Alternative Community Farmer/WPB.FL

  (WPB, Florida)
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S.Florida elementary school organic vegetable gardens .How professional,safe and challenging.??? Afield trip observation of a sample school X.

It was my first field trip today to offer observations and ideas from the point of view of an urban farmer with educational and experiential background.

My tour guide was a garden enthusiast mom who have a passion to help start productive gardens at schools .To start with she initiated a pilot program a year ago and tried in vain to gather support from local sources and resources .She contacted me and today we were at the school garden .

My observatuion at the first instance was spotting her child of six years old bear foot walking towards a red mulched terrain.I stopped to comment about how dangerous it is to expose children to chemuicals and syntheic dyes .Red dyed mulch has been studied exposing animals to tread on it and the results were a myriad cases of cancers etc..

I was told that there are no support from school districts that struggle with limited resources and cut budgets.Also it is haRD TO GATHER VOLUNTEERS WHO HAVE EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE tropical FIELD OF ORGANIC GARDENING IN S.FLORIDA .SCIENCE tEACHERS OR VOLUNTEERS FROM ENVIRONMENT SCHOOL CLUBS OROM SCIENCE usually fill in the vaccant positions and classes tend to focus on indoor and scientific aspects of gardening while the REAL GARDEN is set to look nice with the help of landscaping companies that rush to use fertilizers and dyed mulch and ornamentals and lawns etc..

That garden looked tiny and the only garden  "plants" were  a struggling tomato next to a cactus and papaya tree  .The horticultural laws of XERISCAPING was so obviously violated.Cactus with SPIKES and THORNS planted in an elementary  school garden next to each others !!!!!

Do not ask me more about the raised beds that were at the same level with the lawn grass !!"I H ave tried to grow and nothing comes out" was my tour guide comment."I want your help", she continued.

My heart jumped at the sincere passion expressed.I remembered all those years I have spent tending to a series of community gardens that went dormant one after another due to lack of funds,support from both local public and private entities.Politics ,opportunists ,job seekers who are not experienced enough or educated enough to maintain or manage a school organic garden and many other reasons yet to be discovered  ...usually  take hold of and the result a failed garden and loss of funds and resources.Who is to blame? I beleive those who are at the recruitment posts should be held accountable because their IGNORANCE or LACK of PRODUCTIVE GARDENNING education or experience is the culprit.So we end up with GREEN WASH culture.

 

Hopefullyh someone there who reads articles of feedback about our school gardens might notice that there must be a different approach to educate our children how to grow food by EXPERIENCED and EDUCATED organic HORTICULTURIST.

There are so much rules and regulations and red tape that will take so long to move on a school productive garden.There so much lack of experiencd LOCAL horticulturists or organic urban farmers to be found.Most quit and give up after so many VOLUNTEERING years while those OFFICE STAFF who hire them remain for years and years reaping high profile salaries and suck out the budget funds on administration overheads while productive school gardens keep on shrinking in size and productivity to say the least...or shall we say desist to exist??

 

I am positive that there are successful school gardens out there but we need more sources,support and more volunteers with passion like my garden friend who also should be rewarded with pay.

 
 

TopSIXCommunity Garden Challenges and Solutions.A personal experience in S.Florida community gardens

The community garden experience here in South Florida started in the late 1990 as far as I am concerned.

I witnessed the creation of a community garden at a crime infested site here in South Florida.I was lucky to have a major Newspaper "Sun sentinel" run a coverage story .They sent a columnist and a photographer and posted the article at the Front of the local section with a full scope of two pages.I was also lucky to have one of my workshops  documented  by the Lake Worth Forum at another community garden in Lake Worth .Both gardens disappeared from reality later on , but I benefited from the experience .Later on I was also involved in more than other six community gardens , one of which is still current...But...I have witnessed why so many community gardens fail because of so many reasons mainly :

1-Lack of local government support in providing budgets to create community garden or donate land.The current garden I am involved in is a backyard of a home owner!

2-Lack of educational programs at the community gardens .Being a certified master gardener since 2001 , I have noticed that no serious programs are offered at the site of community gardens by edcational institutes like colleges or schools of agriculture.Merely efforts are made by individuals to educate the public at the site of community gardens.Other programs are offered at the local  Extension Programs of some Horticulure active regional colleges.

3-Lack of budgets and financing at the federal level to support community gardens where local governments fail to do so.There are many stories about the closure of down town Miami Community garden besides others in S.Florida due to inavailability of financing support etc..Solution :Pump in federal stimulus and financial support to CG. 

4-Politics plays a significant role sometimes in the creation of some community gardens where a certain group uses its GREEN efforts as a propaganda to influence votes and credibility among locals..but then the garden ceases to exist like what happened to a local garden I was involved with long time ago.Solution:Keep politics to the politicians and gardening for gardeners!

