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Winter Rest Involves Gardening Books and Plans for Plant a Row for the Hungry

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: garden, winter, books, gardening, trees,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgIn winter, when many gardeners are planning, ordering from seed catalogs, and dreaming of spring and the day they can get out there and dig, I’m just thrilled to see that the dirt stains are finally gone from beneath my fingernails and hands. I work all day helping customers plan their gardens, choose their plants, answer their questions, and then come home and tend my own gardens. When the nursery closes for the season, and the plants are resting, it’s my time to rest too. I am not a garden planner, plotter, or hatcher of good ideas during these cold months. I couldn’t enjoy winter to its fullest if I was busy planning for the next season. But still….I can’t really forget about gardening entirely for a whole season. I get my fix by catching up on garden-related reading, and by attending seminars and lectures on the topic. 

Plant a Row for the HungryIf you are one of those who plan ahead (I’m breaking my no-planning habit for this one), why not plan for a little extra and "Plant a Row for the Hungry"? The Plant a Row for the Hungry initiative is a nationwide campaign to provide fresh, healthy produce to those in need. The premise of PAR is simple: plant an extra row of vegetables and donate the harvest to a local food pantry or soup kitchen. Since 1995, over 14 million pounds of produce have been grown, providing over 50 million meals donated by American gardeners. 

Due to the economic situation in this country, a rapidly increasing number of Americans are turning to food banks for hunger relief. Reports show an unprecedented number of them are middle-class families and first time visitors. Alarmingly, many of them are turned away because there is a lack of available resources. Billy Shore, the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, an organization working to end childhood hunger in America says, “Relief groups are getting hit hard by the same economic factors affecting those they serve. In these tough times, they need support from caring, everyday Americans more than ever." 

When learning about PAR, I got excited and started making phone calls. Through the help of a local social service agency, I was led to a church in town that serves “Open Door” dinners to anyone in need of a hot meal. Every Tuesday night, they provide a sit-down meal to between 80 and 100 people and prepare about 120 take-out meals. Speaking with the pastor, he said they’ve seen an influx of people served in the past year, and would be delighted to have donations of produce. Any surplus will go to the local food pantry. I’ve got gardeners and a small farm more than willing to commit space and time to growing vegetables for the program. Because the produce will go toward providing that many meals at one time, we will be concentrating on one vegetable this first year: green beans. They’re easy to grow, produce a lot for a long period of time and have a longer storage-life than many other vegetables. My next step is to get the word out via our local newspaper and the Master Gardener newsletter to rally more participants. I have high hopes, and will keep you posted throughout the growing season on how the program is going.

If you’re interested in starting a Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign in your area, check out the Garden Writers Association’s website. They offer tips on getting started, support and printable brochure downloads. 

I read about PAR in a letter from the editor of GreenPrints “The Weeder’s Digest”. I ordered this unique gardening magazine as a Christmas gift to myself. The “greatest story” edition arrived a couple of weeks before Christmas. I would have promptly read it, but Shelby knew it was my gift to myself, snatched it out of my hands and wrapped it to put under the tree, telling me I had to wait until Christmas like everybody else. Drat! Sometimes what we teach them backfires. Luckily for me, the winter issue came shortly after, and I’d sneak some reading time while no one was looking. 

Green Prints: The Weeder's Digest

One of the best parts of my job at the nursery is the interaction I get each day with people who love gardening as much as I do. I’ve laughed with my customers, commiserated with them, and even cried with them as they’ve shared their personal stories revolving around their gardens. It’s stories like these that unfold in the pages of “GreenPrints”. Digest-sized, it “focuses on the human, not the how-to side of gardening.” This is a magazine for anyone who gardens not just for the harvest or for aesthetics, but for those who find that reaping the emotional benefits from gardening is just as – if not more – satisfying. I can’t wait for the Spring, 20th Anniversary Issue to arrive. 

