With the fall months comes cooler weather and some truly beautiful days that may be enjoyed spending some time in the garden. But for many of our Food for All partners, the Coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult to have consistent and regular engagement in and around the gardens for the past two years. Disruption to once “normal” routines combined with safety concerns have limited our access to the gardens and opportunities to use them as a shared place of service and impact. Despite these challenges, the Food for All program has exceeded expectations due to the hard work of our dedicated partners.
This month, we wanted to take the time to celebrate and learn from a couple of Food for All champions who have managed to maintain a high level of engagement with others during this challenging time. If you are looking for some inspiration to increase your engagement with others in these garden spaces, look no further! We have asked these FFA champions to share the secrets to their success.
The garden at Eagleview Town Center is headed up by the wonderful Terry Rothermel who has made significant strides in expanding the network of garden volunteers in 2021. We spoke with her about what worked well and some ideas for continued growth into the future.
The core group of volunteers has grown significantly through several different forms of outreach. One major factor for their success this year was the addition of a group from NextGen, a corporate partner located close by who volunteers with a team from the office on a weekly basis, which helps to build their camaraderie and team relationships while giving back to the community. Strengthening connections between our partners and the community is one of Trellis’ core values, and we are committed to this aspect of our work.
Another new element that increased engagement was an information box, designed and installed by Trellis near the entrance to the garden. This box holds flyers that give directions to interested community members on how to get involved. High-impact engagements delivered by Trellis in 2021 helped cultivate additional interest in the garden, including a seedling giveaway and several garden tours, elements of the engagement package offered by Trellis to all our partners in order to increase the level of community and activity in your garden sites.
Another key to success was celebration. Terry took the initiative to host a garden party, serving up food made from the types of veggies that were grown in the garden. Invites went out to current volunteers as well as the surrounding housing community so that people would have a chance to get to know what goes on in the community garden. Events like this are a great way to safely get together in outdoor spaces, and to encourage new folks to get involved.
Terry’s advice for increasing engagement is to consider your audience—who is most likely to already be interested in the work we are doing through Food for All? For instance, if there is a farmer’s market in the area, perhaps there is an opportunity to pass out info to patrons who are likely already interested in local food systems and organic agriculture.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Narberth is another partner who has maintained a solid base of volunteers throughout the years. We spoke to Pat Brubaker, the garden champion, about the history of engagement with the garden.
One key to successful engagement at Holy Trinity has been to find a time that works best and stick to it. Settling on a time that worked for everyone was the biggest challenge. Initially, weekday afternoons proved to be too hot and storing produce became difficult. After some experimentation, Pat says “we switched to an early morning harvest which was then taken directly to the Grace Lutheran food bank. The seniors were on board and the younger ones were way more inclined to give their time on a weekend day for the more physically demanding garden efforts. And so it continues to this day.”
Pat also sends regular updates to everyone from the church who is involved in the garden, including those who have been involved in previous years. Sometimes these updates come from Trellis, other times Pat shares what is being grown and harvested, and always ends with a reminder of how and when they can help. Consistent timing and messaging has allowed the volunteer base to remain strong at Holy Trinity throughout the pandemic.
As for recruiting new volunteers, a healthy garden can be a big draw. Pat says “the garden lushness itself is spreading the message! It is a very visible corner and friends often talk about what we are growing with a kind of awe.” A few new volunteers have joined the ranks simply from stopping to talk as they walk by and admire the garden. Engagement is a key to success in our Food for All programs. We would love to hear from you – what have been your keys to successfully engaging with others in and around your garden? Let us know, and we would love to share it with the entire FFA network. Thank you for all that you do, and for who you are. Together we are helping our world grow in a new way!
The month of October is one of the most glorious times for a gardener. Our summer plants are still producing delicious food, while the fall crops are starting to come in. The weather is cooler and less humid, making it absolutely perfect to spend time outside.
We could go on and on about the joys of gardening in the fall, but this is also the perfect time of year to provide some care for your garden before putting it to rest for the winter.
Remove Plants with Pests or Diseases
Aphid infestation on kale leaves
As our summer plants come towards the end of their service they can start to look a little ragged. Plants have immune systems, just as we do, and changes in the weather can contribute to disease problems. When weather gets cooler, and rain becomes more frequent, the spread of bacterial and fungal infections speeds up. This can also lead to more pest insects on your plants, as they have an instinct for locating weakened plants.
