Friday, May 30, 2014

Report: Seedtime Celebration

The Friends in Commons blog serves as a chronicle of Katie’s Commons.  The Commons was conceived as a pantry garden, planted, tended and harvested by community volunteers, to supply Stone Soup Food Pantry and our neighbors with fresh produce.  It has grown to include educational, hospitality and beautification goals in its mission. Below is a recent report sent to those on the Katie’s Commons email list.  It summarizes pretty well what has been going on since the last blog post.

Greetings Commoners,

Last night (May 28) as we blessed seed, soil and water in the midst of a blessed rain shower we celebrated Seedtime in the Commons.  Despite the wet weather, underneath the Gloria Dei picnic shelter burgers and hot dogs were grilled and delicious salads and deserts served.  Twenty-four folks were in attendance, representing many of the Commons' constituencies: Trinity Church, Mulberry Methodist, Glroia Dei, neighbors, food pantry patrons and IMPACT  families.  (IMPACT is the Mulberry after school program). We finished the evening (in the GDLC social hall, it was getting pretty cool following the rain) with a great concert by Jay Brooks.  We also learned that Pastor Phil "Gabriel" Whisler can provide pretty good "fake trumpet" backup for Neil Diamond and Elvis songs.  The entire evening was made possible because of work of a number of volunteers coming together for the common good.  Thank you, everyone.
All this follows an exciting couple of weeks.  We delivered our first produce, radishes and lettuce, to the Stone Soup Food Pantry and the Cornerstone Food Pantry.  On Tuesday kids from IMPACT came to the garden to plant the green beans they started a few weeks ago.  We now have an entire bed dedicated to IMPACT's work and sharing.  We are down to two empty beds, which we will plant in the next week or so.  A larger "tomato bed" is being developed out of the stuck dump truck incident, or Crawford's Folly, about which we do not speak aloud.  I am sure a similar incident inspired the old saying, "When the world gives you ruts, make tomato beds."
Please come by the garden when you have a chance.  We have made sure that each bed contains a number of weeds for your picking enjoyment; dig in.  You are welcome.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Itchin’ to Plant Something

           Slowly, slowly the earth tilts on its axis; the spring equinox comes and goes.  At last we are on the summer solstice side of that dance and  I've been itching to plant something.  Under lights in my home office about 140 seedlings are growing.  I wonder if they are growing "too fast."  The cold seems to have gone so deep into the year I wonder if the plants will be past ready to transplant while frosts are still on the ground. April 29th is the average last frost date in our area but this year it could certainly go into mid May or beyond. There are so many variables.
            I have been particularly anxious to make some progress in Katie’s Commons.  Brett Barker and I put together a couple of frames in time to do a show and tell for the Community Club of Mulberry in late March.  Since then, when time and funds allowed, a few more frames have been added for a total of six at this writing.  The plan is to have ten in place by the time planting season is in full swing.  The next step was to fill them with soil.  We worked on that today (4/7/14).  Sharon Walker, of Jubilee Stables, offered us soil and composted horse manure and made arrangements to have it delivered.  Originally the plan was to dump it in the parking lot and wheelbarrow it to the garden.  But I thought, “If we could dump it closer to the garden, it would be easier and faster to move.  And if the pile killed some grass, that would be a good spot for a melon patch.”  I was warned that the northwest corner of the church property was deceptively wet.  Walking a possible route for the dump truck, I noted the ground seemed a bit spongy.  I drove my car along the route – no problem.  Then the dump truck came brimming with composted manure.  I was talking with Sharon, my back to the truck, when she said, “Oh.”  I turned and said, “I hope he keeps moving.”  She said, “He’s up to his axles.  I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”  Half an hour later and with the help of a very large four wheel drive tractor, the truck was free and our pile of compost was dumped conveniently near the garden.  Let's not talk about the condition of the lawn where the truck sank.
            With a crew of five, Ed Fisher, Ron Rodenbarger, Randy and Carol Engler and myself, we managed to fill the six frames in about an hour and a half.  There should be enough soil to fill the remaining frames when they are complete.  By this weekend, if the wet weather does not persist too long, we might plant a few rows of cool weather greens such as spinach and lettuce with some radishes as well.  It was, all in all, a very good day.
            In addition to a few work days over the next month, our first "hospitality"event is in the planning stage.  On May 28th at 6:30 we will have a Seed Time Celebration and Picnic at the garden.  Save the date.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Survey Says …

