Sunday, November 18, 2012

What a Difference a Week Makes

 I stopped by the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to finish a few odds and ends which I had been too tired to complete during last week’s closing day.  There were things to put away, tulip bulbs to plant, herbs to harvest, etc.  It’s amazing how different the Garden and the neighborhood look now compared to the start of the season.    The eyesore building next door has been replaced with a grassy field and fruit trees.  The overgrown lot across the street has been replaced with raised flower beds, cherry trees and a general brush removal.   Our overgrown, shoulder-high rose bushes have been pruned to knee height.

When I left last week, the volunteers from the Ohio Youth Collide Conference of the Church of God were still busily working under the supervision of their youth leader, and Cathy & Doug from Urban Connections to remove all of the brush and leaves from the lot across the street.  It’s positively breathtaking how much work they accomplished in just a few hours on one Saturday afternoon.  I only wish the youth and youth leader from my church felt moved to improve a neighborhood less than a mile west of our church.  These Collide youth volunteers had spread out among the City, but two of the crews were assigned to help improve the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and made a huge difference in just one short afternoon.

With the help of the Collide volunteers, we moved three compost bins last week to the north side of the Garden so that they will not be such an eyesore to the drivers and pedestrians on East Main Street.  Frank and Barb removed our gates and sign to protect them from the winter weather.  I watered the bins and carried some of the ripe compost over to give the bins a good start.   We hope to polish their appearance a bit next year.

Despite the drought and freakish heat this year, we set a new personal best for food pantry donations in 2012 with over 500 pounds from our lot.  While our squash suffered from the drought and bugs, and our greens were attacked by late season aphids, our peppers exploded and the tomatoes were quite respectable.  Sadly, we never would have had so much fresh produce to donate this year if so many of our gardeners had not become discouraged and dropped out in May, June and July.

Of course, I have put my newfound free time to good use cleaning up my own house, cleaning out gutters and raking leaves.   It seems that my house began falling apart around my ears over the summer and I’m so relieved to now have some time to deal with it.  It’s been very helpful to have so much food put up over the summer to save time cooking.   And, believe it or not, I’m still putting up food.  I’m drying herbs (like dill, parsely and the basil I still have growing in my kitchen window), making italian farmhouse and bread-and-butter pickles out of green cherry and roma tomatoes, harvesting kale, freezing  pumpkin and drying pumpkin seeds.  Whew.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Calling It a Year: SACG Cleans Up with Help from Collide

  Another year.  Another beautiful closing day.  The weather could not have been lovelier than it was today when the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden cleaned up to shut down the Garden for the winter.  God blessed us once again.

I picked up refreshments last night thinking that I might be lucky to have four people show up to help.  (I think that every year and every year I am pleasantly surprised to be wrong).  I wished I had packed sandwiches or brought a frozen pizza for Cathy to bake for us.  We ended up with almost 20 volunteers today.

I started this morning at 9:30.  After pulling out the major tools from the shed that I knew we would need today, I started bagging up the remaining tomato and other plants from the kids’ beds and the neighbor plots.  I also started to drain the rain tanks.

Rayna came. After helping me move a compost bin from the south to the north side of the Garden, she spent most of the rest of the day pruning raspberry bushes from the fence rows along three sides of the Garden.  I think she filled 3 yard waste bags of canes.

Beth came and bagged up the rose canes that Barb had cut back last Saturday and then she pruned all of the flowers in the front flower bed.

Mari came and picked up litter, harvested produce and raked up beds.   She mentioned that the entire neighborhood seems to be sprucing up.
Margaret Ann came from Four Seasons City Farm with two little A’s.  She pruned the yellow rose bushes and cut down our sunflowers from the center flower bed.  She also added to our refreshment table and hauled away recyclables.

A boatload of neighborhood kids came, harvested turnips and beets and then raked and engaged in general digging.  And then eating and drinking us out of house and home.  And then de-stuffing and composting our scarecrow.  And then putting the spilled potting soil back in the bag for me.  

Frank and Barb came.  They disconnected our second rain tank, moved a compost bin from the south to north side of the Garden and transported compost and garden waste from the old location to the new compost bin location.  Then Charlie joined them and built a third compost bin along the alley  out of cinder blocks and landscaping stones, and moved more garden waste to it.

Charlie also reinforced our fence with help from one of the new neighborhood boys. And he hauled the bags and bags of yard waste (i.e., thorny canes and tomato vines) to the dumpster.

Tony LaRosa stopped by to tell us about his experiences in guerilla gardening in Weinland Park.  Ms. Anthony stopped by and said hi.

We didn’t really have much of a lunch break and I didn’t get a chance to read off all of the announcements about our achievements and challenges over the past summer.  Oh well.

Without much ceremony or fanfare, I was able to give Cathy Alexander her picture collage marking her as our Volunteer of the Year for helping with the youth program on most Monday evenings, helping me water on most Wednesday evenings, recruiting neighbors for our letter-writing campaign to get the eyesore next door demolished  and arranging for volunteers in June and today.    Our traveling garden gnome award for tidiest gardener(s) went to Barb and Frank for 2012.  Charlie seemed pretty disappointed to not win it two years in a row.   Sigh.

Then, we were flooded with lots of energetic teenagers from the Collide Youth Conference of the Ohio Conference of the Church of God.  The teens assigned to the SACG came from the Alliance Church of God.    We were very blessed to have them because they helped move our compost and garden waste to the new northern location for the compost bins, gathered, stacked and covered our tomato stakes and cages, neatly stacked our surplus lumber, tidied up the south side of the Garden,  harvested a couple pounds of carrots, and raked up garden beds.   They were even more help across the street where they raked leaves, chopped down scrub trees and removed a discarded fence row in the Block Watch lot.

