Black Swan Organics and Grow Ohio Valley
What a great guest to follow up after Jean-Martin Fortier because Danny is basically doing everything JM Talked about. A great educator and farmer you are going to love this episode as much as I did!
Grow Ohio Valley.org is a nonprofit organization working to improve food justice in Appalachia. Grow Ohio Valley is working to fashion a new economic landscape, one offering increased prosperity, improved health and a better environment.
Things they do is change:
• Vacant city lots become fertile and productive.
• School children who think it is “normal” to grow and eat healthy food.
One thing I am curious about is their “Food Stamp Challenge”
Tell us a little about yourself.
Sure, I’m living here in Wheeling West, VA. It’s kind of hybrid Appalachia Coal town and mid west Rust Belt town. Has a lot in common with some of it’s larger brothers, like Cleveland and Akron. Had lots of steel mills which have largely gone away and coal mines, that are dwindling, kind of post industrial situation.
I grew up about an hour away, and I came to live in the big city about 10 years ago. At that time kind of found a love for organic gardening trying to share that with other people since in a variety of ways.
Sharing the Love
One of which is Grow Ohio Valley, a company founded with other people here in Wheeling, West VA to bring this local food movement, which is pretty fringe here. You’d call it a rust belt climate….
What does that mean a rust-belt climate?
Wheeling, it’s been a hard up town. It was pretty prosperous up until the 60s and 70s and before. As factory work moved overseas, and as coal ran out or other forms of jobs, there are:
- high unemployment rates
- everything that goes with that
- low scores on health performance
- low educational performance
- high drug usage which is a big thing we’re seeing right now.
It’s a kind of mentality where people just want a job … want things to get back to normal as they remember it … so things that relate to long term health, don’t get on the radar screen I would say, if you look at it as an average across the town as it is in other places as frequently.
- not thinking about farmers markets
- not thinking about organic food
- growing own food
more immediate and pressing concerns … way to address these concerns … direct these …. business opportunities in farming and gardening …. that’s the obvious one …. under employed to do something… either a backyard garden to support their home …. economics or kind of a market venture like were up to here…. there’s also that empowering energy that comes with doing something that is live giving for your and your family … putting your flag in the ground that you have control over … something I have power in in this sort of complex challenging world… for decades now…
We’re in a similar situation because the timber industry has left and our mills have shut down. I think that this is a popular topic whether they are interested in creating their own green jobs or supporting their farmer’s market.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
My mom had a small flower – vegetable garden, my grandfather was a farmer and I spent time as a kid … but it was all sort of part of the background as a child and not something I had a keen interest until I moved out and had my first backyard. I had a friend he was interested in trying a vegetable garden, we were living together and we just went out in the backyard, dug up some grass, and planted a few seeds and I was hooked … you probably understand as well as your listeners….it’s hard to describe … what a feeling! I haven’t thought about much else…
How did you learn how to garden organically?
No, we just went down to the used bookstore, and got a guide to Rodale Organic Gardening Book Basics …
… that was really the beginning for me… I didn’t really know anything, I had just kind of taken orders how to help in the garden … I hadn’t really thought about!
But what a great book! It gave me some methods and ideas.
I love Rodale’s, I was just looking at some of my Rodale books the other day, my herb book and my perennial book … Do you want to explain what Grow Ohio Valley is?
8 Years Ago
Let’s see it was 8 years ago, I was working in an inner city after school summer school here… basically the after school program for the poor kids… at this great place called the Lockland Chapel … working there, my job while I was in college …
Getting the Kids Outside
I just wanted to get the kids outside and off the concrete, looking back at my childhood I wanted to give them a taste of the things that were important to me and having a connection to the natural world… rode our bikes around, settled on one, found a vacant lot, dug up a little land on this lot and growing a few tomatoes … later on we found out someone owned the property – the Department of Transportation and they formalized our permission to grow things there and that sort of started out my beginning of doing community gardening in a community engaged sort of way.
