Sunday, February 21, 2016

Spring Fever: SACG Planning for 2016 Growing Season

Yesterday, the Board of Trustees of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, Inc. met at Zoe’s on East Main Street in Bexley to make plans for the 2016 growing season.   Present were Priscilla, Cathy, Rayna, Frank and Susan.  Neal had a family emergency and gave Priscilla his proxy.  (We decided to elect him Garden Manager in his absence.  Ha ha).
 Election of Board members.   The terms of Neal, Frank, Rayna and Priscilla were expiring this year (since they were last elected in February/April 2014).  The non-expiring members moved and voted to approve the renewal of their terms.   We discussed adding additional Board members.
Selection of dates for our Opening and Closing.  The Opening and Closing Dates for the SACG this year will be Saturday, April 2 and November 12 (when OSU plays an away game against Maryland).   We want to till the Garden this year since it was last tilled in 2013 (and was too wet last year).   Urban Connections will again supply us with neighborhood children to help spread compost and wood chips.  (The kids are required to perform a certain number of community service hours in order to qualify for summer camp and volunteering at the SACG is an easy way to accomplish that goal.  The kids like shoveling and pushing wheelbarrows).     I may also reach out to Capital University to see if any of their students want to help.  It will take more time than usual on our Opening Day to spread compost on all of the plots in addition to simply spreading wood chips on the paths and around the fence lines.  (We’ll also need to clean out the large rain cistern before filling it for the season).  We also discussed having refreshments (like pizza) to feed the volunteers this year since we’ll have a lot of spreading and other work.  It doesn’t look like we’ll get snowed out this year (at least per the Old Farmer’s Almanac). 

Public Relations.  The Board reviewed and approved the draft of our March 2016 Grapevine newsletter, Garden Agreement, etc. to distribute in the neighborhood.   Posters will be hung in area restaurants, the Bexley Library, barber shops, etc. and press releases will be sent to area media to recruit new gardeners.   Susan offered to post one at Huntington Bank.

Budgeting. The Board approved funds to pay for the delivery of Com-Til (which, as reported in my
last post, is being donated by the City).  We will work with our neighbor, Kimball Farms, on the delivery of Com-Til.  Melinda tells me that they would like a truck load as well, so I’ll confirm that with Pastor Brown before ordering it.  We also approved funds to get our tiller repaired so that we can till the Com-Til into the soil (along with the shredded leaves that we spread on most of the plots last Fall).   We had a discussion about how to transport the tiller (because it is very heavy to lift it into the back of a truck).  I reported that Ken volunteered his trailer, but my car doesn’t have a hitch.  Neither does Frank’s truck.  Cathy’s vehicles, however, have hitches.  Even better, Cathy owns a ramp so that we could push it up into a truck.  She and Frank will coordinate to get the tiller to Como Mowers on Indianola in Clintonville.

Fundraising.  We’re not planning on applying for any grant funds this year.  Nonetheless, we need to consider some fundraising.   We have $457 in our bank account (which is typical) and a summary of our cash revenue and expenses from 2015 was distributed.   Most of our donations are in-kind (i.e., stuff).   Kroger Rewards has been a great source of income, especially considering that only two of us have registered our Kroger cards.  We discussed ways of increasing our Kroger and Amazon Smile revenue (through buying gift certificates at Krogers for things we buy anyway).  We also considered selling produce to raise funds.  I hate to remove produce from our charitable donations and there is potential liability from selling produce that does not exist from giving it away.   We also discussed holding a joint fundraiser event with other nearby community gardens.  I’m usually exhausted by November and we need to plan for these things months in advance.  The most realistic time to hold them would be in February or March, which means we’d need to start the planning in October or November.   Cathy suggested that we just move the fundraiser until June, so that I could delay the planning until after Xmas.  Maybe.   Our best fundraiser to date was raffling off the garden cart that we won when we were Sustainable Garden of the Year.   If we got something else that valuable donated, we could have another raffle.