Rayna and I reassembled the shed and got everything packed away.    We also emptied and stored away the sand box and patio umbrellas.

 It was now down to the four SACG Board members: Rayna, Charlie, Frank and me.  We held a pre-scheduled Board meeting about the future of the Garden.   Cathy Alexander was elected to replace Mike Watkins on the Board.  (We have one extra slot in case anyone out there is interested in joining our Board . . . .).   Charlie was voted to a second two-year term.   I am stepping down as the Garden Manager, and so we will need a new one.  Anyone interested should contact me or Rayna.  In the absence of expressed interest, we will be creating a job description and seeking an intern.   Next year, new gardeners will be limited to very small plots or one of our raised beds.  They can graduate to a larger bed once they have demonstrated a season of commitment to gardening and the Garden.  We’ll also be scaling back the Garden to our original lot (which will involve moving our new raised beds to the garden beds on the south side of the Garden).

Frank is coming back tomorrow to mow the grass, take down the sign and gates, and maybe haul away some/all of our excess lumber.   I have to return as well to fix something I forgot.  Oops.

Then, I went home, weighed the 32 pounds of produce we harvested today and, because it was after 4 p.m., took it to Faith Mission.

I am soooo tired.  Really.  I can't believe that we got so much done.  We were so blessed to have such fabulous weather again.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Volunteers Needed to Help Bring an End to 2012 Growing Season

2011 Closing Day Volunteers -- Blue Skies and Sunshine
We all know what an awful year this has been for weather.  Extreme Heat.   Drought.  Early frost and early snow.  We had above average temperatures until September, and then we had two months of below average temperatures – until, that is, the last week of October.  And then we had a tropical superstorm with wind and rain.  But you know what?  We always – AND I DO MEAN ALWAYS – have PERFECT weather for our opening day and closing work day on the second Saturday of November.  This year will be no different.   We will have a balmy and dry day in the 60’s on Saturday, November 10 AND there will be no football game to rush off to because it’s an OSU bye week.

2010 Closing Day Volunteers -- Notice the blue skies?
Every year, we close the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden the second Saturday in November.  This is when we clean out our flower beds, fill up our compost bins, clean up the shed, prune the perennial flowers, raspberry bushes and roses, rake up the garden and neighbor beds, put away the tomato stakes, plant tulips, empty rain tanks, and make our last food pantry harvest of the year.    We will also conduct our annual members' meeting.

Because so many gardeners dropped out in May and June with the heat and drought and weeds, we were able to donate more food than ever in 2012 despite the lower productivity/plot.  We might even hit the 500 pound threshold next weekend when we pull out the remaining collard greens, kale, chard, carrots, herbs, and turnips that are still growing.  You can see from the chart below how we have donated the 465 pounds of garden produce harvested to date.

Although we won’t have Tom’s famous BBQ this year, we will lots of refreshments for volunteers, beginning at 9:30 a.m.  We should be finished by 1:30, depending on how many people come to help.   If we’re lucky, we’ll have enough help to move the compost bins so that they are not such an eyesore to folks travelling on East Main Street (now that the eyesore building that used to be south of the Garden has been demolished).

So, please come and help us put the Garden to bed for the winter.  Many hands make light work and it’s about the only time that the gardeners get to meet and see each other.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Preserving Garden Bounty for Easy Winter Pleasures

As the evenings get longer and cooler, I turn from weeding and watering to putting up my Garden.  In other words, I’m canning, pickling, cooking and freezing until all hours of the night most evenings to keep up with the harvest.   The drought and fire hoses were tough on my beans this year and the bugs got most of our squash, but we’ve had a respectable amount of tomatoes and an abundance of peppers, eggplants and cucumbers.  I’ve also made lots of non-traditional jams and jellies (i.e., no berries).   

Some of my friends have asked where I get these recipes and instructions.  My first cookbook for this adventure, is Ball’s Blue Book of Preserving, which has hundreds of ideas and instructions for canning, freezing and drying garden produce.  It costs less than $7 and can be found online, at Lowe’s and at Wal-Mart.   Then, there is National Center for Home Food Preservation website at the University of Georgia.   This also has hundreds of recipes and tips.   They sell the 350-recipe cookbook for $15.00, but virtually all of the recipes are available for free online if you’re willing to take the time to search and print.   In addition, there is the ever-reliable Martha Stewart website because Ms. Martha also cans, pickles and jellies.   For the rest, I turn to my ridiculous collection of cookbooks for recipes, which I then can or freeze (based on instructions from Ball’s and UGA).

Tomatoes. I can most of them to use in recipes (like chili, bolognase, black bean and tomato soup, stews, jambalaya, casseroles and sauces) over the winter.  I’ve vowed to never buy another can of tomatoes for the rest of my able-bodied life.  I don’t put salt in my tomatoes and so they are necessarily healthier than what you can buy.  I don’t like to freeze them because I’m too impatient to wait for them to thaw when I’ve decided to cook.   Then, like most people, I also make and can salsa.  I also make a variety of sauces, such as Raphael (with artichoke hearts) and Puttanesca (from the Silver Palette), Arrabiata, creole sauce (for shrimp creole) and roasted tomato.   There’s nothing easier in the winter than opening a jar of a spicy sauce and throwing it over pasta when you don’t feel like cooking.