We took the kids down there and just did some fun stuff … we didn’t have a curriculum and we just wanted to let them run around and do that sort of thing…
The first year we took the boys down and take one chunk and grow some pumpkin seeds and the girls had a different plot and held a little competition see who boys or girls could grow bigger pumpkins. They really got into it, wheelbarrowing manure around and stuff.
At first I was skeptical, they were looking at the grass wondering is this gonna get grass stains on my Nikes etc but soon they loved it …
I just had to ask what age kids? Middle school or older? I teach 2nd grade…
At that time I had 2nd to 5th grade kids, but shortly after I took middle school to high school… this was a corner of a big vacant lot – about an acre … size of a football field.
Once I got into the high school, kids who could do al little bit more and more of the lot… down the road… We have chickens there… still do, perennial patch with blackberries and rhubarb and annual vegetables … I have these middle school and high school boys
They were out there helping me all the time… they wanted to make some money, said these vegetables have some value … so every Saturday we started taking to the Woodville Farmer’s
My Own Market Gardening Intensive Education
That’s when I started my intensive education on Market gardening
- efficient production
- holistic soil and health…
So starting with your market gardening education. If you were starting over today, what is one big thing you would do differently?
So many things wrong, been part of a fun and interesting journey… doing one thing because doing things wrong … your doing something wrong and that attracts people… I have this weird theory… determined incompetence… attractive to people because when you don’t know what your doing… people who know what their doing start showing up … brought so many interesting people … so many mentors who saw what we were doing and wanted to help people to succeed so great relationships started out of that… so I am not sure I wouldn’t go to ag school but there have been some books that have been super valuable to me…
These are the kind of things on my desks all the time that I’m referencing
Lee Reich? Weedless Gardening… and several other books with the same theme … no till… gardening… proved to be really important lifesaving… all these vacant lots used to have houses on them… so we’re lucky if the houses have a layer of soil on them…
- the demolition houses…
- laying in the basement under your feet
- tilling the garden after we broken three rototillers
- that info
- opened us up to no till gardening … coming form a permaculture garden…
Ruth Stout of how to garden without an aching back…
- dedicated mulcher who never tills and just cultivates the soil…
- really gift to us and another farmer and
- probably what gives us what we are
- allowed us to be successful to be doing this now…
- lately new info coming in from …
I’ve heard of the No-till method who first started out with Jon Moore in Australia ….
- really great resources
- the one I was talking about
- novella size book that fits in your pocket.
- light on technical
- could hand to the high school kids and they could wrap their heads around it…
- more production gardening
Intensive production here in the city. That making little tweaks and little changes can really mean a lot if you can get 10% more production, if it’s a big enough garden space that can be really meaningful… sort of economics in a community if you plants can be more efficient and productive it can be really crucial
- soil science info
- balance micronutrients
- cat iron exchange capacity… 3 pathways can find nutrients
- which have we been paying attention to and which have we been neglecting…?
- Basically a soil science 101 coming from people who are life long organic gardeners…
Nice I’m so curious about a lot of what you are talking about…
So I teach on a Reservation there’s a lot of burnt down houses etc… just sitting there… so you’re not even removing the old houses etc…
a lot of words
- sheet composting
- sheet mulching
- lasagna gardening
a lot of terms for what we’re doing
- lets say you start with just plain grass in your backyard… patchy grass
- building demolition site kid of rubbly or grassing.
First thing you need to do is get rid of the grass … normally this would be done with a plow or a rototiller… but instead of doing this we we lay newspaper or cardboard something biodegradeable to remove any light. WE use string to lay out the corners… newspaper or cardboard on top of all the grass. On top of that newspaper of cardboard we throw any kind of organic mulch, anything we can get our hands on
- anything at all to cover up cardboard or newspaper
and then wait a month and it’s dead, not dead but just in a passive way… root structures not disturbed
soil life, especially earthworms, very happy in an environment that’s moist and dark and not being disrupted. they’re tunnelling through the whole thing brining it down and bringing this organic matter that you have put on top of the cardboard they are grabbing it in
not as short order of if you had a rototiller of course but in a few months of this you start getting a nice soil tilth that you can move though your hands and break it into different clumps…
always adding mulch if a lawn care company drops off some grass clippings… adding mulch so we can never see bare soil… bare soil is sight unseen at least that’s our goal in the garden! By adding that mulch on top and always doing that, we make a thick layer of organic matter that is mobile that gets transported down through the various layers by the earthworms… then you get all sorts of magical things happening
What they call in horticulture is the
- micro organisms, macroorganisms in the soil are unlocking nutrients and making them averrable to your plants.
