It's been a while since the snow started falling, the ground froze, and the growing season wound down. It's a good time to decompress and take stock of the past year, crunch some numbers, and make sense of it all. Here's a report of the past year's activities, successes and challenges:
A core group of 3-6 members have been meeting bi-monthly at Owl and Raven Community Space in Northampton, on the 2nd and 4th Thurs. of each month from 7 – 8:30p.
We've identified, designed, approached, negotiated and planted at many sites. We'd like to refine this process to make it applicable on a larger scale and in more communities, as volunteers join.
In addition to a core organizing group, a half dozen folks have been involved during larger planting projects. This year, 6 Five College interns logged ~100 hours at Tripple Brook, earning HYS plant credit, as well as doing site prep and plantings. Additionally, 13 8-12th graders from North Star and Four Rivers put in a full week of work on the Rail Trail and beyond, planting and clearing.
2013 - Year in Review:
HYS purchased more than 2,000 plants with funds raised in 2013. These were stored bare root in Northampton before making their way to numerous planting projects in the Valley., or sold to community members to help cover stock costs. Many were healed in at Tripple Brook Farm, Southampton. At the end of the season, we have only a few plants left waiting in pots to get in the ground.
HYS initiated more than 30 ongoing planting projects in a number of towns in the Valley, primarily Northampton, Greenfield and Hadley, making lasting relationships that will grow over time with:
We're involved with design work for some exciting projects for the spring, such as the Hampshire Council of Government's Lawn in Northampton, the Brookie Sculpture Park in Greenfield, the Parent Child Development Center in Amherst.
Projects in the negotiation phase include plantings at the Forbes Library, the Northampton and Holyoke Public Schools, Wentworth Farms Cons. Area in Amherst, the Green River Rec Area in Greenfield, many of Nuestras Raices' community gardens in Holyoke, more small businesses, and community access trees on peoples' home lawns.
Plant volume & handling:
Despite handling a large volume of bare root and fragile stock, we have had very good success. Of all trees planted, only 2 died. Extra seedlings after planting and sales were offered in plant giveaways.
Larger saplings were ordered from Millers Nurseries, Fedco & Tripple Brook. Many plantings consist of 1-3 trees, which could expand to polycultures or forest gardens over time. Bare root orders from Cold Spring Farm & the NH State Forest Nursery shipped more than 1000 <2ft native nut and fruit trees and shrubs. These will b transplantable as larger saplings later. Those remaining will become a food forest near GCC.
While great potential for public planting exists everywhere, circumstances led us to our first round of planting projects:
Networking & Outreach:
A different organizing group has started to form in Greenfield, being the first offshoot of HYS, broadening the focus of organizers from Northampton to the larger Valley. How can community scale and focused chapters collaborate and communicate? What are the benefits of larger, regional cooperation? Let's find out!
HYS received two Ritual Arts Collective community grants, a number of donations of resources and money, had a successful plant sale, and organized a crowd sourcing campaign. Having spent 7000$ on plants and 400$ on supplies, we stand with 2,300$ and plans for a winter fundraiser.
Challenges and Limitations:
Burden of Maintenance:
The burden of maintenance will grow for HYS with each new project, and as existing plantings grow. Though forest garden design aims to create self-maintaining systems, the ability of this organization to demonstrate quality and competently maintained gardens in the future will be limited by the size of volunteer pool, +/or the ability to offer a stipend for a youth maintenance corps. This is critical, as garden presentation affects the decisions of other institutions in regards to planting on their property. Additionally, maintenance effects harvest yield, and will either inspire or disappoint the communities that interact with the plantings.
A wider pool of members would help sustain HYS financially and logistically, spread out maintenance labor and increase capacity for further organization and plantings. This bottleneck has limited the capacity and scope of plantings, in the context of outreach, finding planting locations, and especially, design. If you are reading this... are you willing to get involved?
Navigating the concerns and complex politics and ownership claims of the commons has been getting easier. Can we codify this process?
Goals for 2014:
Next steps: coming up is another big fundraiser, volunteer recruitment and finding homes for this seasons' incoming 1,800 trees!
During Thanksgiving week, 11 high schoolers from Four Rivers Charter in Greenfield plugged in with Help Yourself for four days spent preparing for a potential zombified future. Planting edibles around the valley was one available 'intensive' offered at the school, a twice a year, four day elective project or experience.
After a week of digging, massaging cramped root balls and mulching, we got the last of ALL of this years seemingly endless potted or bare root plants in the ground! Whew...
