Friday, July 9, 2010

First Ever Flint Growers Co-operative!

Here is the press release for the Edible Flint growers co-operative first market day at the Flint Farmers Market:

Joanna Lehrman
Flint River Farms, Edible Flint Co-op

City-Grown Food Co-op opens at Flint Farmers Market

Flint, Mi, July 9, 2010 -- Starting Saturday, July 17, 2010 and continuing every Saturday throughout the summer, customers at the Flint Farmers’ Market will be able to purchase vegetables, herbs, and fruits grown right in the heart of the City of Flint and Beecher. The Farmers’ Market stall will be run by the Edible Flint Co-op, a collaboration of nearly 20 urban growers, dedicated to improving Flint residents’ access to fresh and healthy food.

And there’s a bonus: As Edible Flint Co-op growers raise food, they are also adding value to local property and helping improve the overall health of residents.
“This is one of the most important things we can do to support growers who want to increase production or supplement their income, and to support local residents by providing easy access to wholesome food,” said Joanna Lehrman, a grower and co-operative planning-group member. “We can grow incredibly diverse and exciting produce here in Flint. The co-operative enables us to support each other by sharing in the risk and increasing the quantity of products we have available to those who shop at the Farmers’ Market.”

The Edible Flint Co-op is part of Edible Flint, A Growing Network, a group of local residents, growers, and organizations that provide technical assistance and seek to better coordinate resources for local growers. Edible Flint members also connect growers to buyers for their produce - including local restaurants and farmers’ markets.

Edible Flint’s mission is “…to support local residents in growing and accessing fresh, healthy food in order to reconnect with the land and each other.”

“Having a table supported by local growers is exciting,” said Dick Ramsdell, manager of the Flint Farmers’ Market. “The market is busier this summer than ever before. Vacant land in Flint created a negative image in people’s minds, and now this land is growing healthy food!”

The stall at the Flint Farmers’s Market , 420 E. Boulevard Dr. Flint, MI 48503, will be open during regular market hours, 8:00am to 5:00pm, beginning Saturday, July 17.
Members of Edible Flint and growers will be on hand share recipes and to answer questions about where food is being grown by members of the co-operative. For more information about the Edible Flint Co-operative contact Joanna Lehrman, Flint River Farms, Edible Flint Co-op at (917)617-4239. Or e-mail her at

Sunday, May 2, 2010

10 Tips on getting, and not getting a grant: Part 1

Swartz Creek from Aldrich Park

1. Make sure you have an organizational home and affiliations. This brings you credibility.

2. Use the format that the foundation requires for letters of inquiry and the full proposal.

3. Have a sustainability plan. Foundations want to know they won't have to support you forever.

4. Cultivate your partnerships and be able to describe in detail what these entail.

5. Be flexible with your plan. Business plans change and evolve.

6. Know what kinds of projects the foundation funds, what the organization objectives are and what its mission is, and how your project fits into this.

7. Be true to your own mission and objective and be able to coherently communicate these.

8. Be clear about what money requested will be used for.

9. Be resourceful. What donations can you obtain, what in-kind contributions do you have access to, what costs can be cut, what do you absolutely need?

10. Diversify your requests. Do not rely on one foundation or funding source. Foundations also want to know that there are others that are willing to invest in your project.

Transplants are growing, tomatoes are tomato'ey, May rains have come, we have begun our search for manure and a way to load and transport and have opened up the entrance to Aldrich Park. I've been taking some nice long walks in Aldrich, identifying weeds, introducing Mason the dog to groundhogs and coming up with plans for a campsite and pond where the sinkhole is.

Some plans for this summer on Aldrich are brushhogging, contouring and leveling and redistributing leaves (anyone know of any contractors who might be willing to donate some time to the project in Flint?), hooking up electricity, setting up a (battery powered, solar powered?) irrigation system out of Swartz Creek, planning for a driveway (concrete, asphalt), and cleaning up the entranceway.

Thanks for checkin' back in. Oh, and you might want to check out The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird for summer reading.

Aldrich Park from Court Street

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Edible Flint goes to Detroit, eats at Slow's BBQ and much more...

Happy Solstice! I've been told that Michigan is a tease, and we DID in fact get snow on the first day of Spring, but we have long days and harvest moons ahead of us. That and tilling, seeding, weeding, heirloom tomato salads, swimming in the river, hot soil, basil and arugula pesto, roasted eggplant... all the joys of summer to come. But first, back to business.

