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Back In!

November 4, 2012

At last! After a few false starts and many weeks of re-working scheduling and logistics internally and with the prison, we were able to send a group inside CIW bright and early this morning to check on the garden. All of Caitlin’s (our Summer Intern) hard work paid off in spades. In a quick walk through the garden, we found none other than this little friend awaiting our return:

As we continue to work through administrative details to get back to a regular schedule, we’re thankful for the wonderful new volunteers we’ve got along for the ride. More than 25 eager new gardeners are awaiting clearance – they keep our meetings lively and informative in the meantime, and we’re all looking forward catching up with the women inside and getting back to work planting and harvesting very soon!

Educational Workshops

February 7, 2011

We, Charlotte and Camille, the workshop leaders (you’d probably forgotten about us, because we’ve neglected our blog updating responsibilities) have been having a blast on Friday nights at CIW. To make up for our negligence, and to convey our enthusiasm, we’re supplying you with ample details regarding what we’ve taught, discussed, and discovered in the past several months.

In mid-November, Camille led a workshop on organics, as a follow-up to the previous week’s discussion on the subject. After reviewing the definition of “organic” and the benefits of organic gardening, the group discussed whether or not organic produce is actually nutritionally healthier than conventionally-grown produce—that is, if it contains more vitamins and minerals. While we all knew organic foods are great because they don’t contain pesticides, we hadn’t discussed whether they were nutritionally healthier. To gain insight on the issue, we listened to the first half of an NPR Talk of the Nation podcast called “Is Organically Produced Food More Nutritious?” The podcast described the findings of a recent study comparing organic and conventional strawberries, saying organic strawberries do, in fact, have more antioxidants and vitamin C, and they grow in much healthier and more genetically diverse soil. We were surprised to hear that organic berries even rotted more slowly than conventional ones. One woman mentioned that she had found this out herself years ago at home. Before buying organic berries, her parents bought conventional ones that would rot before she had the chance to eat them; when her parents made the switch to organic, she had more time to eat them before they went bad! Even though the organics were a little pricier, they were getting eaten, whereas the others were going down the drain.

The following week, we continued our focus on organic foods in a more interactive way. Women paired up, and the two of us gave each pair a slip of paper displaying a disapproving comment about organic foods, such as “organic foods are too expensive.” Each comment was different, and each pair discussed ways to respond to the comment. They then shared the comment and their response with the group. Charlotte transitioned to a new facet of eating healthfully by reading a segment from a New York Times article, in which the author argued for the consumption of “real” food, even if that means it’s not organic. After all, a conventionally-grown apple is probably better for you than an organic butter cookie. An organic label doesn’t guarantee healthy food. At the end of the workshop, women spoke up about what topics they wanted to see covered in future workshops, providing us with important insights into their interests (vegetarianism, finding complete proteins, planting specific vegetables…).

On Friday December 3rd, we devoted class time to learning about the produce growing in CIW’s organic garden. With everyone’s help, we compiled a long list of the fruits and vegetables that were then appearing, and juxtaposed that list with a list of fruits and vegetables that typically appear in the winter months. The women then broke up into small groups and chose one fruit or vegetable from the lists to focus on. They took about 20 minutes to look through the books we brought to class, and to find out everything they could about planting and caring for it. They attempted to answer the following questions: How and where should the crop be planted? How long does the plant take to mature? (How long ago did we have to plant the seeds to get vegetables now?) What is it best planted with? The women addressed spacing, proper soil conditions, appropriate watering techniques, and a few interesting or surprising facts about the plant. What ensued was a lively discussion about companion planting, variations in a vegetable’s flavor that results from planting seeds at different times of year, and even tips for cooking eggplant that ensure it won’t turn bitter. One group found that planting garlic near roses will make a rose’s scent more pungent! (We’d like to test this ourselves!)

During the last workshop of the semester, Charlotte gave us the dirt on dirt. She introduced the topic of soil health by playing a short NPR podcast (as you can tell, we have come to appreciate, and even rely on, NPR!). “The Sweet Smell of Rain,” from Science out of the Box, revealed that ozone and soil bacteria produce that refreshing smell after rainfall. Charlotte then covered the three basic soil types—clay, sand, and silt—and defined terms such as “loam,” “humus” and “aggregate.” She talked about soil as a living thing (“It has DNA!?” some asked skeptically), and the role that sunlight, water and nutrients play in its fertility. In turn, she talked about the benefits of healthy soil for plant growth and nutrition. Women paired off to investigate a test they could perform in CIW’s garden to examine soil fertility. They shared with the rest of the group what their test involved and what its results could reflect about soil quality. Each group was also responsible for creating a drawing that symbolized their test, for those of us visual learners!

After the long holiday, we devoted a workshop to examining diabetes. Charlotte began by posing a few questions: Do you know anyone living with diabetes? How has the disease impacted your life? What do you know about diabetes? Everyone knew someone living with the disease, and the disease had affected everyone directly or indirectly. One woman shared the hardship diabetes had brought upon her family—amputations, blindness, and even early deaths. It became clear that the disease affects people we know, and that it’s prevalent in the U.S.—nearly 26 million Americans live with the disease today, according to the American Diabetes Association. After establishing the necessity of knowing more about it, Charlotte delved into the science behind Type I and Type II diabetes, using illustrations. Visualizing the glucose/insulin paths and relationship in the body made the information accessible to everyone, and provided clarity on an issue most women had questions about. One woman shared her experience with gestational diabetes, and we talked about its symptoms and effects. Everyone left with a greater understanding about this ever-present but quite mysterious disease, and the personal stories hit it home.

“I’m taking all these oils—like fish and flax—and my gosh, my brain is working better, I can tell!” said Diane. “I have all these numbers floating around in my head, and that never used to happen!” We were discussing good and bad fats, a conversation that stemmed from our talk on avocados. (If you want to hear more about the nutrition behind fats, just check back in a couple of weeks, because we’re planning a workshop on them). But, back to the topic of avocados: Camille’s grandfather happens to be an avocado grower here in Southern California (and the inspiration behind a workshop devoted to the avocado). Over semester break, she conducted a few informal interviews with him, after the group of women begged for information she was ashamed she couldn’t provide. She learned loads about his orchard’s history, the planting and tending process, the trees and fruits themselves, the road to becoming certified organic, and the avocado industry, both past and present. During last Friday’s workshop, Camille shared what she learned. Exploring the ins and outs of the fruit made everyone hungry—and we satisfied our longing by eating none other than the subject of our workshop: avocados! Charlotte and I agreed we hadn’t seen appreciation like we did that night in a long, long time.

We’re Back!

January 26, 2011

This past Friday the education interns held a fabulous and stimulating workshop on diabetes. Sunday brought a glorious return to the garden. After a very long winter break, the garden looked completely different. For the most part, not much is ready for harvest in the garden right now. We are kind of in winter hibernation mode. The only things we ate on Sunday were a few left over carrots and radishes which we purposely left to grow really big.  All of the things we planted toward the end of last semester (broccoli, onions, turnips, spinach and lettuce) are coming up beautifully and needed to be thinned out.

Any other month, we would be praying for rain, but the heavy December rains mostly wreaked havoc. Water got into the seeds we were storing in the shed, causing them to become moldy and useless. We are currently in the process of ordering new seeds and trying to get a grant to subsidize them. The winter rains and less frequent visits also left us with TONS of weeds! We had so many weeds it was almost impossible to tell the beds from the paths.  We got to work straight away weeding and turning the beds that used to have the tomatoes. We turn the beds by digging them out and then replacing the soil. This mixes the soil and allows the plants to get a strong roothold. Then we were able to plant cover crop in all of these beds. The cover crop we use is a mixture of plants (none of which are edible) that will replace nutrients in the soil that the tomato plants used up.

And as for the worms… lets just say they aren’t very strong swimmers. Future plans for the garden include irrigating the greenhouse, lots of planting, improving our vermicompost skills and much much more!

We have so much ahead of us this semester! I can’t wait to get back out to the garden next week!

Educational Workshops

November 9, 2010

In the past couple of weeks, we, the new education interns, have begun a workshop series as an extension of the Sunday gardening program. We meet on Friday nights at CIW, when we teach and learn with a group of about 15 women.

In the series, we plan to cover gardening, the environment, and health—and how they all relate. (As time goes on, and as we gauge the women’s interests, the subject matter may change a little.) In the gardening unit, we’ll discuss planting and eating seasonally, what organic actually means, what’s growing in CIW’s garden, and how to plant in order to optimize soil health. In the environmental unit, we’ll cover food distribution, national and global food politics, how to be environmentally friendly on a budget, and how the food industry (especially the fast food industry) affects the environment. In the health unit, we’ll cover diabetes, the state of the nation’s health today, and the nutrition behind the food we consume.

During the first workshop, Jody showed an interview between Morgan Spurlock (producer of Super Size Me) and Eric Schlosser (author of Chew On This), and led a discussion about fast food. The group talked about their experiences with fast food, the perceived benefits of fast food chains, and the actual cost of fast food to one’s health and the environment. The group left knowing that while fast food may have a cheap sticker price, it’s costly in the long term to the nation, one’s body, and the environment.

During the second workshop, the women inside CIW watched the first half of Fresh, an inspirational film about America’s food system, its consequences, and its sustainable alternatives. They took note of what most interested them, what surprised them, and what questions they had—and this served as fodder for the following week’s discussion. We happened to focus mostly on industrial vs. small farms. We talked about the cost of industrial food production to us (with a note about governmental subsidies), to the environment (and how monocultures and CAFOs go against anything nature ever intended), and to our health (bacterial resistance, exposure to pesticides and hormones, etc.). Then, two weeks ago, we screened the last half of Fresh, and wrapped up our discussion. We concentrated on the efforts of activist Will Allen of Growing Power, an organization in Milwaukee’s inner city, concentrating on what it takes to have a successful movement and what it means to be a part of the food justice movement. We also covered food deserts, access to food, urban gardens, and our responsibilities as consumers. We looked at some really inspirational stories of people who have planted gardens in inner cities, and talked about the importance of these gardens.