Make sure that any plants that are showing signs of disease or pests are removed from your garden. For plants that are really sick or infested, we recommend you remove the plants completely from the garden, by bagging them up and disposing, rather than composting. Composting plants that are unhealthy can exacerbate things if you use that compost again in your garden. Garden sanitation is a great way to ensure that your garden stays healthy, year after year.
Collect those leaves!
Fall leaves can be used as mulch
As autumn takes hold of our regions, many trees display incredible beauty as they drop their leaves. These leaves are often collected and sent away to decompose somewhere else. These leaves can actually be an incredible resource if we keep them and repurpose them to encourage healthy soils in our gardens.
As you may know, keeping your soil covered is very important for keeping that soil alive and healthy. This can be done with living plants (the best method), compost, or other materials like landscape fabric, but leaves make the most cost effective and locally sourced mulch.
If you are lucky, some trees might shed their leaves in close proximity to your garden, and maybe even fall right onto your beds! If you are like most gardens, you may not get that lucky but you can rake the leaves up and use bags to transport them over to your garden.
Shredding the leaves can also help them break down quickly and feed the soil. Distribute a layer of leaves 2 inches thick on top of all garden beds, and spray them down thoroughly with a hose so that they don’t blow away.
If you have noticed an especially successful plant in your garden, it may be a good time to save some seeds. Selecting the healthiest and most robust plants with characteristics you like can be a great way to preserve those genetics year after year. This depends on the type of plant of course, as many hybrid plants will never grow “true to seed” as their parent plants leave the offspring with diverse genetic potentials. Many species of plants are heirlooms, seeds of this type generally grow out the exact same way as their parent plants.
It’s also possible that you are already breeding your own hybrid plants in your garden. If you have more than 1 variety of a plant, they might be cross pollinated by insects and create a new variety. This can be fun and exciting, and has led to many new and interesting varieties, but it may not yield the fruits you expect.
If you want to preserve a single type of crop, make sure that you isolate it far from any other plant in it’s potential breeding pool. This can be a fun experiment to do with kids, and it makes an exciting surprise during the next gardening season; you never know what you might grow!
Plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers should all be ripened past the point that you might harvest so that the seeds can fully develop. Other plants like beans, peas, and other flowering plants can be harvested when they have dried on the plant. In general, you should remove the seeds from the flesh of the plants, and rinse off any debris that remains on the seed. After this you can dry them out, and store them in a cool, dry, dark place.
As the fast pace of summer programming winds down, September brings a time of reflection for the Trellis staff. Before the memories fade, our team dedicates considerable time looking back and identifying what went well, what did not work, and what we want to change in the coming year. The process is full of curiosity, inspiration, and optimism. It is a healthy and kind dialogue, steeped in creativity and intellectual challenges — the sort of back and forth that I have found to be the most satisfying in my career to date. It can also sometimes be painful and hard.
During this time, I have also been evaluating our diversity, equity, and inclusion progress as an organization. Since the time of collective intense reflection that followed the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, and the plan we put in place to tackle racism and diversity within our own walls, I am questioning what we accomplished and how far have we come.
When I feel deep and listen to my heart, I cannot ignore the answer that echoes back to me. “Not far enough”, it says.
Have we made progress? We absolutely have. Have we learned a lot? No question. Do I feel proud of where we are today relative to where we were in June of 2020? Somewhat, but not as much as I would like.
One of the things that never sat well with me during my years working in corporate marketing, and later as a consultant in corporate sustainability, is the time-honored tradition of updating stakeholders in a way that puts a shiny spin on things that did not go so well. At the end of such reports, typically in the second to last paragraph, there is mention of “a few things we still need to work on”, for fear of losing sales or a dip in share value. In contrast, I have found it immensely refreshing and profoundly worthy of trust and respect when bold, honest leaders dare to tell it like it truly is.
As the ED of this organization, I feel empowered and freed to report out to you the way I am truly experiencing it. As such, I will start with where I feel we fell short. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following areas where I wish we had done better/more or where we clearly bumped up against shortcomings in our process or approach:
We did not update our stakeholders on our progress and status frequently enough
We did not do enough of the REAL work to ask the hard questions and engaging in the broader community specifically around race
When we brought diverse individuals onto our team, there were areas where we had not thought things through and thus resulted in pain and discomfort for them and the rest of the team
During the summer season, our internal education and reflection process around DEI floundered, which cost us
Our focus on racial justice overshadowed other areas of DEI, such as gender and sexual orientation, that are very important to our team and the community we serve
We were not adequately prepared as a team to handle challenges with the youth in areas of inclusion, which resulted in pain for some of our teammates (and possibly participants)
We do not have a good plan for how to prioritize areas of DEI to work on for our organization
I am sure there are more than I have listed above, but those are the ones that rise to the surface.
