Thursday, May 20, 2010

350 Challenge Reflections

I'm in danger of forgetting what I did, observed and learned last weekend if I don't write a note about it soon!

The 350 garden challenge - planting 350 water wise food gardens in Sonoma County last weekend - was a great success by all measures. I haven't been to IGrow site this week to see how many registered, but last time I checked it was pushing 600, and I know from my own experience that the number of gardens and projects was more than those listed.

I was pretty pleased that my little initiative went well. I potted and delivered 11 tomato plants to elders at the two senior mobile home parks nearest Thanksgiving Lutheran where the garden is. People seemed really appreciative. Some were inexperienced or claimed black thumbs, while others make a habit of growing tomatoes on their patios. I typed up an instruction sheet for those to whom growing a tomato, or growing one in a container, is unfamiliar, and gave them my phone number. It will be interesting to see if I get any sos's - or reports of success as the season develops.

It was great that all the materials were donated. I did buy a couple of cages, but the pots, plants and mix did not cost me anything. I'm still kicking myself that I did not bring my camera to Country mhp on Fulton - the office manager loaded up the potted plants in his golf cart to take them around to the folks who had ordered them. It was a lovely neighborly sight. Best, of course, is that I carried forward my Dad's tradition of supplying potted tomato plants to folks who would like a real tomato at their back door.

The other project I was involved in was moving the berm at TLC. This will be our commons - for berries and pollinator attractants, etc. I did take some photos, and will see if any are worth posting. I think this summer we will just load this raised area up with compost and plant it to the roaming cucurbits. (We got a donation of 10 yards of compost as part of the Challenge.) Then when it's time to put in canes and other perennials in the fall and winter we will have the conversations about exactly what they will be. The one discouragement about this project is that only one of the younger folks who was so eager for it came to do any shoveling and hauling. But who cares - there's a sense of power in realizing what a bunch of middle aged and middle aged plus women can do!

On Sunday evening when I returned from work I planted some of my own garden before heading out to the 350 celebration. I was late and brought no food, so didn't eat. These are not church folks - just as well because there was not enough, instead of the mountains of leftovers at church do's. Is this generational, too? Church folks, and especially church cooks, are older, and imbued with the tradition of casseroles and substantial salads and sides. The people in attendance, in spite of the cold, were great, though. I met several new folks with whom I will definitely follow up.

It is interesting to see generations working together on things like the 350 challenge. There is more of a "let the plan emerge" attitude among the young. This is fine - but if there is a deadline and a goal, it seems to me you do need some structure of coordination for what emerges to fit into, to be accountable. Some of the volunteer organizers delegated, then did it themselves; sent out questions without reading the email they had received which provided the answers already; called me on my cell phone, even though I made clear that that number was to be used by arrangement, and is not my main number. And these were not all young folks. There is a certain potential for frustration in volunteering to help when you are and organizer working for organizers without organizing experience. I suppose it frustrated me also because I am used to organizing based on volunteers' gifts and skills, not just their willingness with no instructions or coaching given.

This week I was back at trying to finish planting my own plot. This is not a really happy thing to be doing, given how cold May has been so far, but I feel under pressure to get things planted with a bit of time to settle before family doings take my time in early June. I must say it's better to be gardening when it's a bit cold than to be attending outdoor parties - two last weekend was enough! And the weather has been great for the lettuce and other cool weather produce. I always forget about the little dividends in the spring garden - the garlic scapes, fava beans, beet and turnip thinnings, etc. They give a new twist to the lingering foods of winter.

Now the question remaining would seem to be - to what extent did the 350 challenge really help people connect the dots between local food production, water conservation, and climate change mitigation? I do hope those organizers plan a return engagement for the fall at the usual time for 350 (ppm CO2) actions.

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