5-Churches that provide land for community garden sometimes have better luck to keep the garden existing . I have a bitter taste from a couple of churches that did not do enough to keep their GREEN Promises and faltered to keep their gardens existing .Most churches I worked with did not have a budget or a program.Just wanted to explore !Mainly depending on  flow of funds ,volunteers ,supporting efforts for experienced and educated coordinators who have the ability and time besides experience to do the DIRTY HANDS ON GARDENING(Meaning to let their hands into the SOIL!!)etcSolution:Create more community gardens at the empty lots of churches that grow just GRASS!

6-Soup kitchens benefit most from community gardens besides the volunteer gardeners who tend to harvest crops of organic locally grown vegetables to save on the grocery bill and stay healthy  through gardening exercises.I donated organic crops for a local soup kitchen until I lost my half acre lot to the land fill.Solution:Create more backyard gardens at the Soup Kirchen Locations whenever abvailable and encourage unemployed volunteers to work the land and grow their own food!

 

 
 

Unconventionalgardens series -II.Spiritual gardens:The Zen and the Gesthsemane

In the east , gardens are considered as a sacred place to meditate and pray.A place sacred for the Spirit as well as to the body to eat from and find medicinal herbs to treat diseases.The Greeks are famous for their gardens in the middle of their homes .The garden was not outside .It was inside the house surrounded with walls.The famous gardens of Lefkara in Cyprus stand as of today as a wittness.

On the meditation part we can mention the ZEN gardens.

Zen Buddhism has been a big influence in creating the ZEN gardens.The most famous Zen garden is in Japan:"The Karesansui Zen Garden at Ryoan-Ji Temple .

Zen gardens use stones .They are a place that combines art with nature .A perfect place for meditation.

As for the early christians , we notice that prayers were held in the gardens to commemorate the Gesthsemane Garden where Jesus Christ was praying before he was taken for Crucifiction .The place of his crucifiction was also the same place were he was praying.

 

During our present day we notice that in the VATICAN, the pope has a special garden where he also prays.

 

Gardens are used as a therapeutic place in Japan and Finland, where patients at hospitals are taken to plant,harvest and meditate and heal.

In our yards we grow lawns and the time is ripe to transform those lawns into sacred gardens that nourish boith the body and spirit.

Happy Gardening, AMEN!



 
 

The State of Community Gardens : Failures and LACK of support!

Most people think that community gardens are supported by government  and local city halls.Not so as I know of.Carver Park Community garden in Delray Beach ceased to exist last summer.Now it is the site of land fills !Chief Sitting Bull Organic Community Garden in Lake Worth was erased back in 2007 !Miami community Garden also disappeared as well ! Others more evaporated in such hard ecconomic times where soup kitchens and churches are crying for food produce donations to feed the growing numbers of the  unemployed  ,the homeless and  some senior citizens !

Across US Small urban farmers who choose to use Community Gardens are encountering obstacles and MUCHO bumps and discouragements from both public and private entities .For example, I qoute an article by Elizabet Licata* in the last issue of HORTICULTURE magazine Dec/Jan 2010 issue page 104, "..more than 400 community gardens in Manhattan,New York , have been the subject of public battles since 1999.Sacramento,California, lost its Community Garden to condo developers in 2009.The recent Academy Award -nominated documentary THE GARDEN tells the Saga of the famous community garden in SOUTRH -CENTRAL Los Angelos that was plowed under in 2006." Unqoute.

I was lucky to have my work  at one of the swallowed and destroyed community garden documented by a local Newspaper back in 2008.I lost everything without being even notified to remove tools or salvage some of the rare medicinal trees like the AYUERVEDIC NEEM TREE ,Papaya trees etc.. I was donating Organic Veggies to a local soap kitchen since 2001.Not any more.

In times  so dire where we URBAN FARMERS struggle with Climate Change,Economic DEEP_RECESSION and double digit unemployment (in Florida!) add to this lack of support or Stimulus help to support local SUSTAINABLE ORGANIC HORTICULTURE -We pray for a change of heart and mind by those who are in AUTHORITY and  CARE FOR local food production and sustainable green living to do THE RIGHT THING!

Note: Check out more articles  by Elizabeth Licata at her blog:gardenrant.com

 
 

CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS TO COMMUNITY GARDENS-Part I

In my work experience as an URBAN ORGANIC FARMER here in S.Florida, I have co-founded and closely helped out in establishing four community gardens.Two of those gardens cease to exist .

I like to share my observations and feedbacks to help out  in the future revitalization and remediation work process to  organic community gardens .

