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Posts Tagged ‘farm’

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Photo: Susan Bryant
The Night-Blooming Cereus blooms at night once a year. Be there when it happens.

In the same way that the sun shines on the keyhole to Smaug’s lair only once a generation — or through Suzanne’s fence and onto the stonewall only twice a year — the lovely Night-Blooming Cereus has its own moment in time, and it’s worth planning your life around it.

Margaret Renkl writes at the New York Times, “For decades, my grandmother was the caretaker of a gangly, disorganized houseplant with nothing, so far as I could see, to recommend it. The plant was ugly. … It was less a plant than something out of a nightmare. As a little girl, I thought it might bite me.

“When the evenings began to cool in early autumn, my grandmother would bring the plant indoors, set it on a table next to the fireplace, and wait hopefully for it to bloom. She called it her ‘night-blooming series.’

“It was years before I understood that the scary plant in my grandparents’ house was actually a night-blooming cereus, a catchall term for several varieties of cactus that bloom at night — often for only one night each year. That’s if it blooms at all: My grandmother’s ‘series’ apparently bloomed only once in all the decades she had it. There are just two pictures of it in full flower, and they were taken on the same night sometime during the 1960s. …

“My cutting came from my brother and sister-in-law’s plant, a proven bloomer, but it has never formed a single bud under my care.

“[In September], my brother texted a photo of the bud he’d discovered on his plant. ‘It might bloom tonight!’ he wrote. ‘I looked in my garden journal, and it was fully open by 8 p.m. in 2014.’ … So I got in the car and drove straight to his house in Clarksville, more than 50 miles from here [Nashville], stopping only for gas. With a night-blooming cereus, the transformation from bud to blossom can take less than an hour. …

“I recognize the irony: There I was, driving through a parched landscape with a full tank of gas, on a pilgrimage to do nothing more than watch a flower bloom, while the hot winds from the 18-wheelers shook my whole car as they passed.

“I am only one generation removed from the farm, and I spent much of my childhood in the very world where my mother grew up, the same one where my grandmother grew up, and my great-grandmother before her, going back farther than anyone could remember. …

“Today only 2 percent of Americans live on farms or ranches, but we have not lost our need to be among green things. Which may explain why friends and neighbors were already hurrying to my brother and sister-in-law’s house by the time I got to Clarksville, and why we all gathered together in their living room to wait for the miraculous event to unfold. The plant’s single bud, which spanned the full length of my hand, was clearly in no hurry to open, pink filaments still tightly ribbing it from stem to tip an hour after we arrived.

‘It’s like counting contractions, waiting for a baby to be born,’ someone said.

“Then, finally, the bud began to open, at first just one tiny aperture at the very end. The pink filaments began to loosen and lift. As the aperture widened, a star-shaped structure unfolded within it — a white star inside a white flower — and the translucent petals unlayered and arrayed themselves around the star. The flower was nine inches across fully opened, and its perfume filled the whole room with sweetness. It was not a nightmare plant at all. It was the flower of dreams. It would be gone by morning, not to return for another year. If then. …

“That night-blooming cereus brought my grandmother back to me in her halo of white hair. It brought back, too, her plum tree, long since cut down, and the feeling of red dirt between my toes. In a time of great cultural dislocation and environmental despair, for an hour it made me remember what it feels like when the world is exactly as it must be, and I am exactly where I belong.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: William Raynard/Essex County Sheriff’s Department
From left, Sheriff Kevin Coppinger and department director of food services Kathy Lawrence meet with program director Kate Benashski, Carlos Zagada, and Josiel Cabrera from Haven From Hunger on the farm at the Essex County Pre-Release Center in Lawrence.

Most of my posts about people helping people must seem like a drop in the bucket to readers: the problems of this world are so enormous. But I like to think about what can be accomplished by, say, one person whose better nature is released by a program like the one for ex-offenders described here. And I like to think of the way many such efforts can accumulate to improve the world.

Morgan Hughes writes at the Boston Globe, “Drive around the back of the Essex County Pre-release and Re-Entry center in Lawrence, and you’ll find 6 acres of pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and gourds.

“Inmates at the center run the farm, which yields about 50,000 pounds of produce each season to feed others who are incarcerated and the wider community. Located just behind Interstate 495, the farm is fertile ground for personal growth.

“ ‘We’re giving jobs to the inmates, we use the crops, but it’s also an opportunity to give back to the community,’ Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger said.

“At the moment, the farm has about seven inmates who volunteer to plant, maintain, and harvest the produce. They feed not only the roughly 200 inmates at the pre-release center, but those at the Middleton House of Correction and Women in Transition, a women’s pre-release center in Salisbury.

