Is Cover Cropping Going Mainstream?

Cover crop in commercial farm

I was astonished to find, in the Business Section of all places, a story about cover cropping in the NY Times today.  Just as permaculturists and organic farmers have known for decades, monocrop farmers are now discovering that cover crops increase yield, improve soil health and reduce loss of topsoil.  The article recounts how the Anson family, and Doug Anson in partiucular, attended an unspecified “seminar” (was it a permaculture talk?!?!) about cover cropping and returned home with “his hair on fire”.  Sound familiar, those of you who have attended a permaculture talk?
He insisted that the family plant at least a small percentage of their acreage with a cover crop that fall.  So in part to humor him and in part out of curiousity, his two brothers agreed to let him plant a cover crop on 1,200 acres, a fraction of the 20,000 acres on the “family farm”.   Incredibly, as predicted,  yields increased by 20-25 bushels per acre!   And less quantitatively but more satisfyingly, the soil felt better, less sandy more granular and lumpy, the way good soil should feel.
The article goes on to note that none other Monsanto is now investing in studies to determine if in fact cover cropping actually has the benefits its promoters say it has.
I’ll never forget one of the opening observations made by Geoff Lawton when I took his 72 hour permaculture in 2007 (sponsored by Green Phoenix Permaculture).  He stated that America’s number one export was not corn, soy or Boeing airliners, but rather top soil.  I’ve often repeated this quote in gatherings and it never fails to draw astonished looks.
Now it seems that commercial agriculture as reported in the Business Section of Americas newspaper of record, is beginning to feel the heat.
Will this new awareness trigger a revolution in agricultural practices?  And more interestingly how will Monsanto and other big ag companies figure out how to subvert cover cropping for their own fun and profit?   Let’s all pay careful attention over the months and years ahead.

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Fall Work Days at Imani Gardens

Installing new wood frames in Imani II with lots of workers.

Fall is the time we get our garden ready for the coming winter.  It is the time when summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra, beans, squash and other crops that prefer warm weather are dying off and other crops that prefer cooler temperatures such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and mustard are coming into their own.
Accordingly, we spent several weekends preparing our gardens for the change in seasons.  It all began in early October when we planted 7 trays of seedlings in our greenhouse, trays of lettuce, spinach, kale and mustard.  In the greenhouse, temperatures got into the 90s during the day.  Our passive solar system consisting of six 55 gallon drums filled with water on which the seed trays sat helped retain the heat during the nights and keep the greenhouse cooler during the days.  By the end of October, we had seedlings that were a couple of inches high and ready for the rigors of the real world.
On October 18th, Guy D’Angelo, a long time garden supporter and 20+ year organic gardener from Center Moriches Long Island came to teach a class on fall crops.  Guy explained the ways he developed in his garden to extend the growing season using hoop houses and proper crop selection to five eager students.  The group then planted garlic bulbs in one of Imani II’s 13 raised beds and sprinkled rye seeds on another bed as a cover crop.  Finally we put a hoop house over a third bed already planted with spinach seedlings and a cover crop.
On October 22nd, Repair The World, a Jewish philanthropic organization, brought in high school students from a school in Fort Green for a work day.  The 20 or so eager students spread a layer of wood chips over Imani I, learned the secrets of chicken husbandry with our chickens and helped fetch leaves from a nearby park for our compost pile in Imani II.  All of this hard work was rewarded with a BBQ at our outdoor grill.  Much fun and learning for all.
Finally on October 31st,  four permaculture enthusiasts from the permaculture meetups, New York City Permaculture Meetup and  Brooklyn Permaculture Meetup came for a garden tour and work day in the garden.  This group stripped the remaining 10 beds of summer crops and placed the spent plants in a pile at the back of the garden for a future fungi project.  We then spread a thin layer of mulch over the stripped beds and planted the 200+ seedlings from our greenhouse into the beds.  Finally we sprinkled a cover crop seed mixture over the beds.
After all this hard work, Imani Garden is ready for the fall weather, coming for sure in the weeks and months ahead.
Many thanks to all for their hard work and enthusiasm!

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Will You Let Herman Stark Commit Arborside?

 

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

On September 18th, the City Register published the name of the gentleman who purchased 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden.  His name is Herman Stark and his address is listed as 199 Lee Avenue Suite 308 Brooklyn NY 11211.  He paid $365,000 for this single 20×100 lot.
As far we can tell, the only reason someone would spend $365,000 for a 2,000 square foot lot would be to build a residential building.  Of course building such a structure would entail cutting down one of the tallest and most beautiful weeping willow trees in Brooklyn.  Is this really what the community wants to happen?  Is it really that important that we have more unaffordable housing in a borough already rated as one of the least affordable in the United States?
Or would we rather have a community garden with a towering willow tree, surrounded by chickens, an aquaponics project, fruit trees and a cob oven?
Let your electeds know your preference.  Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, can be reached at 212-669-2156.  Robert Cornegy the local council member, can be reached at 212-788-7354.  Let them know you’d prefer a willow tree over a housing project!
On September 28th, garden members put up the sign you see in the photo.  We are asking for anyone who knows and cares for Imani Garden to send us an email telling of their experiences there and what they like most about the garden.  We’re asking that you send your comments to “saveimanitree@gmail.com”.  With your permission, we will publish your responses on this website.