            During the last pantry days at Stone Soup Food Pantry we surveyed the patrons to determine what they would like in their pantry garden.  Seventeen surveys were completed representing about 50 people.  The top four picks were: Tomatoes, Green Beans, Cucumbers, and Melons; all received more than 10 votes.  We will make sure theses fruits and veggies receive special priority in the garden.  We also will have room for plants that received fewer votes such as Lettuce, Carrots, and Lima Beans.  In addition, we identified at least six more people who are open to helping out in garden this coming season.  Come on spring!
            Friends in Commons met on February 8th at Gloria Dei Church.  The weather was somewhat kinder than in January and 11 people came together to enjoy coffee, hot chocolate, sweet rolls and conversation.  Wonderful and diverse ideas were shared about the garden, getting it going and what it will mean.  I came away with a growing understanding that Katie’s Commons is so much more than a garden.  It is indeed a Commonwealth, a group of people building and nurturing community.  Out of our meeting came the beginnings of a mission statement: Katie’s Commons: Sowing the seeds of community, food, knowledge, hospitality, and beauty.   It seems that the Commons will have at least three subsets: garden, education, and hospitality.  Those who may not feel called to “serve and preserve”[1] the land in the production of food may find a call in teaching or offering hospitality to the community.
            The next gathering in the Commons will be on March 15th at 10:00 a.m. at the Mulberry Public Library.  Our theme is tentatively entitled: Sharing Seed, Stories and Zucchini Muffins.  This will be a chance for local gardeners to meet, learn about Katie’s Commons, share saved or left over seed and trade stories and knowledge about gardening in Mulberry.  What seeds and practices work in our neighborhood?  What was less than successful?  What might one do differently in the future?
            I confess that in many ways I am just “wingin’ it.”  I realized there is much I do not know as I cobbled together a budget that realistically represents to grantors what we hope to do.  In addition to the use of land, a storage building and access to water given by Gloria Dei, a guess is that we will need about $2200 to build beds, fill them with soil, buy tools, irrigation equipment, etc.  We have received several generous cash donations which have given us the “seed” money to get things rolling.  In addition, to date the Commons has applied for three grants.  We have received the gift of seed from Seed Savers Exchange.  Two other applications, one with Kitchen Gardeners International and one with Home Depot, are under consideration.  We will probably hear from them in the next six weeks or so.  I intend to continue to seek and apply for grants and gratefully welcome donations.
            This is such an exciting time.  I am grateful for the interest and support of so many people with whom I hold so much in Common.

[1] a perhaps more accurate and contextually appropriate translation of Genesis 1:28.  See Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen Davis

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Will the groundhog even be able to get out of its burrow? And why would it want to?

             We had the first community meeting of Katie’s Commons this morning, albeit a small meeting.  As I sat in my office yesterday watching the snow blowing across the parking lot, I was put in mind of a white tide rising unimpeded until it crashes upon the beach, in this case the piles of snow from earlier storms, sending a spray flying, in this case a spray of ice crystals. With more snow and high winds predicted overnight I was pretty sure travel would be difficult to impossible by morning.  I contacted those who I had heard were coming to the meeting and asked them to stay home and put a cancellation message on the church voice mail.  But because I had placed flyers throughout the community and at the food pantry I wasn't sure the word of cancellation would get around.  So I headed for church a little after eight this morning.
            The drifting in my driveway was just shy of the limits of my car.  The town roads were passable.  The church parking lot from a distance did not look too bad.  However, the snow shoals of yesterday had grown by several feet; a direct assault on the front door was impossible.  An overland route to the front door, around a tree and behind the snowbank, was possible and this in turn allowed me access to a side door, locked from the inside, on the West side of the building where the wind had swept the icy sidewalk clean. Once opened, a little salt on the sidewalk made for fairly safe entry into the building. A few minutes later the coffee pot was on.  Access and coffee are about all any Lutheran church needs for a meeting.
            One brave soul, a close neighbor, showed up right on time.  We had a delightful meeting.  We talked about what the Commons is to be.  Certainly the garden is a main component of our work.  It will, as said elsewhere, be a link in the food security chain of our community, planned, planted, tended, and harvested by a community of diverse volunteers for the benefit of our food pantry and citizens without easy access to fresh produce.  But the garden has always been only part of the mission of Katie’s Commons.  There is also an educational element.  We will offer educational opportunities related to food issues, e.g. food preparation and preservation as well as seed saving and basic gardening skills.  Recently it occurs to me that there is yet another component that has always been there, but needs lifting up: community building.  A third volunteer opportunity, therefore, in the Commons is hospitality.  We talked about these pieces of Katie’s Commons, discussed funding and possibilities for grants (we have received a grant of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange and have applied to Kitchen Gardeners International for a monetary and supplies grant), and the immediate goals we must focus on, such as beginning to construct raised beds by Easter and planting in late May.   Our first meeting raised some interesting questions and generated energy to move things forward. I also received affirmation that valuable knowledge, skill and experience resides in the community, far beyond the personal resources of any individual.  It takes a village to care for the common good.
            We will try for a general community meeting again on February 8th.   Gardening, if nothing else, teaches one patience, especially when dealing with the weather.

Friday, December 13, 2013

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
            earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
(Christmas hymn, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #294)

In the bleak midwinter, breath exhaled as fog,
herald of spring appears, the seed catalog.

Okay, I should leave the classic hymns alone.  However, in the post office box this week, among the last minute advertising that assures me the perfect Christmas gift awaits and is even now on sale, has come the seed catalog; a word of hope and promise in the bleak midwinter.  Such is the nature of the seed.  What a blessing.

