This project was developed in cooperation with Community CROPS, the local urban agriculture initiative with the intent of helping immigrants and refugees grow food for their families and for market by providing them with land, resources, and demonstrations of a variety of growing methods.
Community CROPS: Combining Resources, Opportunities and People for Sustainability has just finished its third growing season. The project runs four community gardens in Lincoln, Nebraska and one community farm site. The gardens total about an acre of land and hosted 76 gardeners this year. Three of the gardens are divided by plots with each plot being assigned to a family. The fourth is gardened in conjunction with a local women’s shelter. CROPS had five plots of land at Sunset Community Farms, one used by project staff, and the others used by project participants. Each farm plot is about a quarter of an acre.
Community CROPS has always advocated sustainable agriculture in all of the garden and farm plots. Gardeners are asked to garden organically and are educated about alternatives to chemicals they can use.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our original project goals were as follows:
1. Intensive community outreach to increase direct market linkages;
2. Maintain an alternative farming educational site;
3. Provide free educational workshops and technical assistance to refugee, immigrant, migrant, and low-income gardeners;
4. Facilitate cross-cultural discussions on farming/gardening;
5. Create a video on the project; and
6. Work towards securing long-term land use for gardens
To address the goals of the project, we developed demonstration garden beds, and then worked with many people to provide education on the options available to them as they grow their own food.
The core of our project was three demonstration beds at our Sumner and Normal community garden: a biointensive bed, a vermiculture bed, and a no-till bed, developed by Brad Kindler, Community CROPS Intern; Kim Matthews, former CROPS Director; and John Doran, retired University of Nebraska professor and USDA Agriculture Research Service Soil Scientist. These three beds were maintained throughout the growing season by project partners and staff. Throughout the season the growers provided information informally to other gardeners. At the end of the growing season, they presented a workshop on the gardens to other gardeners. At the end of the growing season, they presented a workshop on the gardens to other gardeners and interested members of the public. The workshop was well received and well attended. The presenters received many good questions about the project.
The biointensive beds were built using the model developed by John Jeavons, and outlined in his book “How to Grow More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible.” This method involves intensive soil preparation to promote maximum plant yields. Beds are “double-dug” (i.e. the soil is loosened to a depth of two shovel heights, and then compost and other needed amendments are incorporated). Jeavons also recommends a mix of crops to include grains and high calorie root crops for maximum human nutrition, and that a 4000 sq ft area is sufficient to produce food for one person for one year.
We didn’t have enough space to try the theory in 4000 sq ft, but we used three 100 sq ft biointensive double-dug growing beds and measured their production. The best yields were seen in the ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes, which produced 105 lbs per 100 square feet or about 25% over the US average. The beds also produced a wide variety of other vegetables including 10.4 pounds of zucchini, 26.5 pounds of tomatoes, and an estimated 8 pounds of grey pearl millet, but that was eaten by squirrels. In total, the 300 sq ft produced about 100 pounds of food, or .33 pounds/sq ft.
The vermiculture bed was an interesting experiment for us to carry out. A 4’ x 8’ bed was double dug and then worms and organic matter was spread on. After that, a 6’ layer of soil was put over the top to plant in. One of the biggest problems with the bed was that it would have been better laid out east/west instead of north /south. This is to ensure maximum southern sun exposure. As a biointensive bed, the soil preparation allows for up to four times the productivity of unit area. Understanding the arrangement of plants in the bed is then necessary to ensure maximum yield. There are two observations of our bed this year that we feel can be learned from and changed for next year. One, in relation to planting we need to more closely follow the hexagonal equal spacing pattern between plants, as laid out by Jeavons. To learn more information about this technique see discussion in “How to Grow more Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible.” Two, plant shading is an important factor in our bed, as it was laid out north/south. This means anticipating and knowing the growth pattern of seeds and transplants at the time of planting. For example this year we grew tomatoes and pepper plants on the south end while we planted eggplant and cabbage on the north side. This was problematic as the large bushing nature of the tomatoes crowded out the peppers and shaded the eggplant, stunting their growth. Pruning throughout the season and removing certain tomato plants helped, but planting the tomatoes on the north side of the bed would have been much easier and increased yield that was lost to pruning. We planned this fall for a different arrangement next season by planting garlic on the extreme south end of the bed as it will warm fast in the spring yet not restrict other plant growth through shading.