In an effort to learn as much as possible about how to grow Edible Flint and be the most effective organization we can be, a few of us jumped in a van and headed down to the Greening of Detroit to speak with Ashley Atkinson about the Grown in Detroit cooperative label, soil testing procedures and methods of evaluation for programs. Edible Flint is a collaboration of organizations and individuals coming together to provide resources and support to increase access and availability of healthy, local food in the city of Flint. Twyla and I are new to the collaborative, and are exploring our roles in the group by attending strategic planning meetings and events such as our recent trip to Detroit. We are looking to develop a growers cooperative this year in Flint, which will provide a market outlet for small growers within the city. The Grown in Detroit cooperative has some really interesting and unique characteristics that we would like to explore for our Edible Flint brand. First is that anyone can sell through the cooperative, there are no minimum amounts and no time commitments for participation. Grown in Detroit holds a table at Eastern Market every week, and allows growers to bring products for sale as long as the group democratically decides the quality is good. Training for harvest and post-harvest handling is offered through the Greening, if growers are interested. Individual growers are not highlighted through the label, but a section of the table at Eastern Market is reserved to support young entrepreneurs wanting to expand their business.

In evaluating the effectiveness of Greening programs, data is collected and analyzed at MSU to draw connections between programs and fruit and vegetable consumption in Detroit. Some of this data is collected from surveys handed out to home and community gardeners. Gardeners weigh all that they harvest and consume and report back at the end of the season. This evaluation is so important for outreach and communication to bring funding to the kinds of work we are doing, so that we can continue to do it.

In other news, Roxanne and I are finishing up the maple syrup season by boiling down our sap in tubs on an open fire in her backyard. Twyla, Roxanne, Stephen and I tapped 48 trees on Land Bank land in Flint Town in the end of February, when days were sunny and nights were below freezing. (As it turned out, when days started warming up, the ice on the ground around the trees melted, and turned into a 2 foot deep stream- next time...we'll be prepared with waders and bathing suits). Because of our schedules, we were unable to empty the buckets as frequently as we should have and we stored the full buckets in a root cellar, where the temperature was probably just under 40 degrees, a bit high for sap storage. Erin came by to boil the first round of sap with us, and we had a delicious local venison and salmon dinner that night over the fire, and she finished it off in her house on the burner. Roxanne had found a bath tub that we hooked up with a welded pipe for syrup emptying and we built a firepit with concrete blocks to hold up the tub. Well, the tub was stolen and we had to readjust the firepit, but you know what? Against all odds, we boiled down that sap (allow many many hours) and drank it while it was still warm, and it was quite possibly the most delicious liquid I have ever tasted in my entire life. So many instructions and rules and things that went wrong, and yet, it came out perfectly.

*photo credits to Stephen, thanks for the awesome snapshots

Here are some updates on Aldrich Park and Flint River Farm: In order to get into the park with a vehicle, we needed to remove the berm from the entrance on Ann Arbor street. Roxanne and I went out there with the tractor and front end loader and spent a good couple of hours removing dirt, concrete and rocks from the entrance. Two days later we returned to start brushhogging the site to do the initial weed flush, and it had been replaced! Like groundhog day, no joke. Twyla and I realized this probably could have been prevented had we prepared a sign explaining what we were doing, who we are and how to contact us. We're having a sign made, and in the meantime, we'll wait on removing the berm.

We sent in samples from the Land Bank lots to be tested for lead, and are waiting to hear back about that. We'll be seeding summer crops early April, and have finally finished constructing the germination chamber with lights and fixtures after five hours at Home Depot. It's gorgeous. We also have a meeting at Hurley Hospital to talk about selling some food in their lobby. It's strange preparing to sell and marketing produce we don't even have started in trays yet.

There's much more to tell, and I'm working on drafting that up now. But until then, as Chris Bedford says,

Food and Peace.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Some Farm Updates

It's snowing today. Big, wet, heavy snowflakes covered my car this morning with about 4 inches. We weren't able to beat the weather yesterday to take some soil samples of a couple of sites on Ann Arbor, but we have the soil corer and some little red flags to mark out a grid whenever we get a day above 32 degrees. Oh, and we've gotten most of our seeds for the season (see above). We'll be heading down to Roger's Mill for buckwheat, clover and winter rye cover crop seeds in the near future.

A lot has happened this past week, so much so that it's been hard to sit down, collect my thoughts and write about them. Here are some basic updates:

1. We met with Rick Foster from MSU and Joe McCarron, a representative from the global social innovation firm REOS. REOS, Transforum and Michigan State University are partnering to conduct a study and to organize a collaboration between six global cities with significant "metropolitan agriculture" projects. The cities involved are London, Amsterdam, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, Chenai and Detroit/Flint, which are considered together. Detroit and Flint are unique in this group because of the extent of open, vacant land available. The goal of the collaboration would be to explore challenges, resources, similarities and knowledge of global metropolitan agriculture. Whoo hoo! The next meeting is Wednesday, February 10 in Beverly Hills, MI.