The Challenges.

A-POLITICS IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN:

Personally , I advocate non-political approach to growing ORGANIC FRUITS and VEGETABLES in community gardens.Unfortunately , the situation at the ground is otherwise.I noticed that some of those gardens I tended attracted members who were POLITICALLY MOTIVATED in the first place.Their work mainly at the garden was only to extend /show their political aura or to enrich their resumes and social status as community organizers or activists .

This trend also entrenched some active or retired officials in addition to local figures of some organizations to partake just to appeal to the media and local public opinion.Others were involved through educational institutions /non-profit organizations etc , to apply for grants,bolster their community stance , keep the influence of donated GMO seeds and seedlings- FREE soils derived from treated  sludge - fertilzers and pesticides ammendments-active at the garden .Little  actual gardening work  was  done   by some of those occasional members- visitors-spectators, who mostly show up at events.

The solution:

The spirit of VOLUNTARY COMMUNITY SERVICE through productive planting and harvesting of ORGANIC PRODUCE should be the main MOTIVE.Donating to local soup kitchens and needy families must be emphassized especially NOW.Encouraging the membership of struggling families and the financially disadvataged should be a priority in enlisting members.Diversity in membership should be equally stressed along with diversity in gardening.Social dialogue through pot locks and workshop events must be introduced to enrich the communication between diverse groups of the neighboring community.Solutions to the challenges remain impotent without actual involvement with the HANDS ON learning process:ORGANIC SOIL - CLASSES and WORKSHOPS-POTLUCKS-HARVESTING and SHARING of HARVEST-SEEDS EXCHANGE.Active members must adhere to the rules and regulations set for the garden.

B-Allocating and preserving more lands for growing organic produce locally.

Some of those community gardens took decades to build their organic soil and with a change of heart are destroyed to be new locations for developments or other use.

The solution:

Advocating for the placement of new laws to protect and  preserve FERTILE agricultural lands / urban community gardens that have irreplacable organic top soil.

C-Lack of Local Programs to EDUCATE and Graduate: Organic Community Gardeners /ORGANIC URBAN FARMERS at the local school level and beyond.

Attention should be redirected from the current home-owners mentality of growing ornamentals and shrubs using fertilizers and pesticides  for the purposes of landscaping only.So many home owners are having their homes forclosed and now are renting or are displaced.

The solution:

Vouchers for continuing education and local community plotsshould be issued. Jobs for organic urban farmers should be created and promoted through educational and vocational local programs.Growing food must be the new mood instead of growing JUST GRASS! 

D-Lack of support ,recognition and appreciation to organic farmers.

Migrant farmers with their illegal status has driven the farming jobs down to its bottom.No respect and discremination are rampant.wages  and benefits are so low.Organic Community  Agriculture Educational programs are non-existing below the university level.Big Agri-Business domination of the market .

The solution:

The community garden can be the new venue for raising the awareness level by providing organic horticultural educational programs and  marketing opportunities to small farmers or community urban gardeners.A FREE green market at a Community Garden to sell and display produce can be used as an example in supporting the local economy through marketing of locally grown produce .This kind of market exists in Europe, but at a different location:The village markets or -Thursday markets.The now available farmers /green markets levy high fees and charges here ,in general  . who affords to sell at those markets are merchants of grocerystores who rent spaces to sell conventional imported produce from other countries or different states.The farmer has been replaced by the merchant at the farmers market at least here in S.Florida ,with some exceptions , offcourse!

 
 

TOP TEN TIPS FOR BOUNTIFUL GROWING AT THE S.FLORIDA COMMUNITY GARDEN

S.Florida Community gardens are growing more , in numbers.Most of the new comers to S.Florida need some Tropical Gardening orientation as they mostly come from the cold Up-North!

Here are some suggestions for the new comers to make their toil in the soil less painful and more fruitful!

1-Put on garden safety gear when you garden.That includes sun glasses,gloves,hat,long sleeve shirt,bugs repellent..DRINK PLENTY OF SPRING WATER and always HYDRATE!

2-Double dig the soil and extract any debris or toxic substances.Know WHERE YOUR SOIL COME FROM!Avoid adding soils that have fertilizers or other contaminents like PCB,Plastics etc..

3-Trans-plant seedlings from local farmers rather than directly planting  GMO or commercial seeds that take longer to grow and harvest.Seedlings bought from SOME garden centers might have fertilizers and pesticide or herbicide contents.Choose varieties that give bountiful harvest like  cherry tomatoes !

4-Avoid using pesticides or herbicides by choosing  the prevention method rather.Plant companion pest reppeling HERBS like :Cuban oregano or Basil .

