Category Archives: community action

What I’ve been up to-Part 2

Otherwise known as: Matt decides it’s time he becomes a farmer instead of just talking about.

You may remember from the posts before I quit writing that I was beginning a new job at a non-profit. I was working for Block by Block doing flood recovery in Cedar Rapids from the 2008 flooding.  (Even 3 years later there is still a ton of work to do)  We’re coming up on 2 years of existence for Block by Block and we’ve completed construction work on around 250 homes, close to 60 of these homes have been complete full house rehabs from the studs up.

Along the way I’ve gotten involved with the Matthew 25 Ministry Hub and their food security program.

Last summer we built a small urban farm on a lot next to the abandoned Boys and Girls club and we grew what we could.  The soil isn’t the best and I did a poor job training volunteers and, frankly, I was really busy with Block by Block work, but we got some production and we learned some things.  (Gaia is great!)  Some produce was sold internally and a fair amount of it was used to create “Local Food Fridays” in our Summer Meals program.  (the summer meals program provides meals for people who don’t have a lunch, especially kids since school is out and they aren’t getting their free school breakfast or lunch)

Heading into this summer we are expanding the urban farm operation to include a CSA shares program.  We are hoping to have 6 families paying full price and 12 at risk families paying half price for their shares.  Along the way we would like to still provide produce to the Summer Meals program, perhaps supply a restaurant, create an in the city pumpkin patch and also train some local youth with the job skills necessary to operate an urban farm.  Some of this would be done on this plot and some might be completed on other land that is abandoned.

Our group has also been conditionally awarded a USDA grant to study 6 different ways to bring local food into low income neighborhoods.  The way I look at this grant is that it’s sort of like market research.  We’ll do all the focus groups, surveys and forums to figure out how the residents want us to bring them local foods and them we go implement the methods that are the most cost effective.  I’m pretty darn excited about this

(by the way, excuse me while I do a short plug.  I wrote an e-book about how we got this urban farm up and running and some of the things we learned about doing this that may help others you know start up their urban farm.  You can purchase the book by following this link to the Urban Farm tab on this blog.  You can use PayPal to pay for it and then download the PDF right to your computer.  Ok, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.)

Going into next year (and the years after that) we are working to redevelop a 4 block area into an urban eco-village that will encompass some creative reuse of old abandoned industrial buildings, super green energy efficient housing stock (all selling for under $100K) and an operating urban farm that will cover around 1.5 acres that will be a mix of intensive gardening, permaculture, season extension and other ideas.  We’re calling it the Ellis Urban Village and you can see if by following the link to our presentation to the City Council’s Development Committee.  (I see that WordPress let’s you put pdfs and other files on your blogs now but I have to confess that  the file will take up a lot of my allocated space.  You’ll have to follow the link.  Sorry)

In the long term, maybe our space will include other types of libraries like a bike lending library, perhaps a cannery or other type of shared common space.  We’d love to operate some type of co-op in the space and perhaps a coffee house/restaurant that people can walk to in their neighborhood.

I would love for our plan to be the first of many here in Cedar Rapids.  There are plenty of places around where you could easily create an urban farm.  There are acres and acres of land now that use to have houses on them and now are all grass (that has to be mowed) and they could easily make dozens and dozens of small 1 acre urban farms.  Maybe someday we’ll get there.

I’ve had a fair amount of question in the past about why we’re rebuilding in an area that flooded.  All the areas we are looking to rebuild in are in the 500 year flood plain, except the flood in 2008 went outside that level even.  I just feel like we can’t abandon this central core of our city.  In the future, when transportation will be an issue, we can’t afford to have this massive amount of space right in the middle of the city not be used.  It won’t be so easy to drive to the heart of the city.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past 18 months or so, professionally.  There are lot more moving parts in each little section but hopefully that will give you an overview of what has been going on.



Community Food Bank updates

One thing I wanted to ask is how everyone is doing with their food bank challenge?  Are you picking up a few things here and there?

Also, while you are planning your gardens, over at Hen and Harvest we are offering up a Garden Challenge to encourage everyone to plant an extra row of vegetables for their food bank.  Check it out.

Things I’m Wondering

As I enjoy the chickens more and more I wonder more and more why people don’t have them in their backyards.  Hopefully as all of us bloggers talk about it more people will get interested and start doing it.  It’s a chore sure, but enjoying those eggs is so nice.

