Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Naive Child

Work and artwork...

At Participation Park i have been able to make working my art, it has allowed my artwork to work not just for me but for others too. So rather than thinking about gardening as only a physical or ecological process, I would like to think about it as an artistic process. The entire act of my bodies work in cohesion with the land that I touch with my hands, my general demeanor and openness towards others, my expressions, the making of each thrash with the pickaxe or each push with the shovel becomes a dutiful and passionate act that i treat with the same respect that I would a drawing or a film of mine. To completely devote myself to the work, so that it becomes an art.

Doing something and then thinking about it differently from how it is… There is a great positive energy in Participation Park, it is a very inspirational force and a great atmosphere to work in but what negative forces might also be present. I like to think about this often, not to be a pessimist, much the opposite, so in order to attain a better understanding of Participation Park’s role and function within itself and its community, thinking about all of its purposes openly and within the history of its site. I live three blocks from Participation Park, yet my home is not part of its community...

Digging at Participation Park I notice myself staring at my hands. Thinking about my back, wanting to correct my posture, use the right muscles so as not to hurt myself. I look around at others. People are bent down, hunched over, squatting, hammering, and completely engrossed within their activity. I have never seen people more devoted to their duty. These people are dedicated. It must be something about the earth, an interaction with the processes of nature, the ability to nurture, to create, to give to.

I think about the great sense of satisfaction I receive from using my body in a way that feels foreign. Having to learn new positions and motions. Feeling pain and sweat, an exhaustion devoted to other. It’s not the same exhaustion that I receive from playing sports or even from working on my own projects. Its not even necessarily about the community, its about engaging with life because even though I know something will grow once I have planted the seeds and done all the work and watered it, I know that I am still going to be completely amazed and unbelieving when I watch this thin green stalk produce a plump tomato that I can eat and that is good for me. Like Roy said, its Magic.

Quietness can be seen in everyone’s faces working. A deep concentration, maybe people are talking to themselves in their heads, analyzing their problems or thinking about what they will do after class. Maybe these faces are daydreaming, wandering in distant lands or completely drawing a blank, engrossed within the pattern of steps and strains their body is committing on top of the soil they work. Eyes are still.

Even the low muttered conversations are somewhat impersonal and polite, at least indirect, as bodies continue to work, their faces aimed downward.

Participation Park facilitates these needs. I feel better everyday I work there, hoping that I won’t stop once the class has ended and that I might start my own garden. I feel glad just to be part of the cause. There doesn’t seem to be any ego or heroism to the labor, it feels just and selfless, but on the other hand maybe gardening is purely for the self, it has very therapeutical attributes. Perhaps I am indulging too much on my own motivations, but I like to feel good about the work that I do.

There was a point where I would have felt uncomfortable being in the neighborhood that Participation Park is in, but Participation Park allowed me to understand better its location and I have come to walking its streets very comfortably. I probably would have never gotten to that point if it weren’t for gardening. Participation Park gave me a purpose, a cause to be there. I feel like a na├»ve child saying this but perhaps if there were more gardens around the city, the city would become a better, safer place. Gardens create destinations for people to go to, not tourists or suburban commuters, but locals. Gardens attract the people who live around them and bring them together.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Duncan Street: Tomorrow Early, Wednesday Later

So I'm going to just do some watering and weeding over at the plot tomorrow provided rain isn't too bad. On Wednesday I can't go until 12 but I am thinking that tilling the space between the two established plots and establishing a third row is an okay plan. Get some winter-friendly plants on Saturday to plant? Anyone?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Montpelier Orchard Work Day June 27

If anyone has time this weekend, on Saturday between 10 and 2 there's a work day at the Montpelier Orchard in Waverly. It's at 918 Montpelier, between Ellerslie and Independence, in Waverly (the 3 or 22 bus are pretty good options for getting there).

Or, you know, work 10-1 and then come to the Contemporary Museum and attend a lecture by artist Zaq Landsberg about his nation-state, Zaqistan. It is completely relevant, esp. to conversations of common land and nation-states. Also, Zaq is coming all the way down from New York to do it.


link to a NY Times article on beekeeping in the city:


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Soil ≠ Dirt and Other Valuable Information from Sarah Krones

There are 40,000 species of bacteria in a gram of soil. When that soil is plowed, CO2 is released from it into the air. It takes 1,000 to 10,000 years to produce soil. when rocks -which have different mineral compositions- erode into sand, silt and clay. There are 750 soil types in Maryland-these are determined by parent material, rainfall, slope and drainage.

These soils exist in five different physiographic provinces in Maryland which are:

Coastal Plain Province
Piedmont Plateau Province (this includes Baltimore and is very nutrient rich, which makes sense as many cities were once agricultural centers)
Blue Ridge Province
Ridge and Valley Province
Appalachian Plateaus Province

Soil texture traingle:

Helps to classify soil type based on the amount of sand, silt and clay present in the soil.

Med loam is good soil.

You should never change the mineral content of the soil (e.g. trying to make a sandy loam soil into a clay loam soil).

A ribbon test is a very simple way to test your soil. To do this you get a
handful of soil and squeeze it between your index finger and thumb, forcing
the soil out into a "ribbon"; the longer you are able to press the soil without it
breaking apart or crumbling, the higher the clay content of your soil. One
inch is a good length.

To increase the water-holding content and structure of the soil, add organic

Organic matter contained in the soil is a combination of plant roots, fungi, insects, microbes and burrowing animals. These things in combination not only help to prevent the soil from becoming compacted, but also absorb heat and moderate the temperature of the soil during the growing season.