- There’s tons of research on that, I’m only scratching the tip of the iceberg
- So much info about how mushrooms, mycelium
- micro-rhizomes are interacting with your plants….
- Mushrooms grow where it’s moist and dark so by always mulching
- mushrom networks spread out underground and they attach with your roots
- the pepper plants
- the microrhisomzes are attaching to your roots and plants and helping them so many things can happen when you don’t disrupt the soil.
- that’s allowed us in my estimation to have really marginal soil on these urban sites that are as or that are more productive then some of the most fertile land out there!
You really went into the science for people but made it easy to understand for the average person or high school out there…
I’m talking about getting my kids worms for a class pet. My class always eat breakfast in my classroom…. I got the bins I just have to get the worms…
They always love the worms…
There’s a great book on that called Worms Eat My Garbage….
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
It was a hard year for a lot of things.. .we had a really mild winter… my theory is that exploded the bug populations… I call it the year the locust, cicada… 17 years… came out in massive numbers… in biblical proportions… a lot of predators that would normally be eating other bugs ate the cicadas
It was just the most intense bug years since we started gardening 10 years ago
So we had a really tough year, but I would say not without benefit but it put me back on the path of researching… talking to other farmers… now we have a problem to solve, so it was like a a whole other level of education for me …
I like the way your termed that…
It’s true… determined incompetence, when you don’t know stuff… opens a lot of doors
Probably the worst this year was the cucumber beetle, both striped and spotted… if you ever had a cucumber plant that was looking robust and healthy, and the next day it’s half dead, wilted over like it’s been in a drought for a month…
It’s probably bacteria wilt which is a disease that gets to the plant via the cucumber beetle …. but when they bite your plant, which is minimal. they are not voracious eaters they transmit this disease…..
anything in the cucurbit family… our
we felt under seige all year long…
What do you do about it?
Once you’ve got it, that’s about it… Once you see a few plants in the patch dying… we would have 300 foot rows … once they start going they’re going… we just get the cucumber we can and rip out
the best thing for the crop keep the beetles out…
What do you do to keep the beetles out?
There’s a lot of things I could give you a list of possible responses to that
One and most important one is exclusion. We have some high tunnel green houses on our vacant lots. One thing we are going to do is use
- insect screening
- anyway there is
keeping them physically out you can do that in the home garden too using row cover a cheese clothing material …
several companies make it…. it’s basically a cheese cloth that functions as an insect screen that lets
Pyrethrum based sprays
Marginally effective. You have to make contact with the bug in order to kill or disable the bug with these sprays. It’s not a systemic where you soak the soil and all bugs that bite the plant die. It’s not …those sort of chemical solutions work but because we’re organic we’re not using them and we’re restrained… they were coming in such numbers and we’d have to have to spray them every half hour … from the woods and trees and grass and they just come in again in waves. … I think exclusion will be the big ticket for us.. a lot of people are doing this putting …
People are doing creative things …. cucumber beetles like the flowers, go into the flowers to sleep, there’s one famer who goes in with a mini propane torch, burns all the male flowers… every morning and scorches all the cucumber beetles hiding there before they move out…
Not planting things in one shot … insect exclusion and planning for loss…
instead of expecting it to give us cucumbers all summer long we will expect it to give us cucumbers for a month and then die off and have another succession come in…
the second succession to die off
succession gardening has been … not planting one thing in one shot … even with tomatoes we plant our first wave here early in May… then we plant another in mid June so 6 weeks, after we’ve planted our first… when that first batch is trailing off if there is blight or the horn worms are really out of control, second crop coming on to pick up the slack…
even production that you can do on any scale whether you have 10 or 1000, it’s so
For us, a lot of crops we’re lucky if we put it in in time we can get a single crop before the frost comes in the fall. but people are definielty getting into extension season… I had a guest on down in Missoula not long ago, David who is already putting his tomatoes in here in December….