Four Rivers purchased many of the trees from Hadley Garden Center, who also generously donated persimmons to the cause. Tripple Brook Farm also donated a number of flats of perennials, and Bug Hill Farm contributed dozens of native pollinating bushes.
All told, we got a lot in the ground: 28 fruit trees, 10 grapes, more than 50 berry bushes, and 40 pollinator bushes!
Our mission began in Hadley, where we got to plant at the World Food Market (who's back yard abuts the bike path) - the first of hopefully many businesses to participate in 'edible exit' plantings off the rail trail. We planted
We moved on to Northampton:
Then on to Greenfield!:
Along the way we basked in the Smith Botanical Garden and made a requisite pilgrimage to Tripple Brook Farm to load up on plants, help cut bamboo, and feast on prickly pears. Go team!
Check out all the empty pots!
It's getting cold - there have been a few freezes in the valley, and some snow in the hills. Geese are winging it south and the more tropical plants - lantana, the figs, tomatoes and kiwis are all dormant. Leaves still cling to the trees of some maples and oaks, and the bradford pears and crab apples are getting ripe and delicious.
It was a crazy, expansive year of planting, breaking ground, meeting folks, doing outreach... hearing hubbub build and watching folks pluck tomatoes, kale and herbs from the beds.
It's time to wrap things up for the year - we mulched the garden beds on the bike path, pulled up the tomatoes at 'Frog Town' (near Maplewood parking lot), and planted garlic in the Nagle Walkway beds in Northampton.
We've been pruning this years fruit tree plantings as they drop their leaves, replacing the handful that didn't survive the year, and gearing up for one more planting of apples, grapes, pears, and pollinators.
Joshua Newman of Owl & Raven canned up a batch of green tomatoes from Frog Town. Here's his recipe:
A bunch of green tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
A head of dill
1 cup of water, warmed with 4 teaspoons of non-iodized salt dissolved therein
Cooled with another cup of water so you don't cook the veggies
You have to cut anything with a skin, or the skin protects the inside from fermenting.
Pack it in a pickle jar, starting with the dill and garlic so you can get the tomatoes out later. Then stuff the tomatoes in hard, doing what you can to get the open sides of the tomatoes to face in, rather than against the glass.
Fill it with the water over the top of all the tomatoes, but ideally leaving a little room.
Put it on top of the fridge for 10 days. Every day after the first, you'll probably need to burp it. Do it over a bowl or the sink slowly, cuz you'll squirt salty picklewater everywhere otherwise. If you left a little room at the top of the jar, this is where you'll get the benefit.
Once fermented (they'll taste like beer or vinegar, depending on who's home), put them in the fridge!
We received a generous 1250$ grant this fall from the Ritual Arts Collective in Amherst, for another year. This translates to 50 fruit trees for public plantings in the valley!
If you haven't been to the monthly Drum & Dance at the Muson Library in South Amherst, you've been missing out!
Their mission statement:
Ritual Arts Collective is dedicated to nurturing Creative Community Spirit. Our primary vehicle and starting point to this end has been the Amherst Drum and Dance Circle and it’s community that has been growing and evolving since the Collectives inception in 2002. We feel this event is emblematic of our mission as it stands as a fully participatory event. There is no Performer and no Audience. Each person there is a part of playing, moving, singing and witnessing the collaborative expression of our joy and play together. We seek to encourage and support those from our circle who work to carry the same interactions in the world about us. We encourage our community to become active participants in shaping their experience of life.
The brightest day of the year has come and gone. As the rhythms of the living world change from activity and growth to contraction and rest, it's a good time to pause and look back over the year so far, taking stock of what we've done and what we'd like to do before winter returns.
Since our last update, we had a successful plant sale in which we raised more than 500$ for future planting efforts, finding homes for or more than 100 fruit and nut bushes and trees into the suburban landscape of the valley at the same time.
With funds from last year's grant and fundraiser, we made some massive orders from nurseries, and found ourselves host to more than 1,300 bare root plants, mostly fruit and nut trees and shrubs. We ordered from Miller's, the New York and New Hampshire State Nurseries, Prairie Moon, Cold Spring Farm, and Tripple Brook Farm. Having found homes for most of them, and the rest healed in at Tripple Brook, we can take a breather and focus on streamlining maintenance, and maintaining the momentum we've been building.
We have begun lasting relationships with many organizations around the valley. In partnership with Community Action, Safe Passage, Amherst Conservation Land, Hampshire Council of Governments, First Churches, the Northampton Housing Authority, the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Dept., almost a dozen public schools and more, we've put hundreds of trees in the ground so far. Over time, we'll expand them into connected forest garden beds. For more info about current projects, check the project page.
