We don’t give much thought to food security here, where we’re only a short drive away from pretty much anything we could think of buying to eat. From supermarkets to farmers markets, our tables are laden with comestibles from near and far. But as blizzards and hurricanes exacerbated by climate change have shown, we’re really only a few days away from empty shelves.
All this trucking and flying of food around the nation and the world has come at a high cost: its carbon footprint. This can’t continue if we want to have a habitable planet. And the agribusiness model that produces most of our food, besides being fossil-fuel-based, is destroying the soil, water table, and our health; it’s got to go, too. Even many traditional home gardening practices need to change to sustainable ones.
We’ve got a big problem in an area basic to our well-being, but if you live in Saugerties, you should be happy to know that we’re rich in resources that make it easy and pleasant to move in a sustainable direction. If you’re ready to help create and support a sustainable future, the resources you need are literally your neighbors.
Home gardens are nothing new around here, but traditional methods of gardening (and farming) need to change to improve soil quality and maximize production. In case you haven’t heard about it, permaculture design is based on proven practices that eschew disturbing soil by tilling and instead promote “top-down” soil amendment and garden creation by layering (called “lasagna” gardening) as well as mulching to almost eliminate weeds. In my personal experience, it lives up to its reputation as not just a better way but a much less labor-intensive way of gardening.
If you’d like to start a garden or improve the one you already have, you should get in touch with Woodstock Garden Share. After attending a couple of their monthly meetings, I sat down with founding members Dennis Bressack, Joan Apter, and Craig and Katryna Barber to learn more about what they have to offer gardeners both experienced (like some of my Quarryville neighbors and other Saugerties friends) and novice (like me).
The purpose of the Garden Share group is the production of sustainable food in the community, and to this end they meet regularly to share information and skills with each other and to network with folks with similar purposes, such as Whirligig Farm, Great Song Farm, Four Winds Farm and Clove Valley Farm in other communities. They’ve brought powerhouse speakers on sustainable gardening, among them permaculture guru Andrew Faust from Ellenville as well as Steffen Schneider and Lucy Marston from Hawthorne Valley Farm.
Garden Share members support each other and save money by putting together large seed and seedling orders as well as buying compost, mulch and other soil amenders together in bulk. They’ve conducted a number of workshops on topics like container gardens, trellises, making permaculture “lasagna” beds, and rotating garden crops. Their newest project, put into place by Lala Montoya and Jared Williams of Saugerties’ own Long Spoon Collective (another partner of Garden Share), is a seed exchange at the Woodstock Library, where members contribute their leftover organic seeds or seeds harvested from their organic gardens and anyone can take what they need for their own garden, for free (in hopes they will then also contribute seeds at the end of the season).
They’re also seeking to match people who want to grow vegetable gardens but have no land with people who have land but aren’t interested in growing food themselves. They strongly promote and support home gardens over grassy lawns. As Craig Barber asks, “Why mow when you can chew?” There are about 80 people on the Garden Share mailing list. I’d like to see a Garden Share group form in Saugerties, but in the meantime, we are welcome to join our neighbors. Their next meeting will be Wednesday, April 8 featuring Ken Greene from Hudson Valley Seed Library.
An important resource right based right here in Saugerties continues to be the evolving Long Spoon Collective. Organized just a year ago, the group has expanded from about 30 members to 100. They are establishing large permaculture gardens on two sites this year, where they will offer workshops to anyone who is interested in those methods. Several members will also be growing food in Long Spoon gardens on their own property. The produce is shared with all who need it in accordance with the abundance economy that is at the heart of the collective.
A basic principle of the collective is to avoid adding to the problems we face by relying any more than absolutely necessary on fossil fuels. Founding member Karuna Teresa Foudriat and her husband Larry Ulfik have utilized off-the-grid technologies adopted by the collective such as a moveable passive solar greenhouse with a rocket stove combined with a mass heater to start seedlings even in the cold weather. They’ve also created a root cellar, built a cider press and adapted their kitchen to process more than 1,200 pounds of garden produce last fall using a wood-burning stove.
The Long Spoon Collective is eager to share these methods and technologies and welcomes inquiries from anyone who would like to learn more. Participation in group activities is by mutual agreement and can be part-time or even peripheral as part of a learning experience.
Inspired and guided last spring by Garden Share, Long Spoon, and an essential book by New Paltz author Lee Reich, “Weedless Gardening,” I put in a small permaculture garden and found that permaculture lived up to its claims for abundant production and near weedlessness. The ease of preparation and maintenance is matched only by its capacity to absorb all my compost, leaf mulch, and its own leftover biomass at the end of the season.
Just as it’s inspiring and useful for gardeners to share information with each other, it’s important for local farms to work together to make it convenient and appealing for us to buy and eat local. If you don’t grow your own food, or even if you do, supporting local farmers is easy to do in Saugerties. Vivian Beatrice, co-founder of Saugerties’ own Cody Creek Farm, offers both farm-grown produce and products made from it via a CSA she and her two partners, known as the Laughing Ladies of Cody Creek Farm, have just launched. She uses the biodynamic calendar for planting and wants to share her knowledge and experience by creating a community space at Cody Creek Farm for workshops and farm-to-table dinner events. She is also partnering with neighboring Wiltbank Farm to market their products and wants to reach out to more small growers. The Laughing Ladies plan to host an “Every-Other-Sunday at the Farm” community market this season.
Many of our local farmers sell their produce and products at the Saugerties Farmers Market, as most Saugertesians already know. I’ve heard people object that prices are higher there (and from CSAs) than they are at the supermarket. I’d like to point out that they aren’t always, unless you’re comparing the cheapest battery hen eggs at the supermarket, for example, to responsibly-raised eggs that aren’t transported hundreds of miles. And prices for local produce, even organic produce, in season is usually comparable to supermarket prices. But more importantly, it’s also good for us and good for the land it’s grown on. There’s a sinister reason supermarket produce costs less: it’s largely mechanized, and where people are involved, they are exploited laborers, usually undocumented. We owe our local farmers, upon whom our lives may well depend in the future, a decent living, which sometimes means paying a little more for what they grow for us.
A column on local sustainable food resources wouldn’t be complete without a mention of master gardener Skip Arthur, who is also our local worm-composting authority. This practice has a fancy name: vermiculture. But worm boxes are easy to set up and nearly effortless to maintain. Skip will gladly advise anyone about how to start their own worm box. Last year he donated a box of orphaned worms to me which have been turning my kitchen scraps into beautiful compost down in my basement all winter, saving me from having to take them into the frozen landscape outside my back door where the compost pile is still buried under snow.
So now the snow is melting away and the days are longer and warmer, I encourage everyone to try at least one or two new ways of looking at food production and consumption this spring and summer. All gardeners should know about the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Garden Day which will be held in Stone Ridge on April 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at SUNY Ulster Community College Campus, 491 Cottekill Rd., Stone Ridge. Master Gardeners Barbara Bravo, Susanna Satten and Marianne Chand, all residents of Saugerties, will be making presentations. Also, get out to the Saugerties Farmers Market as soon as they open up again on May 23 and get Lee Reich’s extremely user/reader-friendly book “Weedless Gardening,” and/or find a local CSA.
Let’s all make a start at being part of a sustainable future.