Learning How to Design Community in a Food Forest

“Community food forests can reach beyond their physical boundaries in support of civic well-being.” ~The Community Food Forest Handbook

A year ago, I took to planning; educating myself in business and accounting; and taking action to launch my non-profit, Pineapple Acres (which made it’s official debut in April). Here I have had the unexpected experience of interacting with public spaces to install educational food forests. What began as a passionate gardening hobby has transformed into multiple community projects.

My first project was with my girls’ school. It began in February and has been loosely organized and built with a lot of uncertainties. Yet, it has created a low-risk business model for me. I’ve done some things right. Some things have not gone according to plan. And other things have turned out to be far better than expected.

In the middle of this project, I disappeared for two weeks to learn about permaculture design. Here I learned how to observe a natural space and then take those observations and put them into place for a self-sustaining garden. I believe there is a part in this process that does not include soil types, plant selection or sun vs. shade. Yet, it may be the most changeable and possibly the piece that can make or break a project. It’s the human factor. It’s much more difficult to observe the human systems in a public project because they are so complex and often overlap.

At the moment I have three projects taking place on public property. These are projects that fall into multiple phases and move in collaboration with many players. It’s complicated and requires focus and organization. It moves fast at moments for reasons that are completely out of my control. I may be lead on the design and manage the plants, but often I don’t organize the funding or volunteers. I don’t always set dates for work days. You see, when I’m brought in, I’m considered the expert in plants. I don’t usually have the final say in the project. This typically goes to someone who is in charge of the space and, many times, considers themselves a brown thumb or, in some cases, a black thumb. The main governance is controlled by others. And opinions can be many.

To help navigate this process, I’ve been studying the book, The Community Food Forest Handbook by Catherine Bukowski and John Munsel. This book is excellent. And to my surprise, already in chapter 2 they address the human piece and the effect it can have on the success of a project.

For example, for my initial school project we have moved through four stages. Each stage encompassed different volunteers. I have never worked with the same group. I’m the only stagnate piece (and my children at times). And sometimes I’m the ONLY piece. I spend many Sunday evenings checking in on the gardens, weeding, mulching and watering. We are currently in Stage 5, which I qualify as ‘maintenance’. This is the area where, if I did everything right, I should simply be the guide and no longer the lead or the most engaged in the plant part of a project. If I were to leave the gardens unattended others would move in to help. I believe, I could completely walk away and the gardens would survive. That feels good.

Yesterday, I initiated a work day. Teachers have claimed their gardens; science projects are lined near the butterfly gardens; and someone else located mulch. A few weeks ago I almost fell over when I found two dump truck loads of mulch. Others in this school community are choosing to continue with the gardens on their own. And I didn’t have to do a thing!

You can prep soil; install drip irrigation; and plant native plants all to help ensure a low-maintenance gardening experience, but there comes a time when other people will need to be present. What happens if the weeds break free from inches of weed-barriers you laid down (oh, and they will)? What happens if a landscaper decides to mow over the trees you just planted? Or a person doesn’t recognize a pineapple plant and hack it down with the neighboring grass? Someone takes your hoses and locks them in a locker that you do not have access to. Someone takes your pitch fork promising to mulch, and you haven’t seen it in sevens months. These things can happen. Believe me. Everything I’ve just listed has happened.

In permaculture design, we learned to observe things and then interact with the flow. I’ve learned how to move with the flow – even when it’s a bit choppy.

What I learned:

  • Talking with public maintenance or landscaping crews that are already in place is key.

One evening I was heavily scolded for watering plants. I didn’t blame the maintenance staff. They had no idea who I was or what I was doing. I may have had permission and a key, but clear communication is vital to ALL involved in the public space. I’ve also experienced the above examples of having trees, ferns, bromeliads, and pineapples mowed over. I know not every plant survives, but this was gardening murder. I cannot be at the school gardens 24/7. It’s impossible. But it’s possible to have a conversation and hope others using the space can work with you. Even if they don’t know plants, most often people are respectful of your work.

  • Organizing volunteers is important. Find groups that will commit. If you can’t organize the groups, many times the leader within the public space can.

With my girls’ school garden I have worked with university volunteers, church volunteers, PTA volunteers and family volunteers. All volunteers are welcomed, but not all volunteers are created equally. Many of my volunteers know absolutely NOTHING about plants. Still, if you guide them well, they can haul mulch, weed, plant and actually have fun. Even on days where no one should be outside. This is also a key moment to keep volunteers engaged. Providing water, work gloves and then talking about what the gardens mean to me has been enough to find support.

