Welcome to 2010 on the Farm!

How was your holiday? We hope it was terrific. We're glad you're back here checking out what the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is doing to fight hunger via our Farm and Community Gardens Project. Did you make any resolutions? Check out some from the Food Shuttle staff here. One resolution that didn't make it in the video is that we want Sun Butler to show up more on the Farms and Gardens blog.

Sun is our Farm Manager/Educator, our Garden Guru, the Sultan of the Soil, the Viceroy of Vegetables. He's been farming for, oh, most of his life and has so much knowledge and passion about the subject that we have to share it with you. You may remember Sun in his turns as star of a few of our Food Shuttle videos. Check him out here. And here.

With that in mind, we are hitting the ground running in 2010. Here are a couple of posts that Sun wrote up recently. One is about working with the students from the University of Florida who were here for an alternative break. The other is about how Sun spent some of his New Year's Day. The cold temperatures that settled in last week meant that Sun was on the move. Enjoy!

PS-The best way to glean from Sun's knowledge of all things AG is to help out on the Food Shutle Farm or in the Community Gardens.

Sun’s blog - Through The Garden…

Dec 22nd, 2009

University of Florida left for home tonight.  13 college students on an alternative service break arrived four days ago to help out on Food Shuttle Farm.  With looks that can only be described as “what have we got ourselves into?” they clambered out of their vans last Saturday at 8 AM in a 10 knot wind blowing a cold mist of rain and water standing in the garden rows.  After an orientation and pow-wow in the greenhouse there was a unanimous decision to put off farm work and tour Food Shuttle headquarters and a few community gardens. Later that afternoon, after cleaning out the vegetable cooler at Food Shuttle, we headed for Chapel Hill with a stop at Walmart to buy long-underwear. By this time they had figured out that they were not in Gainesville anymore.   More community gardens in Chapel Hill, a quick orientation on Franklin St. and then our intrepid convoy pulled into Harry’s Community Market in White-Cross for music, hot-cider and conversation.  They wanted to meet the locals so who better than our locally colorful farming and gardening community just west of the ‘Paris of the Piedmont’.

Sunday dawned clearer but colder.  Never-the-less, with fresh layers of thermals, hoodies and jackets those Floridians tore into a compost pile that needed turning, transplanted broccoli starts into pots and started bending hoops for the new tunnel greenhouse.  On Monday the guys worked on the greenhouse while the ladies rode shotgun with Food Shuttle drivers.  We finished the greenhouse by Tuesday at lunch and picked 100 lb. of collards as well.  It is always a blur of activity keeping these large work-groups busy, especially one that stays four days straight!  It is also a wonder to see how much we can get done working together for a common cause. 

We had so many cool discussions these last few days about organic farming.  We talked about how tiny soil organisms called mycorhizal fungi live in symbiosis with plant roots, supplying them with dissolved nutrients while thriving on the sugars that plant roots exude.  We talked about the microbial ecology of soils and how conventional fertilizers and herbicides like Round-Up burn-up beneficial soil dwelling organisms.

We talked about food deserts and food insecurity.  When kids on the school lunch program go home and the refrigerator is empty and all they have to eat for the weekend is on the dollar fast-food menu – then we are all food insecure.   I also talked about how good it feels to prepare food from the garden for your own table at home.   Healthy living is more than just eating the right things.  It is cooking at home with food that has been grown in our own community if not in our gardens.  It is the positive “intent and energy” that goes into helping to grow, cooking and then sitting down to a meal together. I call it garden chi.  The UF students got a big kick out of that.

I am really encouraged when student groups come out for a day or more to help on the Farm.  It takes grit and determination to brave the elements for a whole day while working out of your own element at unfamiliar tasks.  Volunteers here learn that farm work is not all fresh air and sunshine.  We also learn that there is a connection that we share when working together.  One that goes beyond the physical bounds of toiling with pitchforks, shovels and harvest buckets in near-freezing temperatures with a stiff wind.  A sense of understanding and empathy for those whose job it is to grow and harvest our food.  An appreciation for our connection to each-other, and therefore to the natural world we are a part of.  UF went home for Christmas, grateful and wiser.  I could not have hoped for more.  Happy Solstice!


Jan. 1, 2010

New Years Day finds me on the road back to Raleigh.  The weatherman has advised that we are heading into the longest cold spell in a generation.  If we are going to keep the lettuce, turnip greens and kale going at Mayview Community Garden, the beds will have to covered with frost-guard cloth.  The translucent white cloth will keep plants from freezing down to 24 degrees Farenheit.  Even if they do freeze, the cold hardy greens will continue to grow and thrive with the cover protecting them from dehydration as they thaw.  I have picked frozen broccoli out of the snow that thawed and tasted wonderfully fresh and sweet in January.

As I pulled into the parking lot at Mayview the kids were playing out front in spite of the cold.  I recognized several who attended the Will Allen Urban Farming lecture last month.   I called out –“Hey guys, can you help me spread this cloth over the beds?  It will help keep the plants in the garden from freezing.”  Four of the boys aged 6-10 jumped up and said “we will!” Turning cartwheels and swinging on lampposts they tumbled down the hill.  I marveled at their energy on this cold day.  The girls, only a degree or two shyer came to watch from the hill – commenting on our progress. 

We unrolled the Frost Guard cloth and spread it over the wire hoops.  “Hey look! Its like a tunnel under here!” one calls out.  As we pin the sides down the boys want to know the name of each plant.  “Those are turnip greens, we just planted that lettuce last week, kale grows all winter long” I elaborated.  “Can we eat it? they asked.  “Sure, lets pick some and you can take it home for your Moms to cook” I suggested. “No, we mean can you eat it now? Right out of the garden?”  “Well sure, but you probably ought to wash it off…” Too late – broccoli shoots, lettuce leaves and collards started disappearing into curious lips, a bite or two at first, then handfuls.  In 10 minutes the kids had memorized the names of every plant in the garden and were scampering up and down the rows repeating them and daring each other and to try them raw.  “Hey that’s sweet!  I want to try the collards! This oriental tatsoi is pretty good too!”

Caught off guard, I just stood there grinning.  Is this what we are out here for or what?  Kids discovering that winter grown greens are even sweeter than summer time; full of energy and the thrill of discovery these boys and girls are truly engaged on their own terms.   We cut heads of broccoli and some small cabbages for them to take home.  With the garden bedded down for the cold nights ahead we all headed back up the hill talking about having collards and black-eyed peas on New Year’s day for good luck.  My New Years good luck has started already.  I hope yours has too.