Monday, August 31, 2009

ACGA wrap-up and NEWS

So that wraps up my experience at the ACGA conference in Columbus, Ohio. I met a lot of incredible people and had a peek inside the national community garden movement. There are so many inspiring things happening in this country and I came home from the conference with 30 pages of notes!

Now that I'm back in Philly the summer is coming to an end and so is my wonderful seasonal education job at Bartram's Garden. I hate to leave Bartram's but the school field trips drop off significantly in the winter and there isn't enough work for all of the educators. So I've been looking for full time jobs and everyone knows how fun job searching is.

But then something amazing happened. Within one week I saw a job opening, applied, and got it! In October I will start my new full time job (with benefits, what?!) as the Community Garden Organizer at the Camden Children's Garden, right across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ. It's a bit surreal, I can't believe I will soon be paid to do what I was doing before for free!

from camdenchildren'

For this job I will be communicating with citizen groups in Camden who want to a start a garden and supplying them with fencing, mulch, compost and plants, plus the manual labor to create the garden. After that the group maintains the garden with some occasional help from us. There are also monthly meetings for all of the community garden leaders which involve grilling and a recipe exchange! The CCG is trying to provide the community with information and access to healthy food through this garden program because there is only one supermarket in Camden, a city of 80,000 people. They have started hosting a low priced farmer's market and there are even potential plans for a CSA in the future. I have my own ideas too, of course, and I'm really excited to see how far we can go!

Check out this great article about the program!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

ACGA conference: Dale Chihuly and James Turrell

The Franklin Park Conservatory has a very large collection of Dale Chihuly art in their glasshouse. In 2003/2004 they hosted a huge exhibition of his art which the Friends of the Franklin Park Conservatory then bought for approximately $7 million to be on permanent display in the greenhouse.

These huge glass sculptures are hung in the hallways, from the ceiling, and placed amongst the plants in the conservatory. They also have a huge interpretation center with information about Chihuly, videos showing his art-making process, and a gallery space for more art.

In addition, they currently have a light installation in the palm house that was done by James Turrell. He took LED lights and lined the windows of the palm house with color. They turn on at dusk and off at dawn, slowly changing color from blue to magenta to green to white during the night.

During the conference we had access to the conservatory whenever it was open. One night, while everyone was in a conference room watching a movie, I decided to roam around the conservatory. Apparently no one else had this idea because I had the glasshouses completely to myself. I wandered the rooms for two hours through the oxygen-filled humidity, quietly listening to the waterfalls and the fans turning on and off. I also sat in the palm house watching Turrell's light installation change colors from the inside, so slowly I hardly noticed. Magic.

into a truly
curving form
enters my

feels all small
facts dissolved
by the lewd guess
of fabulous immensity

the sky screamed
the sun died)
the ship lifts
on seas of iron

breathing height eating
steepness the
ship climbs
murmuring silver mountains

was night

and through only this night a
mightily form moves
whose passenger and whose
pilot my spirit is

-e.e. cummings, 1935, No Thanks 36

Friday, August 21, 2009

ACGA conference: City Blossoms

The other organization that really impressed me at the conference was City Blossoms, a garden-based education nonprofit in Baltimore MD. At the conference the Executive Director, Rebecca Lemos, co-led a workshop called "Grow for the Goal" where we the participants were encouraged to think about where our true interests and passions lie in our community gardening efforts. The goal of City Blossoms is to create community spaces that children and their families will bond with and absorb into their own daily lives. To this purpose, Rebecca and her staff make the children the designers and tenders of the gardens, hosting regular workshops and workdays in the garden. They often use visual art (especially sculpture) to give the children a sense of ownership of the space. At some of their gardens the kids create products to sell to the community, like dried herbs, lotions and other beauty products that are made from the garden.

I think I was so struck with this organization and this workshop specifically because Rebecca is approximately my age, and she has done so much that I want to do! Creating children's gardens, each one a unique representation of the specific community of people who created it, using art to tie people to the land, and using gardens to teach children and their parents to care for at least that one little piece of the Earth. I picked her brain a bit after the workshop and took three pages of notes.

Check out their adorable blog, where all the pictures on this post came from!

Next up: Dale Chihuly and the Franklin Conservatory

Sunday, August 16, 2009

ACGA conference: Local Matters and school gardens

I attended five workshops and two tours at the conference, all of which were led by fascinating and inspiring people from organizations all over the country. One organization really struck me though:

Local Matters - Columbus, OH

The organization Local Matters is an incredibly successful and influential non-profit collaboration of people who are working to educate the community about everything related to local food right there in Columbus, OH. It is run by a chef, an ecological garden designer, and food and community garden activists who all brought years of experience and passion to the collaboration. The organization consists of several programs:

Food to School - this program uses the "Food is Elementary" curriculum to teach nutrition and healthy living to students from grades K-2. They also help schools develop and build Outdoor Learning Environments on their grounds, which are outdoor classroom and garden spaces.

Urban Agriculture - this program focuses on cooking education, community gardening, and food access; their "veggie van" drives around selling fresh produce in neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores.

