Lauren McLean Iuppa Ayer

Poet | Artist | Optimist

Tag: community

Synthesis: Imagine Your Future

Last night it snowed–somewhere around 7 inches. When I fell asleep the ground was bare. This morning tall walls of snow balanced on narrow branches, and our tiny patio table was piled into a white dome.

Winter Wonderland

Jeffrey Davis, creator of Tracking Wonder and leader of our Quest, just challenged us to look back on our week. To find the common themes between our future selves’ advice, our daydreams, and our review of who would miss us.

Looking just at words, I came up with three themes:

  • Make art
  • Connect–or more aptly, reconnect
  • Heal myself–in part by letting go and in part by reclaiming parts of me that I’ve misplaced

Travel and Home came up again and this time there was also a heavy dose of Play (Experiment’s more lighthearted little sister). And yes, we are beginning to see a pretty clear pattern here.

And then Jeffrey asked us to find a horizon and to sit in front of it for five minutes and let our discoveries steep for a bit.

Now it’s still pretty cold out and I had already had a good bracing walk earlier today to capture an image for my 365 photo project. During that walk I did what I always do when I head toward the river. I stood at the center of the footbridge and let my eyes rest in a south-westerly direction. I even snapped a picture.

Santa Fe River, looking south

 

So instead of heading back out into the cold, I looked at this. Really looked at it. And here’s what I saw:

  • A river that rarely sees or holds any water, except during heavy rains when it transforms into a torrent
  • Growing things that struggle to stay alive during times of drought and times of flood
  • A sky so wide and so blue that it is sometimes hard to notice anything else
  • And yet… I glimpsed tracks in the snow–two people walking next to each other, one person walking alone

Despite the walls of the river bank and the houses that line them just out of view, this vista feels, at least to me, hollow and alone. Sure there is water just below the surface, otherwise there would be no trees–especially not cottonwood and willow. But that water is hidden, protected, squirreled away for emergencies. There is life, and there is LIFE.

And I see myself as that river, as that empty basin that longs to be filled, to nourish, to be reborn. And I see in the brittle winter bones of trees a deep rootedness and will to survive, just waiting for abundance to be reborn.

And then I turned around and looked north…

Sangre De Cristo Mountains

And saw the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising from the clouds, guarding the back of Santa Fe–the city of the Holy Spirit.  And there, in the distance, the white crown of Mount Baldy, covered in snow. Snow that come spring might just help our river run again. And I remembered that the river may not always be able to feed herself, but, whether behind or besides her, there is that strong presence watching over her. Taking care of her. And beneath us is a vast aquifer–one we can tap into if we just send our roots deep enough.

Those who will miss us are the mountains. We are the river. And whether we see them or not, we are never alone. And knowing that, we are free to keep our eyes on that transfixing blue sky, as long as we keep our roots in the ground.

Many Hands Make Light Work

As I mentioned in my last post, a personal veggie garden is out for this season. So you can imagine my excitement when my local Zen Center offered a course entitled “True Nourishment from the Boundless Field” taught by gardening guru and one of the founding members of Green Gulch Farm, Wendy Johnson. Of course I signed up.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I read the description about gardening with mindfulness, I had no idea that the small class would actually be transforming an open field into a 36′ x 36′ fenced and gated vegetable garden complete with prayer flag border and central altar. Nor did I expect to end each day wondering how I would ever move again, my joints were so stiff and muscles so sore from unaccustomed heavy labor. But man, am I glad I went.

It was amazing watching the garden take shape and to learn about the seeds that were selected for their local history and drought-resistance (including Navajo Blue Corn, Scarlet Runner Beans, Aztec White Beans, Amaranth, Quinoa, Hopi Dye Sunflowers, and a wide variety of squash). It also felt great to get my hands in the soil again, to manhandle compost, and feed the soil. But the best part, hands-down, was working with so many wonderful people dedicated to both gardening and the reason for this garden, to help the Zen Center and its community take one step closer to food security.

But the best part is, now that the garden is installed, I can volunteer to help it as it grows, learning about this unaccustomed climate as I go.

Gardening is a beautiful and important thing, but gardening with others makes it that much sweeter. Visit the American Community Gardening Association to learn more or find a garden near you.

Ample Harvest

And while we’re on the topic of what to do with all that extra produce, if you find yourself in a giving mood (especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner), check out AmpleHarvest.org. Launched in May 2009, this non-profit connects gardeners with local food pantries in need of fresh produce donations.

Veggie Trader

Have you found yourself stuck with a mountain of late-season zucchini or tomatoes? Don’t work your fingers to the bone baking loaves and loaves of zucchini bread or let the fruit languish on the vine. VeggieTrader.com enables you to connect with other local gardeners. You can trace your zukes for someone else’s cukes, sell your excess to neighbors without gardens, and even search for replacement crops for the rhubarb plant your dog dug up while you were on vacation (all for free). Their site is intuitive and fun to read and they even have a supporting blog.

So check it out. And pass it on. The only way to keep great ideas like this growing is to participate.

