Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Nov17

Innovation of the Week: Gardening “Boot Camps” for Troubled Youth

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By Emily Gilbert

Rather than a jail term, a program from the Cook County Boot Camp in Illinois is finding ways to reach troubled youth and inmates through urban gardening. Among the educational and vocational offerings the program offers is work in a three-quarter-acre garden that produces tomatoes, kale, carrots, and a host of other vegetables. The young male inmates learn life lessons and job skills through gardening, leading some to explore new career opportunities and lifestyle choices through agriculture and green jobs.

The Chicago Botanic Garden teaches inmates about sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture. (Photo Credit: New York Times)

The first group of inmates to participate in the program built 30 raised beds, planted an acre of vegetable transplants and seeds, and maintained the farm during their 18-week program. Since the garden’s establishment in 2009, more than 3,000 pounds of produce have been harvested. Whatever is not consumed in the camp’s mess hall is distributed to food pantries over the course of the growing season.

In 2012, the facility installed a compost operation to break down food waste, paper scraps, and other organic material into compostable matter. The resulting compost is applied to the garden, creating an independent and efficient food system for the facility.

“We’ve designed the program so we would be able to grow our own food,” said Frank Johnson, director of programs at the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp. “If we can grow our own food, we can demonstrate what we can do both to the guys working in the garden and to everybody else.”

The boot camp is operated by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program, which in partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago now provides a certificate in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture for boot camp graduates. To encourage participation and provide viable economic opportunity, graduates can earn $9.50 an hour while attending classes and working at various gardens, urban farms, and farmers markets around the city. Former inmates Brian Devitt and Nicholas Walker, for example, have both chosen agriculture as a career and are now working as employees of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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Mar27

Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

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Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.

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Feb01

Innovation of the Month: Gardens for Health

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By Carly Chaapel

Around the world, gardens provide food for local communities, serve as educational tools, and empower the poor. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 22.5 million people live with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), humanitarian and environmental organizations are turning to community gardens for nutritional and social benefits for HIV patients.

Rwandan farmer harvests plants for her family with the help of Gardens for Health. (Photo credit: Gardens for Health International)

In Rwanda, the most densely populated sub-Saharan country, the average citizen lives well below global average health, education, and income standards. The Human Development Index ranks Rwanda 166 out of 187 countries, indicating “low human development.” According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), nearly 170,000 people (3 percent of adults) suffer from HIV in Rwanda.

Numerous organizations are, however, generating hope for the poor and the sick in Rwanda. Gardens for Health International, for example, partners with local health clinics to provide agricultural solutions for health problems, including malnutrition. Patients who arrive at rural clinics in need of food aid and emergency treatment often leave with the resources necessary to both address their immediate needs and sustain themselves and their families in the future. Gardens for Health experts routinely visit families in their homes, bringing the tools and knowledge needed (e.g., seedlings and market access knowledge) to increase yields, diversify diets, and prevent future malnutrition.

In Swaziland, the International Red Cross has donated money to support community gardens with similar goals. According to USAID, 25.9 percent of adults in Swaziland live with HIV, and nearly 70,000 children have been orphaned due to the virus. Although food crises are prevalent in this drought-prone country, donations from the Red Cross have enabled communities to both develop food gardens and access valuable adaptation technology, such as drip irrigation, which can increase agricultural productivity and boost year-round food security for families living with HIV.

By disseminating resources and information, organizations such as Gardens for Health and the International Red Cross can increase access to healthy foods for the poor, hungry, and sick, and enable families to develop productive and sustainable food gardens just outside their front doors.

Do you know about a garden that is used as a healing space for the sick? Tell us more in the comments below.

Carly Chaapel is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

Jan24

Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

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Sep25

Five Tips for City Growers

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By Molly Redfield

Asphalt-strewn streets and blank-faced skyscrapers dominate city landscapes. But in recent years, cities have also become places where anything from rooftop pumpkin patches to herb-crowded windowsills flourish. With the right ingredients—healthy soil, enough sunlight, plenty of water, seeds, and, of course, the space to throw it all together—it seems as if urbanites can now grow a garden anywhere.

City gardeners must take into consideration uniquely urban concerns when growing food (Photo Credit: the Thrive Post)

But cities are still unique growing environments. Tall buildings can shade out the sun and block or redirect wind. Heavy metals or other pollutants may contaminate the soil. And space in a densely populated city might be difficult to come by. These are some of the concerns, among others, that urban agriculturalists must keep in mind to grow healthy and productive gardens.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five tips that are especially relevant to farmers, gardeners, and other agriculturalists growing gardens in cities around the world.

Soil:Because many cities have a past of rapid industrialization, or are currently industrializing, their soils can contain toxic heavy metal byproducts such as lead or cadmium. Plants uptake these heavy metals through their roots and then incorporate them into their vegetative tissue. When people consume fruits, vegetables, and other products grown in toxic soils they are, often unknowingly, exposed to these contaminants. Children are especially vulnerable to heavy metals and, according to the World Health Organization, a blood lead concentration in children exceeding 10 µg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) is associated with cognitive impairment.

Urban growers have several ways to avoid contaminated soil. One method consists of simply overlaying healthy soils, manure, and loam over contaminated city ground. Instead of completely replacing soils, though, another remedial effort includes mixing organic matter and limestone with city soils. By decreasing the acidity of soils and making lead bind more readily to non-living organic matter, this technique prevents heavy metal uptake in plants. In fact, treating and replacing a depth of only seven inches of city soils can effectively protect the root layer of most common garden plants from heavy metals like lead. Lastly, growing produce out of raised beds or containers with healthy soil is another way for farmers to be certain that their produce is safe.

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Sep08

Saturday Series: An Interview with Howard Hinterthuer

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Howard works as a Peer-to-Peer Mentor for the Organic Therapy Program (OTP), a veterans’ recovery project that promotes healing through organic gardening (Photo credit: Don Gilmore)

Name: Howard Hinterthuer

Affiliation: Organic Therapy Program

Bio: Howard Hinterthuer served as a medic in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. Returning from the war, he found solace by establishing various gardens in Virginia. Today, Howard works as a Peer-to-Peer Mentor for the Organic Therapy Program (OTP), a veterans’ recovery project that promotes healing through organic gardening.

You recently gave a Ted Talk on the Organic Therapy Program (OTP). Can you tell us how the OTP started and how you, as one of its Peer-to-Peer Mentors, personally became involved with helping veterans recover from the war by gardening?

William Sims, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who served from 1966 to 1967, started the Organic Therapy Program. Mr. Sims was wounded after being in Vietnam for about 9 months, and returned home to Milwaukie. He was able to deal with the stress of coming home and experiencing combat by puttering around in his mom’s garden. He remembered that.

The Center for Veterans Issues has about 300 or more formerly homeless veterans in transition with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression. These veterans come to us and we provide a wrap around service to deal with their different problems. Mr. Sims figured that if gardening was good for him, then it would be good for other veterans as well. So he began creating raised bed gardens to help veterans cope with their problems.

I was also in the 101st Airborne Division a couple of years later. When I came home, I helped rehabilitate myself by planting a series of gardens in rural Virginia. This was very therapeutic. I was working at Sweet Water Organics as their Executive Director when the Center for Veterans Issues recruited me to become be a Peer-to-Peer Mentor. I took this opportunity because I wanted to help other veterans recover from the war.

Since its establishment four years ago, OTP has expanded into a program that now includes many innovative agricultural practices. What are some of the projects that OTP is currently working on?

The program has evolved over the years. When I first began working with the veterans, I started looking at our food expenditures. Our mess halls service our veterans three times a day and the numbers that we were getting from the mess halls from our surveys were disturbing. We had unusually high expenditures on meat. This was a problem because we serve a population of individuals who are particularly susceptible to diseases related to diet. So we thought of OTP as a way to introduce a better diet for our veterans. There was certainly some social engineering involved in this process. When our veterans say they don’t like something, such as fruits and vegetables, it probably means that they haven’t tried it. I do that sometimes with things, too. So the OTP program took 2 goals: reintegrating veterans into the world and improving their diets. The OTP program is especially important because we’re in a food desert area and it’s hard to get fruits and vegetables here. Now, in our fourth year, there’s enthusiasm and support for the program. Our veterans can’t get enough greens!

Why is it important for veterans in particular to engage in gardening as part of their recovery process?

