Monday, May 23, 2011

Of Urban Farms, Wax Beans, and Vultures

During a break in the exciting home health care activities here at the Rootchopper Institute, I managed to go for a nice urban bike ride this Saturday.  My intent was to meet up with a few friends near Fort Totten Metro station for a tour of DC's urban "farms".   They didn't show up but I decided to hang out anyway and learn all about organic urban farming.

The first thing I learned is that east coast organic food folk apparently have a different concept of a farm from, say,  my in-laws in Indiana. In Indiana, a farm is basically soybeans or corn as far as you can see, and then some.  The first time I saw an honest-to-god midwest farm I was flabbergasted.  No wonder Americans are so fat.  Every farm in Indiana grows two trillion boxes of corn flakes. And across the street there are soybeans forever.  Having never intentionally eaten a soybean, the sight of acres and acres of them was stupefying.  I mean, people, who needs that much tofu?

In DC, organic food folk use the term urban farm to mean garden.  The farm near Fort Totten was about 10 times as big as Grandpa Kerwin's backyard garden in Freehold NJ. Grandpa Kerwin didn't need anybody to tell him how to farm.  He lived on a farm when he was a kid.  It's probably now a shopping mall parking lot.  I venture to guess that even in his 80s Grandpa Kerwin could grow wax beans like nobody's business.  There were certainly not my business because he tried to foist the damn things on me when I was a kid and I can't stand wax beans to this day. 

For 45 minutes I listened to the DC organic food folk as we toured of the Fort Totten "farm".  I learned that there is not much new to gardening that Grandpa Kerwin didn't know back in his salad years (sorry). For you wannabees, here is the short course in urban gardening.  Find a sunny spot.  Dig out the clay and replace it with shitloads (sorry) of manure, compost, humus and peat moss - basically any dirt that is black and cannot be turned on a potters wheel.  If you're planning on growing carrots, add some sand.  (My father had awesome gardens.  He had his house built in the remnants of a swamp. The soil was black as coal and always damp. It pays to think ahead.)  Plant stuff. Put up little signs identifying what you planted. Add water. Use a drip hose if you want to save the planet. If you're feeling protective, hang out in the yard with a pellet gun or a sling shot and kill the rabbits that munch on your veggies.  Skin the buggers and roast them on the barbee. Wash 'em down with cheap beer.I think they are organic. Wait ten weeks. Food happens.

Word of warning, do not plant 10 tomato plants.  We did this one year. We had tomatoes out the wazoo all summer. Our friends ran away whenever we approached with them. "Want some tomatoes?.... Come back!" 

We toured the Fort Totten farm composting operation. The bins were made out of old pallets. I've done some work with pallets in my lifetime. I didn't have the heart to tell the organic food folks that the pallets they were using were probably made out of wood with toxic preservatives. Oh well.
After the talk, the entire group of around 40 folks rode to the National Arboretum. The group got spread out because one person had a flat tire and 15 people or so decided to "help".  I rode ahead and stopped at a critical turn in the route.  After 20 minutes the flat fixers caught up. I pointed them toward the Arboretum and headed for home. It was hot and I had learned enough about farming for one day. I decided to take the scenic route through Anacostia.  I saw lots of unmarked police cars flying up and down Martin Luther King Boulevard. I saw poverty. I saw Saint Elizabeth's Hospital where John Hinckley lives. I made my way to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge bike trail over the Potomac.  As I approached the trail I saw a shadow pass on the ground.  I looked up and saw a big vulture with its red head flying just above me.  It was hot and I was out of water, but I wasn't quite dead yet so he let me go. 

A few miles later I stopped in Belle Haven Park for some water.  A big dog was slurping up water from a dish under the park pump.  The dog's owner pulled him away and said if he drank any more he'd throw up. He might need to come to the Rootchopper Institute for some home health care. We can cure what ails you organically.

1 comment:

  1. Pick, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. You are quite the writer and a humorist to boot. Surely you cultivated your 'take on life' during your days at West Campus....a result of excessive composting, I'm sure. So glad that after nearly 40 years since meeting you, I can enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.