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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
John Fallon gathers squash at the 8,000-square-foot traffic island in Beverly Farms.

Today my friends surprised me with a bag of apples from a tree in their yard. They are not farmers, but many nonfarmers are getting into growing things these days. Some gardeners are growing especially to share.

Consider the Beverly, Mass., man who appropriated a traffic island for a community garden.

John Laidler reports at the Boston Globe, “Growing up in Beverly Farms, John Fallon developed a talent for cultivating vegetables by helping his Irish immigrant father tend the family’s backyard garden. A half-century later, Fallon is drawing on those farming skills — refined through many years of his own gardening — to help improve the lives of people in need.

“Since 2016, Fallon has been growing vegetables on a traffic island in Beverly Farms and donating them — together with vegetables from his own garden — to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that serve low-income families.

“In the first four years of his nonprofit operation, Fallon annually harvested and donated on average 3,000 pounds of produce. This year, in response to COVID-19, he expects to raise that volume to about 5,000 pounds. …

“Now retired as a test engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fallon, 61, cited the need to promote economic and social justice as a motivation for his philanthropic farming. …

“ ‘Everyone should help those less fortunate than them,’ said Fallon, who experienced losing a job himself when he was laid off from his longtime semiconductor job in 2007.

“Fallon’s philanthropy began in 2014 when he donated surplus tomato plants from his home garden to a farming program for inner-city children. …

“In 2016, Fallon came up with the idea of growing crops on the idle traffic island on Hale Street. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the island, authorized him to farm the land for free provided he donate any crops he raised to charity. …

“His 8,000-square-foot Beverly Farms Gardens produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, regular and golden zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, and acorn and butternut squash.

“Fallon does all the growing and harvesting himself, with occasional help from volunteers, including students from Landmark School in Beverly, and Gordon College’s women’s soccer team. …

“Although his program is self-funded, Fallon has received donations from individuals, local businesses, and churches. The Farms-Prides Community Association helped him purchase compost last year and plans a fund-raising effort to assist him with other expenses.

“ ‘I have watched John over the last five years turn a barren plot of land into a lush, productive garden supplying food to needy families,’ Rick Lord, the association’s president, said by e-mail. …

“Fallon hopes he can inspire others to do similar work. … ‘My vision would be for each town or city to set aside 4 acres, whatever it takes to feed the homeless in their area,’ he said.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Another take on the story is at the Salem News, here.

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Photo: Lauren Justice for the New York Times
“Faced with grocery shortages,” reports the
New York Times, “many Native Americans have started collecting seeds to plant in their gardens at home.” Among members of the Oneida Nation, white corn, above, is prized for its versatility and nutrient density. 

As many of us non-gardeners start to wonder if we could grow tomatoes and lettuce in the kitchen window, we look with envy at people who can feed themselves without grocery stores.

Recently I read an article in the New York Times by Priya Krishna about indigenous Americans who, although suffering in the pandemic like the rest of us, at least have ancient wisdom they can dust off to help them survive.

“For the roughly 20,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — a vast, two million-acre expanse in southern South Dakota — social distancing is certainly feasible. Putting food on the table? Less so.

“Getting to food has long been a challenge for Pine Ridge residents. For a lot of people, the nearest grocery store is a two-hour drive away. Many rely on food stamps or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, a federal initiative that provides boxes of food (historically lacking in healthy options) to low-income families. Diabetes rates run very high.

“The coronavirus crisis [has] only made access to food harder, as shelves of the few groceries empty out, shipments of food boxes are delayed because of supply chain disruptions, and hunting and gathering are restricted by government regulations and environmental conditions.

“But the Oglala Sioux, like many other Native Americans across the country, are relying on the practices — seed saving, canning, dehydrating — that their forebears developed to survive harsh conditions with limited supplies. …

“Big-box stores and processed foods have eroded some of the old customs. But now, faced with a disrupted food system, many Native Americans are looking to those traditions for answers.

