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Post-Irene Rooftop Recap

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In a word: we’re totally fine! Yes, Red Hook, Brooklyn was looking to be the eye of Hurricane Irene according to many experts’ forecasts in the few days before it hit the East Coast. But luckily, we chanced out, and our little rooftop garden suffered only a few snapped sunflower stems as a result. Hallelujah, almighty!

Then, I’ve been out of circuit for the last month, and was relying on the account of the wonderful garden apprentices I’d appointed while I’d be out of town. I can’t tell you how funny it felt to be volunteering at the 40th Anniversary of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard event in Berkeley on August 27th, and spending most of that time talking on the phone or emailing with my constituents back home on how to secure the chicken coop. I was freaking out so much during this festival, that I could barely cut the dozen barrels or so of watermelons that I was designated to do that day.

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IMG_0690enormous red okra; a bee feasts upon chive blossoms

As it turned out, all was taken care of — the coop was covered with a tarp via staplegun, all loose objects were moved from the roof, and I cut watermelon after watermelon — but the uncanny difference between two very different (and yet, strangely similar) coasts was impossible to miss. I’d traveled to California to get a fresh perspective on the farm-to-table food scene. There I got it, but it was my home in New York that propelled me to research this topic more.

IMG_0684incredibly, the multi-colored peppers turned just that instead of all purple!

I’m grateful to say that our garden at Sixpoint is doing just great, given the challenges that the summer of ’11 has thrown at it. There are a lot of things that you can do to prepare for the healthiest plants (and chickens) over a growing season. But some things, you just have to leave in nature and fortune’s hand. So we’re fortunate for a great crop of peppers, cucumbers, herbs, leafy greens and red-colored okra, which came up late. The tomatoes were great for a while in August, but they’ve weathered too many summer storms and weakened as a result (like the tomato plants of many neighbors’ container gardens that I’ve seen or heard of, too). We’re grateful for all these things, as well as the continual surge of pole beans which refuse to stop growing, it seems!

However, not all of the Northeast was pretty, farming-wise. We’ve gotten word that some 15% of the farmers who supply CSA shares to New York City have been flooded, and their crops were demanded unfit for selling. That’s 70-80% of the remaining harvests at these individual farms, according to Just Food’s website, and a loss like that right in the middle of harvest season is nothing to sneeze at for the struggling small farm. You can help out! With events like Lots of Hudson County Farms Need Your Support and more, to be listed on Just Food’s website. I know that CSA leader Wen-Jay Ying and I are already talking about a fundraiser for Rogowski’s farm, which was hit very hard by the hurricane as well as edicts to not sell the food from which.

IMG_0622the Free Farm in San Francisco

IMG_0590Growing Home Community Garden in San Francisco

While on the West Coast, I got to visit many urban farms, including Hayes Valley Farm and the Free Farm in San Francisco. I talked with their principals, ate from their crops, attended their workshops and inspected their plants. And I was able to glean from them a great perspective on how to maintain and organize a community, based around a garden. But the specific growing conditions for every climate, region, and particular season, are always going to be different, day after day.

I’ve learned that it’s not so much about what you do in a garden, but what you do with a garden that counts the most — to your community at least, if not to the plants. And to that respect, I’m most proud of my garden interns, Sarah and Kristina, who helped tend to the Sixpoint garden for a whole month while I was away and got some experience in rooftop container gardening as a result. You guys held down the chicken coop in a Northeast hurricane while I was bat-shit crazy during an Alice Waters event. Thank you, thank you. And let’s eat real soon.

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