Lessons from the Road

I think I gained 10 pounds on book tour. It was just gross. I mean, I ordered room service so many times. It’s just sick. What wasn’t sick was I got to meet so many kick ass urban farmers! Of course I can’t get most of the images off my camera to show you, but eventually I will and you’ll be as impressed as I was. Here’s the break-down:

Boston. Ok, I was too jet lagged to find the Food Project, but I swear I will find them and see their farm some day.

Philadelphia. Greensgrow’s farm manager, Ryan, picked me up from the airport and gave me a whirlwind tour of the Philly Farm Scene. Mill Creek Farm was an oasis of lush, with almost two acres in production, beehives, a composting toilet, solar panels, and a cob oven. They sell to CSA members and have a produce stand. Then I saw a high school garden that is funded through a nutrition program. Then onto Greensgrown. It has been on my blogroll for awhile, but I had no idea what they’re up to. What I discovered was: they’re up to a lot. They are a plant nursery, an apiary, a CSA curator (meaning they bring together all kinds of farms to set up a nice CSA box of meat, eggs, milk, butter, and vegetables), an education center, and a farm. They have lots of poly houses growing beans and tomatoes, chard and strawberries. They also have the coolest cool room, using a Cool Bot, which is a hacked AC unit. They also make their own biodiesel and they have methanol recovery. I mean, what don’t they do? It honestly made me feel like a slacker. Also I found out the following: philadelphia still has cowboys with horses in the city. If I didn’t love Oakland, I’d move to Philly…

Or, Baltimore. I heart Baltimore so much. I got to stay in my friend’s warehouse near downtown. She only pays $400 for an enormous room and studio and shared space. And the people of Baltimore were so amazing. They laughed their asses off at my jokes during my reading, and I found out there is hardly any urban farming going on there, despite the fact there’s tons of vacant land. I did meet this one farmer guy and a really nice lady who are working on starting farms in abandoned areas. I’m telling you, I’m in love with Baltimore. Finally, this is crazy, there’s this: erected this photo in the window of the freaking public library:

These were my hosts: my friend Emily, Judy from Enoch Pratt Library, and Linda from Baltimore Green Works. Now that poster is just scary big, right?

Then off I scampered to Salt Lake City. There I discovered the most amazing urban “gardener” named David Bell, Jill Bell and Celia Bell (David’s sis-in-law). David was a total breath of fresh air. I was blown away by the amount of land in production and how much they’ve accomplished down there. I enjoyed their irrigation methods (ditch), their poly houses which had big green tomatoes, and their attitude that they’re just doing large scale backyard gardening. Love that, and it made me rethink my farmer pretensions. I mean, what’s so bad about being a gardener anyway? Here’s David, and his soil block maker (has anyone used these?). I’m pretty excited to get one because you don’t have to use plastic trays and six packs, which I loathe. David was just putting the blocks on recycled metal bread trays. Celia is a total bad-ass, but I only got to meet her for a second, she keeps goats and chickens and a huge garden in the ghetto of SLC (i had no idea they existed).

Now I’m home, head swirling with all these new ideas and new people and urban farm–I mean gardening–love.

If you’re keen to hang out, here’s where I’ll be:

Wednesday, June 16 @ 7pm Green Arcade Books in SF on Market next to Zuni Cafe (not that I’ve eaten there).

Sunday, June 20, 9:30-12:30 teaching a Goat Class! To sign up, go to www.biofueloasis.com. If goats aren’t your thing, Nishanga Bliss (!) is teaching a fermentation class later that same day.

17 responses to “Lessons from the Road

  1. I knew you’d love Philly–and you just scratched the surface! We’ll welcome you back anytime. Glad it went well!

  2. That soil block maker is bad ass! I have never seen one, but I want one. Hey, and good news, I got one of the last 3 remaining triamble squash seeds from two years ago to sprout. It is growing at a healthy rate!

  3. Wow, I would be tired too. I know you probably have been to Oregon recently, but I just read your book so I hope you are coming here soon.
    Konnie

  4. I also loved Baltimore when I was there for a (n unrelated-to-ag) conference a couple years ago. I had a great time and really enjoyed the city. I often wonder how much urban growing is going on there, and am sad to hear it’s not much. I hear a lot about what Detroit is doing, and I would like to see Baltimore do more with the open spaces there. I really liked the city.

    We have a few soil block makers! A tiny 3/4 inch square one, a 2 inch one, and a 4 inch one (all available at Johnny’s Seeds among other places). We use them sometimes but honestly lately I do plastic pots anyway because I am lazy and we have pots around. But as they break I do not replace them.
    I do the tiny blocks for carrot seeds because I can drop in one per, then plant out as soon as germinated, and then do not have to worry about thinning — it’s easy and I’ve also heard that thinning releases the smell/chemical/whatever that attracts the root maggot fly (?).
    In the 2-inch blocks I do starts that can go out when they are still tender babies — like lettuces in late spring or leeks and kale in early fall. I try to choose plants that I will be able to plant out well before they outgrow the blocks, because upgrading to 4-inch blocks takes a LOT of space and a lot of soil.

    Google around for notes on soil blocks — the main thing I can think of is that it is really really hard to get them moist again if they dry out. Start with damp soil with lots of retaining matter (coir, whatever) and don’t let them dry out.