  • Funding is important! And complicated.

Grants are available for many school or community gardens. This is also an opportunity to bring outsiders into the project. You can do fundraisers; ask for community sponsorship; or donate yourself. Funding is an opportunity to bring in local involvement. Be strategic about this process.

  • Free stuff is good. Real good.

In my first project we reached budget (which was provided by me) at Stage 2 of 4. So we became creative about locating free stuff. Examples: propagating plants; contact tree companies for free mulch; ask volunteers for free plants. From my experience, the more people you share your project with, the more likely they will be willing to help. I had wonderful contributions from a local gardening club.

  • Community engagement is necessary for the long-term.

I’m impressed at how much community can be embraced around a garden. Not everyone can identify the plants or even know how to keep them alive, but a garden may be appreciated for the color of the wildflowers; the shade of the live oak; or the butterflies and bees busy moving in the sun. A garden provides a meditative space or an opportunity to sweat out your stress. There is something for everyone in a public gardening space. You just have to observe those within this space and move with it.

I believe in community projects, I have represented a gardening Yoda guiding others to understanding. In the end, it takes a village to make a community gardening space succeed.

“Many hands make light work.” ~ John Heywood

 

Regenerative Gardening Program

This month we are focusing on bees and Florida pollinating plants. Below are the schedules ’til the end of the year. The classes are free! Please consider joining me to learn more about the world we live in and for some fun hands-on activities.pumpkinsmindfulness-1holiday-1

Community Food Forest: Stage 1

I’m happy to announce that Pineapple Acres kicked off National Clean-up Day by digging in at a community garden offered as an outdoor educational space. This project is one of those opportunities that I never anticipated and has grown into a wonderful collaboration with a local park. We plan to install a permaculture-based mini food forest with native Florida plants. This space will be used for our Mommy and Me Garden Club and our most recent program: Regenerative Gardening. It’s a space meant to integrate community members at all ages.

Today young volunteers from the park’s after-school project helped initiate our first phase, which was sweaty, hard work. We cleaned up our space; pruned overgrown trees, which we transformed into green manure; and laid down cardboard and organic materials, including: cow manure as a natural fertilizer and oak leaves. Once we finish clean up, we will set our design and begin installing plants – the fun part!

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.”

~ Mrs. C.W. Earle

Perma – what? Defining What Permaculture Means to the Average Person

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Photo courtesy of Pexels.

I’m going to invite you into a conversation I had a few months ago with my permaculture design mentor:

My mentor: “Do not use the term permaculture.”

Me: “Why?” (For the record, in this moment I thought this term was AMAZING and wanted to tell everyone.)

Mentor: “Because if you have to define something you’ve already lost your client.”

I did not completely understand the extent of one’s confusion with this term, but this soon became very clear the further I got along in my business, Pineapple Acres, an outdoor classroom meant to educate in gardening, edible landscaping, and mindfulness. I began to realize most average gardeners (possible subjects interested in permaculture) didn’t know what this word meant even after it was defined. Most home owners didn’t want an explanation to how edibles could be added to their landscape; they simply wanted ‘pretty.’ They didn’t care if you could eat it or not. And I didn’t even attempt this term with my non-gardening friends.

What is permaculture?

By definition permaculture is: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

But what does that really mean? I’m hoping to answer this question by not actually answering this question.

So here I was with a word that had triggered a dream, but had the potential to critically confused my prospecting clients.

Why would a word that defines my life and career be a word that I should not use?

agriculture basket beets bokeh
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before I answer that question, I’d like to take you on my permaculture journey as a way to show you a glimpse of a permaculture lifestyle in basic terms.

About 12 years ago, I was loosely introduced to the term by a friend who was studying urban planning, but who also had a knack for natural/native landscape design and gardening. He and I had even planned to begin a commune-like homestead where our partners provided money so we could tinkered in the fields. That dream turned into the reality of a shared community garden to a small farm where we spent many hours experimenting. I learned to defend chickens from a healthy population of raccoons; to winterize a bee hive; to install rain barrels to water animals as well as plants; and to prune raspberries and blackberries. I owned things like a dehydrator, pressure cooker, and hot-water bath canner. We were serious gardeners. I sold organic eggs and even invested in a book called, “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It,” by John Seymour. My farm was fun and comfortable, but I never labeled it permaculture; we called is sustainable living. Yet, it was ingrained with permaculture and taught me skills that have given me the status today as “the one in the room who knows what they are talking about.”

two brown hen and one red rooster
Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

It was a really great time in my life. I’m now trying to replicate this life in the tropics on a smaller scale in a more urban area.