There are fifteen essential plant nutrients which are obtained through the soil. They are:

C, N, P, K, S, Ca, Mg

Mn, Cu, Zn, Fe, B, Mb, Cl, Co

Nitrogen moves through the soil vertically. Old leaves turn yellow when deficient in this element. It governs plants capacity to make proteins and promotes cell growth.

Cover crops such as clover, rye, oats, wheat and legumes put nitrogen back into the soil.

Phosphorus promotes the development of flowers and fruit. Unlike nitrogen, it moves horizontally throughout the soil and is needed to move plant sugars. Signs of deficiency may be noted by dull green or purplish leaves.

Potassium is beneficial for plant growth and disease resistance. It aids in good seed production. A plant may deficient in this nutrient if there are yellow, burnt-looking leaf edges.


There is a higher ratio of nitrogen in green matter (lettuce, avocado peels, spinach, etc.)

and a higher ratio of carbon in brown matter (straw, leaves, old newspaper, lint, soil)

32:1 ratio of nitrogen to carbon is generally considered good compost.
If the compost is too dry and not decomposing, add more nitrogen-rich matter.
The compost should feel like a dried-out sponge as the water helps the micro-organisms to move around. If left out in the sun, a compost pile can dry out. a slanted roof over the pile is a good way to keep out excessive rain but keep in heat.


To take a sampling of soil from your garden/farm/yard collect fifteen to twenty samples from somewhat typical areas of the space: 2" deep for lawns; 6" deep for gardens

Air-dry the samples and mix them together into one. The final sample should be no less than one cup, but no more than two cups.

Decide where you want to send the sample based on cost, speed, and what it is you want tested.

Your test results will tell you the pH of the soil, its texture, fertility, and what nutrients may be needed to be added to the soil. It may also tell you whether or not the soil contains lead.

The pH of the soil is very important as it directly affects the amount of nutrients that the plant can take up from the soil. A fairly neutral pH of 6-7 is generally the most beneficial, though certain plants can do well in acidic or alkaline soils.

fall planting guide

I have a pdf of a fall planting guide, its pretty comprehensive but I cant post a pdf on the blog heres a quick few but if you want the whole thing email me and I'll send it to you

beets - 6/20 -8/1

cabbage - 7/10-8/20

carrots 6/15-8/1

swiss chard 6/15-7/25

garlic 10/15-11/15

kohlrabi 7/10-8/10



In 1912, Alexander Shevancho, a painter and member of the Russian avant-garde, wrote an essay on “Neo-Primitivism” in which a singe line sums up the legacy of Western Modernerity - that, “Ideas are not born but reborn, and so everything that is normal is successive and develops from preceding forms”. This idea not only sheds light on the legacy of Modern Art but also the process in which ideas are recycled and built upon.

The “primitive” impulse in painting around the turn of the 20th century can be linked to other reactionary movements like Art Nouveau which attempted to counter the mechanization of life because of the Industrial Revolution. Primitivist painters favored an expressive inner-response unadulterated by the restrictions of formal academic representation or enlightened spiritualism advocated by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. They saw in primitive technique a way to make painting more authentic by refuting the futile optical effects and pictorial structures so prominent in such work - think stylistically of Impressionism, Divisionalism and Fauvism.

The idea that the so called “primitive” approach can bring back a certain amount of naturalism, a closer relationship to the individual and their realities, reaches far beyond the limited scope of early 20th century European painting. The same sense of getting back in touch with reality is an important element in facing the ecological concerns we have to deal with today. The disjunction between what people need to survive and the means of obtaining those needs is a more pressing, practical application of these thoughts.

In the second half of the 20th century, after WWII, our country switched from industry to consumption. Top-down powers structures became stronger. We outsourced much of our factories and in the 1960’s let people like Robert Moses build highway projects that decentralized our cities. Today, even the privatization of water seems possible. (It has already happened in Bolivia, where it was illegal, for a time, to collect rainwater).

The relationship we now have to the food we eat comes from the same post-WWII development. War propaganda techniques were quickly adapted to consumer marketing schemes. Ruthless mass-profit capitalism reigned. Consequently, it has become normal to know little about where food comes from. It is normal to know nothing of how it is produced and what exactly is in it. We have another failing relationship between production and consumption and the failure of consumers to see this seems normal as well.

What I liked most about Participation Park is that it counters the displacement of the means of production and control. It reclaims unused space and localized a community food space. The project is evidence of a self-sustainable lifestyle bringing the production of food back to the individual. It intends to create a community space and helps revitalize a portion of East Baltimore without top-down politics.

As ideas grow and develop upon one another in any system there is always a point at which operation fails because the basic necessities which keep the system working become lost. For the Neo-Primitivists the failure in the progression of modern painting was a lacking relationship between naturalistic artistic expression and overly intellectualized technique. Today, we are seeing the potential failure of certain systems we have come to rely on due to marketing, privatization, government …etc. We will either have to take back the means of production or we will be forced to when the systems that govern our accessibility fail - we have to sidestep stagnating ideology and do what actually works.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

mica students grow food

"He said a lot more goes into successful growing than just sticking plants in the ground. He learned, for example, about the proper angle to plant tomatoes so they can get more nutrients."

SPIN a web of lies?

John Thackara's recent post "Urban Farming: The New Dot Com?" on Doors of Perception kind of has me wondering if the future of farming we went to see on Wednesday was in fact a pyramid scheme. The website for SPIN LLC is a little too slick to be real.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

These are some tomato, eggplants and pepper plants that Isaac and I have been growing on our rooftop. The four tomatoes we have in one bed are probably a bit crowded but we are treating this as an experiment.

The beds were easy to build and consist of recycled wood and coffee bean bags that Zekes sells for a buck at the Waverly Farmers Market. The bags are nice and porous and retain water for a while after it rains. We get a few weeds but I think the bags also help keep those down as well.

