Harvest time at Avon Outdoor Learning Center

For those of you who have mixed your blood, sweat and tears with mine over the past few years—couldn’t have done any of it without you. For my family, for putting up with me and my loopy path—BIG Love. And for those cheering from a distance—Thanks! Can’t wait to see what next year brings!

If you need me, or have an idea for fundraising, I’ll be in the garden…

Note: To contribute volunteer time, fundraising ideas or donations to Avon OLC, email olc@avon-schools.org

Photos courtesy of Avon Outdoor Learning Center.

The Ground Rules

Meet “renegade researcher” Nance Klehm. She’s on a mission to transform our thinking about waste—and to transform our waste into healthy soil.

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Nance Klehm

I first met Nance at last October’s Radical Mycology Convergence, which she hosted on her rural land in Illinois. She divides her time between rural and urban—growing native trees, plants, and mushrooms on her land, and nurturing innovative community projects in Chicago.

As a fifth generation horticulturist, she has a passion for working in partnership with nature and enjoying the abundance that results. She has worked on graywater systems, humanure, and soil fertility for years, both in the U.S. and abroad. She was even invited to Haiti to assist with composting toilets after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

She works on composting policy at the state and local level, and teaches “Composting 401” to people who really want to get down and dirty.

“When people say, ‘what’s possible?’ I’ve done it,” she told me. “I have photographs and data and anecdotal experience from living in Chicago for 25 years.” She envisions a widespread scale-up of composting efforts that would shift how cities handle sanitation.

Nancy removing husks from walnuts grown in her food forest.

Nance removing husks from walnuts grown in her food forest.

Recently she was the featured guest on the Root Simple Podcast, talking about her work with community bioremediation in Chicago.

The project, called The Ground Rules, has multiple community-run soil centers working on bioremediation. Urban soils are often contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. Klehm and her volunteers are addressing this problem by diverting waste into compost.

By bicycle and truck, they pick up discards from restaurants and businesses: uneaten food, vegetable trimmings, and paper towels, for example. Nearby soil centers are where they convert this “slop” into a high-powered soil amendment.

"It's crazy fun to work with food slop," says Nancy.

“It’s crazy fun to work with food slop,” Nance says.

The waste is kept local, put to work in service of the longterm goal of remediating the soil. Bacteria in the compost help to break down inorganic chemicals. The teams also use plants and fungi to help with this goal. So, four biological kingdoms—animal, bacterial, fungal, and plant—partner in this vision.

Here’s a great video about the project:

The Ground Rules from nance klehm on Vimeo.

Nance has a book due out this fall, based on her conversations with others invested in the life of the soil. (Note: It isn’t only farmers who care about the ground under our feet!)

Currently she’s writing a manual for others interested in community bioremediation. She blends practical, technical information with anecdotes from the soil centers, because they are all different. Each site has its own issues and challenges. Nance says the social component of this work is the trickiest part, so it’s important to address that along with the how-to aspect.

She’s running a crowdfunding campaign to support this important work. Any small amount helps.

And of course, if you’re in Chicago, consider volunteering. If you want to hang with fun and funky folks while learning a whole bucketload about advanced composting, she would welcome you, I’m sure!

Update: For more on The Ground Rules project, check out my Acres USA profile of Nance Klehm.

Lessons from the Ecovillage

Guest blogger Jami Gaither reports on her recent stay at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, located in Rutledge, MO.

Guest post by Jami Gaither

I expected my three-week Visitor Session at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to expose me to natural building, cisterns and alternative power. What I didn’t expect were the surprises I encountered.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

The first surprise was the amazingly good vegan/vegetarian food. Who knew it could be so tasty, filling and energizing? We had meat for only three meals in three weeks. While I rarely eat fish, at my first dinner back in “concrete world” I ordered Mahi Mahi. This was the most attractive item on the menu and a healthy alternative to my usual chicken or pork. My time at Dancing Rabbit influenced how I see and consume food.

The limited and well-planned use of vehicles was another revelation. Each week, residents review the needed vehicle plans. Seventy people manage to share four vehicles: a Jetta, a Passat, a Leaf, and a large work truck with optional trailer. They do this by planning trips and combining them when possible. The cost for each trip is paid by the member taking it. The $0.65/mile covers the cost of the car, gas, insurance, and maintenance.

For example, a 125-mile round-trip from Dancing Rabbit to the Possibility Alliance, an educational homestead in La Plata, MO, cost me just over $20 ($81.25 divided by 4 riders). This initially seemed pricey to me. But I realized that minimizing the need for travel and sharing rides makes the cost of having a vehicle very reasonable.