Cucumbers.  Like many people, I make kosher dill pickles.  However, there are only so many a girl can eat in a year, so I decided to experiment this year with bread and butter pickles.  I like Martha’s recipe the best. (Her secret:  Toss them with salt and ice cubes and leave them in a collander in the refrigerator for 3 hours before rinsing them well to ensure the chips and slices remain crispy).   I doubt they last until Thanksgiving, because they are an easy low-calorie snack food. 
Peppers.  In my humble opinion, the UGA website has the best collection of recipes.  I’ve marinated and canned my Greek peppers. I freeze or pickle jalapenos.  I roast and freeze pablanos and red bell peppers.  I’ve smoked and dried Pablano/Ancho, red and green chiles and red jalapeno/chipotle peppers.  I freeze green bell peppers for winter recipes or put them in creole sauce (above).  I’ve made three different sauces from my Coyote CafĂ© cookbook (i.e., hot red pepper sauce, smoked tomato and jalapeno sauce (for fish and eggs) and rancheros sauce to put on eggs in the morning).  Two weeks ago at the suggestion of my high school buddy, Michelle, I made a pepper jelly, which was freakishly easy and quite tasty.  This weekend, I’m going to make and can taco/burrito sauce.  My cousins make their own ketchup, but I already have an abundance of Heinz in my pantry.  I’ve considered making my own adobo sauce to preserve some chipotle peppers, but I think I’ll just keep them in airtight jars.

(To smoke peppers without buying all of the proper equipment or moving to New Mexico, I start early in the morning and put soaked wood chips in my metal smoker box or in an old disposable aluminum pie pan. Add a fire starter, a hot charcoal brickette or get them smoking with my gas grill.   Turn off the heat and leave the peppers in there for 8-16 hours after plugging the big holes.  Finish drying them in the oven or toaster oven overnight at 170 degrees.  There are lots of websites to help you with this project if you are interested).

Eggplant.  Eggplant is tricky.  You have to cook it in a recipe first.  I make stuffed eggplant from The Moosewood Cookbook and freeze it.  I also make eggplant scallopini sauce (heavy on the marsala and tomatoes) from the Moosewood Cookbook and can it.  This weekend, I’m going to make and freeze a tomato smothered eggplant sauce from Lidia’s website.  In the past, I’ve also frozen slices of roasted marinated eggplant as well.   Then, there’s always baba ghanoush, which rarely lasts more than two days in my refrigerator.
Greens.  Greens can also be cooked and frozen or canned, but I haven’t made that leap yet.  Kale and chard handle mild winters so well (especially in a cold frame or low tunnel), that I keep growing my plants as long as possible and just cook it fresh out of the Garden.

Herbs.  I've already blogged about preserving herbs.  I generally freeze my basil, parsley and cilantro.  I also dry basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel and dill.  Two weeks ago, I made and froze an ice-cube tray of traditional basil pesto (with pine nuts).  The last few years, I've substituted walnuts for pine nuts in my pesto.  This weekend, I'm going to try a new recipe for basil-pistacchio pesto.    I've also trimmed some basil branches, put them in water until they spouted roots and planted them in pots to keep in windows and below grow lights.  However, I will admit to keeping a rather chilly house in the winter and the plants never seem to thrive in low light and 57 degree nights. 

Fruit.  You already know that I freeze berries, can peaches and make jam.  Last year, I made and canned apple sauce, too.  This year, I expanded to canning apples so that I could make an apple pie and cranberry-apple crisp with a snap of the fingers without having to spend hours peeling fruit. 
Stocks.  The best time to make chicken, turkey and beef stock is after the nights turn reliably cold (i.e., below 40 degrees).  That is because you have the bones stewing on the stove all day.  Then, because it's not safe to put a large and hot stew pot in your refrigerator (because it will raise the temperature), you put it outside in the cold night air.  This will chill the stock and cause the fat to rise to the top.  Then, the next morning, you skim the fat off, bring it back to a boil and can it (if you still have enough empty mason jars leftover after canning your garden produce.  If not, you can freeze the stock to throw into slow cooker recipes).   Why would you do this?  Again, to avoid putting salt in your stock, to imagine life as a pioneer and to save yourself a small fortune. 

Canning is easier than it sounds and there are only four major downsides to canning your own food.  First, canning is time consuming, particularly, if like me, you can your food in small batches as you harvest it.  It goes much faster if you simply buy your produce in bulk at a farmer's market or at Lynd's and then can a product en masse for one day.    Second, it really heats up your kitchen, which is very uncomfortable in July and August.  Third, you'll need to devote a lot of hefty shelf space in your basement pantry to storing your canned good and to storing empty jars.  Fourth, it can be very dangerous if you get sloppy.  You have to be careful not to open a pressure cooker before the pressure recedes or to operate it at all if it is dry.  You also need to be sure that the jar seals work properly and that you cook the food properly to avoid food poisoning.  (My aunt assures me that botulism is a very unpleasant way to die).
Cooking aside, the SACG is still open and growing.  Our second-season crops seem to be coming in nicely and we hope to have quite the Thanksgiving harvest when we finally close for the season on November 10.  Everyone is invited to come help us clean up the Garden for the winter, harvest our Fall produce (to deliver to Faith Mission or LSS) and to partake of our hearty  refreshments.   If you cannot wait until November 10, you can come tomorrow and help us stain our grandma raised beds (to protect them from the weather) and to weed and harvest for the LSS food pantry.

Well.  Enough typing.  Back to the kitchen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Volunteer Management Workshop Series

Hands On Central Ohio is offering a series of workshops on volunteer recruitment and management which could be helpful to community gardens.