Food to Fork - this program helps farmers create more business markets to sell their food. Local Matters in partnered with a for-profit store called the Greener Grocer which they created to assist their organization in it's operations.


I went to a workshop led by the nutrition educators at Local Matters, and on a tour led by one of the Outdoor Learning Environment designers, which showcased four of their school gardens:

#1 - Lincoln Park Elementary School

This garden is planted, tended, and harvested by the children with assistance from a local farmer who is paid by the school. During the school year it is tended by an after-school program called FAN (Fitness and Nutrition), and during the summer it is tended by parents and students in the area. The garden is planted in a circular design with kale, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, melons and more.

#2 Early Childhood Education and Family Center

This is a large facility dedicated to the education of developmentally disabled children. There are several gardens located around the property, including this food and flower garden which is used to teach color recognition and light food preparation, and has terracotta columns for wheelchair accessibility.

This is called the Studio Garden and it has native plants, rock piles, work benches with garden tools, logs and sticks for building, and a music station.

At this site there is also a Farm Garden, which is planted and maintained by a local farmer.

The coolest part was this straw fort!

#3 - Early Childhood Learning Community

This garden was my favorite. The staff at Local Matters got to build this garden from scratch, so they sat down with faculty, staff, students and parents at this facility (which is also dedicated to developmentally disabled students) and did a "dreamstorming" to come up with the design. They thought about their wants and needs for the garden, their childhood and their dreams. Through that they came up with the following amazing outdoor playground:

***metal sculptures for climbing with a bell at the top for ringing, designed by a local artist and surrounded by soft wood chips***

***A red mama monkey who is a meeting place and watches over the playground***

***tall grasses and flowers with paths to run through and play***

***Another metal sculpture for climbing and sitting, and hills and valleys to roll down***

***Sand area and water features that are turned on when the kids come to play***

***And a circular edible garden which will tie in to the "Food is Elementary" curriculum they will start to teach this year***

#4 Brookside Elementary School

This is a unique public school where the principal is an engaged and committed member of the community (not that other principals are not committed and engaged, but this one is exceptionally so). His background is in ecology and there is a strong emphasis on outdoor learning and natural history. There is a pond on the property with bleacher seating for conducting classes, as well as two large butterfly gardens surrounding the school building. The school has decided to become a "Monarch butterfly school;" raising and releasing monarch butterflies during the school year and the summer. Local Matters helped them build the first phase of a two phase garden called the Three Sisters/Settlers Garden which demonstrates the gardening techniques of the Native Americans and the Settlers of that area of the country. The Native American garden is shaped like a turtle, one of the prevalent symbols of the tribes from that area.

All of the grades get a slice of the garden to tend, and there is a three sisters garden and a compost area in the garden as well.


To my eyes, Local Matters is a collaboration of many passionate and charismatic people who all brought their talents and funders together to work as a team. And it's working, what a shock! I was clearly very impressed by the work they are doing and I think their model is a wonderful one that should be implemented all over the country.

Next up: More inspiring workshops from the conference!

Friday, August 14, 2009

ACGA conference: The Franklin Park Conservatory

The 30th Annual American Community Gardening Association Conference "Putting Down Roots" was hosted in Columbus, OH by the Franklin Park Conservatory and Chihuly Collection.

Three days of workshops and talks, tours, networking, and lots and lots of local food. There was a large emphasis on bicycle commuting from your hotel to the conservatory and there was a bicycle tour of the city's gardens, but unfortunately I didn't get myself together enough to bring my bike to the conference. Next time, definitely.

The Franklin Park Conservatory is the new home of the ACGA offices and a 4 acre demonstration and functional community garden! They will cut the ribbon on 9/9/09, but we got to see a preview of the facilities.

Franklin Park is the first public garden to provide rent-able plots to community members. The demo garden also includes a berry garden, vineyard, herb garden, apiary, rose garden, international cuisine garden (with rotating displays featuring food crops from some of Columbus' largest cultural groups including Somali and Japanese), compost area, rain garden, health and wellness garden, trial gardens, wheelchair accessible gardens, and fragrance garden.

They also built a state-of-the-art education building with a huge kitchen inside and a "live fire cooking theater" outside where they plan to do cooking classes on grilling and smoking foods.

Oh, and this happened while we were touring the new facility:

Her name is Brittany.

The conservatory itself is also impressive. It has a huge palm house that is the second oldest in the country, and a Desert Biome room, a Himalayan Mountain Biome room, and a Tropical Rainforest Biome room. There is also a courtyard filled with bonsai, a butterfly garden, and an orchid area. Interspersed amongst the plants are huge Dale Chihuly sculptures, a topic for another post.

With such a gorgeous setting, how could the conference be anything but amazing?

Next up: The workshops and tours of the ACGA conference.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

And the winner is . . .

Lila Johnson!

Lila, I will be in touch to send you your copy of "The Urban Homestead" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen!

I'm back from the conference and catching up on life. Here's a taste of the amazingness that was the American Community Garden Association conference.

School gardens in Columbus, OH:

And the conference host, The Franklin Park Conservatory and Chihuly Collection:

I took lots of pictures so I'll fill you all in on conference details over the next few days. And now, to bed!