We elevated the beds so the soil does not come in contact with our nasty roof runoff that consists of rust and other things from some old heating units on the very top of the roof. We figured it not to be good for the plants. There are also some holes in the bottoms for drainage just in case it rains too much.

Our next job is to construct some sort of fencing to keep out critters. A couple weeks ago we had a well growing tomato but one morning it was gone. We didn't really anticipate that problem. But overall it has been surprisingly easy so far. Neither Isaac or I have ever had a garden before but if things keep going as they are it looks like we might have a few tomatoes later this summer.

Baltimore Urban Astronomy

Tonight, Friday, the Maryland Space Grant Observatory at Johns Hopkins University is open to the public.

Given that our sky clears up a little bit tonight it should be open. There is a hot line number that you can call after 5 which is (410)515-6525

If you would like to meet up and go to the observatory you can give me a call (734)751-6790. 

Sub-Urban Farming

Our Garden:
For the past few years me and my boyfriend have been putting in a garden, each year expanding the size, adding more varieties of vegetables that we are familiar with and this year adding vegetables and fruit that we haven't tried growing before. About 75% of the plants were from seeds that we germinated indoors in a make-shift terrarium out of an unused 125 gallon aquarium in my studio. The other 25% of the plants were purchased, or like the strawberries, were perennials from last year. This year we tripled the size of the garden and added new things we haven't planted before, radish, sweet potatoes, pumpkins (which I'm really excited for) a few odd varieties of cucumbers, and corn (which was murdered by a strong storm last year) We even ventured out an put in a few blueberry bushes closer to the house which seem to be doing very well. While I don't consider our garden to be organic, we don't use chemicals to fertilize them. The only thing that we added to the soil was compost while it was being tilled.

I remember someone in class saying that the knowledge gained through this class is gained through the work, and I cant agree more. I learned so many things from being hands on that honestly wouldn't have picked up anywhere else. The class visits to all of the gardens was inspirational to me and i tried passing on that inspiration to our neighbors. Three of which have put in a small garden of their own. Participation park has inspired us to invite the neighbors to harvest what they want or need at their leisure from our garden. Roy got me thinking about eating seasonally, which seems to be a task that I'm not quite ready for, but has inspired us to stock up on canning equipment, since we will have more food than we can consume in a season, so we will be preserving and pickling for food in the fall and winter.

Next year we plan to make the garden about 6 times what it is now and do some sort of CSA deal. Where neighbors are invited to purchase canvas bags that can be refilled with veggies and delivered to their home. I don't have any desire to make any profit, just to kind of bring everyone together over a commonality. After all we have the largest yard in the neighborhood and I want to put it to work instead of just mowing the lawn every week. I am also contemplating getting chickens, yet I'm not sure what the neighbors would think, but there is always eggs available for peace offerings.

Below are photos from our garden this year...


Thursday, June 18, 2009


"The most resourceful solution is the most poetic solution." -Greg Strella

Great Kids Farm is owned by the Baltimore Public School system. It is a growing resource for nutritional and agricultural education. Eventually Great Kids Farm will provide food for cafeterias that will cater to the students of Baltimore Public Schools.

At Great Kids Farm our class was able to interact with the chicken, goat, bee, and greenhouse systems that thrive on the young farm.
In fact- chickens, goats, and bees are just three of the fourteen living systems on Great Kids Farm which also includes small fruit, vegetables, and mushrooms.


Greg Strella, our guide at Great Kids Farm, explained how the harlequin bug disrupts the food chain on Baltimore farms.
Baltimore's warming climate has allowed the harlequin bug to migrate north leaving its predators behind.
Until the harlequin bug's predators move north the harlequin bug remains unchecked in Baltimore.
In order to save their crops from devastation Greg and volunteers on the farm spread organic fertilizers but finding and crushing the harlequin bug eggs by hand has been the most successful pest control on Great Kids Farm.


Great Kids Farm started with a flock of 50 chickens. In the future they plan to build a more portable chicken coop/trailer that can move around to public schools. For now, Great Kids Farm has an impressive coop for their chickens. The coop is surround by a fence that keeps the foxes out but lets the chickens run around.
Most chicken meat that is sold in stores and restaurants originate from eight week old chickens. After chickens turn two years old their egg production slows down and they are killed.
Two year old chickens are normally called stock chickens because they are used in soup.
I was very sad to hear about this as the chickens were very friendly and let me hold them.
Miranda showed me how if you turn a chicken upside down it will get sleepy.
Farmers replace their chickens after two years because it takes more energy to keep them alive than the chickens can return.

Some of the students in the class are interested in starting a "Chicken Club" at MICA. I hope that this happens because it would be nice to have chickens and fresh eggs.


During my time at Great Kids Farm I worked with several other students building shelving for beehives. The shelves were very beautiful. Everyone was impressed with the artificially combed beeswax. In order to make the uniform hives for the bees to produce honey in manufacturers process the beeswax roll it out and press a new comb print into it.

Many of the students expressed interest in learning beekeeping.

Greg Strella explained that this is a very practical and profitable hobby to keep in an urban environment. For one, cities have extended bloom season, and as Baltimore is on a harbor- it is even more extended because of the cooler temperatures near the water.

My sparked interest in bees got me talking to several people that I know.
-My friend Emma Steinkraus' parents keep bees and they were able to procure a special breed of bees that are very gentle.
-I learned that a swarm of bees will follow the queen if you capture the queen in a jar from my father's coworker who had a thick swarm of bees in her front yard.
I also learned that if a bee is full of honey it won't sting.