“Milo Yellow Hair, who lives in Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is hard at work preparing 8,000 seedlings of local varieties of squash and corn — hearty crops with a short growing time — to plant in people’s yards. …

‘Here on the reservation it is a day-by-day existence,’ said Mr. Yellow Hair, 70, who works for the nonprofit Slim Buttes Agricultural Development Program. ‘If this thing goes crazy and the external food services stop, the food we grow locally is going to be paramount to meet this need.’ …

“The coronavirus emergency is dire on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, which as of [April 13] had 698 cases and 24 deaths. …

“The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa has a strong tradition of canning local crops like beets, cucumbers and carrots, and some families are known for their expertise. Many are now donating their stockpiles to those on the reservation in need.

“ ‘You don’t think twice about it,’ said [Jamie Azure, the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, in Belcourt, N.D. ]. ‘And then when the Covid-19 threat comes through, you realize how important all of this is.’

“In Alaska, the Athabaskan peoples have long dealt with brutal, protracted winters by preserving produce and freezing meats. Cynthia Erickson, who is Athabaskan and an owner of the only grocery store in her village, Tanana, has a freezer full of moose, caribou and whitefish. But she has been struggling to get her usual wholesale suppliers to fill orders. The tribe may ask Gov. Mike Dunleavy to open moose hunting season (which normally begins in August or September) early if the food supply runs low, she said. …

“After much of his work dried up, Brian Yazzie, a private chef in St. Paul who is Navajo, decided to volunteer at the Gatherings Café in Minneapolis, which is feeding Native American seniors. He is cooking almost exclusively with traditional Native ingredients, making stew out of tepary beans from Ramona Farms in Sacaton, Ariz., and cooking elderberries into a sauce for barbecue chicken.

‘Indigenous peoples survived colonization, and so has our food and ingredients,’ said Mr. Yazzie, 33. ‘Practicing our foodways is a sign of resiliency.’ …

” ‘As this pandemic continues to grow,’ [says Chelsey Luger, who co-founded an indigenous wellness program with her husband], ‘I can tell you that I feel safer on the reservation than anywhere else.’ ”

More at the New York Times. here.

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Photo: Diaa Hadid/NPR
Farahnaz Mohammadi (left) and her cousin Fatima Almi, seen in a peaceful Kabul park, hope that the gains made by Afghan women in recent years will remain after a peace deal.

This story is about a peaceful garden in Kabul, Afghanistan, a city where peace is at a premium. Erik’s sister works for the UN in that city, helping women gain leadership skills, so of course, I want to believe in islands of peace like this taking over the danger zones.

Diaa Hadid and Khwaga Ghani reported on the Gardens of Babur at National Public Radio (NPR) in October.

“Farahnaz Mohammadi, 17, and her cousin Fatima Almi, 19, dress identically, from their patterned headscarves to their shoes with matching bunny ears. They also share the same opinions on Afghanistan’s future, which may be nearing a critical phase as a deal between the U.S. and Taliban insurgents appears to be reviving.

“That deal would likely see most American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, where they have been at war for 18 years. In exchange, the Taliban would not host global militant groups like al-Qaida and may adhere to some sort of ceasefire. It would also likely to allow the Taliban to reenter political life.

“The two young women don’t like it at all.

” ‘We will go back to what we were,’ says Mohammadi, referring to a time before she was born, when the Taliban ruled much of Afghanistan and imposed harsh rules against women. …

“Mohammadi’s view was echoed by other women interviewed by NPR in Kabul. The capital is more liberal than other quarters of Afghanistan, yet the uniformity of the opinions suggests a broadly held concern. …

“Mohammadi says she craves safety and security. But she has also benefited from the advances women have made with American forces helping to secure Afghan cities. Describing it as a ‘half-peace,’ she says even in those conditions, ‘girls can go out.’ She gestures around where she stands in Kabul’s Babur Garden, a centuries-old park where orchards and grassy lawns provide a shelter of sorts from the city’s dusty chaos.” More from NPR.