Garden Without a Yard

Even if you don’t have a yard, patio, or even a sunny windowsill, there are still plenty of ways to get out there and garden.

Community Gardens
According to the American Community Garden Association, a community garden is very simply “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” But it’s more that just that. Community gardening builds connections, provides educational and mentoring opportunities for new and experienced gardeners alike, improves the standard of living for those who garden there by providing healthier food as well as exercise in tending the plants that provide it, and helps individuals and communities become more self-reliant.

There are community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the country and the world. Most charge a nominal annual fee to cover operating expenses. To find a community garden in your area check the garden finder on the American Community Garden Association’s home page. You can also check out your town’s government pages or your local park and rec department.

Don’t have a community garden in your neighborhood? Start your own.

Yard Sharing

If you’re an urban farmer without a place to plant, consider sharing space in a neighbor’s yard, or even creating a small farming business across multiple yards. According to Hyperlocavore.com, a yard sharing community site, yard sharing is:

“…an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible, to make neighborhoods resilient, kids healthy and food much cheaper! The group can be friends, family, neighbors, members of a faith community (or any combination!)”

Perhaps you have a neighbor who doesn’t have time to garden but would love fresh vegetables. Or a great aunt who can’t garden herself anymore but misses watching fresh fruit ripening on a vine. Yardsharing doesn’t just give landless gardeners a place to practice their art, it builds community, teaches the values of working together, of sharing, and, if successful, can raise the standard of living by improving the quality and availability of food for an entire neighborhood or group.

Volunteering

If you are willing to garden for the joy and experience instead of for crops, consider volunteering your time to a local educational or other charitable organization. Botanical gardens, public gardens, and educational farms can be found throughout the country and many are  suffering in this economic down-turn. Here are just a few that could use your help:

Try searching Volunteer Match for opportunities in your area. You might also consider helping out your local senior center or school gardens. If you don’t find one in your community, consider helping them start one.

Guerrilla Gardening
In some cases, you just have to garden where you can. For guerrilla gardeners, that means roadsides, sidewalk tree surrounds, street dividers, and abandoned lots. If you’re looking to add a few wildflowers to an empty field, that’s easy enough, but if your goal is vegetable gardening you’ll want to keep a few important things in mind:

  • Soil condition: If the land isn’t yours you have no way of knowing what’s been dumped there. Test the soil thoroughly before you plant anything you may want to eat.
  • Maintenance: It’s one thing to put up an overnight garden and another to make sure it gets watered and fertilized enough to thrive.
  • Vandalism and theft: There are those who may not share your love of gardening and decide to voice their dissent by pulling up your work by the roots. Still others may appreciate it too much and decide they want the plants or produce for their own yards. (For one sad cautionary tale visit YouGrowGirl.com.)
  • Legal ramifications: Technically, gardening someone else’s land is against the law. If the land you choose is a neglected median, chances are the owners will look the other way, but that may not always be the case. The best defense is to know what you’re going to say should someone stop you (non-confrontational is usually the best policy) and know when to walk away.

If you’re up to the task, guerrilla gardening can give great rewards not only in produce but in community-building and neighborhood beautification. Involve other locals to improve your success rate and share the fun. Get more tips and find like-minded gardeners at Guerrilla Gardening.org.

Forget Me Not Farm (Sonoma County, CA)

“Since its inception in 1992, Forget Me Not Farm has helped thousands of at-risk children and youth break the cycle of abuse. Located on the grounds of the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County, the Farm offers animal-assisted and horticultural therapeutic activities that provide a haven for children, plants and animals to bond, learn and heal with one another.”

On the farm the children interact with animals, grow flowers, fruits and vegetables from seed, harvest the plants they helped cultivate and even cook with the ingredients they grew. The farm experience gives them a safe, non-threatening environment to heal while teaching them valuable skills. Excess produce is donated to local shelters, extending their reach even farther into the community.

Hidden Villa (Los Altos, CA)

Hidden Villa is a nonprofit educational organization that uses its organic farm, wilderness, and community to teach and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and social justice. Hidden Villa stretches over 1600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. Our mission is to inspire a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy.”

Hidden Villa is also a working farm, complete with a Community Sponsored Agriculture program. A portion of all harvest go to shareholders, while another is donated to local low-income families.

As part of their educational programs, they offer a large assortment of family-oriented classes and events (including How Does Your Garden Grow?, Cheese Please! and my personal favorite, Manure to Meadow to MMMMmmm!) all at very reasonable prices.

Like most non-profits, Hidden Villa is run by a very limited full-time staff on an even more limited budget (especially now), so they rely very heavily on their hundreds of volunteers to keep things running.

I spent a day volunteering as a horticulture worker, starting shrub cuttings and labeling fruit tree scions while others in the group hacked back overgrown blackberries or mulched garden beds. After, we got a tour of the grounds. For me, at least, the rewards of helping to start new plants alone would have been enough, but knowing it was for a good cause made it even better.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider volunteering.