For those interested in taking a class in beekeeping the Central Maryland Beekeeper’s Association offers beekeeping classes in the spring (March/April):
Application Information

The Oregon Ridge Nature Center (Where the beekeeping class by CMBA is held) has a lot of great programs this summer

For those interested Greg Strella is always excited about new volunteers. Me and some of the other kids from class are going to make some educational games for the children that come to work on the farm.

-Amber Moyles

The Samuel Hopkins Tower

Bon Secours Garden Cooperative

Inspirational signs, a former MICA student project

Kate Joyce
Garden between drug recovery homes
It was empty

Just do what yo do
Youth are imprisoned in Baltimore

the locals

Adams Salad

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts from a Not-Knowing Mind

Life hoop house
Harvest the karmic fruits
All year round

Mr. Sharp is like a Zen master who need only put up a finger to enlighten the student - his "way" is steady & after twenty or more years of cultivating the same piece of land, he has attained his "garden-mind" - his expression is like an untarnished mirror - I watched him work earlier today & was mesmerized by his effortlessness – like Prince Wu Hui's cook who was cutting up an ox / Out went a hand / Down went a shoulder / He planted a foot / He pressed with a knee / The ox fell apart / With a whisper / The bright cleaver murmured / LIke a gentle wind / Rhythm! Timing! / Like a sacred dance / Like "The Mulberry Grove" / Like ancient harmonies! / .... / "When I first began / To cut up oxen / I would see before me / The whole ox / All in one mass / "After three years / I no longer saw this mass / I saw the distinctions / But now I see nothing / With the eye - My whole being / Apprehends / My senses are idle - The spirit / Free to work without plan / Follows its own instinct / Guided by natural line / By the secret opening, the hidden space / My cleaver finds its own way / I cut through no joint, chop no bone... // Eventually, the whole gives way to its complexities that in turn, reveal a way that requires no force - not to say that farming or gardening doesn't necessitate discipline, hard work or technicality, but that after a while, the 'divisions' and 'the whole' are subsumed by an indescribable ease that isn't predicated on force, but on submission to pratyayas & hetu. Wendell Berry has written that the language of farming is verbally incommunicable - that it is experiential. It took Prince Wu Hui's butcher only a few years & required merely two virtues: practice and patience - does the story reveal how exactly? No & it never will - it's only a guide...

Or, take for instance Roy Skeen inviting us to walk through the woods. As I made my way through the high grass, trailing a foot or two behind him, he asked me if I had ever read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. I responded that I had long ago, but that I was more familiar with a few of his theological works. Then the conversation simply ended – we continued to walk. There was also some talk of giants when we arrived at the Cat-cleared 'trail' but only in passing. On top of what he had spoken to earlier by the fire, both of these cryptic musings leads me to believe that Roy's practical farming practice is supplemented by or even contingent on, an honest and eager openness to the fantastic and magical - by virtue of its just 'being-there' the garden, or more broadly 'nature', lends itself to the spiritually and occult minded - forest nymphs, faeries, mole people, the bo-tree where Siddartha Guatama became the tathagata, the endangered and 'deep' knowledge of biodiversity as learned firsthand by all the 'primitive' Amerindians, the Old Testament garden with its lush fig trees, etc. - I for one find the approach seductive, but am also skeptical that it could just simply be a posture - a last resort against the spiritless machinations of agribusiness and consumerism (that we all know derive their power from the rhizomatic ambivalence of us post-modern H. sapiens - buffoons really) - But then I wonder, is it really too late to regain the teachings of our ancestors? Should we all just throw in the towel because we haven't yet accepted the responsibility or taken the necessary steps to awakening our for-now-dormant earth-mindedness? Or am I reaching too far back? Maybe a step forward would be to acknowledge that we've been orphaned by careerism - that we register "teacher" as possible-vocation-when-I-get-out-of-graduate-school, instead of source of true knowledge for how to have a practice in our own lives. Our elders, realistically, are men like Mr. Sharp - what better teacher to venerate & to tap for that rich knowledge of not only how things grow, but specifically, how to grow them within the city? (his uncanny delivery of two crates full of highly processed trans-fatty snack-foods notwithstanding)

The Hamilton Crop Circle is another example: a few gen y'ers reclaiming aspects of wildness/primitiveness by synthesizing and co-ordinating the institutions/practices of the dwelling and food-production - totally in harmony with an improvised spirituality derived from what may be the mythologies we've been seeking but have otherwise been ashamed to invest it (since most are borrowed), namely, jam band culture, Rastafarian dietary and herbal traditions, post-hippy collectivism, yogic new-age exercise regiments and the information superhighway, etc. or something...

Then there are the ideologue gardeners and hifalutin' rabble-rousers who see/use farming practices as a way to express symbolically (as well as utilize practically), the green-viability of disenfranchised neighborhood properties that would otherwise remain voided. Participation Park is one such example. An area of concern/interest I see in this approach is that in some sense, a neighborhood must remain undesirable for the farming practices to remain unhindered. As we saw in heart-wrenching modern myth of The Garden, the ability of an urban farm to produce is unfortunately dependent upon landowners - a lot that will grow successfully ultimately needs to be in an area where there is no economic interest. In New York City, the agriculturalists have been forced to their rooftops. Hopefully Baltimore will remain like some other post-industrial cities and at least maintain a guise of being commercially and culturally barren.