Wikipedia explains that the Garden of Babur “is the last resting-place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. The gardens are thought to have been developed around 1528 AD [when] Babur gave orders for the construction of an ‘avenue garden’ in Kabul …

“Since 2003, the focus of conservation has been on the white marble mosque built by Shah Jahan in 1675 to mark his conquest of Balkh; restoration of the Babur’s grave enclosure; repairs to the garden pavilion dating from the early 20th century; and reconstruction of the … Queen’s Palace. In addition, a new caravanserai was built on the footprint of an earlier building at the base of the garden …

“Significant investments have been made in the natural environment of the garden, taking account of the historic nature of the landscape and the needs of contemporary visitors. A system of partially piped irrigation was installed, and several thousand indigenous trees planted, including planes, cypresses, hawthorn, wild cherry (alubalu — allegedly introduced by Babur from the north of Kabul) and other fruit and shade trees. Based on the results of archaeological excavations, the relationships between the 13 terraces and the network of paths and stairs have been re-established.

“Since January 16, 2008, the garden has been managed by the independent Baghe Babur Trust and has seen a significant increase in visitor numbers. Nearly 300,000 people visited the site in 2008 and about 1,030,000 people visited the site in 2016.”

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Photo: Mark Baldwin
A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks.

Today we understand that trees and other plants are the lungs of the planet and that we are losing too many every year, so it behooves us to understand them better and do what we can to help the remainder thrive. Even in our yards.

At the New York Times, Margaret Roach offers some tips from a landscape architect.

“Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades,” she writes. “We know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like ‘layering’ or ‘ground cover,’ is surprisingly not synonymous.

“It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance. … I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

“Roach: You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

“Rainier: First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

“So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

“So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

“Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

“The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

“Roach: If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

“Rainier: The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

“And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.” More here.

What do you think? I’m not a gardener, but I have a little yard, and I take Rainier’s point about how every patch of bare soil creates problems. I wonder what the Meadowscaping folks might have to say about combining horticulture and ecology in this way.

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Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden in Washington, D.C. was created on a vacant lot and is now a thriving community space for neighborhood kids.

Most of us know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but many city children have few opportunities to find that out for themselves. A chain of community gardens in Washington, DC, provides anecdotal evidence that green space reduces stress, and now a controlled Philadelphia study gives more scientific proof that that is exactly what’s going on.

Rhitu Chatterjee reports at National Public Radio, “Growing up in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, Rebecca Lemos-Otero says her first experience with nature came in her late teens when her mother started a community garden.

” ‘I was really surprised and quickly fell in love,’ she recalls. The garden was peaceful, and a ‘respite’ from the neighborhood, which had high crime rates, abandoned lots and buildings, she says.

“Inspired by that experience, years later, Lemos-Otero, 39, started City Blossoms, a local nonprofit that has about 15 children-focused community green spaces across Washington, D.C. She wanted to give kids from minority and low-income communities easy access to some greenery. …

” ‘Having access to a bit of nature, having a tree to read under, or, having a safe space like one of our gardens, definitely makes a huge difference on their stress levels,’ says Lemos-Otero. ‘The feedback that we’ve gotten from a lot of young people is that it makes them feel a little lighter.’

“Now a group of researchers from Philadelphia has published research that supports her experience. The study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, found that having access to even small green spaces can reduce symptoms of depression for people who live near them, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“Previous research has shown that green spaces are associated with better mental health, but this study is ‘innovative,’ says Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor at the department of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved in the research.

” ‘To my knowledge, this is the first intervention to test — like you would in a drug trial — by randomly allocating a treatment to see what you see,’ adds Morello-Frosch. Most previous studies to look into this have been mostly observational.

