Quilted Earth

With more than an acre of land, a half dozen families from Burundi and a well intentioned group of overly caffeinated volunteers, the community garden plots took bloom today. Actually, without irrigation this week, the rock hard caliche land left us little room to do any significant gardening. Yet we were able to take several truck loads of donated wood, blocks and brick to carefully deliniate the 18 garden plots. Each one is more than 8′ x 15′.

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We had more than 70 seed packets to distribute. I have a feeling this land will soon be full of sunflowers, okra and more melon than we know what to do with.

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A couple local coffee shops provided the first bit of grounds to help turn the land from a sea of Bermuda to something a bit more productive. We are going to need all of Phoenix to up their coffee drinking in the next few months. I thought I’d gathered quite a bit of grounds — not enough for even one plot.

Yet another exercise in learning patience.

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Graciously, Greg came forward to give more than a dozen tools to the community shed. Plus, any excuse I can get to visit the Urban Farm merits the drive. I wandered through his yard of apple trees — heavy with misshapen pale green fruit — and rows of early summer vegetables that look like a heavenly salad bar for any lucky rabbit.

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Trying to make sure each plot is the same size and marked appropriately is a bit more of a challenge than I realized. Come to find out, spacial planning is not my forte. Thankfully, the roommate has a much keener eye. He put us to work and soon enough the earth was lined with recycled materials. Soon the refugees scattered among the plots, selecting the site for their future garden bounty.

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(One might think pick axing the earth without gloves would hurt? One would be right. Then again, my prissy hands were holding the camera and remain splinter and blister-free.)

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It was a beautiful day in the garden and while it will be months until anything significant comes out of this communal space, we made progress today. I am so thankful for the handful of friends who helped and sincerely appreciate the miraculous generosity of those who’ve given seeds, time and money.

Small small catch monkey.


Community Garden: Seed Drive


We’re getting close to ground breaking on the vegetable plots with the refugee families and community members. A few hurdles stand in our way, other than the wicked Bermuda grass. Namely, we are trying to create a source of food security, potential income and community togetherness out of a field, with few resources other than a group of dedicated volunteers. Many of you have left the most encouraging comments about this project; I am very thankful. I am also hoping you’ll make a $2 investment and become part of this great vision.

I would like to collect as many seed packets as possible in the next month. The more seeds I can collect, the more food we’ll be able to grow, the less money we’ll have to spend on these materials (vs. the lengthy list of other needs) and it is a simple way to become part of something with amazing potential. Considering we’ll plant the first week of May in Phoenix, these are the seeds I’m looking for: blackeye peas, eggplant, cucumber, melon, okra, pumpkins, peppers, squash, tomatillos, watermelon and sunflowers. I may be breaking state law by asking you to mail me a packet of seeds from your home (or preferrably from your garden!), but hopefully the postal/agricultural gods will stare at the sun for a moment.

If you are interested in gathering and sending seed — whether purchased or heirloom — please let me know. I would sincerely appreciate it and can promise you lots of photos of your good deed making a positive change for a poor community in Arizona.



Turning Japanese

Grow tomatoes~

The Japanese have a tradition called teikei — which means partnership, or cooperation. They have teikei farms where the consumer and the farmer meet; these are farmer’s markets of sort, but it is important for Japaense teikei that the food have a “face.”

The only time I’ve had such an opportunity was in Africa. The markets are a riot of color, textures and scents. In Mozambique, pyramids of rust orange tomatoes teeter next the bundles of tiny citrus and stacks of suspicious greens. Rice dries on ivory sacks, their World Food Programme emblems fading in the tropical sun. In Cameroon, dried fish hang from twine next to bunches of bananas — golden and sweet unlike anything Chiquita could bring to the US. In Malawi, mangoes and papaya compete for the coral crown next to piles of freshly picked tea leaves greener than any emerald.

This week we’ll break ground on 18 vegetable plots in the community garden. Some 15 will go to refugee families nearby who want a chance to work the land. The other three will be distributed to congregants and interested community members. I’m certain I’ll have a spot in there for some spring eggplant and tomatoes. The heat is quickly approaching, so we must get these seeds in the ground sooner than later. The chickens will fill the coop come October. By December, I am hoping the fruit trees will be blooming, the compost bin full, the eggs freshly delivered to the farmer’s market and the vegetables arriving in bounty.

“In a world of growing population and shrinking fertile land, CSAs, even those with relatively unskilled farmers, have proven their capacity to produce enough food for 20 families or more on each acre. As CSA farms mature, their production becomes more intensive, whether on one farm or on several associated farms. Where industrialized agriculture seems to have passed its peak of productivity, and more chemicals no longer means greater output, biological farms with community support offer long-term prospects of unlimited promise.”

