Thursday, December 16, 2010

An engaged community

How cold was it today? Do you see these baby greens? That's frost along the edges of those leaves... and they were inside the hoophouse at the farm where I spent most of this morning and early afternoon.

I'll tell you what I was wearing when I biked over to Vinnie's place about half a mile away: a long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt, a turtleneck sweater, a sweatshirt, a fleece vest, a jacket, a scarf, a bandana, a knit hat, 2 pairs of knee-high wool socks, wool legwarmers, long underwear, an old pair of jeans, and 2 pairs of gloves. It was like that scene in A Christmas Story with Ralphie's brother so bundled up he can't move his arms. While I did know I would be joining Vinnie for a day helping out at ECO -- Engaged Community Offshoots' farm in Edmonston, MD -- I wasn't sure if we'd be biking or taking his truck, so I wanted to be sure I was warm enough for the 7-mile ride.

I HATE the cold. Why does it feel like I'm living in Nebraska or North Dakota these days? Somebody please tell me why I don't live in southern Louisiana or Mississippi or, heck, the Caribbean! I am a warm-blooded girl!! I love DC, but the weather these days... not so much.

[End of rant.]

Vinnie and I made our way -- in his truck -- to the farm and we soon got to work putting up some rowcovers to protect the spinach, kale, chard, turnips, and lettuce mix from the bitter cold. (Oh, here I am talking about cold again, but today's high was 27 degrees. Come on!)

I'd first met Vinnie a couple of years ago at a Farm to School panel discussion downtown and had volunteered at the Master Peace Community Garden (part of UMD's Engaged University) in College Park soon afterwards. As we worked together this morning, I learned that due to university budget cuts, the Master Peace Garden was disbanded about a year ago. But its ideas lived on. A core group of the committed folks who were behind it -- including Vinnie (pictured here pounding in a stake to anchor our rowcover support string) -- started ECO: a new nonprofit which developed the working farm with four hoop houses and solar panels, an impressive composting facility (I do believe my friend is more enamored with compost than I am, and that's saying something), and a new/immigrant farmer training program on land leased from the Park and Planning Commission.

I helped Christian (the farm manager) harvest a few crates of gorgeous Swiss chard while Vinnie and a few other volunteers harvested turnips in the next hoophouse over. Crops from the farm, I learned, are sold to two food co-ops in the area: Glut, where we stopped for a few things on the ride home (hello, bulk rate coconut date bars), and the student co-op at UMD's College Park campus. Produce also makes its way to a few local restaurants. Today's harvest was bound for Eatonville, in nearby Columbia Heights. (Oh, goody, a new restaurant to check out when friends are in town for the holidays).

Now, talk about devoted farmers: does your farmer harvest in the snow? Incidentally, if you want to be a part of the great work going on here, ECO welcomes volunteers. (And I promise they don't normally make people work in the snow. Honest. I was just really, really antsy to check things out and do some meaningful work. Not that the piecemeal writing and editing and food education I am doing these days isn't meaningful, but it doesn't leave my body contentedly tired the way that working on an organic farm does.) There are urban farming workshops that you can check out, too, including a few this coming spring.

And talk about devoted cyclists: do you bike in the snow? Me, I don't: I'm too chicken. After a lift back to Vinnie's in the truck, Ollie and I walked our way back home to my snuggly studio apartment, where I immediately changed into dry flannel pants and got a big pot of potato, chard, and celeriac soup simmering on the stove.

It's been a good day, in spite of the cold.

("What's that lashed to the back?" you ask. It's my second jacket... just in case I got cold.)


  1. Will you send me that potato and chard soup recipe? It sounds delicious.

  2. Funny you should ask... I posted it here:


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