“The facility purchases meals from a third-party food vendor, but the kitchen incorporates the fresh produce into the menu whenever possible.

“ ‘They live there, so they can really see the fruits of their labor,’ Coppinger said.

“About 30,000 pounds go to food pantries and homeless shelters in the Merrimack Valley and throughout the North Shore, said Kathy Lawrence, director of food services for the sheriff’s department. …

“She said, ‘What we can do sometimes is either incorporate [our produce] into the menu and serve it in addition to what’s being prepared, or we can substitute in ratatouille instead of giving them frozen green beans.’

“But even when the harvest is over and the ground begins to freeze, these hyperlocal vegetables are used throughout the year, Lawrence said. Bell and Italian peppers are frozen to use in casserole dishes. The butternut squash is also kept in the freezer and saved for special holiday meals.

“Heather Bonanno-Baker is manager of both Pleasant Valley Gardens in Methuen and the farm at the pre-release center. She took over duties from her father, who helped inmates run the farm for at least 15 years.

“She said she teaches inmates how to plant and water the crops, manage pests, and harvest at the end of the season. She shows them what a vegetable looks like when it’s ready to be picked, and how to wash it before it goes to a kitchen.

“ ‘I’m big into teaching the public about agriculture, growing your own food, and where it comes from,’ Bonanno-Baker said. …

“When Lawrence collected some feedback from the farm workers, she said some common themes were ‘a sense of pride in what they’ve grown’ and feeling rewarded to be able to give back to the community. One told her: ‘Hard work leads to positive results.’

“Lawrence teaches ServSafe to inmates working in the kitchen, a certification in food safety necessary for many jobs in the food industry. Coppinger said working on the farm provides another skill they could use to find a job when they are released.

“ ‘From the minute you arrive at intake in Middleton, to when you are about to be released at the pre-release center is trying to get them in better shape to get out of here and not come back,’ he said.

‘I always like to say, “Thanks for coming, but don’t come back.” ‘

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: Boston Area Gleaners

In September, I posted pictures at a community garden where a sign said not to pick anything that wasn’t yours. I expressed the hope that when the gardeners were completely finished with their harvest, gleaners for food pantries would be allowed in. I don’t know if they were, but I did learn that my church contacted Boston Area Gleaners to help collect fresh surplus produce at local farms.

Kathy Shiels Tully provides background on Boston Area Gleaners at the Christian Science Monitor.

“As a volunteer for the past four years with Boston Area Gleaners (BAG), which collects excess fresh produce at local farms for those in need, I’ve watched the nonprofit grow into something of a gleaning giant. …

“[Laurie ‘Duck’] Caldwell, the executive director of BAG, is pretty much responsible for the group’s, shall we say, mushrooming growth. Though she deflects any praise, her story shows how one person can have a powerful effect on an organization. Caldwell, in fact, was BAG’s first paid employee.

“She believes deeply in BAG’s mission of ‘rescuing’ surplus produce (as the group puts it). Last year, BAG helped deliver 1.45 million four-ounce servings to those who might not otherwise enjoy the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. …

“I learn that she is a carpenter with more than 20 years of experience. Her entry into nonprofits came while living in Vermont, through a program she helped pioneer at Vermont Works for Women. There, she taught incarcerated women skilled trades like carpentry and plumbing, and they built a modular home that was then sold as affordable housing. The pilot program gained national attention.”

Having lost her job after the 2008 financial crisis, “she searched for volunteering opportunities to buoy her spirits while job hunting and discovered BAG. …

“Gleaning gave Caldwell an emotional boost and challenged her to develop new skills. She and [founder Oakes] Plimpton became the organization’s first ‘gleaning coordinators’ – arranging farm visits, picking pantries to deliver to, and rounding up volunteers. …

“On Jan. 2, 2010, with salary money secured, that she signed on as BAG’s first employee.

“Caldwell dug into her new work immediately. She made the gleaning process easier for the farmers, proactively calling them instead of waiting for the farmers to speak up. She grew the solid list of 30 volunteers by recruiting like-minded people at farm, alternative energy, and ecology events. And, knowing she couldn’t do it alone, she almost doubled the size of the board of directors. …

“Strawberries, zucchini, corn, beans, carrots, tomatoes, kale, radishes, turnips, beets, squash, apples – everything but bananas fills empty, cardboard banana boxes, which are driven into Boston to a distribution partner such as the Greater Boston Food Bank or Food for Free in Cambridge, Mass.

“ ‘BAG is the Cadillac of food distribution to food pantries,’ says farmer Carl Hills. … Last year, he let BAG glean more than 71,000 pounds of produce on the 200-acre family farm. The crops gleaned are high-quality, the kind sought out by top chefs at high-end restaurants. ..

“Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food for Free … says, [it’s] “beautiful food” – something that for many people is out of reach.”

Read more and learn how to take action at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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Photo: Sustainergy
Solar arrays can reduce a farm’s carbon footprint while allowing room for crops and livestock. In Japan, Sustainergy has designed “solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income.” Above, cloud ear mushrooms.

When a company solves two important problems with one project, I probably shouldn’t call it killing two birds with one stone. Send me a better metaphor, please.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company about the dual benefits of a Japanese project that provides not only solar power but also a cozy place to grow mushrooms.

“Small farms in Japan are struggling to survive. Rural populations are shrinking, and the average farmer is 67 years old. But two new farms will test a different business model to try to reinvigorate the sector: solar panels with mushrooms growing underneath them.

“The farms, at two locations in northeastern Japan, will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power that will be sold to a local utility, while the mushroom farms will yield an annual 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms, a crop that is typically imported from China.

“ ‘The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn,’ says Minami Kikuchi, who leads the ‘solar sharing’ project that combines agriculture and solar power at Sustainergy, a renewable energy startup. ‘We simply created the suitable environment for them by making use of vacant space under the solar panels.’ ”

As Kikuchi explained to Fast Company in an email, ” ‘We designed the project of combination with solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income. Of course, this renewable energy technology is contributing to the sustainable development of Japan too.’

“Today, an estimated 10% of Japanese farmland is not in use, despite the fact that the majority of food is imported. Government tariffs have discouraged companies from converting farmland to solar power generation, but a partial change in regulations in 2013 meant that solar power was more viable – provided that it was constructed in combination with agriculture. …

“Sustainergy believes that similar farms could potentially grow other crops that need little light, such as potatoes. In the U.S., researchers at the University of Massachusetts are exploring the possibility of growing a much wider range of crops; a farm in South Deerfield has spent the last two years growing plants like kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard under rows of nine-foot-high solar panels. …

“Farmers also have another option: Grazing sheep or cattle on grass grown under solar panels. Sheep can take the place of lawnmowers, and as the grass sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the farm can have a negative carbon footprint.”

More at Fast Company, here.

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Photo: Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Collection
Art and science meet at performances for farm animals in England.

Today I have another of my offbeat stories for you. It’s about performing for farm animals and checking their reactions.

Lyn Gardner writes at the Guardian, “Almost 10 years ago, David Harradine made a show in a basement for the Brighton festival. It was called An Infinite Line and featured a horse that stood entirely unconcerned throughout the performance, barely blinking at what went on around him. He was an impressively large presence, a symbolic representation of the natural world, and clearly didn’t give a fig for the theatrical avant-garde.”

Harradine was looking for more reaction from animals in March as his company, Fevered Sleep, conducted “an experiment in which human artists perform for sheep, pigs and goats at a location in Peckham. …

“The show [was] part of the Wellcome Collection’s fascinating Making Nature exhibition, which aims to explore our relationship with the natural world and how we perceive animals. ‘We are starting from the point of view that perception is knowledge,’ says its curator, Honor Beddard, ‘but when you have an encounter with an animal, how do you know that you are not projecting something on to it?’ …

“For Harradine it’s definitely ‘the most bonkers project I’ve been involved in. But it’s fascinating too. The performances are being used to start a conversation.’

“As Harradine says, we prefer not to see animals as being just like us: complex, sentient beings, with emotional responses. To that end, the animals chosen to experience Fevered Sleep’s performance are all what Harradine, himself a vegan, describes as creatures that are mostly perceived as ‘meals in waiting.’ … ‘The purpose is not to suggest that people shouldn’t eat meat but to examine our relationship with animals – and the ethical and political responsibilities of humans towards them.’ ” More here.

Sounds like such fun to be part of a “bonkers” performance. I think we could all do with a little nutty creativity in our lives.

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In an article by the “Cooperative Development News” at Mother Earth News (by way of twitter), I read about a group of Somali Bantu refugees in Maine who started a cooperative farm.

This interests me particularly because when I was at the magazine, I acquired a couple articles about Somali refugees adjusting to life in Lewiston, Maine, through farming.

Here’s the story: “A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine … Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

“New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“ ‘Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,’ says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail. …

“The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period. … After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

“Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.” More here.

I’ve been interested in Somali immigrants since living for three years in Minneapolis, where there is a large population. I was friendly with one man who worked in our apartment building, ran for mayor, and got a job as a community liaison for a US Senator. Very nice guy. I loved his stories about being a child in Somalia, soaking up geography from international radio news, and pausing for a camel to get off the field when he was playing soccer.

Photo: Jenny Nelson/Maine Farmland Trust
Bantu refugees start a cooperative farm in Maine.

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