The full schedules of members was a third recognition. “Rabbits,” as residents are known, are busy building homes (largely by hand) while raising food (via small-scale organic gardening) and children (some are home-schooled). They do all this in keeping with a commitment to the Dancing Rabbit mission:

To create a society, the size of a small town or village, made up of individuals and communities of various sizes and social structures, which allows and encourages its members to live sustainably. To encourage this sustainable society to grow to have the size and recognition necessary to have an influence on the global community by example, education, and research.

Members and residents spend a few to several hours per week on tasks that keep the community and co-ops functioning. Tasks range from clearing paths and dumping humey (humanure) buckets to cooking a meal for a food co-op. Many also pledge hours to committee work. Since discussions are consensus-based with open/clear/respectful communication by all, this important work can be some of the hardest to do.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

This brings me to the biggest surprise of all: the commitment to interact using non-violent communication (NVC) and mediation. My NVC training was eye-opening; it takes much energy, commitment, honesty, and trust.

Some say that living in an intentional community is the most expensive, longest lasting personal development program you’ll ever experience. The community becomes a house of mirrors. Even in my short visit, I learned how my perspective and experience govern my words and deeds. Several interactions indicated I’d hit a nerve or spoken callously…unaware or inconsiderate of the perspective of the other. Working on self-improvement can be a long process.

Some argue that we do not have environmental problems, only communication problems that prevent us from using resources wisely and for the greatest good of the whole. The more we communicate, the closer we feel to others. That sense of connectedness encourages us to take care of others and be less self-focused.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

I believe that with some effort, we can each make strides to be more self-aware and considerate. In time, we can interact more effectively and humanely with our fellow beings on Mother Earth.

Ohio native Jami Gaither is a recently retired metallurgical engineer now pursuing a lifestyle based on sustainability, simplicity and fun. While not yet certain of her life path to come, the process of exploring is keeping her enthralled. She lives in Minnesota with her husband Danny.

Will Allen Visits Peaceful Grounds

It was an honor to meet Growing Power founder Will Allen last weekend. The urban farming advocate was in town to support the work of his student Linda Proffitt at Peaceful Grounds. (Here’s my earlier post about this inspiring demonstration farm, which is a regional training center for Growing Power.)

This aphorism hangs on the wall at Peaceful Grounds.

This aphorism hangs on the wall at Peaceful Grounds.

The former pro basketball player told me that he learned how to broadcast seed as a child. He can pick up a handful of seed and not drop one of them. He has the muscle memory for broadcasting those seeds, whether arugula or chard or carrots—and all require different release rates. His sharecropper father taught him as a child, and all these years later, he retains the skill.

Now he sows great swaths of salad greens in his Milwaukee farm operations. Calling himself a “crusty old farmer,” he is the embodiment of Growing Power’s stated vision: “to inspire communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.”

In 25 urban farm sites, on places like brownfields, school property, and land leased from corporations, the organization models how to get this done. The food is distributed through multiple channels, from Community Supported Agriculture accounts to a major distributor, Sysco. “Just another customer” is how he describes the corporation that ships GPI wares all over southeast Wisconsin.

Though the local food movement continues to make strides, there’s still a long way to go. Despite all the options—the CSAs, the farm stands, the farmers markets, the small mom and pop stores stocking local fare—Allen says up to 99 percent of the food eaten in major cities comes from 1500 miles away. “The vast majority of people will shop square,” he says, referring to big box stores.

Only $13 million of the U.S. food sector is generated by eco-agriculture—about the equivalent of three McDonalds. Growing Power represents 20 percent of that share. To fully transform the food system would require 50 million people to start growing food in their own yards, he says.

Turning the ship around has been the iconic Allen’s life work for the past 21 years.

Basil sprouts at Peaceful Grounds, a regional training center for Will Allen's organization, Growing Power.

Basil sprouts at Peaceful Grounds, a regional training center for Will Allen’s organization, Growing Power.

He envisions for-profit businesses taking up the charge of urban food security, with nonprofits assuming a training and organizing role.

In his own organization, the people responsible for growing the food are extremely efficient, and training happens as a separate program. That’s a critical point, because farming isn’t easy. Efficiency is the name of the game.

“My crew comes from the community, and they live in the community, but they are professionals. Everybody thinks you can take interns and integrate them with professionals, but you can’t. You’ll lose money hand over fist.”

He's very tall.

That’s me on the right.

More of my conversation with Will Allen can be found in today’s Nuvo article.

Also check out Robb Smith’s terrific podcast interview over at DIY Food Supply.

Building Soil, Growing Food, Nurturing Relationships

I just listened to a podcast interview with Linda Proffitt, founder and executive director of Global Peace Initiatives here in Indianapolis. I’ve known Linda since the days I was responsible for Nuvo Newsweekly’s monthly social justice calendar. Back then I called her regularly to find out about GPI’s peace hikes and other activities, and I was always impressed with her programming.