In the Commons plans are underway for the spring.  In recent weeks letters have gone out soliciting from community partners names of people who might want to participate in the work of the community garden.  After the first of the year we will gather to put dates to tasks and details to turning the church lawn into garden.  We also have gained another community partner: IMPACT.  The children in this Mulberry, Indiana after school program will be invited to help plant, tend and harvest at Katie’s Commons.  They will be an important link in the chain of our community’s food security, plus it will be a chance to play in the dirt (win-win).  And finally as I dream by the fire, grant applications are being prepared.  While Katie’s Commons is sponsored by Gloria Dei Church and is given the use of land, water and storage facilities we look to the community and friends for the financial support and the additional resources necessary to be successful.  Grants will be an important part of that mix.

In short (to mix a couple of poetic references) in the bleak midwinter, we in the Commons are trying to make perfect our will, taking no thought of the harvest but only of proper sowing. (Choruses from The Rock, T.S. Eliot)

I wish all who read these words a blessed Advent, a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Step Forward

Katie's Commons, a community garden, took a step forward this week.  The Congregation Council of Gloria Dei Church voted to sponsor the community garden as a ministry of the congregation and support it as a community administered project.  This means that the council oversees the good order of the ministry and its finances.  The congregation dedicates land, gives access to water, and use of the tool shed.  And the larger community shares in the administration and work of Katie's Commons.  We have an excellent model to follow in the Stone Soup Food Pantry, a ministry of Mulberry United Methodist Church, administered and staffed by representatives of all three Mulberry churches.  Stone Soup Food Pantry will be a partner in the community garden ministry.

Things begin to get a little complicated for me from this point.  I know myself to be an experienced dreamer and an introvert.  Now it is time to put the community into community garden.  I need to share my dream and allow room for others' visions.  I need to share the work also.  A commentary on a reading in this week's lectionary, Isaiah 65:17-25, reminded me that new things are created from the weaving of the people's work and God's work and that which is created from such collaboration includes joy, delight and peace.  My challenge then is to be open to what God and people bring to Katie's Commons.  Our challenge is to find and invite many partners into the garden.

In the weeks to follow this collaboration will take shape, plans will be made and Katie's Commons will begin to become manifest.  Your prayers are needed, your ideas welcomed, your involvement encouraged and in the spring your strong back and shovel are absolutely necessary.  :)

The Commons is a community of volunteers planning, planting, tending, harvesting, and giving food for the common good.  The Commons is God's gift of good land lovingly worked for the commonwealth.  The Commons is knowledge preserved, discovered, grown, and shared for the common well-being.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Scattering of Seed

Katie's Commons is a work in progress whose genesis can perhaps be traced to my coming to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (GDLC) seven years ago.  The physical assets of Gloria Dei Church include a lovely building on the West side of Mulberry, Indiana.  The church structure, built in the mid 1970's, is a one story brown brick building situated on approximately 5 acres of land, part of which is leased to a local farmer and planted in corn or soybeans every year.  What is not building, parking lot or land planted in commodity crops is lawn with a small play ground, a picnic shelter, a storage shed and a few trees scattered about; all in all Gloria Dei enjoys a very pretty setting as a small town/rural church. However, these physical assets also set GDLC apart from the other Mulberry churches which are located on lots in town and necessarily have only small green spaces around them.  Land is a gift with which GDLC has been blessed; land is a blessing with which we can bless the community.

The idea of a community garden has swirled around in my mind for some time.  This summer at the Seed Savers Exchange Conference, in the midst of dedicated gardeners, seed savers and community activists, the idea began to form into a vision that can be realized. Here are a scattering of ideas, seeds, that have led to Katie's Commons to date:

The first idea for a name was the Neophuton Community Garden.  Neophuton is a Greek word and means "newly planted seeds."  It appears in St. Paul's writings and describes new Christians and churches, things which had never been seen before but which had great promise for new life, like a newly planted seed.  But a New Testament Greek name came to seem too geeky even to me and besides I couldn't get past hearing that word and seeing in my mind's eye the couch/bed (the new futon) we hauled (with much gnashing of teeth) to my daughter's college apartment a few years ago.

Katie's Commons felt right, a garden at a Lutheran church named in honor of Katharina Luther (nee Von Bora).  Katie was Martin Luther's wife and was quite instrumental in the Reformation.  In a time when women were often pushed to the background, Katie excreted an important influence not only in the Luther home but on all who passed through.  The recorded conversations around the Luthers' dinner table, called Table Talk, reveals her influence.  She is described in her biography as becoming, "gardener, fisher, brewer, fruit grower, cattle and horse breeder, cook, beekeeper, provisioner, nurse and vintner."  Indeed, these attributes point very nicely to a goal of Katie's Commons to promote and facilitate food security in our community.

Here I end for today.  There are more seeds to recall, but that must wait for another time