I guess this leads me back to the question of 'proximity of dwelling to site of food production' - Participation Park is but a node in the net of civic green-spaces - the guys who started it don't live next to it or on it - traditionally, farmers live on the farm, but in the city-environment, is this even feasible, or is it more that the areas where we could foreseeably begin to grow food on a larger scale need to remain impoverished, at least to the degree that they remain obscure enough not to be encroached by real estate agents or developers? I could see Roy relocating himself to his farm - if he truly intends to cut himself off from the petroleum space-time continuum then he may as well assume the life of an ascetic and construct a hermitage; only returning to the world of appearances on the weekends for the market to engage customers in dharma combat or to sell them butter lettuce & extoll the virtues of the touch-me-not.

These thoughts are incomplete & scattered – Alls I know is that in my own short experience - this class - it has been a privilege to encounter such varying methodologies and to speak to/learn from such motivated and visionary humans.


hoop house wetlands, collective living, goats, poison ivy hysteria, & three catfish rotting in a crumbling alleyway
NY Times article about roof top gardens:

Just saw this on the free section of craigslist. I'm not sure if it's still available but if it is, maybe it could be used at the buddha garden?


Duncan Street

Yesterday we planted some of Sara's donated tomatoes, an eggplant, a pepper and some tiny basil plants. 

Pot luck

What are you all bringing? I'll bring hummus and something to dip (carrots or pita)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Roy Skeen's Charm City Farm (and other thoughts)

On the class visits to Roy Skeen's Charm City Farm on 6/5 and 6/12...

Sandwiched between our two days at the Charm City Farm was the day at Hamilton Crop Circle, where Adam Kandel's farming experience in Hawaii sounded similar to Roy Skeen's WWOOF (not to be confused with the gutteral howl Roy occasionally emits), his first lesson in growing food (and, apparently, in the attendant fist-sized arachnids). It's interesting that Skeen and Kandel both mentioned Rastafarian culture as their primary farming influence--at least in the case of the Crop Circlers, there is clearly something of a lifestyle to the practice of sustainable agricultural model. For them the choice to grow food is part of the equation of nutrition and holistic health. (Until last week I'd never stretched before gardening.)

Now that we've been introduced to a few growers around the city in similar fashion: work, talk, eat (often simultaneously), I find myself comparing the lunch choices our hosts make. I'm thinking particularly of the difference between the snack offering at Duncan Street Community Garden: potato chips and soda, and at the Hamilton Crop Circle: 'green drink' (a blender full of anything green and edible in the backyard) and salad with homemade dressing. It's not that the former gesture was insincere--nor, it seems, is anything Mr. Sharp does or says--but that the packaged, processed foods from afar marked a clear disconnect against the backdrop of fresh fruits and vegetables growing in the lush, twenty-year-old network of garden plots on Duncan Street. (By the way, can we make sure there is no hidden Mr. Horowitz down there? I'm still trying to deal with the agony of The Garden.)

I'm not sure how helpful are these first-impressions, but at least from the limited evidence it's clear that Kandel is concerned with fore-fronting the connection between growing and eating fresh food through the material lesson of the meal (I will additionally admit to an addiction to his farmers' market falafel wrap). But while the Hamilton guys focused a lot of their discussion on the technical aspects of growing and preparing healthy food, out at Charm City, Roy's analysis clearly recognized the larger political implications of our everyday food choices. The message was clear: 'a world without petroleum is more magical."

After his time in the Caribbean, Mr. Skeen made his way back to Baltimore (he grew up on Roland Avenue), finding work for the better part of a year with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He recalled the shock of the transition--the violence, speed, and often environmentally-unfriendly experience of city life was a harsh reintroduction to the reality he had left behind. (I'm struggling to block out the montage of an Apocalypse Now Brando-esque Skeen baking (baked) in a tropical paradise, split-screened with his re-entering Baltimore counterpart, drenched in rain, maybe, I dunno, getting mugged or something.) Of course, what we know from the story is that Roy eventually found a bit of paradise not far from where he grew up, just outside the city.

As the class absorbed the pleasant heat of Graham's phone book-fueled fire in the mansion that will one day be a women's recovery home (fed in a few years, it's hoped, in part from the newly-farmed land), I couldn't help but puzzle myself over Roy's dilemma--one that, despite his contagious optimism, significant progress, and obvious commitment to the project, became a faint burden in his otherwise stoic eyes as he introduced us to his plot. "We're getting killed by weeds." 

For anyone terribly allergic to poison ivy, the hyperbole may not be so far from the truth. Before we--along with the first ever Hamilton Crop Circle WWOOFER (whose booming sexual analogs to the process of removing mulberry root systems severely polarized gender divisions in the groups of nearby weeders in the true, axe-swinging spirit of Man vs. Nature)--cleared a few new rows for planting on the return trip to Roy's plot, the two-acre spread of land looked more like what I would have expected to see in the Caribbean: lots of tall, green, tangled things.

It's a serious question though: why grow food here? Why do it organically? Why farm in Baltimore while other parts of the world beckon us with cleaner air, water, and soil; longer growing seasons; more land? Hell, why stay in the city at all? I'm reminded of the carefully optimistic reason Ingrid gave for taking this class: "I need to know how to live in Baltimore."

The answers to the larger questions inevitably vary, but there seems to be something of a common thesis in the projects of the urban farmers we've met thus far. The ethos, if you could call it that, seems to recognize the twofold importance of localizing food production: not onlyto provide an alternative to the petroleum-based industrial food system (and its attendant host of environmental, nutritional, and logistical pitfalls), but, perhaps as significantly, to make visible to city-dwellers the whole business of food production in the first place. At a place like Great Kids Farm the model is certainly pedagogical--the produce is not yet provided in city schools, but the educational experience of seeing it grown has become a first step toward that goal. Until then, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and restaurant buyers provide the financial model for the farm.

