2017 Community Service 3rd Place – The Barn’s CommUnity Garden, Lehigh/Northampton Counties, PA

You might think that a garden program about community gardening would be about how, when and why you should plant particular crops. But, this program involves using gardening as a means to build bridges in our community for the well-being

whole groupof our community. When one contemplates the homeless, our veterans, and food insufficiency in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, it is life changing when those who are able become positive social change agents. My name is Dr. Robert Yoder and I have sought to be socially conscious of my neighbor far and wide serving as a short term missionary dentist in Honduras for six years, building homes on the Gulf coast post Katrina and  in a variety of short term mission trips but I felt this subtle tug that I should be doing more locally. I thought perhaps as a Penn State Master Gardener, I could weave my skill set and invite others to join me in community gardening. So seven years ago, I began to recruit volunteers and found the Christian community “The Barn”, currently worshipping at Swain School, willing to rise to the challenge.

The initiative began with a simple wonderment: “Could we create a community garden that intentionally brought people together to grow food for the hungry in our community?” Even better, “Could recipients of the food grown, participate in the very garden that benefitted them?” We began with 2 plots graciously donated by Lower Macungie Township. Three additional Master Gardeners and 40 volunteers of all experience levels signed up to help and learn. Immediately, friendships developed, fun ensued, and the satisfaction of walking alongside our neighbor, revealed we were onto something bigger than ourselves. The produce from the first year was modest in pounds (around 500 lbs.), but the community that was being built, both in the garden and reaching into center city Allentown was beyond description.

Fast forward six years and we now have 7 garden plots with active material and monetary support from our major donor, Home Depot, and  additional financial support from Tractor Supply, Emmaus Borough, The Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley, Wal-Mart, The Barn Community, Lower Macungie Township planting with the kidsand the Master Gardeners of the Lehigh Valley. In addition, we now have broader community involvement  including 7 worshipping communities and over 175 volunteers. Leadership is provided by 11 Master gardeners assigned to each of the gardens.

The 2016  initiative  included involving our veterans who too often have lost meaning in life and we find some aiml s and  homeless. Also consider, in 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a study which discovered for 10 years running, there was an average of 18-22 veteran suicides per day in the United States. Can we use the community garden to give them a way of engaging community that offers new purpose? Additionally, we were broadening efforts of interfaith cooperation by involving Muslims, Christians and Jews, all working together in the garden to show the world a better way forward. To that end, we now have the Jewish temples Beth El and Kenneseth Israel, the Christian churches “The Barn” and “Life Church” of Nazareth along with two Muslim worshipping communities at “Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley” and  a young vital Muslim community in Alburtis all working together, building community and growing vegetables.

Last year we raised almost 4500 lbs. of fresh produce which now benefits two Lehigh Conference of Church’s social outreach ministries: DayBreak and the Soup Kitchen at 8twith tthe participantsh and Walnut Street. We hope with continued growth to make a greater impact.

Looking ahead , 2017 has more new initiatives including new involvement of a Sikh community to broaden our community building. Second, we are trying to incorporate the youth of each of these worshipping communities in three exciting ways. In Spring, in a round table sharing format, we plan to have a youth program including a potluck meal of foods of each community’s ethnic background, seedling starting, a time of sharing their favorite religious foods and holidays in their traditions. This in an effort to teach tolerance and appreciation  of the other at a young age. In Summer, we will have a week of youth involvement in direct garden care. Adult mentors will work side by side with the youth to teach gardening skills.  In Fall, in correlation with the Jewish holiday Sukkot, we will initiate a gleaning project at “The Seed Farm” with kids working side by side with folks from the center city, the very people all the garden goods go to help with the food insecurity of the Lehigh Valley.

Logistically, a typical growing season would begin with willing volunteers raising seedlings like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli starting in late February. This group of seedling growers includes folks from the center city to the suburbs. It gives the wonder of spring early to families with young children and the homeless that find shelter at DayBreak. They maintain and grow the seedlings to maturity, then help in the transplanting in one of the seven community gardens when winter finally gives up its grip in mid-May.

Weekly teams of volunteers then tend, harvest, laugh, test out a sugar pea or two and take pictures of the produce being grown. All through the process a more important thing is happening: community is being knit into a beautiful tapestry. We are working side by side to make a positive difference in our community. You know you have struck a beautiful chord when in one hand you have the day’s harvest and in the other you are hugging a new found friend who comes from a completely different life situation than you do. Imagine a Jewish woman with kids working side by side with a Muslim woman’s kids. We have indeed grown CommUnity and the forecast for this year’s growing season is one full of love and care for neighbor. We are showing the world a better way forward.

                                                                                                out in the garden workingthe producegiving instructions

A Visit to ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’

After work on Friday, September 26th, 2014 I drove 6.5 hours to Decorah, Iowa so that I could attend the ‘Seed Savers Exchange’ Fall Harvest School.  It was a long drive, but very well worth it.  The one-day workshop promised lessons on seed saving, fall gardening, canning, and fermentation.

Seed Savers' Heritage Farm
Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

         A Beautiful Drive

Lilliam Goodman Visitors' Center
Lilliam Goodman Visitors’ Center

Unfortunately darkness had descended so I was unable to fully appreciate the scenery of my drive, nor did I get to enjoy the transition from the flat plains of southeast Nebraska to the glorious rolling hills and gentle mountains that awaited near Minnesota.