Another good read that isn’t just another “how-to” book is Farm City; The Education of an Urban Farmer, (Novella Carpenter. The Penguin Press, 2009). During early summer last year, I read a review about the book that promised it was “hysterical and uplifting … a wry, yet humble sense of humor … not just an informative manual for the urban homesteader, but also refreshing and highly entertaining.” I like hysterical and highly entertaining. I had to wait this long to find out for myself; my library didn’t have the book, but promised to put it on request for an inter-library loan. It finally came in, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished the last page.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

It’s the author’s account of her attempts at urban farming in a ghetto neighborhood in Oakland, California. She has no desire to leave the city for the country, preferring its noise, energy, and “its late-night newsstands and rowdy bars” over the quiet isolation she knew growing up on a ranch in Idaho. But she can’t ignore what her hippie, back-to-the-land parents instilled in her: a love of nature, self-sufficiency, and the satisfaction of growing vegetables and raising animals. Amid drug dealers, the homeless, gang shootouts, and across the street from a speakeasy, Novella starts a “squatter’s garden,” complete with raised beds and fruit trees, on the vacant lot next to the house she and her boyfriend rent. She keeps bees, chickens, geese, turkey, ducks, rabbits and two pigs. Her idea of foraging for food is different than what most people have: it’s late-night dumpster diving excursions to the best restaurants in the city, to get scraps for the pigs and poultry. 

Interwoven throughout her story are tips on growing vegetables, raising animals, and of the history of the urban farm. Urban farming is not a new way of life; it’s been practiced in various parts of the world since the ancient Greece era. Even in this country, where “most Americans believe in the separation of city and country,” pockets of urban areas have been farmed, most notably in Philadephia, New York, and Detroit, since the 1800s. This is a book about the celebration of the urban farm and of life. It’s about failures and successes, sorrow and joy, birth and death, and how to richly live the life we choose. The book is everything the review I read promised, and so much more. 

Speaking of so much more … ever think about what a tree does for you and your family besides standing there, looking pretty? What if the next tree you purchased afforded you the same type of federal tax deduction as does installing a new solar heater or energy-efficient central air-conditioning? Dr. Robert Schutzki, professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture, contends it might not be too far in the future that those tax deductions will be available, and trees will have ratings similar to the Energy Star Rating. In mid-December, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Schutzki, “What Sustainability Means to the Green Industry,” in which he stated some government and other agencies are exploring those possibilities. 

There are a number of calculators which attempt to put a dollar amount on the benefits a tree provides. One I found online is very easy to use: if you’d like to see just what benefits a tree already growing in your yard provides, just type in your ZIP code or your geographic location from the provided map, choose your tree from the drop-down menu, enter the tree’s trunk diameter measured 4.5 feet from the ground, and the type of dwelling you live in. I admit, I’ve had a lot of fun wading through the snow to measure the trees in my yard, and dragging Shelby in her pajamas with me to hold the tape measure so I could take a picture; what a ham. It’s amazing what one single tree can do. 

Shelby in her pajamas, holding the measuring tape. 

According to the National Tree Benefit Calculator, the largest tree in our yard, a sugar maple, “provides overall benefits of $361.00 every year; the same tree if located on the California coast would have an annual benefit of $661.00. Here, on the coast of Lake Michigan, my maple will intercept 7,694 gallons of stormwater runoff. This year it will raise my property value by $138.00; it will conserve 213 kilowatt hours and reduce my natural gas consumption by 72 therms. It will reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon by 1,461 pounds. Kinda neat, huh? Especially when you consider 26 pounds of carbon dioxide equals 11,000 miles of car emissions. Actually, the sugar maple probably provides greater benefits than this; its diameter is more than 50 inches – the calculator only goes up to 45 inches. 

So there you have it – while I haven’t been busy thumbing through catalogs and ordering seeds (I didn’t even order a catalog), or plotting this year’s garden on graph paper, I have been kind of busy with gardening stuff. Or at least well-occupied. I hope you get a chance to check some of these things out, and find them as time-worthy and enjoyable as I have.

cindy murphy
2/20/2010 7:47:41 PM

Hi, Susan. Good luck on your garden! I bet you'll find it more enjoyable as an adult than you did as a teen. My teenage daughter hates weeding just like you did; she never really got into gardening when she was younger either, (except for playing in the mud). My younger daughter though, loves to help me in the garden any way she can...even if it's pulling up plants that belong there instead of the weeds that don't. Thanks for your comments. Enjoy the day.


oz girl
2/20/2010 3:32:39 PM

Cindy, wow, so much info crammed into your post here! I really like the philosophy of PAR and I hope I can contribute to that great effort someday... in the meantime, I will try to cultivate my green thumb on this, my first season of gardening! A very small garden to start, to get my feet wet. I don't think that gardening in my teens, er, forced gardening by my parents (get out there and do some weeding in that garden!) counts as gardening experience. In fact, I remember those days with dread, sweating my arse off in the hot sun pulling weeds by hand between the rows of plants. The Weeder's Digest and Farm City both sound like some lovely reading, so I'll be sure to check those out. Thanks for such a great, informative post! :) Susan


cindy murphy
2/16/2010 10:52:57 AM

Oh! Have a great time, Dave - and stay safe, stay cool, wear lots of sun-screen, and drink plenty of bottled water, and since I'm at it with the Mom-thing - don't forget to look both ways before you cross the street. Congrats on the blog! You're right; it's about time - I've always wondered why you don't write one. I'll be looking forward to reading your adventures. Meantime, have a wonderful trip!


nebraska dave
2/16/2010 10:40:04 AM

Cindy, I’ve finally applied for a blog on the Grit Website. I guess it’s long over due. It should appear soon, but I’m leaving for a trip to Nicaragua with a friend. He bought a van to take to a mission church and school there in Nicaragua. We decided the best thing to so was drive it there. We are leaving in a couple hours so I wanted to tell a few the Grit bloggers that I follow that if my blog comes up while I’m gone I probably won’t respond to the comments until I get back in a couple weeks. In the mean time keep enjoying the Winter while I’m basking in the 95 degree weather with sun screen. We’ll be traveling with a couple men from Nicaragua from the Mexican border on through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and into Nicaragua. We will fly out of Costa Rica back home because the tickets were cheaper. I’m calling my blog “Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave”. Catch up with you on the back side.


cindy murphy
2/10/2010 6:52:46 PM

Hey, Michelle! I'm always so glad to see you stop in. Just a little way to still keep in touch - always gives me a smile. Hope all is well your way, and stay warm!


michelle house
2/10/2010 2:12:56 PM

Very nice, Cindy, I really enjoyed it, and those are some wonderful things to do to help people. :)


cindy murphy
2/9/2010 11:46:54 PM

Hey, Vickie. I haven't checked out her blog yet, but have it on my list of "to-dos". A friend who I recommended Farm City to, liked the book so much that she's been following the blog regularly. I hear Novella's into raising goats and making cheese these days. Goat cheese...mmmmmm!


cindy murphy
2/9/2010 11:42:00 PM

Hi, Andrew and Dave. We don't have a community garden here in town (that I'm aware of), but I've seen the benefits of community gardening. A few years ago, I was assigned an article covering an organization in a larger city north of here that provided assistance in starting community gardens - everything from an apartment complex community growing vegetables on their balconies, to church and school gardens. I interviewed a lot of people from different walks of life who worked for this organization and those who benefited from it. They all had one thing in common - they cared about their communities. It wasn't just about vegetables - it was building community. A very cool thing. I think too, Andrew, that community gardens could do a lot toward ending hunger. I just read (in Farm City) that during a depression in the 1890s, the Detroit mayor asked owners of vacant lots to donate the land to help the unemployed in the city support their families by growing their own vegetables. These gardens were dubbed "Pingree's Potato Patches", named after the mayor. They were so successful that they continued on for the next twenty years, and similar programs were adopted in New York City and Philadelphia. Pingree got the idea from visits to Paris, where their community gardens produced so much food that they exported the surplus to other countries. Good luck to you both in the upcoming garden season. 'Til then, here's to relaxation!


vickie
2/9/2010 9:39:04 PM

Cindy, such a thoughtful post. I like the idea of planting a row for the hungry. If we all thought and did this the food banks shelves would be full again. I've also read Nouvella's blog she is so interesting and inspiring! I should try and get her book also from the library it sounds like such a good read. vickie


