Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It starts with a seed

I've been doing a lot of thinking these days about what it means to live in line with one's ideals. To walk the walk, as it were, or as Gandhi suggested, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." My journey in recent months seems to have thrown me into the path of many people who are doing just this (and, thankfully, not into the path of too many aggresive drivers trying to run me off the road). One of the folks whom I have had the good fortune to come to know who easily falls into this category is David, founder of The Pepperfield Project.

After many years as a garden manager at Seed Savers Exchange -- where he grew out something like 15,000 heirloom varieties of vegetables and flowers -- David has quite the gardening pedigree. Before that he'd run an organic farm out in California and collaborated on multiple books about mankind's relationship to nature. His life demonstrates an ongoing commitment to reconnecting people to the land and celebrating the food they can grow on it. During each of our conversations over the course of the few days at his home, I admired David's strength of conviction, generosity of spirit, and ability to bring out the good in those around him. (As if that doesn't make him awesome enough, he has also captured nearly impossible images of beauty with a 35mm lens during his days as a professional photographer -- success which has allowed him the financial freedom to start the Pepperfield Project -- and he's a good hugger to boot.)

Through a series of previously unimaginable coincidences that began in Dubuque a few weeks back, I found myself in Decorah last weekend working alongside my new friend Wren (a fellow volunteer at the food security conference), Mary (and her family who had recently moved to the area), and David on an exciting proof-of-concept edible landscape garden on the grounds of the local hospital. The project was born out of a fledgling 5-county initiative in northeastern Iowa to incorporate more fresh produce into local foodsheds (including the oft neglected hospital, public school, and prison systems). The medical center plot was meant to be a test case to see how on-site organic gardens might be integrated into institutional settings. The garden, begun earlier this year, was both productive and aesthetically pleasing, and had quickly become a point of interest in the small town. It was featured in the local paper. People would stop David on the street to hear more about it. A sign in one of the windows facing the green space read, "Thank you for the garden!" It was a hundred times more well-received than David could have anticipated.

It didn't just happen spontaneously. The project was successful because of the relatively small size of the garden (which took 8 of us a little over an hour to pull up all of the plants for composting over the winter, but apparently it produced a heck of a lot of food), a willing board of trustees, and the cooperation of food service and groundskeeping staff at the facility. David and a small cadre of volunteers raised and transplanted hundreds of seedlings, harvested crops, and maintained the demo garden during the growing season. (He envisions being in more of an advisory capacity for future gardens, encouraging institutions to take over management of the edible green spaces.) A flexible food service purchasing manager waited to see what was available in the garden before placing the biweekly orders. Menus were altered to incorporate the seasonally available produce. (Better not to pay the doctor *or* the grocer when you grow it on site, no?)

The Winneshiek County Medical Center garden is the first of many Pepperfield Project brainchildren of David's, I suspect, as he continues to foster relationships between people, gardens, and food. The next project in the pipeline is an edible garden on the Luther College campus. David says there's been some hesitation on the part of the groundskeeping staff, but they haven't met him yet. I tell you, after about 10 minutes of talking with him they'll probably be scouting out the best spots on campus to transplant heirloom tomato seedlings.


  1. hey ibti - julie from qmy here - i've really enjoyed following your blog and enoyed the midwest entries espcially, since i just moved to chicago. keep it up!

  2. Nice blog. It always start with a seed, provided with necessary things, it will bloom one day. Nice pictures too.


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