We have a garden!

Hubby and I attended our community garden orientation Monday evening and are now the proud…er… “renters” of a half-plot for the season, woohoo!!

Being a community gardener is a little bit more involved than I would have thought it, and I do admit it’s going to be pushing me outside of my comfort boundaries a little.  Probably a good thing for me though.  It took me back to my days working for a non-profit as we walked up the stairs in a huge old school building in a pretty bad area of Schenectady.  We could hear the kids in the afterschool programs screaming in the gym/auditorium and shook our head at the condition of the hallways and classrooms.  It’s hard to imagine how the teachers do so much in such terrible conditions.

There were supposed to be 20 people in our orientation session, but only 7 showed.  Nobody looked quite like us.  Most looked like they needed a shower.  There was this crazy-looking guy (the only one without a partner) who evidently has gardened for years (apparently not with a community garden though)  and asked question after question.  There was the “hippie couple” who quizzed one of the orientation leaders about a new high school program that was being set up to teach inner-city youth about commercial farming to see if only organic methods would be used.  There was another couple in what seemed like dire need of a shower in the front row – very quiet.  And towards the end, two African American gentleman came in, very polite.  I looked at hubby and I, dressed in business clothes after a day at the office and felt ashamed that we didn’t give much more than the recommended donation (a little bit more, but not a ton).  It’s going to be good to break down my prejudices.  Not to say I’m bigotted or anything, but I obviously felt uncomfortable, and I shouldn’t.

The orientation leaders (there were 4 of them) explained to us how the community gardens worked, how we each would have a community chore to do as well for the whole garden, in addition to our plot.  We, along with 3 other people will be helping to mow/weedwhack around the edges.  They explained to us how the watering worked, what we can and cannot plant, the rules of the garden, lots of stuff.  There will also be a spring work party and a fall work party to clean up the garden at the beginning and the end of the season.  I admit, I feel a little bit overwhelmed.  I thought I would just give some money, be given a plot, and be let loose to plant what I wanted to (within reason  of course) with no interaction with anyone.  Um…apparently I missed the “community” aspect of this 🙂

I’m clearly desperately unsociable! 🙂

There are 48 community gardens run by CBCG.  Some are bigger than others, and we are in one of the biggest in Schenectady.  They have plots over in Albany and Troy as well though!  Albany’s are pretty cool – the city gives free mulch and plows up the gardens the first week of April so they can get started quickly over there!

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There was such a demand for community garden plots this year, they are only giving out half-plots to new gardeners.  Returning gardeners will get full plots.  But do you know the size of a half-plot?  When hubby and I drove out to it after our meeting, we were floored – a good 6×25 feet – easy!  I thought (and would have been happy with) 4 feet of space 🙂 It beats container planting on our deck!

In the dreary snowy weather of the day, hubby and I didn’t see much that would need mowing.  The area around the gardens are pretty rocky – it’ll be a bitch to mow.  They had told us our plot wasn’t used last year – the people who signed up for it abandoned it after awhile, but it looked like stuff HAD grown there last year.  We saw stumps of some old plant (couldn’t tell what it was) and old strawberry plants.  It would be great if we had strawberries growing on their own there already!  The community shed looked in great condition.  We checked off that we would plow and turn our own plot – if you wanted to wait till the end of May, they’ll do it for you, but hopefully we’ll get started before then.  It will burn off lots of calories, if nothing else!

Our garden plot

Our garden plot

Hubby took some pics of the plot, but we realized when we downloaded this one, his camera is clearly broken and all the colors and quality is off.  Boo!

We got to choose a few seeds to get us started.  We want to plant heirlooms, so we picked out three that sounded interesting. Heirlooms are basically “old school” veggies and fruits.  They’re the seeds that were planted and grown for decades, even centuries when farming was done by local people instead of the huge agri-business there is today.  As a result, unlike the majority of seeds you buy today in most stores, they are not genetically modified at all.  I’m a bit horrified at the thought that almost every seed packet you buy, in Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kmart, any big store – the seeds have been genetically modified.  Here are three we chose, but we’ll be planting lots more to fill our 150+ square feet!

Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce

Deer Tongue lettuce, also known as Matchless lettuce, dates back to the early 1740s, whereas the Amish Deer Tongue lettuce is variety from a later era–circa 1840.  The name, deer tongue, comes from its pointed leaves that are triangularly shaped with green straight edges.