Volunteer Management Series

"Participants who complete the series will receive a HandsOn Central Ohio Volunteer Management Certificate. The cost is $200 for the series (strongly recommended)."

The traditional concept of volunteerism has significantly changed over the past few years. Like other institutions volunteering is influenced by cultural shifts. Those who experience flexibility in the workplace expect flexibility in their volunteer involvement. Within this changing environment the role of volunteer management has also changed. This series will emphasize strategic volunteer engagement and reflect the philosophy and practice of collaborative volunteer engagement. The series includes the impact of social media, connecting to the corporate community and how to engage skilled and pro bono volunteers that is at the forefront of the biggest paradigm shift in volunteerism in our time. The objective of this revised series is to provide volunteer managers, administrators, supervisors and coordinators with up to date techniques and best practices for developing and engaging a successful volunteer staff within any agency's service programs. Upon completion of this series participants will take with them a comprehensive manual of the six sessions plus samples of the documents, forms and itemized procedures necessary to have a successful volunteer engagement program.

Understanding Volunteerism

Session 1 Participants will learn current trends and many definitions of a volunteer. You will examine the shifts and emerging patterns in volunteering and the impact of technology in engaging volunteers. As an example of micro-volunteering you will hear the story of Jacob Colker who enables smartphone users to be volunteers by donating spare minutes to nonprofits. To highlight corporate philanthropy you will view a Deloitte video, pioneers of venture philanthropy, how skill based volunteerism is making a difference in communities. This session will define the basis for agency readiness, characteristics of organizations that effectively engage volunteers and professional ethics in engaging volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 2, 2012

Create a Plan for Your Volunteer Program

Session 2 This session will build a solid foundation for the successful management of your volunteer engagement program. Rebeccah Verhoff, Director, Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio, will introduce HandsOn's new volunteer involvement framework. She will provide information on volunteer leader's training and how to utilize HandsOn Network Connect, Volunteer Central Ohio, that will increase the volunteer capacity of your organization. You will discover the many elements of a successful volunteer program, benefits and challenges of a volunteer program. Discussion will center on the importance of a volunteer purpose statement and its relationship to your organization’s mission. You will create a purpose statement for your program. Participants will examine methods to assess their agency's volunteer needs and determine appropriate volunteer roles that include the use of an integrated volunteer staff. Through hands on practice you will learn how to create captivating volunteer position descriptions. As “volunteer” does not mean “free” a discussion will center on how to advocate for the resources needed to develop and sustain a program. Participants will draft a budget for their volunteer program. Attendees will leave this session keenly understanding the importance of building a strong agency foundation for a volunteer staff.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Rebeccah Verhoff, Director, Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 9, 2012

Policies and Procedures

Session 3 Policies and procedures are the nuts and bolts of a volunteer program. The value of risk management is covered throughout the series but is a particular focus in this session. At the beginning of this session each participant will complete an at-risk survey of their volunteer program. Participants will learn the significance of developing operational guidelines, standards and procedures including guidelines for dismissal. The importance of the need for a volunteer policies and procedures manual will be covered. Volunteer screening is one of the most important components of your volunteer program. Stephanie Sparrow Hughes, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio, will lead a discussion on screening volunteers. Participants will do a risk assessment of their newly created position description. Included in this session you will learn about risk management planning, strategies and liability reduction. The importance of systematic record keeping will be addressed. Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Stephanie Sparrow Hughes, Manager/Operations & Buckeye Mentoring Hub, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 16, 2012

Recruitment Strategies for Building Diversity in Your Volunteer Program

Session 4 The importance of a position description for purposes of recruitment and placement will be reinforced. Cultivating diversity in volunteering means a varied body of volunteers and selection of roles volunteers can carry out. Achieving diversity is an essential element in your recruitment plan. Does your volunteer force represent the community you serve? Does your organization make all volunteers feel welcome? Volunteers from different ages and backgrounds are motivated and retained by different approaches and techniques. Participants will develop strategies for recruiting traditional volunteers, Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, youth and persons with disabilities. Steps for developing and implementing a targeted recruitment strategy will be discussed. You will craft a volunteer recruitment message. A panel of community leaders will provide a discussion on how to recruit and sustain multi-cultural volunteers.
Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio, Eva Atunga, Information Specialist, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 23, 2012

Social Networking, Interviewing, Orientation, Placement and Recognition

Session 5 Social networking outreaches to a broader range of volunteers in less time. Staff from HandsOn's volunteer engagement department will lead a discussion on integrating Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn into your program. The use of the social media serves as a means to maximize your efforts in recruiting, utilizing, communicating and acknowledging volunteers. Matching potential volunteers to positions is critically important to volunteer sustainability and the success of your program. You will practice effective interviewing techniques that screen and determine proper placements. Conducting a thorough orientation and training will be review. Acknowledgement of volunteers needs to be tailored to the volunteer’s motivation. Students will develop a strategic recognition plan for their volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio, Rebeccah Verhoff, Director Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 30, 2012

Supervision, Evaluate Your Volunteer Program and Best Volunteer Management Practices from the Field

Session 6 Supervising and supporting volunteers for maximum performance will be covered. Also included is managing transitions. difficult volunteers and learning how to redirect and dismiss volunteers. Participants will examine the necessity for thorough and well-planned evaluation tools that assess the volunteer’s progress as well as your volunteer program. The series ends with conversation and best practice tips from several central Ohio “veteran” administrators of volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Shryiell Owens, Director, Foster Grandparent Program, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: November 13, 2012


If you are interested in any or all of these workshops, you can register online.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Prepare Yourself for the 12th Precinct Tire Round Up

Community Liaison Officer Kalous has arranged for a dumped tire round up for the 12th Precinct (which includes the Stoddart, Olde Towne East, and greater Franklin Park neighborhoods).  Liberty Tire has generously agreed to take these littered tires off our hands (and out of our alleys) if we bring them on Saturday, October 13, 2012 to the vacant lot at Main and Kelton next to Churchs Fried Chicken between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

As many of you know, some people seem to take delight in dumping tires and other things in our alleys.  The Block Watch spends a lot of time cleaning this stuff up.  However, tires cost money to properly dispose of.  There was a dumped tire on the SACG lot when we first broke ground in 2009 and another across the street.
The Tire Roundup is also open to residents of the 7th and 11th precincts as well because we dont want them taking their tires and dumping back in our alleys after the Tire Round Up.