The Board voted to renew our GCGC membership for $10.  Applications were also distributed for individual GCGC memberships (at $5).  It looks like I might have some company at GCGC meetings this year.
I relayed information from the City’s Land Bank Community Garden meeting earlier in the month.  Since then, there have been some interesting developments.  First, the City’s attempt to find a new non-profit to administer the voucher program and tank refills has hit a snag.  I’m sure that it will get worked out eventually, but it makes it challenging to plan.  Frank panicked a bit because the Block Watch lot (and their tank across the street from us) depends on the free fill up because it is not connected to any downspouts.   Until they got their tank, they used to carry a barrel of water on the back of their truck to water their flower beds.   I’m sure that it will get resolved before growing season in six weeks.

For the voucher program, the Board liked my idea of adding another cherry tree and expanding our strawberry patch another 50%.  Melinda/Kimball Farms offered to give us extra strawberry seedlings to fill the new space because the strawberry seedlings we gave them last year have multiplied greatly and need to be thinned.    I’d like this to be an Earth Day project (when we have OSU student volunteers coming), but I’m a little concerned that might be too late considering that our strawberries are starting to ripen by Memorial Day. We’ll also top off the raised beds. 

We also discussed whether we want to own our lot.  We do not need to decide yet.

Earth Day Celebration.  OSU had confirmed that they will be sending us 10-12 students on April 23, when we (and the rest of the City) will be observing Earth Day.  We’ll plant another Montmorency cherry tree to make our front lawn more symmetrical.    If the City voucher program becomes operational in time, we we might expand the strawberry patch that weekend.   This year’s theme is Branch Out.  Interested volunteers can register for a work site (like the SACG) on their website.

We had a discussion about whether to accept another WEP Volunteer. We will not have enough projects to keep a WEP volunteer busy for 6 hours/week this year because we will not need to again paint, stain or haul debris.   However, they are very helpful in mowing our lots and the Block Watch lots each week when they come.  They are also sometimes helpful with weeding and watering and picking berries.  The OAFB made some significant changes to their program last year because they realized that the individuals require a lot of close supervision, but we never received the benefit of that.  We haven’t yet received or renewed our agreement with OAFB yet, but had asked them to send me updated program materials.   Cathy agreed to speak with Doug at Urban Connections about whether they could come up with a sufficient number of mowing and painting projects for  a volunteer for 3 hours/week.  UC currently mows their two lots and two other vacant lots on Stoddart (who have absentee owners).  In addition, they often have maintenance projects of their own which could occupy a WEP volunteer who would be willing to paint.

Kimball Farms.  I also reported on some of the plans at neighbor Kimball Farms from having lunch with Melinda on Friday.              

They plan to put a high tunnel along the north fence and to build some additional raised beds where the baby pools are currently located.  I’ll try to help them find another rain cistern. They will start using the chain link fence as trellises. They hope to sell food at the new corner market at Main and Berekely.  They are also going to provide vegetables to a van that sells produce in urban neighborhoods. They had 12-15 foster kids last year and hope to double the size of the program this year.  They will be focusing on foster kids.  Their gardening program is one day/week. They are trying to convince Simon Forsythe from Life Vineyard Church to give them some bees.  (He is a rapid beekeeper).   I may lobby in their support, although I’m insanely jealous not to get any honey of our own.  We just don’t have anywhere to put a hive where it won’t interfere with Kimball Farm’s youth program.  (We had planned on putting a hive in the overgrown scrub brush across the street, but darn it, the Block Watch folks cleaned up that area).     I suggested that they put the hive in the northwest corner of their property but move it in the winter months to where the rain barrels are to shelter the hive from the cold west winds.   Of course, Simon may refuse to part with any bees.  He’s pretty enthusiastic about it.  My cousin is also a beekeeper in Toledo, so I might reach out to him as well.
Melinda would also like a tool shed of their own.  I told her about where and how we got our tool shed.    She’s also interested in building some handicap accessible raised beds.  I explained that the beds themselves are just one issue.  The grading of the lot is also an issue and showed her the raised beds at the Conservatory’s community garden campus when we went over there after lunch for seeds.  I also suggested that she consider painting the rain barrels as an art project for the kids like Central Community House did with their MetroArts program.  Her son has been building some rain barrels, too.   Finally, Pastor Brown has recruited a Master Gardener to start helping them out.  (Where do I sign up for one of those?)

