Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for March, 2007

Sustainable WNC

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

SURFIN’ the CITY

While we are on the subject of fruit trees I’d like to share other opportunities urban agriculture addresses. (Local food, beautification, childhood health education, supporting wildlife…

Urban agriculture you say, thats a great idea! I’ll just plow up my back forty here in Montford and plant some taters…c’mon get real! houses with an open lot are getting split like atoms around here. For 30 years the empty lot across the street from my house stood empty and the past year hosted all my garden experiments. It just went up for sale this spring and sold in 2 days for $20,000 over asking price. Asta la rivaderchi my fair garlic .

There is another Edible park that is lesser known than the George Washington Carver Edible Park and that is in Asheville’s historic neighborhood, Montford. At the Montford Rec center at the end of West Chestnut St within walking distance north of downtown a small orchard of 30 some trees was planted 8 years ago and is just coming into maturity and hardly anyone knows. Due to neglect the trees haven’t faired as well as their counterparts across town, but I’ve been working with Asheville parks and recs, Bountiful Cities project and Quality forward in an effort to rejuvenate them. This little rag tag bunch of fruit trees clinging to the clay fill soil is located on a site with a $1,000,000 view of the mountains. It is a popular neighborhood place to go to take in a full dose of sunset. There has been a problem with developers and erosion as the excessive runoff from their drool has washed much of the topsoil away. This park finally came to my attention as a place worth reviving only this year. It is funny how you can walk by a place a 100 times before the carbonation hits your nose. The soil appears to have never been amended with organic matter or nutrients. Even the grass eeks out a spartan living on this windswept knob which with its abundance of airflow and sunshine is ideal for low maintenance organic fruit production.The trees are planted in the pattern of a receding hairline and receding they are as we lost 3 more trees this last winter with others barely hanging on by the follicles!

It really doesn’t make cents for me to buy acreage in town unless I’m going to build condos. So how can I, renting a room in a small house and renting artist space practice urban agriculture? Carbonation hit. What about public lands!? That’s mine too! To go from “serf in the city” to “surfin’ the city”. So i got this crazy idea. I and another fruit tree expert would run a workshop on fruit tree care on this public land. We would charge a nominal fee and we would learn theories in the classroom at the rec center then go outside and apply them to the trees themselves. The money that was made went into buying new trees, soil amendments for the existing trees, a stipend for the other instructor, and seed money for the next workshop. I received no money for this. The city delivered six loads of composted leaf mulch and provided the hand tools for spreading. The workshop happened to be on super bowl Sunday and we affectionately called it the “Fruit Bowl I”. 30 fruit enthusiasts turned out and learned about fruit trees and their care. All the while planting the new trees, digging in amendments and adding precious organic matter in the way of mulch. Just in the few weeks where the mulch had sat the grass had already turned a deeper green!

So what happened was:

  • 30 people gained a deeper understanding and level of comfort working with fruit trees. Also, a closer connection and ownership to the trees in the park. Which improves the chances of them coming back to care for them.
  • The trees in the park got badly needed attention and will be a lot more healthy and productive along with the addition of new fruit varieties.
  • It only cost the city six truckloads of yard waste.
  • The kids that visit the park will have more chances to experience fresh fruit from trees.
  • Leaders and educators have an outdoor classroom resource to talk about eating fresh foods, healthy diets, and combating childhood obesity.
  • A teacher was supported for the skills he has gathered and shared with the community.
  • and I…I’m Surfin’ the city. I get to practice urban agriculture and it brings me great joy doing something that benefits so many others. It feels like a circle of people giving each other a massage.

Since then I bought more trees (financed by the workshop) to make an wild edible hedge at the rec center. I had a work party to plant and mulch them. There has been a grafting workshop to further empower people to learn to propagate their own fruit trees. Upcoming, is a small fruit and berry workshop Sunday April 22nd (Earth Day). The same template will apply and we will be planting an edible hedge which will be ornamental, great wildlife support, healthy food for kids , and a model for what people can plant in their own neighborhoods with minimal space. Now my only problem is I have raised all this money to buy beautiful fruit trees and I don’t have anybody to help plant them. Anyone want to play urban agriculture with me?

Hot tip- Today is march 27th and the Edible Park is in bloom. Right now the plums, pears and the delicate, exoticly crimson paw paw  flowers are out, and it is well worth going there and basking in their beauty.

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Monday, March 19th, 2007

Solution is not solid 3/19/7

“Urban agriculture” to me is an oxymoron. Agriculture belongs out in the “sticks”. What place or purpose do chickens have wandering in the streets? Or a dairy cow ruminating in the empty lot by the woods, a corn patch growing in a tractor tire, a fig tree in front of the court house or an apple tree in a school yard?. It’s inefficient. We know there are professionals who have large equipment in specialized regions that can produce more food than we need at dirt prices. So why have agriculture in an urban environment?. Urbanity is a sanctuary for humanity. A place to escape from nature. Why fool with an oxymoron?