In the case of Participation Park--who chose for the first time this year to sell at a local farmers' market--the agenda doesn't stop with the business of selling food: "Have we mentioned the... legality of the situation?" Nick asked as he approached the class for the first time. In the spirit of Ian Marvey's Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn New York, Participation Park sees the project of urban food production at least in part as a vehicle by which to contend with larger issues like class, race, and land-use in the city.

To return to Charm City--because a percentage of the produce from Roy's plot will one day be reserved for the women's home, Charm City Farm too will be--beyond just a place to grow food--an investigation on collective living. The goal, he says, is eventually to make the project self-sustaining, allowing residents of the future commune (and it's farmer) to eat year-round. Unlike Participation Park, though, Roy's plot is unique in its legal immunity--because the land is protected by an environmental trust, it can support a vision ten or fifteen years into the future, a security few urban farms can rely on.

There has been a point, I'm fairly certain, in each farm visit, that our host, busy explaining some garden phenomenon, had to stop talking, had to just hold up whatever it was that he or she was referring to, turn it around a few times to just look really hard at it (while the class looked on in kind of the same, confused, waiting way). I've had just a little bit of gardening experience now myself, but it's undeniable--the subtle, layered quality of knowing that results from the full sensory experience of the garden is simply incommunicable in language. I'll just end with Wendell Berry, who--in true Taoist form--keeps saying so eloquently that we just can't say it all.

"My third point is that the means of human communication are limited, and that we dare not forget this. There is some knowledge that cannot be communicated by communication technology, the accumulation of tape-recorded 'oral histories' not withstanding. For what may be the most essential knowledge, how to work well in one's place, language simply is not an adequate vehicle. To return again to land use as an example, farming itself, like life itself, is different from information or knowledge or anything else that can be verbally communicated. It is not just the local application of science; it is also the local practice of a local art and the living of a local life. 

(From the 2005 essay "Local Knowledge in the Age of Information")

2 Baltimore Sun links

an article from Monday's Baltimore Sun on the increasing popularity of CSA's in Baltimore:


and a very short piece about Safeway's new local produce efforts:

The Big Sellout

What happens when supplies of water, energy, public transportation and health care are privatized? A German documentary film, “The Big Sellout,” takes on this challenge by portraying the everyday consequences of privatized services. Director Florian Opitz shows how privatization looks and feels to a British train driver, a Philippine mother, a South African activist and the citizens of a Bolivian city.

Monday, June 15, 2009

With dandelions harvested/weeded at Bon Secours today,  I made dandelion root tea. To make it you need to wash the roots of dandelions from soil without lead or chemicals. Chop the roots into extremely fine pieces* and roast them in an oven or toaster oven until they're dry (like tea) then cook with water over the stove. I used a normal water to tea ratio amount. 

Aside from knowing I could identify dandelion and knowing where not to get dandelion roots from, I didn't really know what I was doing. It tasted a little nutty and also was delicious. 

I've heard dandelion tea (which is also called dandelion root coffee) is medicinally used as a diuretic. 

*or food process them

contact for Kate Joyce at Bon Secours, Monday 6/15 visit

Kate said she'd be more than happy to talk with anyone who would like to work with her at any of her sites

p.s. the place we were today is the location of the novel and TV series"The Corner"

26 N Fulton avenue, 21223.
BB is 443-841-6691.

Kate Joyce
Open Space Programs Director
Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation

Sunday, June 14, 2009

chicken club

backyard chicken story in the los angelos times.

this could be a bump for chicken club!

Poultry fans in Madison persuaded the city's common council to reverse a ban on backyard hens about five years ago. The ordinance -- similar to regulations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore -- allows up to four chickens per property. The animals are to be raised for eggs, and must be housed in a coop that is far separated from neighboring homes. (Roosters are typically banned in cities because of crowing.)


chicken laws for Baltimore city

Up to four chickens can be kept (no roosters) as long as they are confined to a moveable pen that is kept 25 feet away from all residences.
You must have a permit.

attributed to:
the city chicken- a list of chicken laws in various states


this story is mostly just cute from the bangor daily news a story about a man with too many chickens

all the extra work and fortifications aside, I do enjoy my flock, not to mention the fresh eggs they present to me daily. And they really do seem happy to see me every morning.

But overall I do have to say chickens are a great deal like misbehaving toddlers — only with wings.

At this point, pretty much the only thing I haven’t caught them doing is taking the keys to the tractor and doing doughnuts in the field.

I figure it’s only a matter of time.


politics, race/poverty and urban farming

"A recent study in New York City found that in underserved black and Latino areas, shoppers had to travel 20 blocks before finding produce for sale...the story is similar in Oakland, Detroit and Tampa. And even in small towns, black residents often have to go to the “white side of town” to find decent fresh food."


Duncan Street: Tuesday at 12? Anyone?

I am so sorry about the lateness of the organizing of everything for this. I talked to Mr. Sharp yesterday and he could do Tuesday afternoon. I realize that doesn't work for everyone and would that I could make all our schedules magically align. But I think if we can get at least a few people to come we'll be in good shape to plant. I realized that we are going to need some form of car transportation for the plants we have, and I'm going to put forward that it's probably too late in our growing season to plant seeds unless someone thinks they know of something that would make it. Also, as far as tools go, does anyone have things they could bring or should we see about borrowing the P&P shovels?

Sorry again, and hopefully we'll be able to work this out!