Free Seeds.  After lunch, we went over to the Growing to Green offices at the Conservatory to sort through thousands of donated seed packets.  Sadly, Fiona had resigned from GTG and returned to Ithica, New York this week to work for Cornell University (where she graduated) and its Extension program.   Bill’s a little overworked right now trying to organize their community garden conference next month:  We Dig Ohio is on March 12.    I promised him to remind everyone that he has lots of flower, herb and vegetable seeds available for community gardens that need them.

Melinda (in the very fuzzy picture taken with my new phone) and I picked up lots of seeds. I passed them around for gardeners to get some to start in March for early planting in April.   I’ll add the rest to the seed stache in our shed.    We also give some to our vounteers.   I’ll be starting tomatoes, peppers and parsley in two weeks.
For that matter, the first weekend in March, I’ll be passing out the 2016 March Grapevine in the neighborhood and then starting seeds for our 2016 growing season. 

Block Watch.  Frank announced that the Block Watch is planning another tire round up.  Officer Kalous had indicated that it would have been this weekend, but it was postponed.  There was also some issue of school bus tires getting discarded and whether those would be part of the tire drive.   The last time that a tire round-up was held, no one brought any tires to the drop-off point by Church’s Fried Chicken.  So, Frank and Barb (from our Block Watch) and Doug, Jason and an intern from Urban Connections drove up and down all of the area alleys to pick up enough littered tires to fill the dumpster.   They don’t mind organizing tire round ups, but they hate being the only ones rounding up tires.  I offered to add a blurb about it in our March 2016 Grapevine if they got me the information in time (and if the tire round up would be held after the first weekend in March).  I hadn’t realized that the tire litter problem had reached another critical mass.   (We had a couple of discarded tires on our lot when we broke ground in 2009).
Unlike last year’s Board meeting (which took place during a snow storm), we had an unseasonably warm day waiting for us.  After our meeting,   I went over to the SACG, spread some daisy seeds, noticed that some tulips were starting to peak through, observed all of the litter that had collected in our brambles, tidied up and attempted to refill our Free Little Library.  However, we are again short on children’s books.  Sigh.   I guess there are worse problems.   Our chronic shortage means that someone is reading them . . . . . 
As I do every year, I’ll post information here about signing up for SACG plots on March 1 and distribute the information to our former gardeners and gardeners who contact me in advance.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Christmas in February: 2016 Land Bank Community Garden Meeting

Com-Til Donated to SACG in 2009
February has not been good to me this year.  Until tonight.  I guess all of that bad karma was creating room for the good karma that came tonight at the annual Land Bank community garden meeting.  After years of pleading for the City to return to its prior largesse of donating free Com-Til to community gardens (like it did when the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden first started back in 2009), the City surprised us by letting us know that land bank community gardens can pick up as much Com-Til as they need this year.   Dancing like Chris Martin at the Super Bowl.

Seth Brehm – the City’s Land Bank Community Garden Coordinator (although this formal title is Development Specialist)  -- started off by telling us a little about two City initiatives from last year.  Branch Out Columbus involves the City’s efforts to put a tree nursery in every major neighborhood.    I didn’t ask where that nursery is on the Near East Side  . . .. .   However, I’d like to know where I can find a nearby grove of peach trees . . . . .There is also Urban Farmers of Central Ohio to promote larger scale agricultural operations than simple community gardens like the SACG.
He then moved on to initiatives promoting the purchase of land bank lots.  In the “side lot
application,” garden lots can be purchased if you are an adjacent property owner or a 501(c)(3) non-profit (i.e., charity) that is located in the neighborhood.  Under the Improve to Own (f/k/a Mow to Own), community gardens can purchase the lots on which their gardens are located:

·        For the full price, anyone can purchase a lot

·        For 50% credit towards the full price, anyone can improve the lot over any one-year period

·        For 100% credit towards the full price, an adjacent owner (and I think a charity in the neighborhood) can improve the property over a three-year period.

