Gardening

Grass

By Kerry Healey   |   Monday, August 23, 2010
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"I confess that I’m a horrible gardener—I’ve always considered it the outdoor equivalent of doing dishes—and I don’t usually do infomercials, but brace yourself because my goal in the next 3 minutes is to convince you to buy yourself some nice new grass.

It all started last week on Fan Pier, where Mass Challenge announced the winners of its business plan competition. There were all kinds of cool high tech entrepreneurs and then in the middle of it all I saw Pearl’s Premium Grass Seed. Not even a fancy bio-engineered grass seed, just an old fashioned, plain native type plant seed. Pearl’s founder and CEO, Jackson Madnick, is a humble, but determined man who, like me, apparently didn’t like yard work.

He set out on a personal mission to find a kind of grass that needed mowing only occasionally—say once a month—and he found one. And it didn’t need water, either, or fertilizer. He named the beautiful wonder-grass after his environmentalist mother and her namesake granddaughter, Pearl.

Along the way, Jackson found out some disturbing things about our American obsession with grassy, golf-course-like lawns. Here are some of the highlights: Did you know that on the East Coast we use 30% of our clean water on our lawns? Out West, fully 60% of the drinking water goes to the grass. And no wonder: there are more than 20 million acres of grass planted in residential lawns across the US. All in all, that’s half the drinking water in America devoted to lawn maintenance. As someone who spent four years listening to municipal officials fret over dwindling water supplies, that got my attention!

But as they say on wee-hour TV, “But that’s not all!” Each week some 54 million Americans mow their water-hungry lawns, generating 5% of the nation’s air pollution. In fact, the EPA estimates that one hour of mowing on an older gas mower is the polluting equivalent of driving 350 miles in a new car. All this mowing also contributes to our dependency on foreign oil, consuming over 800 million gallons of gas a year.

But wait, there’s more! Some 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides also grace our lawns, much of which runs off into ponds and ground water, playing havoc with our health and sickening our pets.

""So come September, I'll be making some changes to my lawn--perhaps some new grass, or, given my history with gardening, perhaps I'll go straight for the astro-turf or ornamental rocks!"""

Every Foodie loves a garden

By Cathy Huyghe   |   Thursday, August 12, 2010
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Gardening season is upon us — and as we so often realize this time of year, gardeners and food lovers are close kin. Whether you’re a fan of The Victory Garden’s What’s Growing This Weekend with Paul Epsom or Food Trip with Todd English, you know that every Foodie loves a garden.

Last night, Barbara Emerson, brought home this concept when she spoke about “Edible Landscapes” at the public library in Manchester-by-the-Sea, giving her audience a wealth of gardening inspiration. Emerson, a gardening consultant and master gardener, is founder of Have Green Thumb in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

While I’m not (yet) a gardener, what I learned from Emerson was liberating. For example:

    * Vegetables don’t have to grow in rows. You don’t even need a plot of land. Emerson has grown vegetables in every kind of container — including cloth bags. All that’s really required is a small spot of sun and decent soil.

    * Interplanting is mixing ornamental plants and vegetables. Imagine violets or nasturtiums interplanted with cucumbers or lettuce. (Your dinner salad is practically done!) Putting a lot of plants in one place leaves less open soil, which means less weeding and less work.

    * Plant according to the time you have available, and according to the vegetables you enjoy eating.

    * PMO – Pretty Much Organic – is okay. Really.

    * Roses are edible. Put the leaves in salads, use rose water in cooking, make rose hip tea. Nasturtiums – also edible – have a peppery flavor.

    * New trends in gardening: Pink blueberries (a recent phenomenon, available locally from Corliss Bros Nursery in Ipswich), cloth garden bags made from landscape fabric that let you garden without a plot of land (check them out at SmartPots.com), and self-watering containers (high-end versions available from Lechuza).

    * Make it easy and realistic for yourself. Place vegetables or herbs close to the kitchen, within easy reach. If they’re too far away when you’re cooking, you simply aren’t going to grab them.

A trend survey conducted by the Garden Writers of America indicated that the number of home vegetable gardeners was up 37% last year, and it’s expected to boom again this year. With Emerson’s advice on gardening — practical, fun, liberating, and realistic — I can envision it booming in my own backyard.

Cathy Huyghe writes for the WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts every weekday, where you can explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

The Garden, in Film and Reality: Two Surprises in Cambridge

By Cathy Huyghe   |   Thursday, August 12, 2010
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Two surprises of the garden variety came in rapid succession last Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Food Literacy Project at Harvard. Fitting, given they came but a few days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and WGBH’s upcoming broadcast of Food, Inc.

The first was the focus of the event itself, namely a screening of The Garden, an Oscar-nominated documentary about the largest urban garden in the United States. The garden, located in south central Los Angeles, was initiated after the Rodney King verdict and riots of 1992.

The music, the tone, the dialogue, and the setting of the early scenes of the film all indicated a fairly predictable story of a nature-oriented project healing a community’s wounds.

Here’s some of what the viewer took in, at least during the first few minutes:

“The vegetables taste so good because you took care of them, you made them.”

“Plants without chemicals. It’s better.”

“We’ve worked this land because you can’t eat the earth.”

“It’s a pretty simple idea. Land, people, food. Happy days.”

But then the reality sets in that will ultimately take the land away from the people who farm it, who are mostly undocumented Latino and Latina workers. Even though it’s a reality of ownership contention, back-room political deals, race relations, infighting, underrepresentation and misrepresentation, it still comes as a surprise.

Most specifically, and most poignantly, is the surprise of the developer’s bulldozers razing still-healthy plants like corn, papaya, bananas, and cilantro while their farmers stand just a few feet away, watching from the other side of the fence.

The second surprise of the evening actually came before the screening of the film itself, when a sophomore Harvard College student introduced the Harvard College Garden Project. The garden, in conjunction with the university’s Office for Sustainability and the Center for Health and the Global Environment, officially opened to the public two days ago, on Saturday, April 17.

The garden itself is located at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Holyoke Streets, in front of Lowell House near Harvard Square. The garden is meant as a multi-use space, with educational, cooking, and social events planned — but the main goal is to educate on the subjects of growing your own food, nutrition, and consumption.

The announcement of this garden and its intentions was made to the same audience who were about to watch the gut-wrenching story told in The Garden documentary. The irony was lost on no one: hope — like gardens — springs eternal.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

The Food Project brings sustainable agriculture to Boston

By Cathy Huyghe   |   Tuesday, August 10, 2010
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"You may not think of the greater Boston area as prime agricultural land, but — as Victory Garden demonstrates every day — the gardening of edible fruits and vegetables is a realistic, doable, and increasingly popular endeavor. One local leader of this movement is The Food Project, which gardens more than 37 acres across eastern Massachusetts, including plantings in central Boston, Lynn, Ipswich, Lincoln, and Beverly. Since its founding in 1991, The Food Project has built itself into a national model by engaging Boston’s youth in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture.

It sounds like a lofty goal. But visit any one of the gardens or farms — from Boston’s Dudley neighborhood to Long Hill Farm in Beverly — and you begin to see the elements of the Project’s success. It begins with the people, who work the place, which produces the food, which feeds the hungry. Not to mention the souls of the people who work and visit there.

The photos in this essay were collected during a tour in May of the Long Hill Farm, which The Food Project operates in partnership with The Trustees of Reservations, and continues at the Glen Urquhart School and greenhouse. The photos start, as The Food Project does itself, with the people."

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