For mike and I here… IDK about a lot of what Mike grows if he could put cucumbers in succession?
Beans, are always a stalwort, they are forgiving plant,
Tomatoes did really good…
What else went really well?
We had a lot of trouble with potatoes … black stem rot…. I don’t know the botanical or scientific name … attacks the stems of tomatoes plants … New England … outbreak in 2015 … which affected us in 2016 we had a rough year …. seed potato … for one reason or another pumpkins were extraordinary … phenomenal pumpkin production could be they were eating so many cucumbers they ignored the pumpkins. … We grow 40 different species of plants…. everyone comes with a challenge or rewards…
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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
No, I love being out there… I love it, I ‘m blessed and I have a life where I do what I want to do, pretty much all the time. Probably the part that is the less interesting is the off season work, and planning and budgeting. Spending a lot of time with a notebook and a computer… it just has to get done … the necessary evil of the process. Which is fine…
But once the garden season …. weeding one bean row for 5 straight hours or fixing the irrigation line…
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I really love spending time with tomatoes … I love
the tomatoes, I love being in the patch … getting up close and personal with them … it’s sort of an addictive smell … I love it…
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Mulch … One WORD … used as a verb
If you have bare dirt, do your best, find some mulch and put it on the ground … keeps the weeds down … holds the water in …just mulch…
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
it’d be a close call… I really love my broad fork…
Nice I love your picture…
It allows you to lose the soil and if you have compacted soil, you have been roto-tilling … get something metal… get those times in there.. and rock the soil back and lift it up to aireate it…
Mulch and Furrow System
I also use this system …. we use this system called mulch and furrow … you have a garden bed
4 foot width you can really reach in without having to step
important not step in our beds so they stay nice and fluffy
mulch and furrow systemI’ll take a bed
4 foot wide bed, 50- feet long
mulch the whole thing
- if we have grass clippings
- if we have wood chips that’s what we use
- lets see if you have a bed of wood chips
Let’s say and you want to plant lettuce… you can’t plant lettuce on wood chips they’re not gonna germinate… rakes they are very important to us, because we spend so much time mulching…
We make a furrow so it’s exposing the mulch … if it’s lettuce we probably have 3 furrows in a four foot bed …. then we take a finished compost
So the wheelbarrow then very important for making a furrow for the mulch, putting a little bit of compost in that furrow…. what it ends up looking like a bed of solid woodchips,
three stripes of compost in it,,, then in that compost stripe we can plant any kind of seeds we want …. lettuce, carrots, give us a break in the mulch … if we have made that compost correctly
so everything is a weedier compost or a thick mulch … so basically everything weed-free, I mean weeds find their way in … but it’s very minimal…
the rake becomes very important to us as is the broad fork as is the wheelbarrow and the shovel …
You’re just full of golden seeds… the girls are gonna be wondering is this guy married?
Haha, well if you can here the fatigue in my voice it’s because of the two year old and 3 month old who were not sleeping last night…
One questions that keeps going through my head is the wood chips and the compost together… where eod you get the wood chips and compost? Where are you finding this?
wood chips …. call around to various tree services and they’re always looking for a place to dump… right in the middle of town … work on town trees… call … easy places … calling lawn care companies hey what do you do? Do you bag them up?
Can you drop them off at our place?
I used to spend a lot of time with my pick up truck going out to palces weher there was organic matter, manure and leaves and places like that…. I don’t think I did that once in 2016. I just pick up the phone … so much quicker, I don’t have to hand load my truck. Plus they’re coming with big dump trucks which are ten times the size of my truck and it’s already full and they just need a place to dump it
City of wheeling right now is picking up leaves with their giant vacuum trucks so I just gave the operations manager a call and they probably gave us enough leaves to use as compost for 2017.