I’ve been wondering lately why the so called experts didn’t see this financial collapse coming.  Some of us dismissed, less fortunate people did.  How?  We used common sense to ask if things smelled right.  It’s amazing how often common sense works for most things.

I always wonder why people get so freaky about the weather.  It is what it is.  You just have to deal with it.

I wonder if this spring will be the spring where gardening really takes off.  Last year seed orders were up from the previous year, but how much more will they be up this coming year?

Along those same lines why do all the food donation places let people be so helpless?  People come to you for food, which is OK if you give them immediate help, but show them how to grow some food for themselves.  Why continue to make people dependent on food donations?  Where is the sense in that?

Same deal with the people receiving the donations.  Why would you continue to take what is given rather than looking for another solution?

I read a news story recently wherein a mother was complaining about not being able to find work, except overnight workshifts.  Her husband was laid off and she was formerly a stay at home mom with 4 children.  It made me wonder.  Was her situation really that bad if she was turning down nightshift work because it was nightshift work?  My parents worked all kinds of crazy shifts when I was growing up to make sure they were providing.  Sure it puts a strain on everyone, but you deal with it.  I wonder how much differently this lady might feel in 6 months.

I wonder how long it will be until I am full up with more wonderings.

The Food Supply

(Sorry for all these rapid fire posts but I have things to say that aren’t of a mixed topic)

There’s been some news stories lately mentioned food scarcity.  Some of it from lack of money, or job loss or even in some cases food banks running out of funds.  A farmer in CO had 40K people show up to dig up their own veggies (although I wonder how many went to waste when people didn’t preserve them) and Daily Kos has this interesting (albeit a little sensational) article about problems in the heartland.

USA Today has had stories about food pantries and information about eating more cheaply.  I can say, this year is the first time I ever remember seeing corn in the fields this late in the year, and we’ve already had a 3 inch snow and some serious ice, with another 3-5 tonight possible.  (Not to mention a little flooding this summer)  This seems to be in line with what the Daily Kos article is saying.  Weather has played a big role in our food supply this year.  Will that lead to food supply problems?  I don’t honestly know, but things sure do seem to be stacking up in that direction.

I’ve decided to issue a little challenge, Crunchy Chicken style.  For the forseeable future every week when I go to the grocery store I’m going to spend a few bucks and buy some food to donate to the food bank.  Maybe some beef stew, mac and cheese or soup.  Cans of tomatoes or maybe a big bag of rice.  If I do a little bit each week it won’t be a lot to me but over time it will end up being a fair amount of food.

Is anyone else interested?

Where ya at?

You may be wondering where the heck I’ve been for the past month or so.  Hard to say.  Things are just moving and I’m trying to keep up with the flood.  Been busy putting up food, even though I look at what I have and it seems completely inadequate, although at least twice what was there last year.  The freezer is a lot more full than last year, and about to be really crammed when the cow and pigs come home, so to speak.

I was afraid that this Sat would be the last farmer’s market of the year but I see they go on until late Oct this year, so I still have time to pick up a few more squash and apples.  Picked up 100 lbs of taters the other day for $50.  Felt like I should pay her at least $70 but she wouldn’t take more.  (Probably because I buy some of her really overpriced tomatoes early in the year)  I buy quite a bit of stuff from her.

Overall I was pleased with how much food we ate from the garden this summer, although the spring was a lot better than the late summer and fall.  Tomatoes were down this year with the cool weather.  I didn’t get any squash this year (didn’t plant any so that makes sense) and most of my potatoes and sweet potatoes were flooded, so I was forced to buy them, but that’s not so awful, well couldn’t buy sweet potatoes because no one has any.  Didn’t get as many beans as I would have hoped this year, but mostly because one of my packages was mislabeled and by the time I realized it the pole beans were going and making a big mess in the garden and I didn’t have much energy to wade through it and sort them out, so they weren’t picked as much as you would hope.

My harvest totals seem small, but I did the best I could to keep them up to date with all the stuff I have going on.  Perhaps I should just give up on that.  I’m never ever to keep it up.  Been delivering a mad amount of food for the food kitchens, but haven’t put the last couple up.  Maybe I can find them and get them up.  I’ve already delivered the totals to the farmer and unless I have the e-mails they will be gone.  I’ve been happy to be involved with doing that this year.  A lot of food was put to use that would otherwise be wasted and we’re going to step it up with some planning meetings this winter to do even better next year.