Diverse community residents sitting at picnic table in Imani I
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Workshop on Fall Crops and Cover Cropping Oct. 17th

Guy D’Angelo, Wenting Chen plus one other in Imani II with hoop house

On Saturday October 17th at 1 PM, Guy D’Angelo, an organic farmer with 20 years experience growing on a 1/4 acre garden in Center Moriches Long Island, will be discussing fall crops and cover cropping at Imani II. Find out what plants you can grow in the fall in this zone and how to prepare your planting beds. Also learn about the advantages of putting a crop on your planting beds that will protect and enhance the soil over the winter. We will provide a demonstration of how to start your crop, how to cultivate and harvest it. Learn how you can extend the growing season even further with hoop houses over your growing beds.
Imani Garden II is located at 1680 Pacific Street in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It has 13 raised beds, a 350 gallon water storage tank and a year around polycarbonate greenhouse.
To get there by mass transit, take the A/C or 3/4 trains to Utica Avenue. Walk Utica to Pacific Street and then walk west to Schenectady Avenue. Imani is located at the corner of Schenectady and Pacific Street.

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Is Imani Garden A Victim of Abuse or Fraud?

 

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

According to the Comptroller’s website, his job is to be:”…responsible for providing an independent voice to safeguard the fiscal health of the City, root out waste, fraud and abuse in City government and ensure the effective performance of City agencies to achieve their goals of serving the needs of all New Yorkers. ”
Why is the amount of the liens on 89 Schenectady said to be $95,000 when the amount shown on the notice of intention to sell tax liens was only $1,844.20?

Why wasn’t NYRP notified of the liens, given that they own the adjacent lots at 87 and 91 Schenectady which together with 89 Schenectady form Imani Garden? Is the Comptroller aware that selling this lot will cut a community garden into two pieces, including the largest chicken coop in Brooklyn and destroy a 60 foot willow tree that’s the centerpiece of the garden?
Given that the owner of 89 Schenectady Ave is a non-profit shown as active by the Secretary of State, why does it owe real estate taxes in any case?
Aren’t these enough questions to prompt the Comptroller to “root out waste, fraud and abuse”, or at least stop the sale scheduled for August 3rd so the facts can be investigated?
Mia Hilton has been assigned to investigate this case by the Comptroller.  She called today to say they are reaching out to the Intergovernmental Affairs office to get some answers.  Watch this blog for more updates.

Group shot – pond Imani I
Chickens stripping old plants from bed in Imani I

 

 

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Must This Tree Die? Help Save Imani!

Ngonda and Ntangou Badilla with sign in Imani I – Imani II at risk

We just learned that, in a process still unclear to us, on June 18th, 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden, was sold to a private investor for the sum of $365,000.  In conducting a difficult referee sale, the community was overlooked and is now paying the price! Let us bring this great error to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attention. Let him know that Crown Heights is who is suffering most from this dispute.  The other side lots in Imani are owned by the New York Restoration Project.  This sale goes forward on August 3rd.   Imani will be effectively cut into two pieces, and the 60 foot willow pictured above, an icon in Weeksville for a very long time, will be cut down.

Please ask Comptroller Scott Stringer to halt the closing.   Scott’s hot line number is 212-669-3916.  Tell him we need time to transfer the lot of NYRP where it should have been from the beginning.
Also contact Stephanie Zimmerman, Council member Robert Cornegy’s Chief of Staff at 718-919-0740 x 106.  Ask her to have the Council set aside money to reimburse the City for the liens on 89 Schenectady.
If you want more information about how you can help, send an email to imanigreg@gmail.com.
We are working on an on-line petition and Facebook page to address this injustice.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Green Guerilla youth in Imani I
Early Imani group photo 2007 with Rupert Poole, Alice Lo, Kate Key and Greg Todd

 

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Does NYC Sustainability Include Community Gardens?

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

Since at least the Bloomberg administration, NYC has been aggressivlely trying to paint itself as being “green”.  The building codes are now requiring many green features and incentivising builders to add even more.  Builders get additional buildable square feet for adding water storage tanks on site and get tax credits for adding solar panels.  Bloomberg launched the “Million Tree” initialive and much progress has been made towards that goal.  PlanNYC initiated by Bloomberg and recently updated by DeBlasio calls for every NYer to be within a ten minute walk of green space.
Yet when the sustainability agenda collides that of real estate developers, guess who get thrown under the bus?  As you may already know, Imani Garden II at 1680 Pacfic Street, an established community garden with 13 raised beds, water storage system and greenhouse was put on a list along with 18 other gardens sent to developers as sites for “affordable” housing.
Now we learned that, in a process still unclear to us, on June 18th, 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden, was sold to a private investor for the sum of $365,000.  In conducting a difficult referee sale, the community was overlooked and is now paying the price! Let us bring this great error to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attention. Let him know that Crown Heights is who is suffering most from this dispute.  The other side lots in Imani are owned by the New York Restoration Project.  If this sale goes forward on August 3rd, Imani will be effectively cut into two pieces, and the 60 foot willow pictured above, an icon in Weeksville for a very long time, will be cut down.