One thing I don’t really care about what mulch goes down. we like to alternate mulches so if the last thing was leaves then we try to use wood chips the next year… likewise if it was wood chips I try to use something else so we get a variety of nutrients and we’re feeding a wider variety of soil ….
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
That’s what did great this year! Man was it the Year of the Beets
- they loved 2016!
- fast and healthy … big delicious beets
- My favorite thing to do with them
- bring them in and peel them… its so easy and forgiving!
- boil them a little bit to just soften
- blend them
- handheld blender
- stick in the pot
- red beet slurry
- dump in a can of coconut milk,
- from the grocery story…
- coconut beet soup!
- that tends to be the best
a couple of ingredients so you can really enjoy the flavor…
We didn’t get a lot of beets last year… our garden got off to a late start with mike working full time last spring.. then we had an early season then we got a giant hot spell in June… and maybe a cold thing in between. We had like 100 degrees in Montana in June is unheard of then I think we got back to cold after that… IDK it was a good year we ended up having a lot of forest fires…
A favorite internet resource?
- I do some googling
- extension websites
- if I’m gonna google life cycle of the cucumber beetle
- tend to click on the links that have .edu
- can trust the scientific community is behind whatever info is being stated on the website
I don’t have a go-to website, I use books… paper books as the guiding principles…
- learning from those…
- internet for those really specific pointed questions…
- there is one website I can point people towards…
- Organicalc…. and its a calcuator
it’s been a really useful tool for us these last 12 months…
it was put together by the authors of this intelligent gardener book… basically lets you take a soil test…
you take your soil and send it into the lab and they send you back your info and you can take those numbers
plug it into the calculator and it spits out a resource that basically tells you what to do…
- add 18lbs of potassium
- we don’t have to become there are soil scientists out there
- that’s the one that we found that we’ve been using..
- there maybe a $10 fee to become an annual user very minimal!
Nice, nobody’s even recommended or talked about that. But soil health has definitely been a big topic. How often do you test your soil every year?
we are now… I was pretty haphazard about testing our soil …
We have so few tools in our tool kit as organic gardeners … especially bug and disease problems … so anything we can do to improve soil health is beneficial especially in terms of economics of growing market vegetables especially if you are past the point where it is not practical to go pick bugs off
crops so healthy so you really want to fend off the bugs and diseases…
Have you read any of Elliot Coleman’s books?
has his Winter Harvest Handbook
- season extension
- growing in greenhouses
- emailing back and forth with him…
- he’s a very accessible guy…
He said in his fields he did a soil test and found he was missing boron… just wasn’t on his farm so he got some laundry borax, plants have been much healthier since … so you know there are little things like that you learn from the soil test…
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Really the whole arsenal … I’m really grateful to that 1950’s Rodale Organic Gardening Book Basics …
- What do all these terms mean? …
- What is compost and
- How do i think about making compost?
I haven’t really cracked that book open in a couple of years… I still hold it in high reverence. It’s these more specific focuses lately….
growing year round
The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman
- for market gardeners who are trying to become more profitable … even though we are a non-profit… we are trying to
- trying to be as efficient
- resources are pretty limited and we’re trying to feed a community
- thinking about everything
- what do we have waste in our process
- where are we wasting time
- what are we doing that we don’t need to do and what other things can we do to have more bang for our buck?
The Lean Farm it’s interesting philosophically if nothing else
Another one I have in my shrine of Books….
One Straw Revolution by Masunuba
- great Japanese farmer…
- it’s kind of a foundational resource
- sort of eco mimicry…
- no till style of gardening where your trying to do things as much like nature
- put aside the plow and mimic what happens in the forest
- from any perspective whether your an anthropologist or an organic gardener.
Check out the One-Straw Revolution…
That was Jon Moore from World Organic News I was talking about mentioned that book….
If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
So many things… I don’t know how I can say one thing more important then the other
- Is it climate?
- Is it air pollution?
- Is it water quality?
- Is it refugee crisis?