In terms of what we have accomplished, I can say that I am proud of the following successes our team had over the last 14 months:
We created a detailed three phase Anti-Racism Plan and a correlating robust learning resources database that we have shared with other organizations and leaders
We stayed true to the course of internal self-education (Phase 1 of the plan), having sessions at least every other week (until the summer) to dive deep into and discuss a particular topic
We have been as honest and open as we know how, working with incredible intention and authenticity to encourage people to speak up, share their truth, and to create a safe and inviting space for them to do so
We completed a strategic plan that prioritizes diversifying our board and staff and engaging with the communities we serve specifically around diversity
We began collecting and reporting publicly on diversity data regarding our staff and board
We just recently established an Internal Affairs committee of the board that is charged with working on the DEI strategy for the organization
We had the most diverse team in the history of the organization this year
Based on the experiences over this time, I find myself, and our senior leadership, grappling with some tough questions that we will work to understand and address as we go forward.
How do we continue to proceed on this path of education and learning in a way that invites input and feedback from those who matter most without burdening them or causing additional suffering?
With all the competing obligations of running a public charity, how much is the right amount of time to spend on this work? How do I balance it with other priorities?
How do we honestly reflect on our history as a country, as an organization, and as a team, and not let the pain and shame get in the way of loving ourselves and staying the course?
As the Executive Director, I take total ownership of the areas where we fall short in living up to our mission and our values. I am eager to tackle these extremely difficult questions and I look forward to the progress we will make in the coming year.
Most importantly, I invite YOU, our fabulous supporters, participants, and partners, to join with us. I encourage you to tell us about your experience with us. Tell us what is important to you. And get involved if you are interested! We warmly welcome your input and participation. Without it, we cannot do this journey justice.
Philly summers can be downright oppressive when the temperature and humidity start their annual ascent, but this is the time when our community garden volunteers shine! Year after year they return to the beds to nurture their crops—all in the name of service to the community.
In March of 2020, our crew were sent home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant the vast majority of our volunteers would not be permitted to come to the on-campus garden. The volunteers were heartbroken to scale back operations when the need for nutrition was greater than ever. The Vanguard Community Garden typically contributes thousands of pounds of fresh, organic produce to local food pantries to fight food insecurity. How could we keep the garden running?
Welcome Homegrown Heroes!
A skeleton crew kept the garden going last year, but when we realized the pandemic would continue into 2021 (another growing season), we knew we needed to do more. Since many of our volunteers have their own gardens at home, we decided to ask whether crew would be willing to dedicate a portion of their gardens to raise crops for the cause. We offered to supply plants, seeds, fertilizer, etc. so they could grow vegetables in their own gardens and deliver the harvest to local food pantries in their own neighborhoods. We even encouraged crew without gardens to participate—with a porch or patio that gets some sun, you could also try your hand at farming! And so, “Homegrown Heroes” was born!
The program has been a great success so far. We created an online community for crew to swap stories, successes, failures, questions, and pictures of their gardens. We’re seeing photos of bags of fresh produce delivered to pantries we hadn’t worked with previously. Participants are exchanging information and tips, and it’s exciting to see our crew volunteers embrace this challenge while simultaneously making the program more visible, inclusive, and more productive with even greater harvest totals!
None of this would have been possible without the support of our partners at Trellis for Tomorrow, a non-profit dedicated to fighting local hunger through community garden programs. While our volunteers are working the home-front, our friends at Trellis have planted high-yielding, low-maintenance crops such as potatoes and carrots in our campus garden beds. We are projecting bed yields to rival or even surpass our highest totals this year!
I could not be prouder to be a member of the community garden team. I’m always amazed, but never surprised, at the creativity and dedication Vanguard crew put into the many volunteering opportunities available to us. Our “Homegrown Heroes” are doing more than just giving back to the community, they are spreading the spirit of giving and growing to all Vanguard crew! So, a big “shout-out” to my fellow volunteers! Keep up the good work and keep the good vibes flowing!