Tires are the only item that may be brought to the Tire Round Up.  Officer Kalous will be there to ensure that no one brings anything other than tires.   This is not a city-wide dumping event, either, since we do not want to impose upon the generosity of Liberty Tire. 
Feel free to gather at the SACG at 11 a.m. on October 13 so that we can peruse our neighborhood for dumped tires and transport them to the Round Up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

SACG’s Saturday Girl Power

Although I’ve been busy this month marinating peppers, making pepper jelly, trying out bread and butter pickles, and making various pepper and rancheros sauces, we reached two milestones in the last week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. On Saturday, we planted our first two peach trees. Earlier in the week, we reached the 1,000 pound mark for food pantry donations.

Our New Peach Trees. On Friday, Cathy from Urban Connections agreed to help me pick up our two new peach trees from Oakland Nursery. (Cathy has a SUV and I drive a jetta). These Redhaven trees – like the four cherry trees we planted in May – were paid for through a grant from the Active Living Fund at the Columbus Foundation through the City of Columbus Health Department. On Saturday, new volunteer Kerry from Christ Lutheran Church, came to help for a few hours. She watered our food pantry and pepper plots and weeded a good part of the bean plot. Neighborhood girls Antoinette and Kenaya came by and volunteered to help in exchange for a granola bar. So, the four of us girls dug two large holes for our new trees. I had picked up some Scott’s tree soil from Lowe’s and neighbor David (who you may remember helped us pick up litter for Earth Day in 2011) helped to unload it from my car when he walked by during our moment of need. Those bags are big and heavy.
Antoinette wanted to have a digging competition and did a nice job. However, we all know that Ms. Puniness here would not win any digging competition. That distinction goes to Ms. Kerry who really knows how to dig a hole. I am delighted to have another true gardener on board. How can you tell a “true gardener”? We compulsively pull weeds whenever we see them. It’s an involuntary reflex and we just cannot help ourselves. Kerry is a true gardener and is welcome back anytime. She plans on coming back in two weeks to stain our new platform raised beds in order to protect them from the winter elements. Also, like me, she is a football fan and left a couple hours before me so that she would not miss kick off.

Digging these holes was much easier than it had been in May.  First, the weather was perfect, unlike the hot and humid May 20 when Kelly and I dug the four holes for our cherry trees. Second, while there were many fist-sized stones in the ground, this was a breeze compared to using a pick-axe to dig through solid aggregate and bricks like we had to do last May. (Kerry found it difficult to believe that the ground across the street could be worse than our newly-vacant lot, but trust me, it is not even comparable).

Pantry Donation Milestone. As you know, we are a small garden. We are also a plot garden, so most of our food goes to the gardeners and their families. However, most of us also donate produce to food pantries. The produce from abandoned plots (and there were quite a few this year with the heat and drought discouraging new and not-so-new gardeners) is dedicated to food pantries. In contrast, pantry gardeners donate 100% of their produce to support food pantries and other food programs.  For instance, the UALC garden donates about 9,000 pounds of food each year.  The community gardens in my rural home town donate thousands of bushels of food each year.

Since 2010, I try to weigh all of the produce which the SACG donates to area food pantries and shelters. Other gardeners estimate for me how much produce they personally deliver to a food pantry so that I can record the information. We do not attempt to weigh the produce which we provide upon request to neighbors who ask for food on a periodic basis or the produce which is harvested from the neighbor plots outside our fence and along the alley. I also make no attempt to weigh how much produce our youth program generates for the participating kids. (That would discourage their enthusiasm if I had to stop them every time they harvested to evaluate and weigh their goody bag -- if I was even there at the time). You can imagine that weighing the produce is a real drag.  It’s time consuming and, frankly, by the time I leave the Garden for the day, all I really want to do is eat and shower. I also need to process and store my own personal harvest before it wilts or rots in the summer heat. But I do it anyway.

Youth Gardens.  All but one of our youth gardeners had great success with their gardens. (The sole exception decided that it was more important to bike than to water her garden – with predictable results). Hope’s flowers are beautiful and she also harvested several melons. You’ve already heard about Tevon. Keyante and Jen harvested lots of food. Christen also harvested a lot of food (but left even more behind last weekend because she could not bear to take off her new inline skates).

Other Volunteers.  As you may recall – and have even noticed – I have become the grouchy Garden Manager over the summer. Gardeners dropped out very early and I had to pick up doing their chores and tending their plots. Even the gardeners who stayed have not been doing their chores. I have had to nag and threaten, and still did most of the work over the summer. I distribute and post a chore chart which apparently none of the gardeners can be motivated to read. You cannot even begin to imagine how much this ticks me off.  The Garden has looked a little worse for wear this year -- partly because of the drought and partly because I just cannot get to everything that needs to be done without living at the Garden and spending more time than I already do.    After all, I really do have a "real" job that does not in any way involve getting dirt under my nails.