The third demonstration bed was developed using permaculture methods, which is a system of perennial agriculture emphasizing the use of renewable natural resources and the enrichment of local ecosystems. Our other bed focused on these same points, but without the perennial aspect. We grew perennial herbs, asparagus, and flowers in this bed.
We explored various direct market outlets for produce. One of out participants at Sunset Community Farms grew a large quantity of produce and had a regular stand at the Haymarket Farmers’ Market from mid-July until mid-September. He also sold some vegetables to local grocery stores and restaurants. We helped him to learn about packaging, delivery, and outlets for his produce, as well as helping him sell at the Farmers’ Market, all of which made good connections for the project in the future. We had to assist him more than we expected because the farmer speaks very little English. He was a good grower and businessman, but his adult and teenage children had to help with any communication, as he could not sell alone, and they were not as good at selling. This was time-consuming and so we plan to discuss with him ways that we can help his family to sell independently next year.
We had a twelve-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project this season, in which community members could buy shares in the harvest of our farm site. They received a weekly bag of harvested vegetables throughout the growing season. The CSA project was run by staff as a demonstration for project participants for one direct market outlet, and successfully showed how someone can start such a project and earn income. We learned a lot about harvesting and packaging vegetables, such as being very careful with the ripe tomatoes and immediately discarding any with any damage as they can quickly ruin a whole bag. We had wanted to have project participants actually be in charge of the CSA this year, but that was too much responsibility for them to be comfortable with, so we hope that for next year we can develop a plan to work together, perhaps with the refugee and immigrant farmers growing a fixed amount of vegetables for the CSA and helping with the packaging of the shares.
Overall, we made good progress on all of our original objectives. We developed direct marketing opportunities, demonstrated viable alternative growing techniques, provide workshops, had good cross-cultural communication, created broad outreach through our website, and have developed good relationships with land owners for the future. As discussed above, we also learned a lot about biointensive methods, vermiculture, possibilities, and challenges for direct marketing in our area, and a need for education on many alternative farming methods.
Two formal workshops were held as part of the project during the 2005 growing season. The first was a composting workshop presented by Don Janssen, Extension Specialist, who demonstrated a simple method for composting at our 23rd and P Street Community Garden. Sixteen people attended the workshop including four refugees. Even experienced composters felt they had learned something at the workshop, such as the importance of watering the pile to keep it working faster.
Twelve people attended the workshop on developing soil, put on by John Doran and Brad Kindler. About half were community members and half were project gardeners. They learned about double-dig, biointensive, and vermiculture techniques and how they could apply them to their own garden.
We also co-sponsored two Seed Saving Workshops presented by Dr. Tom Tomas at two local organic farms, where he talked about seed saving methods for a variety of crops, followed by a tour of the farm.
John Doran also worked with a number of gardeners from the US, Bosnia, and El Salvador in developing and maintaining the beds, so they got hands-on experience working with these techniques.
We decided that a website about our project and the demonstration beds would be a more valuable tool for outreach and received permission to create that for our SARE project instead of a video. The website (www.communitycrops.org) shows how the entire Community CROPS project was created, with a special education section on the demonstration beds grown this year and how they were developed. Photos document the process. Links to outside sites are included to help other similar projects find the best resources. The website will continue to be enhanced in the future.
To explore sustainable urban farming techniques that will increase the food security and family income for refugees, immigrants, migrants and low income populations through community gardening projects, utilizing organic based techniques.