Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Not Goodbye...It's See Ya Later

Today is my last day at DNDA and as I finish cleaning and organizing my desk area I can't help but feel sad to be leaving. Of course I knew this day would come. That's the thing with Americorps, you only get 10.5 months. But therein lies the inherent flaw with Americorps. It's a great program that gives people the opportunity to spend a year serving a community, working in public service and growing as an individual. It's also a great resource for communities and individuals that deal with oppression and injustice everyday. But 10.5 months. Come on.

In my time at DNDA I have just recently begun really solidifying key relationships with members of the community. I have only just started truly strengthening those connections into something functional and positive. And while there is a chance that I was just slow, that I am the only Corps member that took so long to build a strong foundation, I highly doubt that. It takes time to gain someones trust, to begin to be vulnerable with a person and let them in a little bit. Especially when you're coming from two different worlds. To bring people in from all over the country to engage in "community service" only to have the leave once they have established themselves enough to really be of seems kind of like a cruel joke.

I feel that Americorps should take a page out of the Peace Corps' book and have people commit to two year terms. Then they'd be getting more bang for their buck (and believe me, it's a small buck). Having one person in a position for two years, getting to know the community and really getting comfortable in their position, is of far more benefit then taking that person away after a year and putting someone brand new in to start from ground zero. Sure, the first person laid down a framework in terms of projects and programs, but the newbie has to start from scratch building trust, openness, and collaboration. That loss of productivity is unfortunate.

But, with that rant out the way, I will truly miss many of the people I have met this year, especially the people who I had the opportunity to work with in the gardens. I have learned so much from them and value every nugget of wisdom they were kind enough to share with me. I can't imagine how much I would learn if I were here for two years. Just another reason, Americorps, to change your system. But of course, as I write this, I'm not entirely sad. Because I know that many of the relationships I have built will continue beyond my position here. People have promised to stay in touch via e-mail, to send me pictures of the gardens throughout the season. Others I am friends with on that life-consuming network called Facebook. I may be leaving this desk in a few minutes, and walking out of this office for the last time, but the 10.5 months I've spent as the Family Gardening Coordinator will certainly stick with me, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hangin' with Mr. Cooper

I mentioned early on in this blog that one of DNDA's properties, the Cooper building, did not require a lot of attention from me. Allthough it is actually the same building my office is in, the residents of the low-income artist housing above me tend and care for their garden with vigor and expertise. There are a ton of container beds scattered about the terraced hillside. There is a chicken coop that is also a chicken cooperative in which residents share responsibility and benefit. The Cooper gardeners' success has never been more evident. I managed to take a lunchtime stroll through the gardens yesterday and, with the recent summertime weather that has finally come to Seattle, they are looking beautiful. Check it out!

It's The Final Countdown...

My days as the Family Gardening Coordinator at DNDA are coming to a close, and I've been making the rounds to meet with residents and get them some final resources before I leave. At Croft Place, I worked with one of the residents to complete some final projects, putting in two benches, leveling out some of the perimeter areas, carving some steps into the landscape (see picture), and transplanting some flowers and shrubs. It was a great way to end my time at Croft, seeing so many changes that drastically improved the aesthetic of the garden area. Not to mention all our veggies and herbs are growing great with the vast improvement in weather. The resident has already harvested and eaten tons of chard, spinach, and lettuce. We both ate some strawberries and they are so sweet and juicy, it's incredible. The heat has been especially good to the squash and cucumber plants. It was tough saying our goodbyes on our last work day, but we sipped some iced tea together after a hard mornings work, which was a nice way to end.

I stopped by Delridge Heights yesterday because I was having trouble getting in touch with the two women there who actively garden. I had an extra tomato plant that the kids started indoors during garden clubs and no space at any of those three properties, so I brought it with me to Delridge Heights. If you saw one of my previous posts, you know how great the lettuce, broccoli, and carrots are all looking in their garden. The spinach plants and some collards went to seed due to the sudden heat, so we took out a few plants, making room to plant some new seeds. We filled some empty spaces with tomatoes (the one I brought as well as some plants she had started indoors) and peppers that she started indoors. Today I dropped off some collard, cabbage, zucchini, yellow squash, and corn seeds to fill up the rest of the empty space.

I had also been trying to get in touch with the woman at Holden Manor who has been incredibly successful with her windowsill herb garden. She had expressed an interest in getting a second container and growing some more herbs. Her phone was disconnected, so I dropped by today to see if she was home. I had a windowsill container for her that I filled with potting soil, and had stopped to pick up some herb seeds on my way. She was feeling under the weather, but was super excited to have a new container. Her basil and chives were still looking amazing, and I brought her some parsley, oregano and marjoram to plant as well.

All three of those goodbyes were difficult and bittersweet. I'm so happy that they are all comfortable with where their gardens are at right now, and that they're using the stuff they are growing. It's also incredibly rewarding to hear how appreciative they are and how sad they are to see me leave. It truly affirms all the work and energy I have put into this job over the past 10+ months. Next week will bring closure at some of the other properties and will most likely be even more surreal.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

Garden Clubs may be over for the season, and my time at DNDA may be coming to a close, but the gardens are looking great. All the work the kids did planting seeds, watering, caring for seedlings, making sure there were plenty of worms in the soil, and hunting for slugs has really paid off. Enjoy these pics I took today, starting with a few of the strawberry patch at Croft Place that a resident and I created a few months ago. The plants have been fruiting for some time now and the berries are starting to ripen. Yum!

Last year residents planted raspberries along the fence by the garden. Last month we added some soil to the area and tended the vines. I checked on them yesterday and they've begun to fruit as well!