I’ve been so impressed working with her that I’m going to sign up for a CSA share next year with her.  I haven’t done that in the past because I’ve always felt like I wouldn’t get enough for my money, but seeing what she gives out if we get half of what is distributed she is still giving out too much.  She doesn’t charge organic prices either for most of her food items.

I’ve been following the financial markets very, very intensely.  Been spending some time managing money for ourselves and others to try to stay a step ahead of the market.  Sad to see it appears that the Senate is going to push through this bailout…er…financial rescue plan (ie a turd sandwich) even if their citizens don’t want it to happen.  And now they’ve added all kinds of other crap to the bill to bribe enough people to vote for it.

We’ve also, for some reason, been spending a fair amount of time entertaining ourselves.  Having friends over, going clubbing, going on a few trips, etc.  I’m not sure where this is coming from, except perhaps an understanding that this will probably happen less in the future so maybe we should get some of it in now.  Don’t know?  Maybe because our kids, and our friends kids, are finally older and now we can do more things as humans instead of just care giving machines.

Obviously starting up another school year and all that entails can be quite challenging.  I wonder sometimes about homeschooling the boys, but by the time I think we can do that financially it will be a few years and by then do I want to pull them away from school and their friends?  I don’t know.  I do know that I could do a much better job of teaching them, at least so that they learn a bigger variety of information, but the energy it would take and removing my salary (which isn’t large but is big enough) from the income stream is a big step.  We’ll see how it goes.

That’s all for now.  Make sure to talk to your Congress people about the bailout package.  One section of it specifically details how foreign companies will be allowed to sell their bad investments to the Treasury so all us taxpayers can pay for bad decisions made by the finance people in other countries.  Good times.

Cabbage, Chickens and the Veggie Man

A chicken got loose again yesterday evening.  I don’t know what happened, except I came back there to get my potato fork and one of the chickens was on the other side of the fence.  It wasn’t happy to be there as it was scrambling around trying to get back, and it’s friend was frantic on the coop side of the fence.  I chased it for a while and then got Rachael to help me chase it down.  Eventually we had 2 adults and 3 kids chasing it and we cornered it against a fence and snagged it.  We trimmed their wings so they shouldn’t be popping over the fence anymore.  Chicken wrangling is an adventure!  Those things are darn fast, and quick.  Now I know why Mick told Rocky to chase the chicken around when he was training for Creed.

A lot of commenters were talking about cabbage and how to prepare it.  My big concern with cabbage is that I went to my go to method of preparation that makes about every type of vegetable go down (stir fry) and it was rejected. In fact, he rejected the fresh peas that were in there as well. (I think they needed to cook longer and be a little more soft)  So if that failed I’m concerned.  I’m going to give this recipe a try and we’ll see how it turns out.

The Veggie Man:  In the post yesterday I mentioned that I was working with some local CSAs to distribute excess vegetables to some food kitchens.  I did my first run tonight.  The farm is fairly close to town, maybe 10 miles or so.  I drove out there and she gave me 46 lbs of broccoli, 20 lbs of lettuce, a bag of beets, 21 lbs of shell peas, 13 lbs of snap peas and 32 lbs of snow peas.  I’m pretty excited about this endeavor.  Before she would compost this excess, not it’s going to people.  Once I get a schedule down and find another driver or two we’ll be able to get some serious local, organic food to the food banks.  She thought she would have enough for me to pick up twice a week until early October.  Rock!  And that is just this one CSA, I have one other to work with (who has expressed interest) and also one on the north side of town that I haven’t contacted yet.

I’m adding a tab to the storing/harvesting tab above to track this.

The Future

I posted an article today over at GG about a group in Oakland that grows local, organic produce and distributes it to lower income people.

When I get done with my corporate gig I am so going to do this. I know some local CSAs are already trying to distribute some of their extra produce and having difficulty getting it done. I could start a non profit to take it all in and redistribute it. Not to mention that I could rent 3 or 4 of the city plots and grow a nice batch of the produce myself.

Talk about a great non profit initiative. I get to grow food, be involved with food and distribute it to needy people all at the same time! And I can even show people how to cook it too. Sweet!