I think the best way to go about foraging for any edibles among mushrooms or other wild plants is, to not eat what you do not know. Even people who are trained in gathering mushrooms make mistakes. Much of the advice listed below is not an accurate way to hunt for mushrooms; there are no universal tests or signs such as boiling with a silver spoon. When looking for mushrooms or other plans only eat that which you know certainly to be safe. There are many good resources about edible wild plants, including this collection of information that I have found useful:


I have been interested in the weeds that are pulled from the earth so that the lettuces and other plants may grow without competition. Many of these weeds grow and require no assistance to produce edible berries and foliage, as well as other parts of the plant. Many plants that are edible grow in our city and in our backyards, and yet we have been taught to be distrustful of eating anything other than that which we have planted, or which has been processed for consumption. I would think that it is a valuable thing to learn about the uses of these plants that grow so commonly and that do not require our attention.

Among all of these plants, mushrooms are possibly the most difficult to identify accurately, and so there is a greater risk in foraging for mushrooms. I would think that the challenge of growing mushrooms hold a greater reward, and little of the risk that comes with the difficulties of gathering them in the wild. The best resource for growing mushrooms, or about anything related to mushrooms, will lead you very quickly to Paul Stamets. We heard Adam at the Hamilton Crop Circle mention his name when he introduced us to his fledgling mushroom patch.

Stamets is a good resource when it comes to mushrooms. For a look at his theories, here is a video, and a link to Stamet's website,



TED sponsored by BMW. TED is a giant circlejerk but there is a lot of good science in Stamets' video, and a lot of interesting information on his website. And as I'd be careful just how much disbelief you should be willing to suspend on Stamet's behalf, he remains the best resource we have on mushrooms.

BEES! they are so important.

hey everyone,

In my bee research I discovered a person named David Graves, who is an inner city beekeeper, keeping on new york city rooftops. There are a lot of videos of him on youtube, but I found a link to a short film made about new york city beekeepers by the meerkat collective that was pretty nice. (There is a link to the film at the end of the article)

I also recorded an interview that I had with Bart Smith who works at the Bee Research Lab in Beltmont, Maryland which is the main research hub for bee health through the USDA. I haven't cleaned it up yet, but he talked a lot about the detrimental effects of commercial beekeeping on the future of agriculture and the environment. Maybe I can edit it down and put it on the blog? cool.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KSTYtS6c3E  (film by GOOD)
http://www.foodsystemsnyc.org/node/232   (link to article)

http://www.chicagohoneycoop.com/  (link to chicago folxs, providing jobs for people who need them and bee education in the inner city, and taking care of so many hives!)

I've been eating a lot of that dressing we had at the Hamilton Crop Circle. If anyone needs the recipe: mix the following ingredients to your desired amount of salt (the soy sauce) or tart (lemon) or whatever (hemp seeds?)


I made a grilled cheese with garlic and chive raw milk cheese and this sauce combined. It would have been better with some of that holy basil as well. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The first things I thought this morning

When I wake up, I go to the bathroom, and it feels great.  Then I go downstairs, and it feels great.  If the dishes are dirty, I clean them__and they feel great.  and if they sit together, clean in the cabinet, I eat off them__and that feels great.  

If there is no more food in my ice box, I go to the store with food on shelves like a library to eat.  and it is awesome,  I can fill as many carts as I want and still carry them, because they have wheels.  I can fill as many bags as I want, because they come for free__paper or plastic, both are great.  I can walk through the greatest city in America, and that feels great.  If I’m alive I can do things, that feels great. If I have money I can do more things, that feels great.      
If I’m in the city, I don’t want to touch things.
If I plant my food, I don’t know what to do with it.  I could dress my salad with a bottle.  I could drink some orange juice.

this is real fantasy

I was told that this post was somewhat incoherent haha, I was thinking in an exploratory way that was interesting to me, but probobly not helpful in conveying what I'm getting at, so I will try and explain a bit of where I'm coming from.

Capitalism is based on scarcity.  Someone has what you need, and you must use power (money, force) to attain it.  If we decide that we can get what we want from our own hands and the land, rather than from a human entity, in a way we begin to reject Capitalism. 
Capitalism is an evolutionary system, through variety, selection, and heredity, there arises design.  There is competition, and there is survival for those more fit to the environment.  Without the imbalance and extreme concentration of power that is present in our economic structure and the time travel feasible through fossil fuels, the evolutionary advances that have occurred through technology would not have been possible. "We would have to repeal capitalism and every vestige of economic competition to stop this [evolution]" Ray Kurzweil.  Computers, cell phones, video games, self check out lanes, AI bank tellers, AI chips in cars, navigation systems, capri sun, ipods, etc are impossible without fossil fuels and inequality (or at least their rapid exponential evolution/creation that has occured).

this is real fantasy, and we are at a point in the evolutionary chain of events in which we can impose mindful design onto the world, sufficiently halting, or altering evolution "design out of chaos without the aid of mind." Dennette.

I am not arguing any moral point about wether we should design a system in which we all are truly equal (since equality is not congenital), or wether we should retain an evolutionary model such as Capitalism in which there is always going to be a winner and a loser.  I'm trying to decipher the meaning in what we're doing, that may or may not be what we are intending with it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What we're talking about when we talk about talking about gardening in an art context

UNRELATED TO THIS POST BUT KIND OF IMPORTANT: I am pretty sure that I pulled a deer tick off of my shoulder today. Anyone want to refer me to a doctor? I don't see a red ring yet, but just in case. Also: constant vigilance!!


I've been reading about Dutch art history a little bit lately. One thing I've been really interested in is an idea put forth by Svetlana Alpers, about the difference between the pictorial modes of areas south of the Alps (Italy) and areas north. The southern mode is one in which one makes sense of what appear to be random occurrences by inventing a higher truth that aligns them in a logical manner. The north, on the other hand, observes the world as it is around us and attempts to comprehend it as accurately and intensely as possible in order to place oneself in the world.