Starfire Signet Marigolds
Beautiful Orange Blossoms
Beautiful Orange Blossoms
Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm
Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Heaven on Earth

‘Heritage Farm’ is beyond beautiful and is the headquarters of ‘Seed Savers Exchange’. Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, the farm sits on 890 acres and boasts itself (according to the website) a “living museum of historic varieties”.  Thousands of heirlooms are grown organically on-site in the Preservation Gardens along with a Historic Orchard home to many near-extinct apple and grape varieties.  The farm is one of only two locations in North America where Ancient White Park Cattle may be seen.  Surrounded by stately cliffs and enormous pines, the rustic red barn and accompanying gardens looks a lot like paradise.

A Full Day of Lessons  

The Fall Workshop started bright and early with visitors from all over crowded in and around the ‘Lillian Goldman Visitors Center’.  Attendees were divided into smaller groups and the day’s schedule was broken down accordingly.

The first class I attended was on fermentation, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about.  The lecturing nutritionist shared recipes for homemade coleslaw, fermented beet juice, and many tips and tricks.

The second class was on seed saving.  Attendees were taken to the nearby teaching gardens, where we were instructed on how to harvest, save, and store seeds from beans, peas, melon, squash, and tomatoes.  We were given free-reign of the teaching gardens and allowed to harvest some seeds at-will.  Despite the gardening season obviously winding down and winter soon approaching, the teaching gardens were still gorgeous and I was exposed to so many new varieties of both flower and vegetable that I had never seen nor heard of before.  I went home with a few Radish and Dill seeds, some yellow Drumstick, Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy, and gorgeous burgundy Amaranth seeds, which can be enjoyed as both a cereal grain and as a garden ornamental.

Following lunch were classes on canning/food preservation and preparing the fall garden for the following spring.  Visitors saw demonstrations of proper bed clean-up and division of perennials, and discussed the use of nutrient-enriching cover crops.

Seed Shopping!!!  

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate
Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

Following the classes, this blogger lingered to talk with fellow attendees and like-minded gardeners, and patronized the ‘Visitors Center’ where all 2014 seed packets were on sale.  I somewhat maintained restraint and stuck to my shopping list, but did allow for several added varieties (They were on sale!) that I had fallen in love with on-site, which were displayed in the gardens.  I could not leave without having purchased seeds for the brilliant, tall ‘Purple Verbena’ that I had seen covered by masses of butterflies, nor could I leave without the ‘Black-Eyed Susan Vine’ and the prolific ‘Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden Gate’, which will add an abundance of charm and cheery pink color to my front flower garden this coming season.

This blogger urges anyone able to visit the ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’ to do so.  I left awed by the majestic beauty, inspired by the bountiful gardens, and determined to practice the art of seed saving as I was taught on that day.

Glorious Trees at Seed Savers

 

Please visit http://www.seedsavers.org/About-Us/Heritage-Farm/ to learn more!

Create a Pollinator Paradise

Most pollinators – approximately 200,000 species – are beneficial insects such as bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and butterflies. A small percentage of pollinators are vertebrates such as hummingbirds. Honey bees and native bees (bumble bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, mining bees, mason bees, etc.) are critical to our food supply and are responsible for pollinating about one-third of the foods we enjoy.

Pollinators provide produce
Pollinators are critical to supplying about 1/3 of our foods (Photo: Debbie Roos)

Bees and other pollinators are also essential components of the habitats and ecosystems that many wild animals rely on for food and shelter. As natural areas are cleared for development, pollinator habitat is destroyed or fragmented, resulting in the loss of foraging and nesting sites. This can lead to a decline in pollinator populations.

Bees
Pollinators are essential components of the habitats and ecosystems  (Photo: Debbie Roos)

One big way you can help pollinators is by planting forage habitat that provides nectar and pollen.  Your main goal is to have plants flowering throughout the growing season, from early spring-late fall, with overlapping bloom periods.

Pollinator Paradise Garden
Pollinator Paradise Garden (spring) (Photo: Debbie Roos)

Choose flowers with a diversity of bloom color, size, and shape to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators. Some pollinators have short tongues and can only feed from small, open flowers with easily accessible nectar. Other pollinators have long tongues and prefer more complex blooms. Emphasize native plants to provide the most benefits to the greatest number of pollinators.

Pollinator plants
Pollinator Paradise Garden (early summer) (Photo: Debbie Roos)

 

Some examples of native plants that will make your pollinators very happy from spring to fall: wild indigo, spiderwort, and beard tongue (spring); butterfly weed, mountain mint, Joe-pye weed, coneflower, anise hyssop, blanketflower, and St. John’s wort (summer); goldenrod, aster, spotted horsemint, and obedient plant (fall). Herbs such as lavender, thyme, oregano, calamint, basil, catmint, and rosemary also provide great resources for bees.

 

Pollinator Paradise Garden (late summer)
Pollinator Paradise Garden (late summer). (Photo: Debbie Roos)

Looking to find plants suited to your region? Check out the Pollinator Partnership planting guides.

Learn and Explore at Pollinator Paradise Garden

Want to learn more? You can visit North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Pollinator Paradise Garden at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, NC.

This public demonstration garden includes over 140 different plants, 85% which are native to the piedmont of North Carolina. For those of you outside North Carolina, the garden has its own website that includes a plant list, photos of what’s blooming every week, and much more.  If you are not able to visit the garden in person, you can take a virtual tour here  or shown below by viewing the slide show featuring 100 photos from the garden throughout the seasons!

Free garden tours are conducted every month, and the schedule is on the website. Just go to www.protectpollinators.org  and click on the Pollinator Paradise Garden link.

I hope that you will consider creating some habitat that both you and our pollinators will enjoy for many seasons to come!

Debbie Roos
Agricultural Extension Agent with the Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.