5-Choose DIVERSITY in planting varieties of plants that Co-exist and Complement!For example I grow sunflowers and corn and cucumbers or pinto beans TOGETHER , so the former can be used as natural trellis by the latter!Also I plant short term harvesting plants like arugola and lettuce with long term harvest plants like tomatoes together.Plants love to co-exist and are more productive and efficient when used as such in LIMITED SPACE GARDENING!

6-Choose SEASONAL draught tolerant NATIVE plants to S.Florida .Prefer Nutritional content over taste and flavor.Use Xeroscaping ,or the right plant in the right place:do not plant water loving plants alongside with desert loving plants!

7-Get help in ORGANIC TROPICAL GARDENING from a local urban farmer or someone who have experience in TROPICAL FARMING.It is different to garden in Florida ,but it is not difficult to adjust.There is no green or brown thumbs.There is awareness versus ignorance!

8-Use Garden ERGONOMICS Body Functional Movements .There are certain exercises for first time gardeners to strengthen certain muscles and gaurd against injuries by using properTRAINED  muscle FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENTS  !

9-Use ERGONOMIC TOOLS .Use Organic Soil.Use Organic Seeds.

10-Keep learning.Attend worrkshops and ORGANIC gardening classes.

References to check out  Organic Gardening Books and web sites:

www.Rodale Ulitmate Organic Gardening Encycloped

How to grow organic vegetables in containers

Container and small space gardening

Four season gardening

New square foot gardening

Happy community  gardening  

Alternative Community Farmer WPB/Fl

http:www.localharvest.org/farms/M20618

 

 
 

THE GROWING SEASON IS ON IN S.FLORIDA.NEED HELP ?JUST GIVE US A BUZ!

Welcome to the growing season in S.Florida.Now , we will experience a flood of now birds looking for organic vegetables to buy LOCALLY so they head to the green market or farmer market in hopes of getting some.Guess what?No local farmers are found ?Why? Because the farms were gone long time ago as the developers took over .Now the trend is to grow organic veggies in the  home backyards,community gardens ,school and church yards .Most people have no clue about Organic gardening here because there are not many  programs available to the public in general.

I give workshops and classes upon request  to groups who live close by.The first thing to know is HOW MUCH OF:

1)Time you have to spend gardening?

2)Budget to spend on the garden?

3)Space you intend to use for gardening?

Profesional help is important to know before you grow.

 
 

How to start an ORGANIC COMMUNITY GARDEN IN THE HOT ZONE -TROPICS...What to expect..and what is expectd from you?

Organic Community Gardens are now sprouting like crazy in South Florida.The economic crunch is now compelling churches,schools,municipalities ,homeowners etc..to transform lands -that are either neglected or used to grow lawns -to productive vegetable gardens.

As a Master Gardener who worked for the last 10 years in establishing and maintaining Organic Community Gardens in South Florida I came up with a summery of RECOMMENDATIONS to help out new comers chart a feasable way into starting their own ORGANIC COMMUNITY GARDENS:

 

1-LOCATION:START SMALL,choose a location that is immune to FLOODING,is not a slope and is topograghically sound.Check out and clear the soil of  debris and other toxic substances.

2-Solarise and aerate the area you plan to use for a vegetable garden.

3-Appoint a care taker who has knowledge and experience to manage an organic  garden. Form a committee from your group and name a CO_ORDINATOR to follow up,to handle and decide on the garden  issues and solutions:financial,social,organizational,community events,gardening process and other matters pertainig to the garden.

4-Declare a mission and a vision.Prepare a garden budget.Set up rules and regultaions.Fill applications and paperwork to observe ,preserve and protect all parties from litigations on subjects pertaining to safety,accidents,insurance liability,obligations and responsibilities,time limits for using the plots etc..

5-Fascilitate educational classes and workshops to promote organic gardening awareness ,garden ergonomics,safety,gardening know how etc..

6-Publish a news letter,design a web site for the garden .

7-Involve members who are dedicated and able to carry out the garden tasks.Specialize gardening areas for different groups: SENIORS,ADULTS,CHILDREN,DISABLED etc..

8-Have specialized areas for: composting,a mini nursery,workshops and classes,shed for storing tools and garden accessories,events,bulletin board etc..

9-Prepare your own organic top soil,compost,organic fertilizers,organic pesticides.Weed and maintain the garden.Irrigate and mulch as necessary,harvest and use companion herbs .

10-Market your produce in green and farmers market especially to people who can not afford the EXPENSIVE HEALTH FOOD STORES.Donate to soup kitchens and charity organizations that cater for the needy.Do potucks and spread the good word of LOCALLY GROWN ORGANIC FRUIT AND VEGETABLES!

 

 
 
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