Gardening is important because it allows our veterans to have an optimistic experience. It takes their mind off of the injustices and bad things that have happened to them in the past, the things that have gotten them to the place of homelessness. The issues veterans suffer from are often chronic; additionally, many veterans are smokers. They’ll smoke and talk about their difficult pasts. But their tone changes when they are in the garden. It’s like magic. Gardening makes sure that they have positive experiences. This is almost guaranteed by the act itself, as it creates such a peaceful place. Gardening is meditative and increases self-esteem. We are trying to assign raised beds to certain people so that there’s an increased sense of ownership. I think that there’s therapeutic value in establishing a pattern of responsible behavior.

How does the OTP introduce veterans to gardening and spark their interest in growing their own food?

OTP brings together people who have gardening in their background with people who don’t. Inevitably, someone who comes into the garden who was raised in Mississippi will talk about their grandmother and their grandfather’s garden. And for people who haven’t gardened, it’s delightful for them to see where an onion comes from and to pick a cherry tomato off of the vine and pop it in their mouths. When they taste the explosion of sweetness in their labor, it’s easy for them to eat healthier. Once our veterans have tried our produce in the garden, they realize that they like it.

What kind of changes have you seen in the veterans who have been working with OTP?

I’ve seen people evolve in a number of different ways. The most dramatic instance is when someone comes in and they’re extremely depressed. We had a key player last season who was like that. When I explained what we wanted him to do, he’d say, “I’m a good solider. I can do that.” Over the years, though, he worked closely with me on a couple of projects. One day, he was in the garden and told me, “You know, this program has just saved my life.” And now he’s in Nevada talking about his gardening experiences. To engage other veterans, we’re putting in a small aquaponics system that we worked on last year. We’ll redo it again this year. Additionally, we’re thinking of adding a green house. The veterans responsible for assembling these projects need to have some plumbing skills. Cutting barrels in half, working with PVC pipes, and other tasks all require certain skills. Our veterans have to apply carpentry skills, too. When they have the chance to use their skills again and to learn new ones, they feel useful. These projects bring our veterans out of themselves. They take pride in their involvement and love explaining their work to our visitors. They are able to think about what’s possible instead of what’s impossible.

How do you see the program itself changing in the future? Could the concepts behind OTP expand into other veteran recovery programs?

In terms of the future, we’re expanding our gardens and renting out two greenhouses that we’ve used in previous winters. We have received funding through the department of labor for it to heat these green houses with compost. This work will be a part of a jobs program to teach growing skills to our veterans. A big component of our expansion is sustainability. Using compost to heat our green houses is an example of the sustainable techniques we want to apply.  In terms of expanding into other veteran recovery programs, after the TED talk I gave, I was contacted by a woman in Scotland working with veterans of the British military. Her program used horticulture for veterans’ recovery, so I think gardening is an approach to dealing with difficult issues that can definitely be replicated in other places.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep04

Sol Food Mobile Farm: Leading the Food Justice Movement to your Backyard

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By Molly Redfield

The crew of Sol Mobile Farm is bringing new meaning to the term “food movement.” In June 2012, the team of four started on a sixth month trip. They would travel, they decided, from North Carolina, up the East Coast, over to the West Coast, down to the South, and then back again in a 57 passenger red school bus. Along this distance, which covers over 11,000 kilometers, the crew would stop at farmers markets, schools, and community centers in order to spread knowledge about sustainable living and the possibility of locally sourced food systems.

The greenhouse in the back of this retrofitted bus provides an innovative classroom for children of all ages. (Photo credit: Sol Food Mobile Farm)

Equipped with peel-and-stick solar panels, a green roof, a vermicomposting system, a mobile green house, waste-water collection tanks, and residential quarters constructed out of recycled materials, the bus is a microcosm of sustainable living. Most intriguingly, it has been retrofitted to run off of waste vegetable oil. This means that the Sol Food Mobile Farm crew can live and work out of the bus as they travel to communities across the United States advocating for local food systems and renewable energy sources. The Sol Mobile Farm crew states, “We aim to serve communities in their own backyards!  By recognizing that every community has a unique set of resources and skills, we hope to provide a meaningful gardening experience for the sites we visit.”

Sol Food Mobile Farm plans to host 5-day gardening workshops in at least 10 major cities across the country. At these workshops, the crew will work with groups of local youth to construct up to 8 raised garden beds. Honing in on major cities and their food desert neighborhoods, Sol Food Mobile Farm hopes to connect kids to their food and community. Additionally, by offering hands-on gardening experience through their workshops and demonstrations, the crew wants to leave a fresh wave of young environmental stewards in their wake.

