How to plan a community garden

Farmer D has a lot of experience planning community gardens in the Southeast. Here he’ll share practices to ensure that all members of your community can participate in the garden and enjoy the fruits of their labor: 

Community gardens have become the new hangout at parks, schools, places of worship, previously-empty lots, and any other little swath of land that can be transformed into a vibrant garden where both food and community are grown. Many community garden leaders intend their locations to be welcome havens for all, but achieving that in reality can sometimes be challenging.  Here are 5 tips to help your community garden succeed:

1. Make sure your location is easily accessible. 
Can you see the garden from the street, or is it blocked by weeds and debris? Is there available parking, including a bike rack? Do you have signs letting people know that it is a community garden and all are welcome to visit? If not, these are all easy, inexpensive fixes that might just mean clearing out and designating a little extra space to make your members and visitors feel more welcome.

2. Accommodate those with disabilities.
If you haven’t thought about accessibility for people with disabilities, you’ll probably think of it pretty quickly the first time someone with a cane, walker, or wheelchair can’t get up your wood-chipped path. This is where a paved path, at least partially, and an extra-high raised bed that a wheelchair can slide under or beside come in handy. many community gardens are incorporating these elements right from the get-go. Other amenities that take into consideration a wide range of abilities include shade areas, benches, convenient restrooms, and sensory integration elements such as herb gardens, wind chimes, art elements, water elements, food sampling areas, and other features where the five senses are awakened.

3. Maintain an open door (gate) policy.
There comes a time, usually around the first tomato-snatching, when community garden leaders decide to lock their gardens to reduce the chances of theft. Best practices nationwide show proven strategies to achieve this goal without locking out the public. These include encouraging members to personalize their beds and harvest frequently to show that the food grown is valued, dedicating excess produce to a local food pantry to show commitment to those in need in the area, and offering a “thieves’ bed” where anyone can pick whatever’s ready to be harvested. Also, keep finding ways to involve more parts of the community in the garden, and you will increase the number of people who feel ownership and pride in it, and will thereby help protect it. Buddying up with your local police department is always a good idea. You could even offer a neighborhood precinct a few free plots in exchange for their support.

4.  Provide a welcoming atmosphere.
Community garden leaders can set a good example for their members by always greeting visitors to the garden, engaging them in conversation, and inviting them to help or browse. People who linger, laugh, and learn together create a positive environment that is attractive to others. Some ways to know if you’re a quart low on this attribute are: (a) if your garden members are simply running in, watering, and leaving, (b) if your garden members don’t know each other’s names, (c) if you don’t have a steady stream of non-members coming by to check out the garden, and, of course, (d) if going to the garden is simply not fun.  

5.  If you want to grow food for sale, check the rules.
You now need to determine whether or not commercial activity is allowed, plus how you can accommodate larger equipment, food storage, accessory structures, and a larger compost operation than a community garden or home garden might require. Contact your city hall for exact details about local ordinances that affect growing food where you live. And be ready to dig in when it’s time for spring planting.

Pick up a copy of Farmer D’s book Citizen Farmers for more tips, stories and inspiration to get gardening! 

Best Crops for Kids

Citizen Farmers is full of tried and true tips that Farmer D picked up while working on different community farm projects all over the country.

Here are his Top Ten Best Crops for Kids. Even the pickiest young eater will get excited about fresh fruits and vegetables if they grow it themselves: 

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A love of gardening runs in the family: here’s Farmer D’s son Tilden watering their backyard garden. Tilden’s favorite veggie is Broccoli.

Farmer D and the Tao of Composting

This week is International Compost Awareness Week and we’ll be bringing you lots of great tips and inspiration for starting or growing your compost pile. we’ll also share why simply diverting your food scraps from the landfill is a good idea. 

Citizen Farmer's author Daron 'Farmer D' Joffe was recently featured on the Mother Nature Network talking about what else but composting and his passion for community agriculture. Here’s the full article:

Farmer D and the Tao of Composting (reposted from MNN)

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All photos: Rinne Allen

In his new book “Citizen Farmers,” Daron “Farmer D" Joffe positions farming as both a sustainable and a philosophical lifestyle, merging helpful how-to’s with spiritual underpinnings. In this excerpt from the book, Joffe discusses how he came to learn about composting, and how it encourages stewardship of Earth.
 
Book cover of Citizen Farmers by Daron Farmer D Joffe
Composting = Stewardship
Every successful venture begins with a healthy foundation. Before we can grow food, we have to grow soil — and lots of it. I make good dirt for a living. I also make it at home, every day, beginning in the morning when I toss the grounds from my coffee and the banana peel from my smoothie into the compost caddy by the sink.
 