“Philadelphia was a good laboratory for exploring the impact of green space on mental health because it has many abandoned buildings and vacant lots, often cluttered with trash, says Eugenia South, an assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the study. …

“South and her colleagues wanted to see if the simple task of cleaning and greening these empty lots could have an impact on residents’ mental health and well-being. So, they randomly selected 541 vacant lots and divided them into three groups. They collaborated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for the cleanup work.

“The lots in one group were left untouched — this was the control group. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society cleaned up the lots in a second group, removing the trash. And for a third group, they cleaned up the trash and existing vegetation, and planted new grass and trees. The researchers called this third set the ‘vacant lot greening’ intervention.”

You can read what happened at National Public Radio, here.

Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden will be celebrating 10 years this year. The garden signs are in both English and Spanish.

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I love stories about people who get a good idea and just go do it. In this one by Deborah Allard at Fall River’s Herald News, a man who enjoys gardening is sharing beauty in his own way.

“Del Thurston examined the earth oblivious to the traffic rolling up and down busy Bedford Street.

“The drivers probably didn’t notice the gardener either, but it would be hard to miss the wall of yellow blooms that sprouted up this summer like a centerpiece in the middle of this cement-heavy city neighborhood.

“ ‘I wanted something to brighten up the corner,’ Thurston said.

“And, he found it in the form of sunflowers. The lemon queen variety flowers stretch across the front of the empty property on Bedford Street, and along the corner of Oak Grove Avenue. …

“A gardener who came to the literal field later in life, he approached the property owner in the spring and asked if he could plant sunflowers. With the go-ahead, Thurston nurtured the flowers from seedlings and has watched them stretch toward the sun all season long. …

“He said he used to drive by the vacant lot and noticed the raised flower beds on the property, formerly used by the YMCA.

“ ‘I would see these beds,’ Thurston said. ‘It had good soil. I’ve always wanted to try this with sunflowers. …

“ ‘I’ve met some absolutely phenomenal people in the neighborhood,’ he said

“The fat and happy bees seemed OK with his work, too. They buzzed around the blooms, paying no attention to the humans keeping watch on them, doing what bees do. …

“Gardening has become a favorite hobby for Thurston, who has been involved with the Bristol Community College community garden. … He said he started gardening when he was in his 50s, but Thurston’s knowledge of plants and seedlings seems more mature than a mere decade or so.

“He pointed to the center of the property where herbs and perennials, including sage, sprouted up on a mound of dirt.

“ ‘The rabbits jumped on my pineapple sage,’ he said, extending a leaf that emitted a nice scent of the fruit that bears its name. …

“ ‘This has been very empowering for me,’ Thurston said. ‘I like the positive feedback from the neighborhood.’ ”

More here. Hat tip: @FallRiverRising posted this on twitter.

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Photo: Kirk Crippens/ Insight Garden Program
Today’s post is about an illicit prison garden, but a 2014 story at NPR, here, suggests that approved gardens are finding favor with corrections officials. The photo is from San Quentin.

This story from the Marshall Project on twitter is about a secret garden behind prison walls — and what it meant to the gardeners.

Matthew Hahn, an ex-offender, wrote the article in collaboration with the online magazine Vice.

“I used to be a vegetable smuggler. It’s not how I got to prison, but it’s what I did once I was there.

“I wasn’t alone. The men with whom I worked in the garden on ‘China Hill’ at California’s Folsom Prison were there with me, every day, waiting in line to get back into the prison building and hoping the guards wouldn’t discover the vegetable contraband they had secreted away in their clothing.

“In my left boot, slightly smashed and carefully wrapped in a sandwich bag, was a single jalapeno pepper. In my right, bundled tightly and also wrapped, were a couple dozen shoots of green onions. …

“Officially, we were landscapers. There were about 20 of us, and we had been assigned to the landscaping crew atop the grassy knoll within the prison’s walls known as China Hill, spending our weekdays in what felt to us prisoners like the wilderness. …

“We had a hill, and a job on it, and a single guard, also our supervisor, who expected us to work only a couple of hours per day, after which he permitted us to while away the rest of our time as we saw fit.