- Is it poor human rights in 3rd world countries with extractive industries?
that we could do better as a human species
But the one that works for me that has become my vocation is trying to get people to eat healthier food. I believe in it so much because when your body is healthy and you are feeling alive and full of energy you can start to think about these other things…
So if you take Wheeling that’s been so focused on it’s decline our little town here… the rust belt decline our city has been going through… and help people to … myself included, my family …I’m part of this… sort of take the desperation of the moment and feeling good and empowered
really foundational and ready to take on these other issues that are important to us is foundational to start with our own bodies and our own mind and then getting people across the board …
Not just have the farmeer’s markets only serving the wealthy be in the housing projects with our mobile farmers market truck
senior citizens high rise buildings and be in the poor schools teaching our kids gardening…
get everybody the equitable opportunity to reclaim their health destinies..
Farmer’s Market Truck
Tell me about your mobile farmers market truck.…
- sure… we have an old…
- snap on tool truck
- 20 year old truck
- box,… put an awning on, cut out the sides…
- little coolers inside of it…
- all over wheeling,
- splashy design with vegetables on it…
- We go all over Wheeling it runs 5 days a week.
- housing projects…
anywhere there’s people who don’t have convenient access to get to healthy food or even the cultural sort of habit of eating healthy food… I live in the east side sort of the wrong side of the tracks …
there’s a conveneinece sotre in my backyard so every day there’s families with little kids heading to convenience which is you know a slim jim, a bag of doritos and mountain dew.
We get into these communities where maybe people haven’t opened their eyes to health consciousness
- farmer’s market and we offer incentive family where everything is 1/2 off…
- food stamps
- price point wise competitive wise to mac and cheese…
How does the farmer do that?
Through as a non-profit … we have the ability to raise resources for that as a non-profit we put together a pool of money subsidize that through local doners… and the Appalachian Regional commission a little bit from the department of Agriculture… we have a lot of sources … when we piece funding together for it…
Mobile Farmer’s Market Truck
that allows us to the degree we can’t keep up with it.
- So we are buying food from local farmers market
- dozen other local farmers some of which have doubled or increased their crop production to meet this market production…
- mobile market that we started
- fresh food going into local communities
- so we also have a quickly growing and robust and local food economy
- tri-county area that are growing more food because we have this new market
- So is that what’s the food stamp challenge then?
- Called SNAP match… program
- match you $1 for $1 if you come to the Farmer’s market…
People come from out of town. to learn about work that Grow Ohio Valley
the goal is for people to spend a week with us and at the end of that week they have a n understanding of the food community… it’s a pretty small community so you can wrap your head round it kind of hold it in your hands
BECOME AGENTS OF SOCIAL CHANGE
- To learn what that food system is
- who the people are that are producing
- what foods are people eating
- how does class and social demographics play into what people are eating what opportunites and what their health is…
- take that info and take it home with them and do something about it apply it to their own communities
- What we do on day one…
- what people do on day one
- give them the amount of money what a typical
- send them off on foot in our poor neighborhood in East Wheeling…
- all they have there is a Convenience store … if a farmer’s market isnt’ running that day … they have to make a $1.25 a person turn into a dinner…
- what do you get?
- plain pasta or everyone gets one bag of chips?
- food stamp challenge
- hard hitting opener to that experience…
Where do they come from and where de they stay?
- anywhere and everywhere
mostly college kids on summer break
- stay in a local homeless shelter an empty room in a local shelter…
- That’s pretty powerful too get to interact with others are staying in shelter
- sleep on cots
- most of the people coming to us, especially college kids …. life looks a lot different
- opens people eyes up to a whole another part of America a lot of us don’t know about …
Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
- Starting your own garden? Why not!?
- Something I say all the time?
- You’ve got a yard, what are you doing? are you mowing it?
- Try something! Just grow 2 tomatoes plants! That’s what I did. I got a couple of dozen of tomatoes off of them. If I was a person of a different inclination maybe I’d just be growing 2 tomato plants
- I fell in love with ti
- it’s rewarding
- time outside
- something you can do with you family
- there’s no cons… just go give it a shot!
How do we connect with you?
We’re here at the Corporate headquarters of Grow Ohio this small non-profit in Wheeling, West Virginia
if you want to call 304-233-4769
Pretty accessible love to hear from people!
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