When it’s full, I dump it into the backyard compost bin. Over a period of weeks and months, billions of bugs, bacteria, and fungi will convert these stinky, rotten kitchen scraps mixed with yard debris into fertile, sweet smelling, life-giving earth.
 
Soil is the skin around our earth and the source of our sustenance, where life starts and finishes. Yet most of us take this vital resource for granted. Much of our earth has been degraded, overfarmed, and undernourished for many decades. We are currently losing topsoil faster than we can regenerate it. Millions of tons of organic materials that could be composted are taking up valuable space in landfills, rather than being returned to farms to grow healthy food.
 
Replenishing soil is just one of the many positive outcomes of composting. This practice can also drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, which pollute soil, air, water, animals, and humans. Compost builds the organic matter in soil, which helps plants grow strong and increase resistance to pests, disease, and drought.
 
Composting is a daily reminder of our individual tasks as citizen farmers: contributing to a healthy planet and being a responsible steward of the land. In this chapter, I hope to inspire you to make composting as essential to your daily routine as brushing your teeth. I want to share with you some very important tips on how to make your soil thrive so the food you grow helps you to thrive, too.
 
Daron Joffe holds up a piece of compost
 
Love at first scoop
Until college, I never thought twice about tossing table scraps anywhere other than in a trash can or down a garbage disposal. It was shortly after my turkey sandwich revelation when someone I met at a party told me about an introductory workshop on biodynamic farming that was coming up at the Michael Fields Institute, about an hour from Madison, Wisc. Founded in 1984, this nonprofit organization is one of the cornerstones of the biodynamic movement in the United States, with the mission of promoting sustainable agriculture through education, research, and outreach. There, I studied under several composting gurus who changed the way I thought about “dirt” forever.
 
Under their guidance, about a dozen farming newbies, including myself, learned how to build a biodynamic compost pile with garden refuse, dairy manure, spent hay, and a little soil from the garden. We spent a grueling day shoveling and spreading layers of this organic matter as if making a monster-size batch of lasagna.
 
As the pile grew taller, we leaned a huge wooden board against the pile so we could run the wheelbarrow up to dump more materials on top. By the end of the day, our pile had grown to the size of a pickup truck. We covered it all with a layer of straw and doused it heavily with water, using a hose with a shower nozzle to replicate falling rain. Then we put holes in the pile at the locations specified in the biodynamic agriculture lectures by Rudolf Steiner, and added the requisite biodynamic compost preparations. the workshop was over, and now it was time to let Mother Nature work her magic.
 
I had dipped my toe into biodynamic farming and was now officially on my way to becoming a true citizen farmer.
 
Daron Joffe on a pile of compost
 
Down the rabbit hole
Back at school, I scoured a list of local organic farms put out by the university’s agriculture school and started calling them to see which ones offered apprenticeships.
 
Then I met Greg David, a former commercial builder turned organic farmer who occupied a bubble of biodiversity in the midst of an endless, sterile monoculture of corn crops about forty-five minutes from Madison. Greg hired me, and for the next six months I rose at the crack of dawn every day to drive from Madison to Greg’s farm to work until dark — for fifty bucks a week.
 
Greg was especially passionate about restoring what had been a monoculture field of corn into a vibrant native prairie in order to create a sanctuary for wildlife in this agricultural desert. I helped him do this by preparing the ground and seeding it with a nurse crop of sunflowers that would provide shade and eclipse the weeds. Once the prairie was established, we would burn it periodically to maintain the revitalized soil. Greg also had cutting-edge ideas about composting. He formed a relationship with the Department of Natural Resources and they would bring him truckload after truckload of fallen leaves and mucked-up lake weeds that would get dumped on the farm into long windrows. He was essentially harvesting all the organic matter from the region, composting it, and building up the soil fertility of his farm.
 
Once the mountains of leaves and lake weeds reached a certain size, he would fence his fifteen or twenty Tamworth pigs in around these piles. One of my jobs was to walk across each pile with a can of dried corn kernels and a shovel handle, and every 10 feet or so make a 3-foot-deep hole and drop a handful of corn down it. The pigs would root for the corn, and turn the compost in the process. When the pigs weren’t being used to turn the piles, we would set them out to plow the fields by uprooting and eating the quack grass, which they could do better than any tractor. Not only did the pigs completely clean the fields of this pervasive weed, but they simultaneously fertilized the fields, saving us from driving the tractor all over them, compacting the soil, and burning fossil fuels.
 
I have a memory of walking the compost piles in the rain, collecting a bumper crop of the most beautiful volunteer tomatoes, peppers, and squash—plants that had sprouted voluntarily from the seeds of rotting fruit that had been turned by the pigs in this unbelievably fertile compost pile. I had never before seen composting in action on that scale, and it was revelatory. This was biodynamic farming at its best, where animals were integrated into the agricultural organism in a humane and productive fashion, and the spoils of fallen leaves and rotting vegetables could be transformed into fertility for the land and an abundant harvest of food for the CSA.
 