“We weren’t actually allowed to garden, but that didn’t stop us from doing it. The unspoken agreement between the guard and us men was that we would keep China Hill from becoming an overgrown jungle, and in return he would pretend he didn’t see any of our vegetables growing there. It was motivation to keep us working.

“The vegetables we grew were the kinds that never would have made their way into the chow hall: We had squash, peas, chili peppers, bell peppers, watermelon, green onions, tomatoes.

“China Hill was divided into sectors, just like the prison yard. Black guys had the land in one spot, the Southsiders (a Mexican gang) in another, the White Boys near the Southsiders and the “Others” near the Blacks. Despite the determined segregation, it was peaceful. If the Southsiders wanted to eat some peppers with their burritos, they could trade a watermelon to the Others. …

“There was another aspect of working on China Hill that wasn’t usually shared with the men on the yard, but which made it one of the best jobs in Folsom: It offered the potential, at least, for solitude. The lack of noise — that was the feeling of belonging to the Earth again, and having a small part of it belong to me, and to us. …

“We were never able to smuggle in enough vegetables for entire meals — just morsels, just momentary freshness in our stale world. But we smuggled in memories when we smuggled in those tastes: memories of freedom.” More here.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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Among the sights I’ve wanted to photograph in the last few weeks is a sculpture outside the Umbrella Community Arts Center. It invites you to look through and focus on an aspect of the view.

Next up, the old house where Ephraim Bull developed the Concord Grape. Another sign there told me that there was a “Sale Pending.”

My friend Meredith is a featured artist at Concord Art’s new juried show. She has done several treatments of her fica plant, but the one in the show is a lovely collage of painted paper.

I recently discovered on a morning walk that the Providence Preservation Society has generously opened its multilevel garden to the public during certain hours of the day. What a peaceful place to just sit and think! Not far away is the What Cheer Garage (I like the name). Across Providence, you can discover a fine-looking hen on the wall of Olga’s Cup and Saucer, and a street art stencil recommending Speak no evil, See no evil, Hear no evil.

I also like the alley alongside the Providence Performing Arts Center and a hilly street that looks more like Europe than New England.

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When dollar bills of any denomination get too beat up to use, the federal government shreds them. For a long time, the various Federal Reserve banks gave out small bags of shredded money to visitors as a souvenir — always a big hit with kids.

But for the last few years, shredded money has been used as compost in gardens. Here’s a story from Seth Archer at Business Insider about the new approach.

“Have you ever wondered what happened to currency that gets damaged? If you have a paper shredder in your home, you already have a pretty good idea. But that’s just the start….

“The New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve shreds $6 million in cash each day. They mainly shred bills that are dirty, taped, graffitied or otherwise unfit to be used as cash.

“The bills are shredded to a fine texture to make compost. … The cash is transferred to a compost facility, where it is mixed with other materials to make nutritious plant food.

“After the compost is made, it is sold to local farmers, who use it to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

” ‘It is very fulfilling to be growing using a material that would otherwise go to waste.’ — Simond Menasche, founder and director of Grown On.”

More here.

Photo: Great Big Story

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I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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Shared interests can bridge cultures. The Guardian‘s Jim Cable offers up a nice example in his report on “two plantsmen in Israel – one Jewish, the other Muslim – [and their] mission to save their region’s rare native species.”

He writes that Oron Peri, a Jewish garden designer who lives halfway between Haifa and Nazareth, has long partnered with Mansour Yassin, a Muslim, on landscape work. Now they are collaborating to share a large collection of Eastern Mediterranean native species with other plant enthusiasts. He says their affiliation is perfectly natural in the part of Israel where they live.

“Yassin adds, ‘We have the same ideas about relationships between Christians, Jews and Muslim people. We don’t hold to stereotypes about where you come from.’