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Aug29

Rot Riders Collect Compost on Bikes

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By Eleanor Fausold

In Kirksville, Missouri, a group of college students and volunteers are collecting food scraps and making it easy for area residents to reduce their food waste, nourish their gardens, and even fight climate change. The group, The Rot Riders, travels by bicycle through the neighborhoods of Kirksville, picks up food scraps from residents’ homes, and delivers them to the Truman University Farm, where they are turned into compost and made available for community members to use as natural fertilizer.

The Rot Riders collect compost by bicycle. (Image Credit: Rot Riders)

The founders of The Rot Riders were originally inspired by a Northampton, Massachusetts group called Pedal People, a worker-owned cooperative that delivers farm shares and picks up trash, recycling and compost from people’s homes, all by bicycle. The Rot Riders concept was developed as part of a student-led grassroots environmentalism course at Truman State University, and the group has been making weekly rounds since the spring of 2010.

The group is composed of five core riders and a few volunteers. On Sunday afternoons, the riders gather, split up into pairs, divide the route, and set off on bicycles, trailers in tow, to collect food scraps in Kirksville. The cyclists stop and collect buckets of food waste from the lawns and porches of more than 40 houses and apartments in the Kirksville area, and the number of donors continues to grow.

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Aug08

The Greenhouse Effect: Plantagon’s Urban Vertical Farm

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By Edyth Parker

By 2050, Earth’s population will grow to 9 billion, according to the United Nations. This population growth, coupled with a rabid global urbanization rate, is increasing the pressure on urban areas’ infrastructure and services. Cities will need to find ways to adapt to absorb their new populations, who may become vulnerable to poverty and food and water shortages. One movement that looks to address urban poverty and food insecurity is vertical urban farming, and the Plantagon greenhouse in Sweden is one of the latest examples of this innovation.

The Plantagon Greenhouse: the future of urban framing? (Photo credit: Plantagon)

Plantagon officially broke ground on their vertical greenhouse in Linköping in 2012. The Plantagon Greenhouse Project aims to develop a sustainable vertical farm that can function by using excess heat and waste from the nearby industries for energy and fertilizer. For this, Plantagon has three different vertical farm models: the integrated greenhouse, the parasite, and the stand-alone greenhouse.

The integrated greenhouse is not just a greenhouse. In this model, there will be a façade system of panels on the exterior of the building that will host the cultivation boxes for the crops. The building itself will be used for other industrial purposes as well as urban farming, maximizing land productivity. The façade system will have a conveyor belt that moves each plant in and out of sunlight as the cultivation boxes are carried downward floor by floor.

These boxes or pots will be fitted with an ebb-and-flow irrigation mechanism as well as nutrient reservoirs. The crops will grow as they slowly move down the conveyor belt, arriving mature and ready for harvesting in the basement levels. Harvesting will be done using an automatic harvesting machine, after which the pots will be reused for a new generation of crops. The parasite model was created as a façade or exterior system that could be attached to existing buildings.

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Aug07

Five Cities and the Organizations That are Making Them Green

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By Jenny Beth Dyess

Currently over half of the world’s 7 billion live in urban areas and according to the United Nations (UN), that number is expected to reach 65 percent by 2050. Dramatic population growth strains food resources and raises the challenge of feeding urban dwellers, particularly the poor. According to the UN, poverty is now growing faster in urban areas than in rural areas—there are currently 1 billion people living in urban slums.

Urban agriculture is cropping up in major cities worldwide. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five cities and the organizations that are helping these cities become food-sufficient.

1. Dar es Salaam: Over 45 percent of Tanzania’s 2.3 million unemployed people live in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Studies by the Tanzanian Department of Rural Development and Regional Planning have found that there is significant reduction in poverty among residents who practice urban gardening in Dar es Salaam. In 2011, 68 percent of residents are growing food and raising livestock in the city. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 90 percent of vegetables and 60 percent of the milk supply are produced locally.

Dar es Salaam in action: The Mikocheni Post Primary Vocational School is training students how to make a sustainable living and grow food in the city. The vocational school has become a learning center for waste separation, composting, and urban farming. The composting chambers are built by the masonry students, the cooking and carpentry students contribute organic waste to the compost, and all students take turns attending the gardens. The school also offers free training seminars on composting to the local community.

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