Biodynamics: A vehicle for action
Armed with the basic tools for becoming an organic farmer, I was beginning to see a career path for myself that did not involve academia. After my awe-inspiring internship with Greg, I decided to withdraw from school and take on another apprenticeship instead, this time on a full-blown biodynamic farm in the North Georgia Mountains, run by Hugh Lovel.
 
Hugh had been farming this valley for more than twenty years and had turned a rocky creek bottom into one of the most fertile farms in the country — with compost, biodynamics, cover crops, and permanent grass and clover pathways between his vegetable beds. In the spirit of a true biodynamic farmer, Hugh produced everything he needed to sustain himself on his land, and I tried to follow in his footsteps. I managed the farm for most of my time there; I learned how to hand-milk cows and goats, make cheese and yogurt, grow rice, raise pigs, pickle okra, and save seeds. Hugh showed me how to build doughnut-shaped compost piles with manure and bedding from the animals. Compost from chickens would go to fruiting crops; cows, to leafy greens; goats, to herbs and flowers; pigs, to potatoes. I learned about radionics: influencing energetics through frequencies.
 
Prep making, planting with the moon, stirring, spraying, and sharing knowledge with others are some of the actions that biodynamic farmers take to make their farms and communities thrive. While many of these techniques may seem pretty unorthodox, one thing that is very clear is that the farmer’s intention is the key to a well-managed farm. The goal is to be a good steward and leave the earth in better shape than we find it. Through Hugh, I became convinced that biodynamics provides a handful of very powerful tools for doing this and, at the same time, gives the citizen farmer’s intention a vehicle for action.
 
Daron Joffe
 
Compost meditation: Compost for the soul
I have learned that, when applied metaphorically, composting can help us thrive in any environment we are planted in—be it the boardroom, classroom, or family dinner table. When building a compost pile, I like to turn the rhythm of shoveling into an internal meditation that allows me to compost negative thoughts into positive ones: fear into faith, judgment into compassion, insecurity into confidence, and anger into love.
 
Composting for the soil is the process of breaking down organic materials, while composting for the soul is the process of breaking down personal struggles (grudges, frustration, stress, anger). You bring the problems to the surface, add the good stuff to the heap (honesty, communication, support, nurturing), and give it time to “cook.”
 
Building a compost pile is a meditation unto itself. Identify the location for the new pile by scratching a circle or square to mark the periphery. Loosen up the soil with a digging fork and add a sprinkling of lime, ash, and blood meal. As you build the pile, let your mind go and just tune into the rhythm of shoveling back and forth. It is an active meditation that results in a radiant pile of decomposing organic matter.
 
Even after this compost meditation is over, I use composting imagery frequently to dispel the mental clutter that may be holding me back in areas of my life beyond the garden. It has helped me make peace with business partners I’ve fallen out with, move on from stagnant relationships, remove obstacles impeding the creative process, and replace stress and anxiety with joy and gratitude—just like composting turns stinky raw manure and rotten vegetables into rich, sweet-smelling, fertile soil.
 
As the old Chinese proverb goes, a bad farmer grows weeds, a good farmer grows crops, and a great farmer grows soil. Be a great citizen farmer and make compost for a better life and a healthier planet!
 
"Citizen Farmers" by Daron Joffe with Susan Puckett is available for purchase from the following online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Abrams, and IndieBound.

Spotlight on: Robby Astrove of Atlanta, GA

We are so excited to bring you the next installment in our Citizen Farmer profile series on Robby Astrove: an arborist, educator, organizer and musician too!

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Robby Astrove is an environmental educator, fruit tree arborist, and community organizer living in Atlanta Georgia.  As an environmental educator and naturalist for over 10 years, Robby works with nature centers, non-profit organizations, and local business to connect our community with local sustainable food, nature, and each other. 
 
Robby finds creative ways to connect people to food at farmers markets, food festivals, urban garden and farms, through organized foraging picks with Concrete Jungle of Atlanta, and fruit tree walking tours.  Robby coordinates the ALFI Orchard Project for the last five years and establishes orchards at schools, parks, and community gardens.  He’ll plant anywhere like libraries, fire stations, urban farms, along streets, and in vacant lots. 
 
Robby advises and provides council to local non-profits and is a member of the City of Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission.  He works with teams of farmers, teachers, and food advocates to provide recommendations and consultation to school boards, city council, and other decision makers who can champion the local food movement.   Through experiential education and community engagement, fruit trees are seeding the next crop of citizen farmers.