We chatted about the Tool Library’s new dues policies and how the City had ended its prior community garden project with it.  However, the City is negotiating with another non-profit to manage the same issues (i.e., voucher program and rain tanks like the 330 gallon tank loaned to the SACG).  Although Seth firmly refused to identify this new partner, it became apparent who it might be when he discussed other possible supporting activities that might become available to land bank community gardens this year.  Stay tuned.  In any event, the City still intends to give land bank community gardens one free fill-up this year (in case we have another drought or clogged gutters).   Although the City is still intending to supply free rain tanks this year as they become available, the rain catchment system program started by the Tool Library is in flux.  

The City is surprisingly still planning to have another $250 voucher program this year.  (I say “surprisingly” because I thought that lovely gift was biting the budget dust).   The plan is that this year, gardens can pick up their supplies at any Lowe’s store (rather than having to rent a truck and drive to  Grove City like last year).  Yea!   Also, the time frame will be extended.   And, Lowe’s is giving us the 5% discount  that it gives to its regular credit-card customers (like me) – which means that it really comes out to $262.    Like last year, we can only buy things that make a permanent improvement to the lots.  So no tools.   However, it may be expanded this year to permit us to buy any perennial plants (and maybe annual plants and seeds, too).    HOWEVER, there is a new catch this year.  The City still wants to know what we are growing.  They are not going to make us weigh and report how much food we grew (by type).  But, they want us to report how much land is under cultivation.  I think that they also want us to report how much of each type of food we plan to plant.  I’m not sure how that is in any way practical for a plot garden since we don’t know what we growing until we plant it and the gardeners are not required to keep me informed of how many rows or plants of what they plant.    But, I can easily report how much of our lot is under cultivation and identify what types of produce are being grown.   I just can't tell you how much of each type of produce is being grown.

Then Seth begins talking about some other issue and halfway down the slide there it is:  the City is going to donate as much Com-Til as we need.  No limit.   We need to go through Seth and cannot start until next week.    I could not be more excited.  I’ve been thinking about tracking down some nitrogen-rich manure compost to counter-act all of the shredded leaves we spread last Fall.  Now, I can strike that task off my list.   We can also pick up more top soil from Kurtz Brothers (although we will not be doing this at the SACG).

We also discussed getting wood chips.  Gardens are encouraged to first call Bill Dawson, before Seth.   However, most tree companies are happy to drop off wood chips to area community gardens (because it saves them a dumping fee and long trip to drop them off at the City's Jackson Pike facility (where Com-Til is made, Ohio Mulch or Kurtz Brothers).  Mike Donley has been generous to a bunch of us land bank gardens.  

The City is also considering providing scholarships to a number of community garden conferences and seminars, like the We Dig Ohio at Franklin Park Conservatory. 

The City Health Department will also be dropping pellets in our rain tanks to kill mosquitos this summer (like last year), which is especially a good thing in light of his new Zika virus.   However, the City Health Department is also getting aggressive about opposing the use of fresh manure (especially chicken manure – or guano) on land bank lots and around vegetable plants.  They don’t want us composting guano or other fresh manure on our lots.  They don’t want vegetables getting contaminated with salmonella or other organic diseases.    While they have no problem with us composting plant material on our lots, they do not seem to understand that the pH and nitrogen content of plant-based compost is not as good as manure compost.   But then, with free Com-Til available, who needs manure?  If you want to debate this, contact Dr. Aaron Messer at 645—6748 at the City Health Department. 

So, then we signed our licenses, turned in our checks and hoped that Seth remembers to email us copies for our own records.   Seth reported that there are on average about 65 community gardens on land bank lots.  There were new gardeners there tonight and some who were thinking about it.  And then there were folks like me, neighbor Norman Brown, Growing Hearts and Hands, Morrison Hill, Patrick Kaufman, etc. 

So, when the SACG Board meets in a few weeks to plan our 2016 season, we will have a lot to discuss.