Saturday, July 18, 2009

This Week In Sustainability

Wednesday was party day. Sustainable Belltown, SPU, P-patch, Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, and others met at Centennial Apartments to chat up progress with container gardening in general and the big experiment at Centennial in particular. It was a lot of fun talking with experienced gardeners from Seattle Tilth and the P-Patchers, and people from several condos or apartment buildings interested in raising food on balconies or whatever.

We felt great pride in showing off our experiment ( the large containers mentioned in an earlier post.) There was a lot of discussion about replicating the experiment elsewhere, expanding it here, or in other ways improving local sustainability and general greenness. Success is motivating!
The ladies from Tilth were kind enough afterwards to have a look at our personal container garden on our patio. They seemed generally approving, and made some suggestions. Our tiny native raspberries cooperated, having ripened enough for all to have one. It's hard to describe how tasty they are right off the vine, produced by our own efforts!

Thursday was street fair day. Great City's Summer Street Scene took over Bell Street between 2nd and 3rd, challenging local groups to ur work, teams are invited to transform ordinary parking spaces along Bell St. into innovative, sustainable, and inviting places for people.
For our contribution, Sustainable Belltown gathered:
  • 4 dozen red clay pots (slightly imperfect very inexpensive)
  • Bags of potting soil
  • Several kinds of seeds, plus garlic cloves and lemon balm starts (thinned from the local pea patch that morning
  • Water, handtools et cetera.
We pitched the crowd shamelessly:
  • "The pots are free
  • The dirt is free
  • The seeds are free
  • Let My People Grow!"
I waved a sign "FREE!" in one hand and a flowerpot in the other. People got the message: there's something free here. All they had to do was pick out a pot, put dirt in it, add seeds and water, and walk away with the start of a container garden for their balcony or window ledge. This was fun! We gave away several dozens pots of food-waiting-to-be-grown, and got more than a dozen email addresses for our mailing list. It was fun and useful.

In the photo, Elizabeth Not-Campbell and Kris staff the table with elegance.

Friday was harvest day. I wasn't there, but reports say that we yielded over fifteen pounds of produce (lettuces, mixed braising greens, basil, sweet peppers and parsley) which was handed off to Northwest Harvest's Cherry Street Food Bank. The tomatoes et cetera are still going strong and, by my very amateur estimate, the greens tubs can be replanted in something (more greens, if nothing else) ready for another havest in another month. Sweet!

Saturday we talked about long-term plans. Eventually we will retire, and I think we can supplement our future pensions with a little urban farming. It won't make us rich (nothing will) but it'll make a difference, especially since we enjoy it anyway.

A Few Notes on our Plant Give-A-Way

  • The No Spending Diet is a philosophy of trying to work into every project a way of getting as much as possible done without buying anything new. First suggested to me by my blogbuddy Smaller Footprints, Whether you do it to improve sustainability and love to save energy, or because you're cheap and love to save money, either way it was a consideration in developing our plant give-a-way. The seeds and the dirt we couldn't think of a way to get except new, but the clay pots we got free from people who were going to toss them, as they were slightly cracked or otherwise imperfect. (In my own containter garden, I like to ue obviously repurposed, e.g. an old coffee purcolator.) The lemon balm starts were thinned from a pea-patch. We provided pre-used bags for people who were carrying their plants onto a bus. All-in-all, we got quite a bit done on a "No Spending" basis but need to work harder on this aspect, IMO.
  • We gave out literature leftover from the Wednesday program, promoting Seattle's many gardening assistance programs. Most popular was the business card of the gardening hotline; it seemed reassuring to people new to gardening.
  • In addition to seed, we also had elephant garlic (you plant the individual cloves) and about a dozen lemon balm starts that some generous person had thinned from the local pea-patch. The starts were very popular; perhaps people enjoyed the instant reward! But we ran out of most seed types eventually so I'd suggest sticking with a mixture of seed and starts.
  • The mint and mixed herb seeds went fast, probably faster than necessary because the seeds were so small that I probably gave out too many for each pot.
  • Nasturtium seeds were very popular, and the radishes somewhat so. The lettuce was a good choice for those with little sunlight.
  • No-one picked the chard, which is too bad because it's a really good food.
  • No-one potted the sunflower seed, perhaps feeling it's too late in the season, but several people took some for next year.
  • It was very helpful having several people at the table at a time; sometimes we had three groups of people asking question.
  • I think it was important not to do too much for people. Having them fill their own pot with soil and put this seeds in themselves increased buy-in and general satisfaction.
  • One very intent visitor was a homeless man with a lot of gardening experience but no access to a garden at the moment (as I said, he's homeless). He very carefully planted a garlic clove, showing me how to score the bottom to improve its chances of flourishing. Then, because he had no place to keep it, he left it for the next person to have. I was happy to have learned a little about growing garlic from him!
  • For water, I used the two-liter containers we keep filled for disaster preparedness. This gave me the chance to pitch preparedness when people asked about the labels on them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

MITS Reality TV

At the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Thrift Store, I volunteer as the Assistant Book Lady. It's a lot of fun; it's sort of like running a book store without the burden of having to worry about going hungry. Over the years, I've made a lot of friends there, and of course, it's for a good cause.

Two good causes, actually. Its main purpose is to raise fund for youth & family services on the island; although the city as a whole is prosperous, there is no shortage of families in need.

The other cause is making Mercer Island a little more self-sufficient, or "sustainable" if you prefer. Goods sold here are reused instead of being sent to the dump, thus efficiently extracting maximum value. What's not to like?

Every year or two we get a new crop of work-study workers. I'm not a central character on the crew, but from the sidelines I enjoy their stories, plans and hopes. I've also learned from them about gardening, music and new ways to recycle. I hope can sometimes chime in with something useful, mostly based on the stupid things I did when I was a student (I wasn't brilliant but I did learn some things that didn't work so perhaps the next guy through will do better!)

Last Friday one of the quieter ones, named Chloie, had a new story to share. You sort of had to pull it out of her with pliers (...whether humility or shyness who knows? Not everyone is a ham like me ...) but it turned out she'd had two notable experiences at MITS in one day. When her proud mother emailed various news outlets, a couple of camera crews showed up at the same time. (...I was disappointed that they didn't hold dueling interviews, as per Deliverance ... )

Here's the story:

It was fun to watch the filming while staying out of the way. We speculated what could be done with the footage; surely it would make fine Realty TV!

  • Dramatic ("Inside this bin, something was waiting")
  • Suggestive ("In this so-called 'dressing room', people take off their clothes!")
  • Inspiring ("You think you feel used? Imagine how these shoes feel ... but we give them hope. Hope of a new life!")
Since I donated my TV a decade ago, I figured I wouldn't ever see the video. But then my friend Mel emailed that she'd seen it while visiting New Orleans, and then my sister up in Everett called about it; I felt I had no choice to but use the Google machine and find it! I'm glad I did because it's a good story and I enjoyed seening my buds get a little well-earned video time.

I hope Chloe enjoys the ride. Maybe she was just doing her job, but she did it and that's what counts. It really is an inspiring story, although perhaps the best part is her belief that we all would've done the right thing.

Make it so!