nebraska dave
2/9/2010 5:56:40 PM

Cindy, there are a couple things along the lines that you are talking about here in Nebraska. One of my good friends that I see every week had an abundance of produce from the garden last year. People would see her coming up the drive and quick run hide because they didn’t want any more tomatoes or zucchinis. So she canned and froze produce until it was way more than she needed to feed her family for the Winter and donated the rest to the Open Door Mission for the homeless people. They welcomed fresh produce. One of the main line denomination churches in town has opened up 26 church properties to community gardening for the public. All they ask is not to waste the extra produce but donate it to the different organizations that feed the poor in the city. It’s a great idea and not only brings the community together but feeds the hungry with good quality food. I just took a poll of the surrounding neighbors and will plant their favorite stuff so that it will be easier to give away. The top three vegetables for my neighbors were cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Those will be the main garden items with onions and potatoes for me. I’m still a little shy about trying to grow those salad things. I don’t know why. I just have never done it. I did break down and order a heat mat from EBay. I found one for $15 plus shipping of course. It did make the seeds sprout in five days just like the information said. I’ll for sure have to check out the Farm City.


anotherkindofdrew
2/9/2010 2:15:08 PM

I totally understand not wanting to really think about gardening when you get home from the nursery. When I clock out from the newspaper I truly couldn't care less if the news comes on our home TV that night or not. In fact, I block the major news websites from my browser altogether. You just need a break! As for planting a row for hunger? What an excellent idea. We don't have any formal food pantry's or the like here in Buggy Town. But we do have a growing number of people that could benefit from such. Last season my wife and I started donating lettuce, peppers and eggs to a local mission that made sure they were put to use by anonymous, needy families. It was a great feeling and for my wife and I something that really came down to faith, stewardship and offering. It served us some some hearty lessons. I have often thought that community gardens could be the end to a large part of hunger around the globe. Unfortunately, I am reminded that it is usually more about work ethic within the person as opposed to the inability to grow produce. Thank you for sharing such a great blog post with us all. Here's to relaxing a bit in the off season!


cindy murphy
2/9/2010 8:56:42 AM

Hi, Mountain Woman and Lori. I envy you both living on wooded property. Here in town, our nearly acre lot is pretty well-shaded by five fully mature maples - one sugar, two silver, and two Norways. We lost a second sugar maple to lightning a couple years after moving in, and afraid the others might succumb to the same fate or age, and wary of the monoculture, I planted six other tree species. I'd love to plant more, but have a problem finding a site sunny enough. It's so true, Mountain Woman, that ancient trees are getting more scarce. I recently read that "Urban Forests" actually make up much of our country's oldest old-growth forest. Lori, your comment about wheelbarrows of vegetables at the end of someone's driveway reminded me of a man around the corner who does the same. His wheelbarrow is full of zucchini. Poor guy, he can't give it away...except to one man I'd always see walking while I was leaving for work. He'd take a couple of zucchini and leave a some change in the wheelbarrow, even though the sign said "Free". The generosity of people always makes me smile. Through a friend, I was put in touch with a farmer earlier this week. He's a sweet corn grower who already donates throughout the summer to the food pantry. When I spoke with him, he said he'd be happy to provide corn for the Open House dinners too. Whatta guy! Yay, another participant!


lori
2/9/2010 6:17:46 AM

Cindy, Growing a little extra in the garden to give to those in need is a great idea. Although it isn't donated to a food bank, people around here are very generous when it comes to extra garden produce. I have given away lots of extras, as have many of my friends and neighbors. It isn't uncommon around here to be driving along and see a bucket or wheelbarrow full of produce sitting at the end of someone's driveway with a sign that says "Free, Help Yourself". The statistics on the trees is fascinating! We own two pieces of ground. The first is about 12 1/2 acres. This is the piece our house sits on, and it is mostly wooded, with the only cleared section being right around the house, so we have lots of trees. Our other piece of land we just purchased a few years ago, and it is across the road on the opposite ridge from our house. That one is about 10 1/2 acres and is all fields. We plant corn and a number of other experimental things like sunflowers or pumpkins and gourds over there. We are slowly building up our list of farm equipment so we can plant a larger variety of things. The idea was to be able to plant our own feed supply for our animals, but it is very much a hobby farming thing. Great post, and great idea!


mountain woman
2/8/2010 2:01:09 PM

Cindy, Great post and so much information. I didn't know about the organization you mentioned but I already planned to increase my garden next year in order to be able to contribute to the local food bank (I'm writing about it in my next post). I've got to read the book on Urban Farming. Sounds so interesting. As to trees, our land is filled with ancient trees which is getting harder and harder to find. To have respect for the land is so important. Thanks for a great, informative read! Mountain Woman