To allow time for our elected officials to save the tree and the lot, please ask Comptroller Scott Stringer to halt the closing.   Scott’s hot line number is 212-669-3916.  Ask him to stop the sale so that the erroneous liens can be rescinded.
Also contact Stephanie Zimmerman, Council member Robert Cornegy’s Chief of Staff at 718-919-0740 x 106.  Ask her to have the Council set aside money to reimburse the City for the sale price of 89 Schenectady.
If you want more information about how you can help, send an email to imanigreg@gmail.com.
We are working on an on-line petition and Facebook page to address this injustice.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Youth in Imani I garden
Diverse community residents sitting at picnic table in Imani I

 

 

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Are you contributing to Cali’s water crisis?

California drought with dried up canal

Are you part of the California drought problem?  Every time you buy a bunch of grapes from California, your contributing not only to some grower’s bottom line, you’re also consuming 24 gallons of California’s water.  For details, check out this recent article in the New York Times about the Cali Drought.
Long before Napa and Central Valley become the nation’s number one producer of grapes, New York had an established vineyard colony in the Finger Lake region.   While not reaching the levels of fame achieved by Napa, the the Finger Lake region still produces a passable riesling, and the climate is often compared to that of the riesling producing areas of the Rhine valley in Germany.  According to a 2005 study conducted about wine production in New York State, we have 31,000 wine bearing acres in New York and 1,384 farms producing grapes.
So as the drought bears down, and California’s water restrictions start to effect grape prices, you might want to look for a more local source.  We’ve actually got a nice grape vine growing along the fence at Imani Garden, which will be bearing grapes shortly, that is if Mayor De Blasio doesn’t turn the garden into unafforable housing instead.
IF this upsets, you might consider letting the Mayor know by writing him a letter.  Send us a copy at imanigreg@gmail.com.  Every little bit helps.  According to Paula Segal at 596 Acres, the City should be releasing in June the list of developers who’ve been awarded sites.  Stay tuned to find out if Imani has been awarded to anyone.
In the meanwhile, see you at the local wine bar!

Group shot – pond Imani I
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Compost Tea Workshop at Imani Garden April 18-19

Compost with worms in Imani II compost bin

What’s compost tea and how do you make it? Come find out on April 18 and 19 at Imani Garden! We’ll be brewing a batch on Saturday and applying it on Sunday t…o our garden beds. Many soil biologists including Dr. Elaine Ingham believe that compost tea is an excellent way to amplify the biological activity in your compost.  For a 10 minute video that explains how to make compost tea click here. We’ll also be doing some work to get the garden ready for spring, including bringing leaves from a nearby park in a wheelbarrow brigade and cleaning out our water storage tanks and fish ponds. Lots of fun. Bring some work gloves and if you have them, rubber gloves for cleaning the tanks and ponds. We’ll be providing some tasty vegetarian stew. Bring your favorite beverage and some hearty bread. See you there! Donation of $5 requested to cover material costs. Loving those worms in the compost pile at Imani!
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What Happens to NYC When California’s Central Valley Shuts Down?

California drought with dried up canal

Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown announced an executive order mandating cities and towns in the drought-ravaged state to reduce water usage by 25%.  Unaffected by this order were the state’s farms, which consume 80% of the state’s water.  Why did farms get a pass on these reductions?  How much longer can they get away with it?
Check out this article in the Daily Beast about the politics of water in California.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state in 2013 exported the following amounts of food key to our nation’s food supply:
Milk — $7.6 billion
Almonds — $5.8 billion
Grapes — $5.6 billion
Cattle, Calves — $3.05 billion
Strawberries — $2.2 billion
Walnuts — $1.8 billion
Lettuce — $1.7 billion
Hay — $1.6 billion
Tomatoes — $1.2 billion
Nursery plants— $1.2 billion

How will the rest of nation’s food supply be effected by California’s worsening drought?  What happens when the state’s farms are forced to reduce water consumption?
Wouldn’t it make sense for NYC residents to think about these questions now, before there’s a crisis.  Community gardens certainly provide at least part of the answer.  In January, Mayor DiBlasio’s Housing Dept. announced that 17 gardens were to be developed as affordable housing.  Let Mayor DiBlasio know that you want the 17 gardens saved from development so they can continue to provide residents with a secure and healthy source for fresh produce.  You can reach his Brooklyn liaison Kicy Motley at kmotley@cityhall.nyc.gov.  Send her a note today to express your concern.

Greg Todd with bike cart and food scraps in front of Imani Garden
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