I’ve educated myself in permaculture through a permaculture design course taught by Koreen Brennan with Grow Permaculture.  You can read my story here. It transformed my life in ways I never anticipated. Embracing permaculture is not just an agricultural design technique for me. It has become a way of life.

How permaculture became my life:

  • I’ve learned to live consciously considering a view that embraces health for the mind, body and spirit.
  • I’ve learned to observe what I see and interact with the flow of the reality.
  • I’ve learned to see the connections of every element in my life and through those connections see a bigger picture.
  • I’ve learned to view a problem as a possible solution.
  • I’ve learned to let things be and control only what is in my power. (Sometimes in a design this is referring to the client.)

These are techniques I use in design for a workshop, a garden or a relationship. There is no limit to a healthy holistic view. And that is where I anticipate to take my clients.

variety of fruits
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Because my clients do not come to me for a vocabulary lesson. And the definition of permaculture doesn’t even begin to share the magic. A definition is just words, but an experience is lasting. So from now on, I do not run a permaculture-based business. I don’t even run an edible landscape business.

I have the ability to introduce you to world that will nourish your mind, body and spirit, but you won’t know it’s through the principals of permaculture.

Because that is not why you will come to Pineapple Acres.

You’ll come to Pineapple Acres ready to educate yourself in nature, but you will leave with sustenance to last a lifetime.

And that is the definition of permaculture.

Remember to keep moving, experimenting and learning. Eventually you’ll discover what you need in the garden, in relationships and in life.

 

Plant More, Sweat Less

Welcome Amanda Streets to Learning to Grow in Florida! I was introduced to Amanda through our passion to compost. It’s an unique basis for a meeting, but sometimes that’s all you need. Amanda runs Pinellas Community Compost Coalition and Living Roots Eco Design. She and I are collaborating to teach composting to the general public in a workshop designed by Grow Permaculture. Please join us along with the other gardening workshops. Enjoy Amanda’s article on the importance of growing your shade!

Unfortunately, I just had to have a gigantic oak tree removed from the south side of my yard. Before removal, we happily gardened and lounged barefoot in the backyard all day long – in the shade of said tree. Now, the ground burns our feet and the sun scorches our skin. My hammock, once graced for an afternoon cat nap daily, is now in my laundry room. Hot, hot, hot. I can’t wait for my small but fast growing fruit tree to cast enough shade to sit beneath.

The increase in sunlight wasn’t a surprise. I understand the basic physics of sunshine and shade. What shocked me was the increased temperature. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that the thermometer would soar to almost 20 degrees hotter.

How Do Trees Keep the Cool?

A tree is a living organism. It has the same basic needs as a human – air, water, food, and shelter. It just meets these needs a bit differently. Instead of breathing with lungs, a tree transpires. Water vapor is released into the atmosphere from their leaves. As a result, the surrounding air is cooled. Shade below, water vapor above… it’s an air cooling double whammy!

This cooled air is wonderful over a hammock or playground, but what about over the roads? The pavement gets hot enough to cook an egg! And it stays hot. I dread having to wrestle my toddler in and out of the car seat in a hot parking lot. It’s no wonder that I pray for a big oak tree to park under. A shaded surface can be 20-45*F cooler than an unshaded surface. That’s a huge difference!

Want to Lower Your AC Bill?

Trees should be planted on the south, west and east sides of your home for maximum cooling. Unless you have a tree or structure, you won’t ever have shade on the south side of your house. The sun’s rays are strongest in the afternoon from the west, and the east morning sun streams into your windows to heat the house up early.  You want to plant your trees near enough to your home to shade the house, patio and yard, but far enough away to avoid roots damaging the foundation. Consider the location of underground utility lines, too.  Leave a few feet of space between your home and shrubs to allow for airflow. Larger trees will cast more shade, smaller trees and large shrubs will cast less. Bamboo is also an option, but please buy it from a reputable vendor to avoid the bane of running bamboo. The clumping variety is preferred so it doesn’t take over the neighborhood.