“Peri realised the time had come to formalise the way he shared plants with other enthusiasts. So Seeds of Peace was born; a scheme where seed sales of garden-worthy bulbous plants support conservation of rare species. Yassin is gradually matching up botanic names with the Hebrew he naturally uses for plants he has known since playing in the mountains as a boy. …

“For Peri, the collection represents 20 years of travel and botanising, specialising in plants from the Mediterranean and Middle East. Indigenous populations have suffered due to tourism (particularly on the Greek islands and Cyprus) and illegal harvesting for the bulb market. Some plants are endangered in the wild, with no conservation scheme to protect them in their native country. They give these refugees, as Peri refers to them, a place to thrive and set seed.” Read about the work here.

Photo: Yadid Levy
Oron Peri, left, is Jewish and his Seeds of Peace partner, Mansour Yassin, is Muslim. Here they examine cyclamen in their beds in Kiryat Tiv’on.

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Artists love a challenge. Tell them it’s impossible and they’ll find a way to do it.

As Ralph Gardner Jr. writes for the Wall Street Journal, a good example may be found at one to the most polluted waterways in America, Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.

“What is it about the Gowanus Canal,” Gardner asks, “that attracts art and artists? I visited a bit more than a year ago and spotted some sort of homemade art project floating in the middle of the canal. It was as if the anonymous artist was saying, ‘Take that, Superfund site!’

“A far more ambitious project alighted [in late September], when Diana Balmori, a celebrated landscape architect and urban designer, oversaw the launch of a floating landscape at the foot of the Whole Foods parking lot that overlooks the canal.

“ ‘The reason we picked the Gowanus Canal is the attempt to show that plant material can clean water,’ Ms. Balmori explained. At the same time, she acknowledged, ‘We picked the hardest.’ …

“The floating island was to be filled with multiple tubes. In a poetic twist, the tubes were to be made of the same culvert pipe used to dump pollution and sewage into the canal.

“Perhaps even more poetically, the goal of the experiment was to test the viability of creating large-scale ‘edible’ islands in polluted urban rivers to serve as a food source. Some plants were to be irrigated with distilled water, others with captured rainwater, and a hearty few even with water directly from the canal. …

“I was told that a duck had laid an egg on some earlier iteration of the project. And indeed, we stood there admiring the island’s three monarch butterflies, a beleaguered species in recent years, flitting about the plants.”

More at the Wall Street Journal, here, but there may be a firewall. The author is highly skeptical about anyone ever eating plants from this island, but you can tell he has a grudging admiration for an optimistic artistic vision that insists on a better future.

Photo: Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

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Rupa Shenoy had an interesting story on WGBH radio recently. It was about local startups interested in urban farming. I wrote previously about Higher Ground Farm, situated on top of the Design Center in South Boston, but Grove Labs, with its use of LED lighting for indoor gardening, was new to me.

Shenoy says, “Some of these new entrepreneurs are thinking big. Jamie Byron and Gabe Blanchet graduated from MIT and started Grove Labs two years ago with the idea to make every living room a potential growing space. …

“Their product is a cabinet that allows people to grow fruits and vegetables year-round in the home. It’s connected to the internet, controlled by an app on your phone, and designed to make urban farming easy and engaging.

“There are a few models set up in a space at Greentown Labs in Somerville, which they share with other startups. Each wooden cabinet, with several components, is about the size of an entertainment center.

“At the heart of the cabinet system is a fish swimming in a tank. The waste from that fish is sucked into tubes and converted into nitrate fertilizer. The fertilizer is pumped around the cabinet to trays filled with brown clay pebbles. That’s where the fruits and vegetables grow, with the pebbles serving as soil. Byron says once you get the system up and running, you can harvest enough for about two small salads everyday.” More at WGBH.

For more on using fish to fertilize your produce, see my recent post about an experiment in Duluth, here.

Photo: Rupa Shenoy / WGBH News
Somerville startup Grove Labs plans to sell cabinets for growing produce in your home.

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