We have a few good young and energetic summer interns, and a few already signed up for the fall semester. We continue to meet bi-weekly. There's still plenty of weeding, designing, outreach and fundraising to do, and some exciting, high profile projects lined up, like the country's first public paw-paw orchard in Amherst, the Forbes Library, and an edible bike path corridor through Hadley. If you've been wanting to get involved, there's no better time than now!
We had our first big community planting day on April 21st. HYS volunteers of all ages were joined by UMass interns, local youth, passers by and families walking along the path for a long day's work at the center of the Nagle Walkway, on the Rail Trail between Conz and Pleasant st. in Northampton.
We built 6 raised beds in total - the wood for four of them - local white pine - was donated by Lashaway Lumber in Williamsburg. Two were made from salvaged American chestnut beams from a collapsed barn at Beale's Hill farm in Plainfield. Household compost and top soil from nearby Maple Ave and a generous heap of compost donated by Bill of Bear Path Farm in Whatley. In the beds we planted arugula, peas, lemon grass, lettuce, kale, hot peppers, tomatoes, marigold, cilantro and chamomile.
We also planted 75 grape vines up the majority of the cedar fence posts, purchased with funds from this past falls fundraiser. All told, we put in 50 Concord and 25 Steuben grapes, each boosted with green sand, rock phosphate, lime, and root innoculant. Also planted were flowers like clematis vines, roses, coreopsis flowers, irises, nasturtium, hydrangeas, lilies, and hostas. Later in the spring, we're hoping to plant 15-25 fruit trees along this 700 foot section of the bike path. Stay tuned, and thanks for your support!
The article describes the effort of Fallen Fruit, a group working outside Los Angeles to plant public land, playground, parks, and neighborhoods with fruit trees, as well as other projects in Seattle and Chicago. Let's keep talking about this! View the article's full text here.
Tasty, and Subversive Too:
DEL AIRE, Calif. — Fruit looms large in the California psyche. Since the 1800s, dewy images of oranges, lemons and other fruits have been a lure for seekers of the state’s postcard essence, symbols of fertile land, felicitous climate and the possibilities of pleasure.
Now a cheeky trio of artists have turned fruit trees into cultural symbols as well. The group, known as Fallen Fruit, recently planted what is being billed as the state’s first public fruit park in an unincorporated community with neatly clipped lawns outside Los Angeles.
Northampton nonprofit seeks public space mini-gardens
Full article text below:
From back left, Emily Tatro, Felix Lufkin, Elliot Hartman Russell and front left, Dean Colpack and Wendy Messerli, all of Help Yourself! Northampton, pose for a portrait, Friday, on the Nagle Walkway bike path. The group is pitching a plan to turn underutilized public ways into fruit and vegetable gardens that anyone could eat, starting with a pilot project along this stretch of the rail trail.
By CHAD CAIN Staff Writer
Friday, April 12, 2013 (Published in print: Saturday, April 13, 2013)
NORTHAMPTON — A fledging group of green thumbs is floating a plan to convert underused public spaces in the city into mini gardens of Eden where volunteers nurture edible landscapes for consumption by all.
Help Yourself! Northampton, a new nonprofit group, aims to reform the public spaces so they are teeming with free-to-pick fruit, vegetables and herbs.
“Our vision is a Northampton bursting with food — accessible food, local food free for everyone,” Felix Lufkin, co-chairman of the Northampton organization, which was created last summer, told the City Council last week.
Help Yourself! organizers say they plan to start small by planting a variety of items along the Nagle Walkway section of the Manhan Rail Trail between Pleasant and Conz streets — if it can get approval.
The city’s chief planner, while supportive of the idea in general, said he is concerned that the group is having conversations with different governmental bodies, but has not presented its plan for a comprehensive review.
“I think the concept is great, but it’s easy to ignore the details,” Wayne Feiden said in a telephone interview with the Gazette this week.
Lufkin said Help Yourself! has sought public support. Some 500 people signed an online and paper petition in favor of the project, and another 2,000 supporters contributed to a campaign that raised more than $5,000 for the effort.
“There’s public support and a lot of the people who signed the petition had positive comments,” Lufkin said.
Lufkin and other organizers behind Help Yourself! met with the council and the Energy and Sustainability Commission. Members of the group also have discussed its ideas with Department of Public Works officials. The group has not met with the Recreation Department, which owns that section of rail trail.
Several councilors have praised the idea.
“We look forward to seeing the abundance on public property,” City Council President William H. Dwight said.
Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge agreed.
“Growing natural food here is the right way to go,” she said.