Since that time GPI’s work has exploded onto the local resilience scene. They started by helping church groups grow food for the hungry, bringing countless volunteers together to experience the transformational power of service initiatives.

peasIn 2011, the organization began a new partnership with one of the most influential forces in the urban farming movement. Will Allen and his team at Growing Power designated GPI as a regional training center for Central Indiana. Spring of 2012 saw a well-attended “From the Ground Up” workshop at Peaceful Grounds, GPI’s newly formed center for agriculture and sustainability.

If you have a chance to listen to the podcast, you might be struck (like me) by the idea that produce is just one output of Peaceful Grounds. There’s also soil, which is foundational. And then there’s relationships.

People coming together to cooperatively grow food can form some powerful ties. And that’s what it’s all about at Peaceful Grounds.

Sharing worms with youthful visitors

Sharing worms with youthful visitors

Now at the Marion County Fairgrounds, Peaceful Grounds is about to start a weekly farm and arts market, Sundays from noon to 4 starting June 1.

GPI’s work is featured in a chapter of the new book Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer. The chapter is called “Stop Tilling the Soil”—and worm composting is a big part of the system at Peaceful Grounds. (I was thrilled learn that the worms eat brew mash from my local microbrewery, Black Acre, located right here in Irvington.)

Linda will be the guest speaker at next Tuesday’s Green Hour, a project of the Irvington Green Initiative. If you’re in town, come out and join us to hear all about this vital work.

Photos courtesy of Global Peace Initiatives.

Celebrating International Permaculture Day

Today is International Permaculture Day. Guest blogger Thomas Tlusty wrote the following piece exploring his connection to Permaculture, and its power.

Guest Post by Thomas Tlusty, founding partner of The Garden Tower Project

Two years ago, I saw sketches of a device that I felt certain had the potential to revolutionize urban agriculture. I had long been interested in the economics and environmental impact of our food system. So the design piqued my curiosity and unleashed my desire to have a positive impact in my own lifetime.

The Garden Tower is a water-saving, worm-friendly, uber-productive vertical gardening aid.

The Garden Tower is a water-saving, worm-friendly, uber-productive vertical gardening aid.

Since that fateful reveal, my life has been transformed. The Garden Tower Project reignited my passion, and I began rethinking current food production/distribution models. My eyes were opened to the plethora of pioneers, visionaries and everyday folks who are practicing, teaching, and studying Permaculture and sustainable farming/lifestyles.

I am inspired by those who inspire others. I’m thinking of luminaries like Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, and Will Allen. I’m also thinking of many less well-known but still pivotal figures, such as:

  • Community Slow Food Educators
  • Permaculture Design Educators
  • Elementary School Science Educators
  • Organic Gardening Instructors

I am a relative newcomer to this work. Yet I feel a kinship with those who aspire to build community and develop our inherent natural resources in a straightforward manner.

I’m troubled by the unbinding of our culture from its roots. Western civilization is “circling the drain” as we surpass our fragile planet’s carrying capacity (in our current mode of operation).

Permaculture (to me) represents an entirely sane alternative to the path on which we find ourselves today. Permaculture principles contain not only the seeds of hope but a catalyst for change. In practice, these concepts could improve the lives of untold millions and positively influence the course of our future on this planet.

I find hope in people working together in communities, sharing education and experience. And teaching our children well is our first and best hope.

A child at  Learning Gate Community School prepares soil despite the cast on her leg. Thomas captions this photo “Our Hope For Mending a Broken Future.”

Our Hope For Mending a Broken Future: A child at Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, Florida, prepares soil despite the cast on her leg. Instructor: Cissy Brady Stanko

Permaculture engenders ideas and conversations around topics like environmental science, vermiculture, organic gardening, eco-art, and eco-psychology. And connections grounded in Permaculture positively transcend any political, socio-economic, racial, or gender barriers that have been erected in the past or could possibly be constructed in the future.

In my endeavors, I have developed friendships through online Permaculture forums and related Facebook pages. The connections range from the casual and conversational to the inspirational and uplifting. Together they raise me from the deep morass that had grown like a thick moss over my heart’s desire.

I’m now acting on a long-felt wish to accomplish something meaningful and utterly critical: addressing our outdated and increasingly toxic food production/distribution system. Without action and intent, habits will remain the same. Permaculture shows us the way to a very different future.

Thomas Tlusty was raised in Lombard, IL. Thomas was active in social justice and interested in food issues from a young age. In his late teens to early twenties, he worked at the Chicago Board of Trade (in Agricultural Commodities) for a leading grain exporter. The Ellettsville, IN resident has been a practicing Certified Natural Health Professional and is currently an Active Isolated Stretching Therapist in private practice. Thomas is a founding partner in the Garden Tower Project.