Once our thoughts on Fresh had been wrapped up, we moved on to organics. Last Friday, everyone shared her individual definition of “organic,” and then we compared those definitions with definitions provided by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the farmers and activists who originally coined the term. We reviewed common misconceptions about organic food and its production; brainstormed the benefits of buying organic foods; and considered some benefits we hadn’t considered before (like organic tastes way better!). One of the women recalled growing up on local and seasonal produce, because nothing else was available—produce wasn’t yet being imported. Today, she said, the produce doesn’t taste nearly as delicious (even though they do get watermelon in winter), because so much of it is imported from abroad. After making these comparisons, we listed the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce, emphasizing that the produce sprayed the most is best to avoid, and be substituted with the organic version. These lists can act as guidance for those who would like to support organic but are buying on a budget, and need to choose when to buy organic and when to forego it.

Sunday Gardening: Birds of Prey Edition!

November 7, 2010

We got to the garden this morning to find that a ferocious windstorm had snapped one of our trellises and knocked over the majority of our tomato cages (yes, we still have lots and lots of yummy tomatoes). We set to work immediately righting the tomato cages and forming a makeshift support for the broken trellise. Luckily, no harm was done and everything was shipshape in no time.

We harvested lots of goodies from the garden today including tomatoes, grapes, lettuce, tomatillos and pomegranates. On top of that we had a delicious eggplant dip and green tomato pie (recipes to be posted on the blog soon!) made from last weeks extra vegetables. It was a feast fit for a gardener!

The most exciting part of the garden today was probably that we got the vermicompost bins set up. The bins are now complete with red wiggler worms, compost as bedding, and holes to drain out the compost tea! Compost tea is the excess water that drains out of the bin, it is great for your garden! Compost tea will enrich the soil and repel bugs.

We also had a celebrity visit to the garden today! The beautiful redtailed hawk that lives in the tree next to the garden came down for a visit. She stopped by to eat the grubs that we were tossing out of our compost pile. We think that she is a juvenile and we are hoping that she will soon be preying on the gophers that plague our garden! She didn’t seem skittish at all, she came within five feet of us. It was absolutely stunning!

Stay tuned! We took lots of basil out of the garden today and will be bringing it back in next week as pesto! And remember to vote every day this month at http://www.refresheverything.com/cultivatingdreams

Experiments in Broadcasting

October 26, 2010

Recently, we tried “broadcasting” for the first time. Broadcasting is a method of sowing seeds where seeds are scattered onto a bed and then mixed in with the soil. It is also the origin of the phrase we use today to mean the distribution of audio or video signals (i.e. a radio broadcast). Broadcasting is typically used to cover large areas, such as a lawn, with seeds. We decided to try our hand at broadcasting a few beds of spinach. However, that was three weeks ago, and there has since been little to no activity in the spinach beds. So, this week when it came time to plant our lettuce (we companion planted butterking lettuce and garlic) we decided to have a face-off.  We planted 3 beds good-ol-fashion row style and we planted 3 beds by broadcasting.  It looks like it is going to be a close call folks!

In other news, we have begun broadcasting in a different sense of the word. You may have noticed that Cultivating Dreams is all atwitter! You can follow our tweets right here on the website, or you can check us out at www.twitter.com/#!/CIWGarden. Remember to tune in next time to find out who will win the face-off!

The Last of the Yellow Watermelon

September 27, 2010

Our trip to the garden this Sunday was marked by LOTS of completed projects and many new beginnings! Everything is really coming full circle in the garden. First and foremost, the greenhouse is 99.9% complete–just add plants and water! It took 8 of us working together to move it into place. We made sure to leave space behind the greenhouse for vermicomposting (worm) bins, which are the next big project.   Kudos to those who worked inside the greenhouse, because it was hot outside, and it was even hotter inside the greenhouse. We worked in temperatures approaching 106 degrees.

We also finished the chicken wire compost bins that were started by our UCI intern this summer. When we started moving the compost into the bins we found tons of pill bugs, hard at work. In the words of one volunteer “my second grade self would have had a field day!” The bins are already saving us a lot of space. Our whole unwieldy compost pile fit into 2 bins. So we have one completely empty bin, ready to be filled.

There was a lot of harvesting to be done. In fact, we had so much food during our snack break that we were forced to eat all the veggies in order to clear enough room to cut the watermelon. While eating, we brainstormed about what to plant in the garden next. There seemed to be strong support for jicama, cauliflower, snap peas and spinach. But we kicked off the fall season by planted turnips.

Finally, before heading home for the day, we took a dessert break to eat the last of the yellow watermelon. The last watermelon is a clear sign that, despite the heat, summer has come to a close. Looks like we are heading into autumn! Which brings to mind the words of a wise monkey, “There’s more to see than can ever be seen/ More to do than can ever be done. It’s the circle of Life!*”

*For those who don’t know, singing disney songs is an important pastime of garden workers!

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