Luckily, there are a few people who have stepped up this summer. We have been blessed to have three groups of volunteers come and weed in June, July and August. As you know, Cathy comes by at least once/week to help me water. We would not currently be harvesting beans if Cathy hadn’t helped keep them alive during the drought. Our sizeable pepper plot has benefitted from her attention as well.

The Sunday before last, Frank stepped up to help me mow. He and Barb tend and mow the Block Watch lots. (They also mowed our lots in June, July and August). The gardener assigned to mow in September hadn’t read the chore chart since May and didn’t mow. So, after sending him two reminder emails (to no avail), I started to mow on Sunday with our new mower, but it clogged with the high grass. I had trouble getting it re-started (because I apparently forgot to prime the pump) when Frank drove by. I made a pouty face (hoping he would stop and start the mower for me). Instead, he told me he would return shortly and mow our two lots instead of me. Oh happy day. That meant I could spend the next hour watering, planting Fall crops and weeding.   And so I did.

Friday, August 31, 2012

SACG’s Fairy Garden Keeps Growing

As you can see from the pictures, the SACG’s Fairy Garden – tended by the infamous RootBarb – has grown much over the summer since its birth over Memorial Day. RootBarb added a new fairy statue to it on Wednesday evening and reported that she is recovering nicely, but slowly, from her February accident.

Wednesday was a busy evening and was made more hectic by the very early sunset before 8:30 p.m. I tried to hook up hoses to the tank to run water directly to the Garden, but the pump wasn’t working and there wasn’t enough water in the tank to create sufficient water pressure.

Tevon stopped by unexpectedly to examine his garden and harvest. Tevon moved away about two months ago and had been the only neighborhood boy to show passion for raising food. He recruited a number of boys to share his garden with him and then kicked them out and transferred his garden to a boy across the street so that someone would periodically water it. (We have a regular Peyton Place). During Memorial Day weekend, Tevon had begged me to build him a raised bed and helped me for a few minutes to fill it with garden soil (until, that is, he was distracted by the nearby sandbox). Tevon’s garden turned out much better than the weedy garden of his 18-year old sister even though he is only now in the third grade. To be fair, he was gardening in a raised bed (which always has fewer weeds) and she was not. He planted sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, carrots, cucumbers, squash and broccoli. I also insisted that he plant collard greens and pole beans, over his objection. Last night, he was excited to harvest beans and greens, so my stubbornness paid off. He was very focused on discovering and harvesting his produce and ignored the sandbox completely. He ordered me to find and hold a bag for him while he harvested his food. I’ve created a monster. He then walked all over the neighborhood showing off his prizes.

I then turned to watering the 600+ square feet of food pantry plots, the neighbor raised beds along the alley and my plot. Luckily, Cathy came by to help me water the peppers and her daughter Hope watered her pretty flower garden. A neighbor stopped by for produce. Then a bunch of teenagers – including Charter SACG gardener Keyante – stopped by to water and harvest from Keyante’s raised bed. I gave them a tour of the various peppers and eggplants we’re raising in a nearby raised bed. The girls didn’t believe me when I explained how hot chili peppers were and wanted to see if the pepper could make them cry by rubbing their eyes with a red one and then eating part of it raw. A few screams later and they are believers now.

Then, back to harvesting the small red and orange tomatoes from the food pantry plots before they burst. And then harvesting ripe produce from my plot. Sadly, someone stole the butternut squash I had been carefully and massively watering for the past few months. Sigh.

However, for the first time ever, I still have living squash plants in my plot. I have been battling squash bugs all summer. They have destroyed all of the squash plants (including pumpkins) in the Garden except for a few in mine and Charlie’s plots. It’s been a lot of work.

Then, I put everything away, packed up the tank hoses and pumps, etc. and left for the evening before having a chance to plant our second season Fall crops (i.e., turnips, lettuce, and more greens). These early sunsets are very inconvenient.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Milestone Achieved; SACG Obtains Tax-Exempt Status

Oh happy day! It’s raining (but who knows for how long).

This morning’s mail brought a Determination Letter from the Internal Revenue Service confirming that the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, Inc. is “exempt from Federal income tax [as a public charity] under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to you are deductible under section 170 of the Code. You are also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts . . . . “ With this lovely letter, we can apply for grant funds without finding and working with a fiscal agent/sponsor sufficiently in advance of the grant deadline. The gifts and contributions we receive from our supporters can now be deducted on their tax returns (if they itemize). And, once I figure out how, we will likely be exempt from state sales tax as well. So, this is another step towards long-term financial sustainability.

Obtaining a tax exempt Determination Letter is a long and time-consuming process. As you can imagine, the Internal Revenue Code (and all of the supporting and explanatory publications, rulings and decisions) are lengthy, complicated and detailed. Once you have read and digested all or most of them, you are required to complete a Form 1023 – the application for tax exempt status. This will also require you to provide supplementary information and attach other documents in support of your application. After going through all of that, you then pay the IRS $400 to read, and hopefully approve, your application. It was a three-month wait for us after submitting our application in May.

It probably took me longer to draft our application than it should have, but I obsess over everything. I am glad that I did so, because we did not receive a single follow-up question from the IRS. A friend at the Columbus Foundation had suggested that I first review the 1023 applications submitted by other community gardens. Unfortunately, there are not that many standalone community gardens (in that they are often affiliated with a church or other charity). However – get this – not a single community garden that I could find in Central Ohio or nationwide would share its 1023 application with me even though they are required to do so under federal law. Is that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?!! One told me that they lost it. Lots of finger-pointing at whose fault it was. Another told me that they did not want me to benefit from their hard work and inferred that I was a lazy freeloader.  Really? Craziness.