In addition to trees, vines on trellises or pergolas will grow quickly and cast shade.  In Florida, you shouldn’t allow vines to grow on your house; it can damage the exterior and lead to other problems down the road.  Low growing groundcover plants rather than rock or concrete can cool the ground up to 10 degrees.  I have a small concrete patio with rocks next to it and have noticed this area is super toasty. I think I’ll swap the rocks out for a native groundcover that doesn’t need to be mown and put a tall potted plant nearby to shade the patio.  Between the two, I’m sure to see a temperature drop.

Make a Game Plan

With a thoughtful arrangement of trees, shrubs and groundcovers, you can really lower the temperature of your yard, home and surroundings.  Imagine if all of your neighbors did the same – cooler street, cooler breezes! It’d be an oasis in this subtropical sauna of a Florida summer we’ve been having.

Resources:

http://articles.extension.org/pages/66360/how-do-trees-cool-the-air

https://www.arborday.org/trees/climatechange/summershade.cfm

https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/landscaping-energy-efficient-homes/landscaping-shade

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/54-quick-tip-your-plants-can-cool-your-house/

20180205_104017About Amanda

I have always had a passion for gardening and growing my own vegetables. As a child, my family grew most of our vegetables in our garden and picked wild berries and fruit, canning or freezing the excess, and sharing with friends and family. I didn’t appreciate the sense of community at the time; I was a child. But I always loved the plants. Now, I see the problems our communities face with food being grown in unhealthy ways, being shipped from one side of the world to the other, and processed with so many chemicals. I’d like to offer families a way out of this wasteful cycle and a chance to reconnect with nature. Using regenerative permaculture techniques, fruits and vegetables can be grown easily in your own yards. We live in an area with the capacity to produce such bounty. Let’s grow together!

Florida Gardening in May

 

It’s soggy here. Very, very soggy. It’s been raining and raining and raining. I’m not going to complain too much about the rain, but with rain comes flooding and mosquitoes. And right now my house has both.

Hurricane season is supposed to begin in June, but Tropical Storm Alberto wanted to get this summer started off with raging waves. So here we are another cloudy day with rain. (Though on a completely non-gardening note: wicked waves equal good surfing – too much for me today as a beginner surfer, but it’s still fun to watch all the more talented surfers rolling with the waves.)

Living in Florida does mean at some point your chances of experiencing a hurricane are pretty good, so we’re going to talk about how to hurricane prepare your garden as the season kicks off.

Hurricane preparation in the garden/yard:

Most people are aware you need to prepare your home for a hurricane, but many people neglect their outdoor area. This is an area that could hold potential hazards in high winds. If winds are high enough you will experience downed trees. If you’re in a coastal are, like I am, you’re going to experience some heavy flooding, so first be prepared to lose some plants.

Other preparations, include:

  • moving potted plants in a more sheltered area (either inside your home or protected by a outdoor structure and fence)
  • move in outdoor furniture or garden decorations
  • move fountains in a sheltered area (I lost a ceramic bowl during Hurricane Irma.)
  • prune dead tree branches
  • tie down newly planted trees
  • be sure to clean drainage areas to allow water to flow

 

May Gardening:

Like I said, it’s been raining, so I’ve been playing inside with garden designs and reading on edible weeds. I’m also designing gardening workshops for my new business, Pineapple Acres. Pineapple Acres is a holistic healing center with educational workshops meant to connect my clients to the healing power of nature. At the moment, I’m also a traveling community garden designer. It works for now, though I’m looking into purchasing my own piece of land eventually. Lots of planning and paperwork this month, but it’s okay…the rain is keeping the gardens happy.

What to plant in the vegetable garden:

We are reaching that time of year when I begin to shut down my annual vegetable garden. It just gets too hot or too wet for most plants. There are still a few hot-weather survivors.

  • cherry tomatoes
  • peppers
  • okras
  • sweet potatoes
  • dasheens
  • yautias
  • calabazas
  • Chayote

What is flowering:

  • Jamaican strawberry tree (I’m getting so many cherries on this tree!)
  • plumeria
  • lantana
  • oleander
  • periwinkle
  • perennial peanut
  • jasmine
  • bouganvallia
  • desert rose
  • marigolds
  • African ginger
  • hibiscus
  • squashes
  • watermelon
  • milkweed

Resources:

http://www.southflorida.com/wsfl-home-9-16-hurricane-proof-yard-htmlstory.html

Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.