    Today I wore my Goat Town t-shirt to a pig butchering class! I felt it was appropriate. Severine was there, which I didn’t expect, as this was in Washington state, and she asked me about it and I told her the happy story about your good neighborhood party and your new branding (so to speak) as Goat Town.

  5. Miranda of Oakland

    Oakland and Philly must be undercover sister cities. I’m originally from Oakland and lived in Philly for 2 years. While there I ran into numerous Oakland transplants. What I miss most from Philly, which is harder to find out in Oakland, are the Amish and their food. Definitely make sure you go out to Lancaster county if you have not.

  6. hey Novella – i’m a big fan, and generally love reading your writing and seeing pictures of your mini goats.

    i’ve noticed you bringing up your weight before on the blog, and it really stood out in this last post. maybe you were just trying to say that room service is gross (understandable! ;) – but it sounded like you were saying that gaining 10 pounds was gross.

    Even if you are personally struggling with fatphobia or body image issues, maybe you could consider not writing about it in such a negative public way on your blog.

    In addition to a food revolution, the Bay Area has been a center of fat-positive activism and culture. And there’s a lot I could say about how the two are intertwined and stem from the same values of diversity, and love for your self/love for the planet.

    Ask yourself whether you’d feel comfortable saying those things in front of a fat friend.

    [and here are a few fat-positive links, in case you have no idea what i’m talking about: http://www.nolose.org/activism/index.php#links%5D

    thanks again for doing what you do. i genuinely appreciate it!

    respect-
    Micah

  7. The reason Baltimore currently doesn’t have a lot of urban growing of any sort was a series of stupid zoning laws passed in the 70′s. which have just been taken off the books in order to encourage urban farming!

    City farms could flourish under new zoning code
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-zoning-public-health-20100613,0,1992287.story

  8. I live in Salt Lake and heard that you were coming through Celia Bell. I hadn’t heard of you or your book before then, but purchased it at your reading here. I loved the book! Thank goodness that it rained for 3 days straight here so I could actually read it in a short amount of time not being able to be out in the garden. I literally could not put it down and read most of it out loud to my husband:)

    After being vegetarian for 17 years (7 of those being vegan), my husband and I are gradually adding meat back into our diets. All the same reasons we were vegetarian still apply, and we only buy and eat meat that was raised humanely and locally. A friend of ours raised 50 meat chickens last summer and we got 10 of those that we killed and butchered ourselves. I believe it is the ultimate way to eat meat.

  9. Sounds like a great trip, and it’s encouraging to hear about the work that people are doing all over the place. I still have a long way to go to catch up with many of the people you’ve visited, but am looking forward to the process, and the continued inspiration.

  10. I read your book. A great read, so funny and inspiring! Congrats on your book tour, even if you gained a little weight! You’ve inspired me to use my own garden to eat and grow wonderful vegetables. I’m having some success though my little tomatoes aren’t doing nearly as well as they did last year when 3 plants gave me 1200 tomatoes, Sun Gold and Super Sweet, mind you! That’s the Bay Area for us.

  11. What a awesome read. My wife and I both just finished listening to Farm City. We drive a semi and it was a great listening to you, and we are from Shelton WA ! I’m buying the book and sending it to my “hippy mom” in Montana. She will love it. Thanks for the inspiration. I cant wait to transform our yard. peace

  12. I like the idea of soil blocks, but I’m thinking instead of using a machine to compact soil, one could produce microgreens on the off-season and use the roots to stitch together the blocks for the next round of starts (intended for transplant). Experiments seem promising so far.

    I’ve had very good luck with buckwheat and sunflower micro-greens. I think amaranth would work OK if I were patient enough, and wheat has good roots but wheatgrass doesn’t go as well in salads…in any case, the seeds are all from the grocery store’s bulk bin.

    The school nutrition program-funded gardens are a great idea, I hope a similar project can find traction here in Oakland.

  13. Hi Novella: I am sorry I took so long to update you on Strawberry’s pregnancy and birth rate. ELEVEN kit’s! We lost three to the fox,pulled right thru the bottom of the cage. The rest will be ready in a few weeks for summer BBQ. They were really big at birth. Thank you for trading rabbit sperm for a tree and some plants! We are up to 26 rabbits,over seventy five chickens and 6 Royal palm turkeys. The Muscovy duck eggs from Ebay never hatched or I would have shared them with you. That was like chucking $128.00 out the window. You inspired me to blog please do me the honor of checking it out! Thank you so much for the hide tanning class,I have done two more rabbit hides since.
    Yours in dirt,Garden girl. http://gardengirlfarm.wordpress.com

  14. Hey Novella! I just saw your article on etsy! yea! Loved the book, love the blog (I’m a stalker) and was so excited to read your lemon story on etsy! Keep up the amazing work. Your book inspired me and my fam to expand our backyard garden in Sacramento and made my hubby come around to rabbits (I’m working on goats now). Thanks so much! Abi

  15. ghosttownfarm

    abi: sweeeeet! thanks for reading, and that’s so exciting about the rabbits and future goats. happy summer!

  16. Yay for the Enoch Pratt Free Library! I lived in Baltimore for years, gardened for the bees and the birds, but only grew edible crops in pots. Mostly, I got my veggies at the local farmers’ market.

    Now, in Oakland, I’m growing food as well as plants that benefits insects and birds.

    And I’ve got two beehives, which are doing great, and which came from wild caught swarms.

  17. If you ever get to Toronto (please!!) I will take you on an urban fruit pick with us
    http://www.notfarfromthetree.org/about

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