Oxymorons give me the chance to step out of myself and my preconceptions, I mean out the window projectile, on my toes jazz quick, and twirl friendly.
I start off my first Blog with what I love most. Fruit trees. Don’t get me wrong- I love most everything and I will get to all that in later blogs but right now- fruit trees are my passion. I would like to share with you some of the fruits of urban agriculture.

-”It seemed solution would not be something solid.”-

There is a Little Known Park (L.K.P.) off of Charlotte street called the George Washington Carver Edible Park (named after the guy who was permaculture before permaculture was hip, who brought you crop rotation and peanut butter, and he did it during Jim Crow). It was planted by an organization called City Seeds nearly 10 years ago on the unsettling rubble of Stephens-Lee high school (once a monument of pride for the African American community, and its ghost still is)., Said to be “the red headed step child of Asheville parks and recs,” it is overseen by Bountiful Cities Project, and I am the community volunteer maintenance guy. I really like to be out with the plants. I also like to be out with the plants with fellow plant lovers, budding plant lovers, even dormant plant lovers. This LKP has over 30 varieties of fruit and nut trees that give fruit from June with the ‘june berries’ well into December with the bletted persimmons, and my favorite underdog fruit of the red headed step child’s park… medlars! There is a boardwalk that goes through the park, and it is accessible to the public. Anyone can go in and pick fruit at any time. Here lies the park’s glowing beauty and its arch nemesis. To offer itself so freely and unconditionally as “open to the public” is a quality not short of enlightened. Problem is that, some of this “public” litters, breaks branches and picks unripe fruit. So quite often there is a pile of fruit with one bite taken out each one at the base a tree. That, along with the fact that the trees were planted inordinately close together, creates stagnant air and shade which harbors disease rendering the fruit inedible even if it does make it to ripening.

Something different needed to be done with LPK, but my orchard care instruction manual did not have a chapter on raising 30 different fruit trees for gothe high school students in the city on a fist full of rubble with no money. Did I mention the relentless assault of Jules Vern-like kudzu from all sides? It seemed solution would not be something solid.

It is commonly taught that fruit trees are to be pruned widespread and open to sun with lots of air circulation for maximum production, and I have many books to substantiate this. “Solid” began to soften one day after I explained to a group of teenagers how best to determine whether a fruit was ripe or not. After this short tutorial they immediately approached the very first tree they saw and ripped off a green apple with half the branch still attached, took one bite, and threw it on the ground completely disregarded what I had said. I had a “Monet” of despair, everything blurred, pixels overlapped, and inspiration hit like a nose full of carbonated beverage. What if these trees were not about maximum fruit production? What if the real fruit was giving people as much of a varied experience as possible!? Instead of low and open branching, why not make the trees “vertically stratified”? That is, tall and skinny like a column. The exact opposite of convention. (Another option would be to cut some of the trees down to make room, but we would lose some of the genetic diversity). These columns would provide low fruit for the more impulsive people to learn experientially, and would keep some fruit out of reach for the patient experienced fruit connoisseurs who could wait until the ripe fruit could be shaken or fell. LPK broke me from my rigid beliefs of agriculture doctrine, stacked tight and neat as the pages of the hard covered books which taught them, to a loose leafed copy with large margins for post-its and doodling. I consider only the most basic concepts and theories of agriculture and apply them the best I can to the myriad variables that the urban environment offers. Rather like cooking with whole foods, one can make countless creative dishes with rice, but a frozen eggplant parmigiana dinner is pretty much an … eggplant parmigiana dinner.

Observation, openness to the moment, and flexibility in the response sums it up. When I meet people, I try to be less like eggplant parmigiana and a bit more like rice (not sticky) . Same for when I approach a challenge with work or when my 18 year old son wants to buy a motorcycle. Fruit trees in an urban environment reminded me this, and to them, I am eternally indebted.

-Bill Whipple

I like this idea: This is urban agriculture at it’s best. A young woman told me she and a friend mischievously did this one Spring. Buy a packet of easy to grow flowers. save some plastic cups (poke holes in the bottom) from your office church or cafeteria, a small bag of good looking dirt or better, organic potting soil. Plant and water the seed as per directions until they sprout and grow, and at some point one night leave one cup at each of your neighbors door. Remember to save one for yourself so you can innocently hold it up and ask your neighbors if they got one of these plants too. Since you were able to identify what the plants were before they flowered you will be forever revered as a master naturalist!