2. We took some soil samples in early January on Aldrich Park and the results came back. Phosphorus levels are below average, and one out of six compost samples had high lead. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, accepted levels of lead in soils are 400 ppm, but some states have different regulations. To assure safety of food grown in soils with lead, we are looking for levels below 300 ppm. Our one contaminated sample had somewhere around 380 ppm. We are planning on taking more samples on the site to determine whether this is just a hotspot, or whether there is more extensive contamination elsewhere.

3. We have settled on two Land Bank properties to grow upon this coming summer. They are both running along Ann Arbor street, and we estimate the space totals a little less than an acre. We are planning on 1/2 acre in production. We may put up a spigot on the larger site, and also ask the neighbor living adjacent to the smaller lot if we can hook up a hose to his house.

4. We are going to Part II of the Shiawassee Conservation District beekeeping classes on Saturday February 13. Part I was all about preparing for your first colony, management of hives and bees, feeding, queen care and honey health benefits. Such valuable information. We were so into it that we decided we will most definitely will start a hive or two. Something I couldn't quite wrap my mind around was the preemptive innoculation with antibiotics. In order to prevent and control American Foulbrood, which is a devastating spore forming bacterium, terramycin is given to bees in the spring before honey production, and in the fall after honey production. I've been doing some reading to learn of more natural methods of control of Foulbrood, because I'd like to try to avoid antibiotic residue in food that I eat.

5. Oakland County will no longer be donating the 500 yards of compost to the Land Bank for use in Flint urban food gardens. What this means is we have to find another source of the good stuff! We're looking into Morgan's and MSU Dairy Facility. We also spoke to Greg Gaines from the Mr. Rogers "Just Say No" program about using leaves from Aldrich to start some larger scale composting within Flint.

I'll leave you with a photo from an urban farm in Detroit run by Greg Willerer, "Brother Nature," radical urban farmer, advocate for the people, for the community, for compost. Here are his compost piles, Julie Cotton and myself.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Twyla and I figured out how to put together this germ chamber all on our own, with the help of a hammer and chair of course. I know all it looks like now is a "pre-fab shelf unit," but this baby will be keeping seedlings warm and cozy come spring time. We got a little excited and built it ahead of time.

Check out the Home Depot for steel shelving units. Ours is 72 inches high X 48 inches wide X 24 inches deep, for only $76.97. Any other sturdy shelving unit will do, size just depends on how many trays you want it to hold (usually trays are 2 ft X 4 ft).

Next we'll be heading back to the store to pick up some lights and fixtures, as well as reflective cardboard for the outside of the chamber. I'm also going to post some information compiled by John Biernbaum on choosing lights and fixtures.

Hot Organic Farmers

At the Huffington Post you can vote for hottest organic farmer, or hottest beekeeper. They seem to be delightfully centered around New York urban agriculture projects.

Organic farmers are hot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seed Order: Complete!

Today we finished ordering seeds for the coming season, everything from salad greens and juicy heirloom tomatoes, dinosaur kale and sweet red Carmen peppers to a variety of cut flowers with funny and exotic names; Pumpkin-on-a-Stick, Old Mexico Zinnia's and Snow-on-the-Mountain. I can almost picture the garden at full bloom, vines heavy with fruit and beds bursting with color. I can't wait for summer! But until then, we've got a ton of planning to do.

We attended our first Grand Traverse Neighborhood Association meeting, the neighborhood that we and Aldrich Park live in. After presenting a bit about the project, and answering some questions from some very curious neighbors, a group of small business owners, farmers, city officials and lifetime Flint residents, we received unanimous support for the farm on Aldrich. This is awesome, because we'll be submitting this letter of support with the proposal.

Twyla and I took a little trip down to City Hall to meet with Craig from the Department of Transportation to look at some very old aerial maps of water lines all throughout Flint. Some maps were from 1908! It appears there are three main lines that are relatively close to Aldrich; one runs down Hall Street, North of Court, another runs along Fenton and the third on Atwood. We went out to the site with Craig and he measured the approximate distance from the main line at Atwood to the center of the park: give or take 300 feet. With 300 feet of pipe, plus labor and reconstruction, the running total would come to near $30,000.

I've been reading up on city partnerships and collaborations with urban farms and gardens so that we can try to build on what already exists, in terms of policy and regulation. What precedents are there for public-private partnerships and urban agriculture? Check out Growing Power's Chicago projects on Grant Park and Jackson Park, both collaborations with the Chicago Park District. Alemany Farm in San Francisco is also a partnership with Parks and Recreation, city agencies and nonprofits. Real Food Farm is also located on city park land and works in collaboration with Baltimore service corps and city public schools.