Feiden said his chief concern is the location the group has chosen for its pilot. He said there is likely hazardous waste from the old railroad tracks and possibly from an old oil tank depot that potentially could get into the food depending on where the plantings go.
He also said trees and other plantings must not impede snow plowing and other maintenance efforts.
Feiden said he likes the idea in general, though, because these kinds of projects help make an urban area more attractive.
“I don’t want to discourage this idea,” he said.
Help Yourself! organizers said they have conducted soil samples in the areas they want to plant and that those samples have come back clean. They said that’s likely because contractors who built the rail trail brought in fresh dirt as part of the project.
Additionally, the roots for fruit trees are shallow and would not be far enough down to be contaminated, Lufkin said.
Help Yourself! would like to begin planting this spring depending on the approval process.
The pilot project would initially include grape vines along a fence bordering the trail and apple trees on a sloped section of land off the trail. The group would also like to install a handful of raised beds for vegetables and herbs, Lufkin said.
The fruits and vegetables would be tended by community volunteers, among them students from Northampton High School and North Star, a program in Hadley for homeschool teens.
Signs in the area would encourage passers-by to harvest as many items as they would like.
“I think there is enough public support of this to maintain and sustain it,” said Jessica Tanner, another Help Yourself! organizer.
One of those supporters is Dean Colpack, who said an increase in oil prices will make it harder for businesses and people to import food into urban areas.
“I think it’s high time we start devising ways to grow food in cities or close by,” Colpack said.
If successful, Help Yourself! said it has already identified more than 100 “miniature zones” in the city’s public ways that it would like to incorporate into its overall vision, Lufkin said.
The approval process would vary in each case, depending on who owns the land. Much of the land surrounding rail trails in the city is owned by National Grid, and the city only has right-of-way access, Feiden said.
In its presentation to the council, the group sought to alleviate some concerns raised by municipal leaders in other communities, including how messy falling fruit from edible trees can be and fears that dog excrement could contaminate the food.
Tanner said ornamental trees are just as messy and don’t have the advantage of producing edible food.
Plus, Lufkin said, Help Yourself! would hope to plant far enough away from the path that fruit won’t litter the trail and cause a safety hazard.
The group intends to plant many of its vegetables in raised gardens in an effort to alleviate the dog issue, and may include signs reminding people of the importance of washing their food before eating it, Tanner said. Other signs will encourage the picking of edible plants.
The effort is about more than providing healthy food for people to eat, Tanner said. It’s also involves conversations about local food and providing educational opportunities for all ages.
Colpack said offering the food free is key to the educational piece. He anticipates the signs will include tips on how and when to grow fruits and vegetables.
“We want to give people the power to have knowledge of how to grow food,” he said.
Similar movements in recent years have blossomed in Holyoke and Greenfield in the Valley and in places as far away as Houston and Portland, Ore. Portland’s group has more than 500 volunteers and has gathered 39,000 pounds of fruit in the past few years, said Wendy Messerli, another organizer.
Organizations in other communities seek out residents willing to share their surplus fruit and lure volunteers to tend trees on public land or vacant lots. They also organize harvests throughout the year and sponsor workshops.
Rob Postel, a Northampton Resident working to plant shade trees in along the streets in town, is offering large ginkos, sycamore, and other trees for 100$ each. This cost covers planting. Rob's efforts have been recently featured in the Gazette. He is collaborating with Help Yourself to ammend the state 'recommended shade tree species' list to include edibles such as chestnut.
Do you have a front yard and would like to take part in an effort to restore the beauty of a tree lined street? If you are interested, have questions, or to see the complete list of available species, you can get in touch by emailing him at email@example.com
Ginko leaf tea are an excellent memory and brain tonic, and help increase circulation to the extremities on cold weather. Their abundant nuts, contained in smelly fruits, are delicious baked or fried. Ginkos are dioeceous, meaning, each tree is either male or female bodied. Two are needed for fruit and nuts. More info about ginkos at Plants for a future.
Sycamores, also known as plane trees, are large, spreading and stately trees with large, maple like leaves and peeling white 'camouflage' bark. They are long lived and fast growing.
We're offering low-cost native plants that produce berries, roots, nuts and herbs for yards and gardens. Over their long lives, they will yield hundreds of pounds of fresh fruit and All plants are 5$ a piece, 3 for 12$. To order, email helpyourself.noho@gmail
Source: NH and NY state forest nurseries. 1-2 ft. seedlings. Expect 3-5 years for fruit. Plants available for pick-up downtown Northampton in mid-April. Order deadline April 10th. If you like, volunteers will be able to deliver and plant them for you in your yard.