$500,000 MacArthur genius grant awarded to urban farming advocate

September 23, 2008

From pro basketball to urban farming… only in America!

One of Wisconsin’s few African-American farmers, Allen, a former professional basketball player in the ABA, founded Growing Power in 1993 in Milwaukee to help teach inner-city kids about the origins of their food. It has expanded to include satellite-training sites in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Mississippi.

The group’s high-quality produce and grass-fed meats are sold through farmer’s markets that target inner city neighborhoods in Chicago and Milwaukee, where access to fresh food is often difficult and expensive.

Here’s the link to the Growing Power website.

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Seed-saving workshop II

September 18, 2008
One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

We had the September Kale Force meeting last night, one week late since I was out of town at the Sorrento gathering of the BC Food Systems Network last Wednesday. This month’s meeting was the follow-up meeting to July’s meeting when Wendy Devlin talked to the group about some of the basics of saving seeds. That was the classroom portion; last night’s meeting was the hands-on part. We met up at Wendy’s place, up in the far northeast corner of Wildwood, admired her ducks and rabbits and sheep, and then spent almost two hours wandering around in her garden, learning about the ins and outs of seed-saving.

We looked at chard, beet, dill, cilantro, beans, various flowers, talked about gathering seeds from plants like cucumbers and tomatillos, and spent some time gathering seeds from Wendy’s cosmos (cosmoses?). It certainly adds a whole new dimension to gardening when you have to think ahead to saving seeds, since you have to consider distances between plants, accidental pollination, flowering times, and the tradeoffs between growing plants for eating and growing plants for seed.

After that, some of us went down the road a piece to Heinz’ house and admired his incredible garden, built among the rock formations beside his house. Talk about making the best of a difficult situation for a garden! Heinz has trucked in large amounts of soil and amendments and created a very orderly and well-maintained fruit and vegetable garden. He has lots of strawberries, even this late in the season, which might be something to do with the fact that everything is surrounded by rock, which probably helps keep the garden from cooling down as much as it otherwise might. We enjoyed a nice potluck meal and conversation, and then called it a night.

One thing that came out of the workshop was a renewed interest in creating a regional seed-saving effort, whereby people in different parts of town could tale responsibility for saving seed from particular plants and varieties. This might allow for isolating plants from cross-pollination and accidental hybridization, and would allow for some plants to be grown for seed in areas which are more conducive to those plants. For example, Wendy was having trouble getting some of her plants to set seed before the cool damp weather starts; but in drier warmer parts of Powell River it should be possible to extend the growing season by a couple weeks or more.

So, this winter, as we continue to meet (second Wednesday of every month at 5:00 PM at the Community Resource Centre!), we will hopefully be planning a little network of seed-savers around the area, divvying up responsibility for seeds from various plants, and using these seeds to feed into Seedy Saturday. Perhaps over time this will evolve into a seed company or cooperative.