I was thinking about this in relationship to the brief presentation of artists working with gardening or greening spaces--which of these pictorial modes might better suit such efforts? Because certainly, while working in a garden one encounters a lot of interesting allegories to one's lived life or cultural institutions (tangent: can we talk some more sometime about the weird parallels between gardening vernacular and military vernacular?), at the same time the key thing when working in a garden is just doing it, simply toiling at a task and paying attention to the surroundings. I suspect the conversation of viewing it "as art" might be more about viewing it from this southern pictorial space--from this insistence that the gardening "mean something", when in fact the effort itself has an immanent meaning. The consequences, political and personal, are inherently tied to the physical act, to the fact of laboring over a shared resource. While it certainly matters to the participants in Edible Estates that they are part of this larger project, what probably matters more is how the cabbage is doing or if there's a pest problem. And perhaps those facts of living with the work day to day are more important than the nice bow made pulling strands of meaning together to tie up and package the work.

The understanding--and funding--of gardening as art may have more to do with the closed-off tendencies of scientific or political institutions than the openness of cultural institutions. Mel Chin couldn't fund Revival Field through scientific channels, but he could through the Walker Arts Center. Can anyone think of some organization not design or art related that would and could have funded Edible Estates? The "could" I suppose begs the question of how it is that art institutions can afford to fund these projects--because I'm pretty sure that they don't sustain the museums in any way (even when the ICA in Philadelphia had a solar greenhouse installed on their rooftop terrace for Locally Localized Gravity, it was temporary). This strikes me as unusual in that museums are spaces for contemporary practice but also for preservation. How can these be made to sustain the institution?

Reference points: Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Svetlana Alpers, Design 99.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Edible Things

I thought it might be a good idea to put some references of what is edible and what is not edible since we have been eating a lot of new things or a lot of old things in new ways.


Student's Hand-book of Mushrooms of America: Edible and Poisonous from Google Books

This book seems really useful. Our edible toadstools and mushrooms and how to distinguish them.

1 Pleasant taste and odor
2 Peeling of the skin of the cap from rim to centre
3 Pink gills turning brown in older specimens
4 The stem easily pulled out of the cap and inserted in it like a parasol handle
5 Solid stems
6 Must be gathered in the morning
7 Any fungus having a pleasant taste and odor being found similarly agreeable after being plainly broiled without the least seasoning is perfectly safe

8 Boiling with a silver spoon the staining of the silver indicating danger
9 Change of color in the fracture of the fresh mushroom
10 Slimy or sticky on the top
11 Having the stems at their sides
12 Growing in clusters
13 Found in dark damp places
14 Growing on wood decayed logs or stumps
15 Growing on or near manure
1 6 Having bright colors
17 Containing milky juice
1 8 Having the gill plates of even length
19 Melting into black fluid
20 Biting the tongue or having a bitter or nauseating taste
21 Changing color by immersion in salt water or upon being dusted with salt

-Edible mushroom stems are cylindrical while poisonous mushroom stems are bulbous.

The mushroom book


A source for books about edible wild plants.

This one is very boring: American weeds and useful plants

The Maryland Native Plant Society

Plants For a Future: Edible, useful, and medicinal plants


A limited view of the Sprouting Book by Ann Wigmore

Amy Wigmore Natural Health Institute



some edible species

Great Kids' Farm

Our visit to Great Kids Farm covered tons of information...

Greg Strella the manager of the farm has a lot of knowledge about a variety of different aspects of farming. Great Kids Farm was started in November 2008 on a 33 acre piece of land owned by the Baltimore City Public Schools.

The school system has owned the land since 1953 when it was sold to the City for $5 by a black abolitionist under the stipulation that the land be used to educate young black men. The city built stone structures using stone quarried from the property to replace the old wooden buildings. After many years of successful use by the city, funding ran out and the property was shut down.

Today there are two full-time paid staff working there with a third person starting work next week. Great Kids Farm has 14 living systems on the farm including chickens (x between white rock and rhode island reds), goats (8 male Alpine/Nubians donated by Groff's Content Farm), wildlife, bees, fruits, and vegetables. Strella's aim is to be able to demonstrate as many things as possible on an urban farm. The goal is to show children and adults all the variety that is possible to accomplish in the city. Not all of the intended lessons will take place at the farm. They will have a mobile chicken coop that will be moved to various schools around the city. In addition, they will be installing greenhouses at some schools, and utilizing farm grown produce at student run cafe's in the city. Great Kids Farm is already selling produce through a CSA and to a couple local restaurants with more intended outlets in the future.

Learning about all that they have accomplished on this farm in only 8 months was impressive. I look forward to seeing how they progress in the future.

an article in the NY Times

an interesting article about produce carts in New York:



Good seeds for sprouting include: wheat, sunflower, wheat grass, alfalfa, lentils, garbanzo beans

Adam's instructions for sprouting:
1. Soak the seeds, submerged completely in a large container of water, for 8-12 hour (depending on size) intervals, rinsing the seeds and changing the water at the end of each.
2. After 2 days of the rinsing  and soaking process the seeds should have sprouted a tap root,                   this indicates that they are ready to be moved to a soil tray.
3. Sprouted seeds are spread evenly over a tray of topsoil, and covered for a few hours to retain            moisture. 
4. Last the seed trays need to be uncovered and put in sun or under grow lights where they will        take about 1 week to sprout. When harvesting the sprouts it is most nutritious to cut                    them at the lowest point before the root system.

Why Sprouts:
Sprouts have higher concentrations of chlorophyl than larger plants, the chlorophyl oxygenates the blood and breaks down toxins in your body. 

The molecular make-up of wheat grass is very similar to that of an iron rich red blood cell, it has been said that a blood transfusion using wheat grass juice and coconut milk could be possible.

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