Luckily, I am not that petty and am attaching our application and supplement (with home addresses redacted) in case any other community garden wants to get some comfort level with what to expect. You cannot just copy from our application verbatim because your application will be fact specific to your particular circumstances and activities. You should also if at all possible retain a certified public accountant or lawyer to help you navigate this process. You can contact the Columbus Bar Association’s pro bono referral service to see if they can find a local attorney who will volunteer to help you free of charge. (While most pro bono attorneys help indigent individuals, the corporate attorneys prefer to help organizations with issues like this). If they can’t find someone quickly, then call Marion Smithberger at the CBA and beg him to twist some arms. Assure the CBA that you expect to do most of the work, and will not put everything off on the lawyer, but need experienced help and judgment in reviewing what you are doing.

I have not attached all of our supplementary information because it is so extensive (i.e., bylaws, resolutions, newsletters, etc.). However, I will make this available to review upon a proper request in compliance with federal law and will not lose it.

Now, back to my happy day jig. And lunch.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blessed to be a Blessing: Vineyard Columbus Volunteers at the SACG

This morning, approximately 1,000 members of the Vineyard Columbus church volunteered throughout the City of Columbus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the church with a giant servant evangelism event. Eight of them – in matching t-shirts -- volunteered at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden weeding and watering the food pantry, pepper, and bean plots, staking and tying tomatoes, weeding and watering flower beds, weeding along the alley, picking up litter in the greater Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and harvesting approximately fifteen pounds of produce to donate to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry at Frebis and Champion on the near south side of Columbus.

Sandy Lindsey – who tends a plot at the SACG with her daughter, Kelly, organized the group and kept them sugared up and hydrated. She was the first to arrive. Two members of the group were serious gardeners and stayed behind after everyone else had left around noon because they could not stop pulling weeds. And we have a lot of weeds. They are welcome at the SACG anytime.

SACG gardeners Beth and Rayna came by to clean up their plots and to harvest produce. Rayna donated yellow tomatoes from her own garden. After almost everyone had left, Barb & Frank came to clean up their plot and donated a boat load of tomatoes and squash (as well as basil for our weekly barter delivery to Bexley Pizza Plus).  
Taking picture with someone else's cell phone

I showed our gardeners our new toys which were delivered yesterday and was able to try out our new solar-powered pump.

As I was packing up to leave, a photographer from the Vineyard Church showed up to photograph the Garden, and I had to explain to him that he had just missed the Vineyard volunteers. Two of the neighbor girls had stopped by for sweets and to play in the sand box, and so Kenaya and I (in all of my sweaty glory) posed for pictures to be shown at tonight and tomorrow morning’s church service.

SACG Gardener Kelly was splitting her time between two Vineyard volunteer groups that were assigned to the Weinland Park Community Garden and the Highland Youth Community Garden in the Hilltop. In the meantime, Urban Connections had organized a different group of volunteers to pick up litter along East Main Street in preparation for the Children’s Parade on September 8. For that matter, if you haven’t driven down East Main Street recently, you should see all of the new curbs and curb cuts the City has installed in our neighborhood this summer.
The hard-working Vineyard volunteers did such a nice job of weeding that I’ll be able to spend Labor Day weekend (next Saturday) planting lettuce and turnips for a November pre-Thanksgiving harvest. Many hands make light work:)

Friday, August 24, 2012

SACG Welcomes Second Rain Tank and Solar Pump

As earlier reported here, the City Land Bank has arranged to purchase and loan to community gardens rain tanks and solar-powered pumps through the Rebuilding Together Tool Library. This morning, Jonathan and Luke from Rain Brothers came to the SACG to install our new 300 gallon tank.

 As you may recall, when the SACG broke ground in 2009, Rain Brothers generously donated four rain barrels to our efforts. This enabled us to harvest and store 200 gallons of rain water. However, we would still run dry from time to time and have to bring water from home. Then, in 2010, the City provided us with a grant to purchase a 550 gallon rain tank from Rain Brothers. This was a game changer and we have always had sufficient water on hand for our needs until this year’s drought and water thefts. I mentioned to Leslie Strader in the Mayor’s office that we needed to increase our storage capacity to stay on top of the drought and the theft of our water. Later, I heard that the City was starting a new tank loan program and Leslie put me in touch with Rebuilding Together.

The nearby neighbor who lets us harvest rain off her roof was not willing to let us utilize a third downspout closer to Main Street. So, the new 300 gallon tank will replace the four neon blue rain barrels (with only a 200 gallon capacity). The new tank also has a smaller footprint than the four barrels and is much less of an eyesore for the St John's Baptist Church parking lot next door. Jonathan and Luke completely rebuilt the platform for the tank from the bricks and cinder blocks we had used to support the barrels.

The SACG is the first garden (and the pilot project) for the new tank loaner program. The tank is attached to a downspout so that when the tank is full, the water will simply continue to run down the downspout. In the winter, we unhook the tank and use a pre-attached plug to divert all rain down the downspout.

The solar-power pump will be used to transport water from our larger 550-gallon tank to the garden. Because it is not safe to leave the solar cell or the pump at the garden, I’ve put it somewhere safe to charge the battery. It comes with several hoses. We took the filter from the new tank to put on the pump.

As you probably know, we are not expecting rain for another week (other than a potential pop-up shower on Monday).  So, Rain Brothers is coming back to fill up our new tank -- courtesy of the City's tank loaner program. 

As for our trusty barrels, we’ve made arrangements with the Accurate Auto Center on East Main Street (which is next to the Block Watch flower garden), to let us hook up a gutter to the roof of its paint shop in order to capture rain water and to put a couple of barrels along the alley a/k/a Cherry Street behind the paint shop to store the rain water. These barrels will act as a back-up for the SACG and will support the Block Watch flower garden. As of now, SACG gardeners Barb and Frank have been transporting water twice a week from their home to keep the water garden hydrated.

We’re also thinking of loaning a barrel or two to another community garden in need. So, if you are such a garden, please contact me directly for more details.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 Annual GTG Harvest Celebration

Aside from the lack of rain, I have loved the weather we have had the last couple of weeks. Last week, I attended the free Pro Musica concert at Franklin Park Conservatory and it was bliss. Tonight, I was back at the Conservatory for the annual Growing to Green Harvest Celebration and Awards ceremony. As in years’ past, the food was fabulous and the weather was amazing. This is always an inspirational event and a nice time to touch base with other community gardeners. It doesn’t hurt that it is catered by yummy City BBQ (which grills the chicken on site) and is supplemented by a potluck of dishes made with fresh garden produce. Like the last two years, it was held in a giant tent on the south lawn. The event is organized and executed by the detail-oriented Women’s Board of Franklin Park Conservatory. I was joined by Cathy, and SACG gardeners Kelly, Charlie, Barb, Marvin, and Mari. We were briefly joined by an old friend from my Actors’ Theatre days, Simon Dowd, whose wife manages the Gantz Road Community Garden (last year’s community garden of the year). I also ran into former fellow Actors’ Theatre Board officer, Roy Clark (who now manages the NNEMAP food pantry and was there to support the Good Samaritan Community Garden).

There was a brief mention of the FPC’s Hub Garden program. Christy Gale, VP and Branch Manager of the JP Morgan Chase branch at Polaris talked about the bank’s support of GTG and how much they loved the community garden they started for staff at the Polaris branch.

The main event are the community garden awards.  There were 30 gardens nominated this year.

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. This $250 award goes to the park, gateway, streetscape, school or other community beautification project that does the most to beautify the surrounding community. I should admit that I nominated the collaboration of the SACG, Block Watch and Urban Connections to clean up the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and push for the demolition of our former neighborhood eyesore. However, the award went to 4th Street Farms in the Weinland Park neighborhood. SACG gardener Joey sometimes volunteers there on Saturdays and they have nice t-shirts.

Education Garden of the Year was this year presented and sponsored by the Keefe Family Foundation. This $500 award is given to a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was given to the Highland Youth Garden in the Hilltop, which has approximately 300 children participating. This Garden started in 2009 and had previously won Community Garden of the Year in 2009 and Peggy won Community Gardener of the Year last year.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award is presented by the Franklin Park Conservatory's Women's Board and provides $250 to the youth (under the age of 18) for use for his/her community garden or his/her education in gardening. This year, it went to Justin, a volunteer at the American Addition Community Garden who helps the younger children learn about gardening. Justin, who lives in New Albany immediately donated the award to the community garden.

This was the second year for the Sustainability Award, which is sponsored and presented by the American Community Garden Association through its Executive Director, Beth Urban. This $250 award recognizes the garden that is utilizing sustainable community gardening practices, including community building activities, sustainable garden design, and green practices (such as rain barrels, etc.) that have proven sustainable over the long term. It also comes with a garden cart (valued at $250) donated by the Gardener Supply Company. Last year, it was awarded to the SACG and we raffled off the cart, which was won in November by Marge Telerski at the St. Vincent de Paul community garden (where I donated SACG tomatoes this morning). How ironic, then, that the St. Vince de Paul Garden won the Sustainability Award and the cart this year. Bruce Harkney mentioned the garden’s new greenhouse, which helps extend its growing season, and its new programs of providing garden plants and containers to the clients of the food pantry the garden supports. Marge, of course, mentioned that anyone who has been able to grow anything this summer deserves an award. Amen Sister. The SVDP garden has previously won community garden of the year and neighborhood improvement project of the year.

Community Gardener of the Year. This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Co.) was to be awarded on account of a person who is exceptionally dedicated to his/her neighborhood garden and/or the movement of community gardening in central Ohio. I have to admit that I thought this would finally be the year that Penny and Suzanna from the Evergreen Garden Ministries (which has six gardens in three counties and involves scores of children) would finally get well-deserved recognition. But I was wrong. This is the third year in the past four that it went to one of the gardeners of the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Community Garden off Mill Run. Todd Marti received the award this year. Kelly Hern received it in 2009 and in 2010 it went to Glen Demott. They grew over 9000 pounds of food last year to support the church’s urban ministries and to support the Lutheran Social Services food pantries.

Community Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company) was to be awarded to the top neighborhood gardening project for beautification and/or food production. This year it went to the Good Samaritan Community Garden. It is supported by Ascension Lutheran Church and supports, among other things, the local Bhutan immigrant community. It began as a way for the gardeners to grow food for the clients of the Helping Hands free clinic and then to support the NNEMAP food pantry in the Short North.

There was another new award this year. The Boyd W. Bowden, D.O. Garden Impact Award (sponsored by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation) was to recognize a garden that excels in Nutrition, youth education, promotion of culture and food projection. This was the least suspenseful event of the evening (despite Patrick’s protestations to the contrary). It went to Franklinton Gardens for all of the fabulous work it does on the near west side.  And their matching t-shirts.  Franklin Gardens won community garden of the year in 2010.

Nice night.