In addition to the abundant berries, 8 of the 10 beds are full of veggies, almost all of which the kids planted during the Garden Club season. One of the residents has been harvesting chard and spinach for salads, and she and another resident already harvested the garlic that had been growing throughout the winter.

A tomato plant at Croft Place starting to flower. This is one of many that the kids started in pots indoors and later transplanted.

A pepper plant at Croft Place that the kids started indoors beginning to get some delicious looking fruit.

A few more tomato plants growing in the gardens at Croft Place.

An entire plot at Croft Place dedicated to peas.

Zucchini! Croft Place will be flooded with zucchinis when these four plants get big and begin to fruit.

Broccoli and Cauliflower galore!

At One Community Commons, many people have tried the lettuce the kids planted and marveled at the freshness and good taste. Some seemed even more excited and bewildered than the kids.

Tomatoes and sunflowers growing in the container at One Community Commons.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Delridge Heights

(Centerwood kids during one of their last Garden Clubs, making a sign in English and a sign in Spanish asking people to not step on the gardens)

Admittedly, my focus on Garden Clubs at Croft Place, Centerwood, and One Community Commons has undoubtedly caused me to neglect some of the gardens at other properties. One of these is Delridge Heights. I have managed the occasional meeting with one of the two residents who actively garden in order to answer questions and give her materials such as seeds and soil. The other resident was a bit more elusive and we have been unable to connect recently.

Delridge Heights, as you may remember, has four container beds, three that are 4ftx8ft and one that is 2ftx8ft. The two residents that participate each manage one 4ftx8ft garden and half of the 2ftx8ft garden. The fourth bed is under my care in order to grow some produce that can be made available to other residents who have expressed interested in eating the produce without necessarily gardening. The two residents have planted broccoli, peas, cauliflower, zucchini, onions, collards, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic, in addition to the many herbs and strawberries that were planted last year. In the community bed I planted lettuce, carrots, corn, and cucumber.

I dropped by the DH today for a scheduled meeting with the elusive resident, but alas our paths failed to cross once again! Frustrating indeed, but I got a chance to check on the produce and weed the gardens a bit. Oh what a wonder a little bit of heat and sunshine will do for a garden. The plants look incredibly happy! The onions are growing strong, and I separated many that were bunched closely together to give them ample bulbing space. The lettuces are huge, and I am going to have to pull a few and deliver fresh heads of lettuce to some residents before the end of the week. The broccoli has started to form a nice head and the strawberries are beginning to fruit. It's all very exciting (to me anyway) and I just hope I connect with the residents as soon as possible.

Here's some pics I took this morning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spring Garden Parties

After 16 weeks, Spring Garden Clubs came to an end last week and we made sure to celebrate. As my loyal readers certainly know, the Garden Clubs were after school programs for kids at 3 of the apartment complexes in the neighborhood. At each property, we spent one afternoon a week over the last 4 months planting seeds and tending the seedlings as we learned about dirt, worms, vitamins, healthy food, and many additional random subjects the kids would bring up. To celebrate all their hard work, we had a party in the gardens at each property with food, games, garden activities, and a sign-making station. It was also an attempt to encourage some of the adult residents to come out, see how much the kids have accomplished in the gardens, and maybe, just maybe, take a greater interest themselves. Unsurprisingly, turnout was best at Centerwood and One Community Commons.

Centerwood's party had an additional activity, and 5 residents came out to help build their second container garden. Creating an L-shaped container to match the first one we built just a few weeks ago, we filled it to the brim with soil and transplanted flowers and two jalapeno plants. We then moved on to the first garden and transplanted two more tomato starts the kids had started from seed during one of their first Garden Clubs. The tomato and bell pepper plants we transplanted weeks ago have luckily survived the few cold spells we've had this June, and the carrot, spinach, chive, basil, and cilantro seeds have all begun to sprout.

At One Community Commons, the kids came with tons of energy and enthusiastically colored their sign asking the landscapers to respect their food garden. A couple adults came out to inquire about the garden, and walked away with some brochures on container gardening as well as a map outlining what the kids planted this season. They picked and ate some fresh lettuce, which made them excited at the prospect of eventually harvesting fresh tomatoes, carrots, peas, and peppers. One resident in particular decided she will contribute to the garden and plant some culinary herbs such as thyme and oregano.

Overall, the parties were a great capstone to the season. It has been a learning process for me, personally, to understand that even the smallest steps have merit. I find that I want and somehow expect monumental changes to occur, for residents to take a sudden impassioned interest in growing their own food and come together as a community overnight. While that hasn't occurred, the communities have all taken some action, however small or large, in the direction of greater food resources. And that is a success.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Breaking In At Holden Manor

No, there hasn't been a break-in at Holden Manor. But, there is some small gardening and food activity happening at the seemingly impenetrable complex. One resident, a woman with a constant smile who insists that everyone she meets call her grandma, has been working on her first windowsill herb garden. She planted cilantro, chives, and basil and has been waiting patiently for me to get her some parsley to add to her collection. Already it's growing exceedingly well in her window, and we researched ways to preserve and use her herbs. She's eager to get more boxes to grow even more herbs.

Lately, other residents have been approaching her in awe of her herbs. Now they are all expressing interest in having windowsill gardens of their own. I've often heard the expression baby steps, but this scenario seems to illustrate it perfectly. In the fall, I had the door shut on me more times than I'd care to reminisce about. But now the seeds have been planted (excuse the cliched pun), and who knows, maybe not long from now they will have some container veggie gardens like the 7 other properties.