What is your favorite fruit or nut tree?

Serviceberry is my favorite.  This small native tree is perhaps the most underutilized and under appreciated native fruit tree out there.  Why I have no idea…. It’s beautiful with dainty spring flowers, plentiful with delicious and berries in summer, and shows off again in fall with striking fall color. Serviceberry is a super food high in anti-oxidants and pretty unknown.  The flowers and fruit are valuable to wildlife, birds, and other pollinators and birds. This tree or shrub is found all over North America and also goes by the name Saskatoon, juneberry, or shadberry. 

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What is the easiest fruit tree crop to grow?

We asked Robby to add to the Citizen Farmers’ Top 10 Edible and Medicinal Perennials to Replace Landscape Ornamentals. These are great edible perennials that can provide food and medicine year after year. Without a moment’s hesitation, he chose figs.

Robby: Figs! They are tough in the urban environment; they get huge and have very high yields— sometimes delivering a summer and a fall crop of delicious figs, and are one of the few fruit trees you can take cuttings from and start a new tree.  Once established, fruit trees are the easiest crops to grow as they require very little maintenance.  Figs are not strongly associated with insects and disease problems.   Figs are enjoyed fresh or can be processed in preserves, ice cream, etc.  You will always be sharing your figs because you will have absolute abundance with figs.

How are you growing community through agriculture?

I never work alone when food is involved.  Each time we plant, harvest, cook, and celebrate food abundance, we do it together as a community and find value in our collective efforts.

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Learn more about a project close to Robby’s heart, the Atlanta Local Food Initiative

Robby has created an excellent guide of Recommended School Orchard Trees and Orchard Packages.

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A short video from Wilson Trivino who recently attended a private Citizen Farmers book launch party in Atlanta.

Here’s how he was inspired by the book: 

"I loved this book and plan to share a copy with my 7 and 4 year old nieces, hopefully they will develop a green thumb and learn the lesson of becoming good stewards of the earth. 

It is more than growing produce, but growing soil and enriching the living planet around us. I even learned that the moon has a say in the growth cycle of plants. Wow! That is amazing and you will be amazed by this fascinating book.”

- Wilson Trivino

Spotlight on: Amy Pennington of Seattle, WA

We’re thrilled to bring your our first Citizen Farmers profile on Amy Pennington! 

Amy and I met years ago at a mutual friend’s wedding, and with our two green thumbs, we immediately hit it off. She is a good friend and an amazing leader of the farm to table movement in the Pacific Northwest. 

Amy Pennington is a cook, author, and urban farmer. She is the author of Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen, Apartment Gardening, Apples from Harvest to Table & Fresh Pantry - Learn to Love Your Vegetables, One Month at a Time. Pennington has been named one of Seattle Magazine’s 2013 Top 50 most powerful players in Seattle’s food scene and as a 2012 Bon Appetit Tastemaker.  She has been featured in Bon AppetitWall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, GOOP.com, and Apartment Therapy. She runs GoGo Green Garden, an urban farming service specializing in organic edible gardens for homes and businesses and created Urban Garden Share – a national online resource matching gardeners to unused garden space. Pennington lives in Seattle.

What do you love to grow and recommend to others?

LETTUCE! Whether you opt for butterhead, romaine, crisphead, or loose-leaf, lettuce is one of the quickest and easiest plants to grow. Little Gem (a romaine variety), Rouge d’Hiver (a cross between romaine and butterhead), and Oak Leaf (a loose-leaf lettuce) are all great choices. If you’d like a summer lettuce, be sure to choose a heat-tolerant variety, while if planting in fall, a cool-season lettuce is in order. 

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How are you growing community through agriculture?

Urban Garden Share! Not everyone has land to grow food on. Even homeowners struggle with poor light and yards that are not suitable to farming. For those folks, apartment dwellers, condo living green thumbs and more, I started urbangardenshare.org – a national online resource connecting gardeners to unused garden space. With Urban Garden Share, we’ve made many matches over the years and I’m happy to offer a solution for people dying to get their hands dirty. Have a yard? Sign up! Need a plot? Cruise the listings. Want to launch in your city???? Email me (amy at amy-pennington.com)!

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What do you think about Daron’s book Citizen Farmers?

Daron Joffe, Farmer D, is a living, breathing encyclopedia for green living and sustainable farming. He has traveled all over the US (and the world!) and learned every step of the way. With Citizen Farmers, this fabulous resource is shared amongst pages full of great information, inspiration and wellness. This book has the rare and genuine focus of one soul doing his best to live peacefully on and with Mother Nature. Inspiring? Hell yes. A must read for anyone interested in growing food, living fully and going green.

Learn more about Amy Pennington at www.amy-pennington.com.

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