Monday, August 15, 2011

Meatless Monday: Vegetables, Chickens, and Bees and More

This is not one of my usual Meatless Monday posts. But I wasn’t quite finished talking about urban farming. Last week I told a brief history of the Victory Garden, its glory days, and its rapid demise, and had just barely touched upon its recent comeback.

So, I'll pick up where I left off. My, how things have changed over the past few years! 

One of the beehives at 116 Crown
Farmers’ markets are popping up on downtown sidewalks, commuter lots, and church lawns around the country. Urbanites are turning their front and back yards into “farms.” Restaurants have taken the phrase “Farm to Table” literally and are growing vegetables, and even installing beehives in their backyards. A few adventurous souls in my city have taken the movement to an extreme — “farming” every inch of their available space, harvesting the rainwater from their roofs, and raising chickens.  The downtown restaurant 116 Crown has two managed beehives just outside the back door. My friend Pam and I learned all this last Saturday on the 2nd Annual CTNOFA (Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Farm and Garden Tour in New Haven, a fundraiser for the organization and definitely not the stereotypical garden tour.

The challenges for these farmers are many. One of the biggest is lead in the soil. Before anyone can even begin planting, each plot must be tested for lead and then remediated as required, which in every case requires quite a bit of work. 

Matt Browning has chickens in the back yard…
… and hills of vegetables in the front one.
These industrious farmers are growing amazing amounts of food! Sherill Baldwin, a woman we knew well, estimated that she and her husband were already growing about 40% of their food, with the goal of putting by even more. One of their newest additions? — a fig tree. Matt Browning, a nurse with a 1/10 of an acre plot in the shadow of the Yale School of Nursing and just a few blocks from the train station, raises chickens for meat as well as eggs. [He has them butchered elsewhere.] His front yard is planted with the 3 sisters (corn, beans, squash) in 21 hills. I’m not sure this would fly in the neighborhood in which I live. He said he had already pureed and frozen enough squash to provide for an infant who is not yet born!

There were a number of community gardens on the tour as well, some well established, and some just getting started, all with the noble goal of educating people and getting fresh food to the people who most need it. I have to admit that once it was clear we could not get to them all, we used the GPS to be sure we could get to some of the quirkier sounding ones and skipped a lot of the bigger gardens which are more accessible.

I do wish I had read the flyer more carefully before we hit the road. There is one stop I am very sorry to have missed — the home and garden of young Emily Gallagher, who is trying to become as “self-sufficient as possible.” I knew Emily when she was a little girl and I was a parent volunteer at West Hills School. You can read more about Emily, and the nurse, and my friend Sherrill in this story with excellent photos by Allan Appel in the Independent. Emily, if you happen to see this post, I’ll be looking for you next year.

Our last stop of the day was not covered in the Independent. That was the home, garden, and agricultural building of Vincent Kay, whose Swords Into Plowshares honey has been selling in small markets around New Haven for decades. Vincent has a large backyard garden with hearty, healthy plants growing in very neat rows, white homing pigeons, a beehive which he uses to monitor bee activity, [He has lots of other hives in the area. You can read more in this wonderful blog post by Vincent’s current assistant, another Emily.], and an outbuilding where he processes and bottles his honey and makes beeswax candles. The tour was technically over when we arrived, but seeing that the tour sign was still up, Vincent kindly delayed his walk with his dogs to show us around. The scent of beeswax in the attic workroom was sweetly dense and aromatic, and you had to stop to contemplate the exquisite honeycombs. How is it that bees can work together to make such an intricate and beautiful structure? This little oasis is about 1.5 miles from downtown.If you are curious where Vincent’s honey got it’s name, read this bit of history, in particular the bit about Trident Nein. 

Like I said earlier, this was not the typical Garden Tour.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

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