I'll leave you with a view from Millennium Park in Chicago,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Quest for Irrigation

I've been digging around for information on existing waterlines underneath Aldrich Park, knowing that come July, with baby plants in the ground, sometimes Michigan can get a little dry and irrigation is critical. I called Miss Dig, a Michigan-based company that promotes "utility damage prevention" by marking out existing gas and electric lines if you plan on excavating or building something big. They directed me to the city, so I called the Department of Public Works and Utilities, who transferred me to the Department of Transportation. I spoke with a super helpful engineer named Craig who asked me to come in to look over some maps with him to find the closest address or parcel with waterlines.

There are some basic assumptions we are going by, the first being that there are existing waterlines that we can tap into. If there are not, there is the possibility of irrigating out of the creek, and/or of putting in cisterns and rain barrels to catch and store rain. While we do plan on having gullies on the hoophouses to catch and direct water to a kind of water catchment system, and also using smaller cisterns, I do not want to rely on these to irrigate over an acre of crops, some of which are very sensitive when young.

Once we find out if there are existing lines, I can measure how many linear feet from the mainline to the park, a pipe would have to be run and a couple of faucets installed. This may get pricey, but it may be the only way to do it.

Thanks Roxanne for all your help with this! And Craig from the DOT!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Applewood Initiative and Cravings for Raw Milk

Today was our second Gardening and Community meeting, a project of Applewood Initiative that involves 15 sessions on everything from soil and composting to local government and grant writing, as well as workshops and volunteering. Sessions are meant to train us to offer technical assistance to neighborhood associations in community gardening and land use. Christina Kelly from the Genesee County Land Bank presented and covered some basic information on vacancy and statistics in Flint, vacancy in relation to race, Land Bank properties, auctions and acquisitions and then we broke out into groups to come up with alternative uses for vacant properties. One great one: raising a flock of sheep for wool, manure, meat (maybe?) and doing some urban shepherding. Sweet deal.

On another note, tomorrow we are going to head south about a half an hour to Linden to check out Westwind Milling Company, a local and sustainable grain farm, mill and bakery to stock up on stone ground flour, cookies and honey. They also sell other Michigan grown products. Next stop will be Dairy Delight Cow Boarding to sign up for a cow share. Unpasteurized, non-homogenized milk is the way to go.

flannel sheets and ginger tea, goodnight.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Welcome to our blog! Crop Planning, Conference Season and Letter Writing

This is Aldrich Park, located less than one mile from downtown Flint, Michigan. This is the future site for Flint River Farm, the new urban farm addition to Genesee County. Welcome to our blog! Here we plan on writing about just what goes into the planning of an urban farm in a post-industrial city, and what is involved in the implementation and management of this kind of a project.

Aldrich Park is a gorgeous 5+ acre city park formerly farmed by a man named John Freeman. For the past 10 years leaves have been dumped on the site, so currently in some places there are five or so feet of leaf mold; earthy, wormy, sweet smelling composting leaves. We plan on incorporating these, encouraging the composting process and planting a nice summer and then winter cover crop. The park runs along Swartz Creek, one of the 18 creeks and smaller watersheds that make up the Flint River Watershed, that ultimately feed into the Flint River. Check out the Flint River Watershed Coalition for history on the watershed as well as projects designed to protect and preserve it.

Twyla and I came to Flint after graduating from the Michigan State University Organic Farming Certificate Program in Lansing. Before that I was working on the educational urban farm in Brooklyn NY, Added Value and also at the non-profit Eat Well Guide, an organization and website with an extensive free online directory of farms, markets, restaurants, etc. involved in sustainable agriculture. I developed a passion for sustainable agriculture and community development after graduating with a degree in Urban Planning and working on projects exploring environmental injustice and the many benefits of urban agriculture and local food production. It just makes so much sense! Environmental conservation, job creation and economic stimulus, neighborhood revitalization, nutrition education, increased
healthy food access and community building,
all wrapped into a neat local food systems package.

So here I am, growing to love another community, another city, learning to communicate with new people, farmers, advocates, educators, life-time residents. I'm learning to think like a farmer, like a business-owner, like an active participant in my local government.

We aim to keep our process transparent, our methods sustainable, and our decisions creative.

Come visit us this summer season at Aldrich Park, east of Swartz Creek, underneath the Court Street overpass! I'll be writing on here as often as I can, in between seed orders and crop plans and letters of inquiry, in our little apartment overlooking a snowy Aldrich Park.