Because of its heat tolerance, it is said to be less prone to bolting under high temperatures. The lettuce has a thin midrib, good texture and wonderful flavor that is pleasantly sharp. This plant is great for home gardeners as it is tolerant of different climates.

(From http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/amish_deer_tongue_lettuce/)

Moon and Stars Watermelon

A spectacular watermelon, with fine flavor, introduced by the Henderson seed company in 1926. The skin is deep green, speckled with hundreds of golden yellow stars and a few half-dollar sized moons. Even the foliage has yellow “stars”. The fruit is red. Melons are medium sized 25 pounds and slightly oblong.

From: http://www.burpee.com/product/vegetables/heirloom+vegetables/watermelon+moon+and+stars+%28heirloom%29+-+1+pkt.+%2830+seeds%29.do

Catskill Brussel Sprouts

I’m very excited about these! Not only are they heirloom, they’re local!

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Seed packets

We’re busy most of the weekends of April, but every weekend in May except one is free so far!  Yay for gardening!

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Farmers Market – Winter

Schenectady greenmarket sign

Schenectady greenmarket sign

On any given Sunday, between 10am-2pm, hubby and I can usually be found in one place, an independent coffee shop/theater alley.  Drinking fair trade coffee?  Lining up to see the latest show?  Hardly.  While we both love the arts and our caffeine, we’re there for something else – our local farmer’s market.

Since November, we’ve been thrilled to say we actually can go to one in our own town.  Well, apparently they have one every Thursday by City Hall between 11am and 1pm, but some of us actually do work and are unable to get there during those hours.  I’m not sure how great it is anyway.  But for the last few years, K and I had been making a weekly drive of about 30 minutes every SATURDAY to a pretty fantastic farmer’s market one county away.  It was kind of tiresome, and sometimes we thought about the impact of our cars on our environment in our attempt to buy local foods, feeling a bit hypocritical.

And then it happened.  Driving down one of the most busy streets in our county, we saw a banner overhead heralding the beginning of a new farmers market nearby.  And strangely enough, it was beginning in November.

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Patrons on the lower level of the greenmarket

Now, November is not the most ideal time to start a farmers market. All of the summer markets in the area (the three county-wide area to be exact) have shut down by then.  But root veggies and cold crops like broccoli and cauliflower are still hanging around, and there’s a few other things that can be purchased.

Obviously, in the days of yore, wintertime was the time when much of the farm work came to an end for some months, and everyone lived off the bounty of the harvest hopefully, or starved if they didn’t.  Whatever could be preserved was tucked away to be eaten during this time, whether it was dried or smoked, salted, or canned.  Trying to eat locally becomes a bit more difficult than at a summer farmers market.

Which is why I was so surprised to see that one was getting started at that point in the year.  And the story of it founding made it even more unique.  Apparently, our farmers market was started by the customers, people like you and me who were also tired of driving a distance each week and went in search of farmers who would be willing to come to us to sell.

So they spent this summer driving down dirt roads in search of the sorts of farmers who never come to the average city-dweller’s mind. Forget rows of corn and climbing beans — that won’t sustain a market when the snow starts to fall.

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Grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken

City residents sought out butchers, bakers, dairy farmers and beekeepers. They looked for maple sugarers, wine-makers and apple growers.

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Organic bread from one of the three local bakers

By the time vegetable farmers began their last harvests of the season, this grass-roots committee had found and persuaded nearly a dozen winter farmers to drive to Schenectady, come snow or ice, and sell their goods. Not all are selling raw foods — there will also be stews and soups, soaps and lotions, pottery and wool. –(From the article – Farmers market to be open year-round in Schenectady, Schenectady Daily Gazette, Sunday, October 12, 2008)

Apples and cider

Apples and cider

We’ve loved having a farmer’s market so close to us.  Weekly, we enjoy buying bread, eggs, meat, veggies (all root veggies at this time of year, obviously) and honey.  We also look forward to buying our weekly quart of apple cider and will be sad when the apple harvest has been consumed.

But in only a few short months, the abundance of the land will be upon us again and we can’t wait for the sun to be beating upon our shoulders as we bike to the open-air summer market!

For now, though, we’ll just enjoy being nice and warm through the winter.

Local farms that we go to pictured above: