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.

Source: green-phoenix-rss

Share

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
Share

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.

Source: green-phoenix-rss

Share

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

 

 

Share

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
Share

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!
Source: green-phoenix-rss

Share

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
Share

Rally at City Hall to Stop Taking of Community Gardens

Rally to save public gardens Feb. 2015

On a cold February 10th morning about 100 intrepid gardeners gathered on the steps of City Hall to express their outrage.  It seems that Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the housing arm of New York City, had decided on its own authority to confiscate 17 community gardeners for “affordable housing”.  Without any advance warning to the Parks Department that administers community gardens on City land, the affected City Council members or the community boards, on January 14th HPD issued a Request for Proposals asking developers to express interest in developing housing on 181 City-owned lots.  Buried among these 181 lots, among over 1,000 owned by the City, were 17 community gardens.
The response was swift and furious.  Within 24 hours, Antonio Reynoso, a Council Member from Williamsburgh, issued a letter to the mayor asking that all 17 of the gardens be removed from the list.  By the date of the rally, CMs Robert Cornegie, Rosie Mendez and Stephen Levin had also voiced their concern about the manner in which HPD conducted itself.
The question we have to ask ourselves: what role do gardens play in our communities?  Are communities more than just affordable housing?  In fact, the housing being offered by HPD is not even affordable.  Using something called the Area Median Income (AMI), under the RFP terms, only 1/3 of the units need to be affordable, meaning 2/3 of the units won’t be affordable.  And HPD’s definition of affordable is 80% of the AMI for a family of four.  Given that the AMI (based on regional statistics that include suburban counties) is $88,600, than means that one out of three units must be affordable to a family earning $70,880.  Hello, HPD.  That does not reflect the actual incomes of families in these communities.  These units will be affordable in name only.
Don’t let this mindless land grab go unnoticed.  Sign our petition at Stop the land grab.
For more information on this situation, check out New York City Community Garden Coalition website.
Stay tuned for more developments!

Group shot – pond Imani I
Share

Imani Under Threat of Demolition

Monica and Tawhid with kids working to clean up Imani II

When we discovered that the vacant lot near Imani I was actually owned by the people, we were overjoyed.  We’d been trying to garden at Imani I for several years but due to a large willow tree, the garden got little light.  By contrast, the vacant lot at 1680 Pacific was just a few feet from Imani I and had no trees at all!
We asked the elected officials who represent us if we could garden there and were initially told no because it was under the jurisdiction of Housing Preservation and Development.  But to our surprise, they offered us a license revokable at will, to use the lot for gardening.
Of course, our mistake was to accept this Faustian bargain, and sure enough just a few short years later, after we had invested over $5,000 in adding planting beds, a water storage tank and a beautiful greenhouse, our 60 plus past or present members are about to be evicted.  Why this lot was given to HPD, and not Parks, is a mystery.  It’s a small corner lot just 30 ‘ x 87 ‘, across from the Weeksville Houses, down the street from a large Sanitation garage and a block from the LIRR elevated train line.  It’s the only garden in a 20 block radius so if you want to garden in the area, we’re it.  It’s noisy and has been vacant for over 30 years.  If there was ever a house on the site, it was a long time ago, and it’s probably been vacant for good reasons.
But rather than fight City Hall, we took the bait and ran.
Now, we have no choice but to fight the decision to turn our garden into housing.  After a meeting of garden members last night, we will be producing a video featuring garden members and inviting local elementary schools to come by for a visit.  If you’e like to find out how you can help, send us an email at “imanigreg@gmail.com”.
The deadline for developers to respond to the City’s request for proposals is February 19th.  We have up until then to pursuade the City to remove our garden from the list.
Any help would be appreciated.

Planting seedlings during work day at Imani II greenhouse
Share

Can hydroponics be a key to making produce local?

Drawing of south facing greenhouse with solar collectors

In 2007 I was among a group of local permies who visited something called the Science Barge floating in the Hudson River.  It got a lot of media attention.  It focused on using solar power to do a lot of things, including growing vegetables with hydroponics.

Somehow, this little barge morphed into a big outfit called Bright Farms.  They’re still based in NYC, and one of their first projects was supposed to be in Sunset Park on the roof of a manufacturing loft.  As far as I know, that never happened.  They do appear to have a large operation in Bucks County, and are gearing up for greenhouses in Wash. DC, St. Paul Minn and a number of other cities.

They have a large staff and are based in lower Manhattan with lots of money from venture capitalists.

Ok, I get this all sounds too weird to be true, but there’s a lot to like in what their CEO Paul Lightfoot is saying.  My key question: how do we feel about hydroponics?

Hydroponic greenhouses
Share