While the community garden is far from a CSA, it is a step toward community agriculture. For those interested in developing a similar project, I’ve really enjoyed reading, “Sharing the Harvest.” From this book, I’ve found a “farmer’s pledge” I am going to ask all the participants to sign before taking over their plots. It’s lengthy, but in sum — we will treat every person and every bit of soil with respect, including feeding the hungry first and never using chemicals on the land.

“The goal ever receds from us. Salvation lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Fingers crossed,


P.S. I had coffee yesterday with my friend Dave, who commented that I NEVER mention him on here and that I’m spending too much time in the garden.

With good reason. The plants don’t complain.

True Community

Laying them out


Planting with Greg

Trees planted

The community garden kicked off yesterday and we were able to plant 25 fruit trees. They took up remarkably little space, leaving plenty for another orchard planting for the Fall. We’ll then add apples, figs and peaches to our citrus grove. The planning for the citrus orchard was much to the thanks of Greg Peterson. If you’ve worked with this local “green” hero, you know how kind and easy-going he is. You’ll also know how knowledgeable he is. Working with dozens of volunteers yesterday, he smiled and taught countless times how to do the very basics of gardening and did so with sincere happiness. I owe him a great debt of thanks!

Jackhammering away

We also used a rented jackhammer to try to remove a concrete slab. What a mess! First, renting a jackhammer and having them load it in your tiny sedan raises a few eyebrows. Then imagine when you ask how to use it! Thankfully there were plenty of men around yesterday who wanted to wrestle with their inner construction worker and happily took on the job. After hours upon hours, we removed one-fifth of the concrete. I am going to plan B: call construction companies and beg for some free help. We need to remove the slab to plant our vegetable plots. The surrounding Bermuda grass make the land unusable without paying for extensive grass removal.


So, two steps forward, one step back. It was truly a wonderful day. I can’t wait to see these lovely Burmese, Burundian and Iraqi families return to the garden in a few years to reap the bounty of our work. There was one point where I had a Burundian baby on my back, my hands in the soil, a crisp blue Spring Arizona sky above and a nice wind blowing across my face. I’m not sure moments of grace come in any prettier or happier of packaging.

Working on the trees

I am incredibly blessed to be attending this church, at this time, with this calling to work with refugees and the ability to bring together like-minded folk to dig in and help. Woo hoo! And it looks like yesterday was a great day to kick off a garden.


Community Garden: Phase I

Asbury UMC Community Garden

Phase I of the community garden at Asbury UMC is a citrus orchard. Last week I convinced 18 folk to adopt a tree for the grove. Our goal is another 7 sold this week so we have 25 to plant on Arbor Day– March 20th. Our congregation is excited about the project and the local refugee population is stepping up to help do a lot of the planting. I am thrilled to be a part of this work. I can see this otherwise unused slot of land bloom into a lovely garden where we’ll all come together to learn.

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For example, did you know these date shoots can be transplanted? The things I’m learning this week are nothing short of nutty. (Or in this case, date-y.) We are hopefully going to  very gently harvest these and plant them along the front border of the church to provide a live fence. (Go, go gadget Peace Corps farming knowledge! I’ve used you so little. Welcome back!)

I am wrangling volunteers, begging friends with trucks to pick up loads of mulch and gathering shovels so the citrus grove can be planted. Within three years, we should have a bounty of fruit to keep hungry congregants, neighbors and refugees well fed. In the meantime, we’ll progress to Phase II — vegetable gardening plots and eventually Phase III. This is the one with which I’m most intrigued. I’ve long wanted chickens, much to my family and friend’s utter curiosity. I know they are filthy and noisey. I also know how incredible organic eggs are and the financial possibilities we can provide to a couple refugee families willing to take on animal husbandry. Did you know a chick will begin laying eggs after 14-15 weeks of development and the lay an egg every 27 hours for 52 weeks? With 10 chickens, we are going to make a boatload of money charging $4 a dozen for organic eggs at the Phoenix Farmer’s Market and to congregants. Money for refugee families who need work. Citrus, veggies and eggs for my belly. Really, what isn’ t there to celebrate?

Asbury UMC Community Garden

If you live in Arizona and want to get involved, all are welcome. Shoot me an email for the details.  (Shoot! Shoot me an email about shoots! Oh, the puns.)

I’d love to meet you and have you join in the fun!