Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hot and Dirty: Fun on the Farm

It's late June all of a sudden and gardens all over Denver are happy: we've been blessed with the beautiful Colorado afternoon rainstorms that I remember from my childhood but haven't experienced too much since then. I was out of the country in Israel for a couple of weeks there, but have heard that this afternoon rain has been fairly consistent…and the plants in my garden are loving it. The tomato plants are showing their first flowers and everything's getting big and bushy. What's growing in your garden?

And, GreenLeaf has had its first two farm days with young people from CityWILD! ( The youth are ages 12 to 15 and very enthusiastic about getting to know and work the farm. On our first day at Delaney Farm in Aurora ( we met up with fourteen youth:

We started the day with two challenges: Number one was the veggie challenge - meaning that everyone was asked to at least try a bit of every vegetable that we offered. Everyone took the challenge and ate at least a tiny bit of what we picked and dug up, from spinach to turnips to chives…and those chive flowers were HOT and oniony!

Challenge number two was all about participation: we offered every young person who comes out to the farm at least 5 out of 7 of our farm days this summer a GreenLeaf t-shirt on our last day. We're also hoping to engage the young people in designing the shirts. Stay tuned for pics!

We spent most of Day 1 touring the farm, tasting the veggies, learning about the bees, and talking about what's growing at Delaney--an incredible variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers including lots of heirloom varieties (varieties of plants that have been around for many years--some have been grown by people every year for more than a hundred years!)

Our favorite veggie of the day was definitely the Hakurei turnip, which we nicknamed 'turnip of heaven.' It comes out of the ground cool, milky white, and surprisingly moist, sweet, and mild. It almost tastes like a persimmon or some kind of exotic fruit.

The theme of the first day was Community, and we talked about what community means to us, and how we've experienced it in our lives. A number of the youth talked about their community rec centers and CityWILD as places embodying what they think of as community.

The second day included two shifts of weeding in the hot sun--hard work on a steamy hot day. Working so hard definitely required a way to cool off…and Faatma obliged by soaking everyone with the hose! Next time we'll definitely play some water games…maybe even a slip and slide? We had strawberries, blueberries, and honeydew melon for a snack--and it was the first time a lot of the young people had ever tried blueberries or honeydew.

The theme of our second day was Responsibility--Laura shared a quote that we talked about:

“One thing in particular that I remember made me feel grateful toward my mother was that one day I went and asked her for my own garden, and she did let me have my own little plot. I loved it and took care of it well. I loved especially to grow peas—I was proud when we had them on our table. I would patrol the rows on my hands and knees for any worms and bugs, and I would kill and bury them. And sometimes when I had everything straight and clean for my things to grow, I would lie down on my back between two rows, and I would gaze up into the blue sky at the clouds moving and think of all kinds of things.” –Malcolm X

Our third day--Wednesday, July 1--will continue the new GreenLeaf/CityWILD traditions of a morning meeting featuring a quick review of why we're on the farm, our ground rules for creating a safe and respectful space, and of course a game. We're going to try giving each young person a role to keep our farm work shifts focused and productive. And, our theme of the third day will be Pay It Forward. Go team! As always, if you'd like to get involved or volunteer please contact us at

Lastly, I want to circle back from the fun, hot, and dirty details (farm work is always gloriously dirty, yes?) of our day to day activities to a bigger vision of what GreenLeaf can be: we talk a lot about this idea of food justice. But what does it really mean? How do we make food justice a reality?

I've been learning about an organization in Detroit called Earthworks ( that combines a soup kitchen with an urban farm, and runs programs that get young people involved in growing and distributing organic veggies in their community. They've got some interesting ideas about how to talk about what food justice is, and I really love these four questions. So I'm putting them out here to spark YOUR interest, and ask for YOUR input:

• Question why there is enough food in the world to feed all people yet many experience hunger. What systems are in place that create this dynamic?
• Question how racism has played a role in determining who has access to healthy food and who does not.
• Question how it is possible to have "racism" in our society without having "racists".
• Ask where your food comes from and how the people, the land, and all the creatures were treated in its production. Buy food that respects and values all people, creatures, and features of the world. Farm work is some of the most dangerous work due to exposure to pesticides and demanding schedules. Buying local and sustainable whenever possible can help to ensure that your food and food workers were treated carefully.

What do YOU think? Post a response and let us know.

Fun on the Farm,


Monday, June 8, 2009

Good News!

First, good news: GreenLeaf has received its first grant--from the Chinook Fund! We are honored and excited at this tremendous opportunity!

Chinook supports organizations which are challenging the root causes of oppression, rather than treating the symptoms, committed to the transformation of society into one that promotes social justice and freedom from oppression, including but not limited to: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism.

Something else I've been thinking about lately: I'm interested in working with the idea that the future of our planet is made or broken based on how we live in cities. Even as the world's cities are densely populated and densely built, they are also ripe with resources and potential.

There was a time, and not very long ago in this country, when the majority of people lived on farms or were involved in growing food. They grew it organically, not because of a fad or a philosophy, but because the technology to "fix" nitrogen and mix it into soil as fertilizer had not yet been invented. Methods of crop rotation, use and re-use of resources had been practiced and developed for centuries all the way back to the first people to intentionally save a seed, to care for a plant and harvest its bounty. It's not--it's never--too late for people to reclaim and teach each other innovations of agriculture developed by our common ancestors and practiced to this day by indigenous peoples all over the world.

So why can't we do it in Denver?

Imagine a city where medians, right of ways, front and back yards, rooftops, even window boxes grow food.

What if every house, apartment, and building captured even a little bit of energy with a few solar panels or a small wind turbine? Massive amounts of renewable energy could be harnessed to offset use.

What if everyone harvested a few barrels of rainwater to grow food and care for their yards? Even Denver's desert climate could become more sustainably productive.

What if each family grew what food they could in whatever space they had at home or in a community garden?

What if urban farmers grew crops in vacant lots, making a good living selling produce to their neighbors?

How would Denver look, smell, feel, and sound different?
How would the lives of urban residents change?
What's your vision of how Denver can be a more sustainable city?

One last thought, from Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark:

"At the core of urban farming is the desire to put the culture back into agriculture. It’s an effort that goes beyond organic to place communities at the center of our food system."