Doing Good and Being Awesome: Turning Over a New Leaf

As the snow slowly melts away in our corner of the world, tiny seedlings grow strong in our basement, and the promise of many, many new faces leaps up in my near future, I’m reminded of how dynamic life really is. All winter, we hole up, cozy and warm in our house-cocoons in a sort of stasis, with vague recollections of buds on trees and crocuses popping up through thawed dirt.

20150301. It's beginning to look a lot like... March 1?

As Kurt Cobain would say, though, spring is here again, friends, and this spring in particular promises to be the beginning of something amazing, something much bigger than me (or any one person, for that matter), something dynamic and shifting and growing and changing.

Drum roll, please: Thanks to the nudging of a new friend and neighbor, Sara Croft, and the powers of Facebook, this spring we will be organizing our neighbors to create a community garden in the Keystone-Monon neighborhood of Indianapolis. Just writing those words makes me feel giddy, excited, and a little terrified, but mostly all warm and fuzzy.

Whee. I want to read this whole book, right meow! And get these flyers posted! Also, Willem totally said "kisses" just now, which i think makes it his first legit word (beyond mama, dada, and neigh, of course).

Sara is an energetic, get-it-done kind of woman, and with just one simple Facebook post describing her vision of this project, she had me, hook, line, and sinker. See, what we’ve already discovered is that there is tremendous power in numbers. What feels like an incredibly daunting undertaking for just one person – finding and securing land, building the community involvement needed for success, seeking out water and supplies, building beds, managing volunteers, and countless other things we haven’t even begun to imagine – seems not only manageable, but fun and fulfilling with many hands, many faces, many ideas driving us forward.

Why a community garden? As followers of this blog know, we have a very healthy backyard (and, increasingly, front yard) garden, as well as chickens, bees, and compost. What I’ve longed for, though, is the shared wisdom, commiseration, fun, and all-out neighborliness that comes from sharing such a garden space. The summer of the drought and triple degree temperatures a few years ago, when our garden became a study in suspended animation, all our plants simply shutting down? How nice would it have been to have a group of friendly faces to commiserate with, to work side by side in the sweltering heat to keep those plants hanging on?

20120727. RAIN CLOUDS.

That year the rainclouds formed, but no rain came.

I want to be a part of creating something bigger than me, something that not only feeds our bellies but also nourishes our minds, our need for social connection and community, our ability to care for ourselves and the motivation and drive to look out for one another. There is nothing more basic, more human than cultivating our own food.

20130504. Garden hands.

20150301. Inside, everything's green.

I’m also so looking forward to the “community” part of community garden. When I was a kid, we buzzed all around the neighborhood, a pack of wild dogs on Big Wheels and bicycles, until the streetlights came on and it was time to go home. I want my son to have that sense of togetherness, of community, of learning and growing and struggling and succeeding together. Though this process is only just beginning, I’m already reminded of how there are still so many amazing people I have yet to meet in this world.

In other “new leaf” news, my amazing husband starts what will hopefully be an amazing new job on Monday…

20121103. Birdie, three months old.

And my little family recently started our second year around the sun together with Willem’s first birthday. Happy birthday, you wonderful little babe! Like I said, life? Dynamic.

Willem's really into raising his food in exaltation before eating it these days. Praise you, pancake!

Willem turns one!

Why I’d So Much Rather Live in Indianapolis Than Portland

I love this! Check out this video from Crafted Spoon, all about the Indy food scene, featuring Growing Places Indy and Amy Matthews from South Circle Farm, where we got married, among many others in our community. Chris and I had talked about moving somewhere like Portland or Asheville (and the latter may still happen at some point – hello, alpaca and bee farm in the Smokies), but in a place like Indianapolis, you aren’t preaching to the choir. There’s room for so much growth, and I think this video does a nice job of highlighting exactly how much room for growth there is.

(Sorry, you’ll have to click on the video to view it on Vimeo):

FarmCity from Craftedspoon on Vimeo.

Fast forward to 17:30 to meet Amy, the farmer at South Circle Farms who is the hardest working and one of the kindest women I know. Or fast forward to 19:40 to see the Indy Winter Farmers Market and my boss, Laura. 🙂

Seriously, this video makes me feel all the feels about my little pocket of the world.

Give Me Sweater Season, or Give Me Death!

Scarf and sweater season is upon us! Apples! Crunchy leaves! Crisply scented air! Cold mornings! Slippers and favorite sweatshirts!

Fall and I? We get along. I understand how to dress myself in cooler temperatures. I don’t sweat every time I leave my house. Fall means snuggling and cozy fires and Harry Potter marathons and rediscovering my favorite handknit sweaters and scarves.

To celebrate the cooler temperatures and one week of wedded bliss, Chris and I made our annual trek out to Anderson Orchard this morning, and it was wonderful. It’s hard to believe just a week ago, I was trying not to sweat through my wedding dress in near 90-degree temperatures, waiting to walk down the wood chip mulch aisle.

20130914. Anderson Orchard.

When we first started dating, we came here and picked a 1/2 bushel – I remember how we both had apples rolling around the bottom shelves of our respective apartment fridges for weeks and weeks. We’ve not missed a visit each fall since; I suppose that’s what the beginning of a tradition looks like.

20130914. Anderson Orchard.

I also had a realization the other day – the apple sauce I canned from these apples today may very well be among the first solid foods our baby eats next summer and fall (assuming Chris and I don’t eat it all first, which is entirely possible). Still… totally wild, right?

20130914. Apples and peaches.

Bust Out the Kleenex!

I am so thankful to Maggie, one of my fellow apprentices, for documenting the inspiring, thoughtful, candid, wonderful human beings I got to spend my summer with during the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship. It’s strangely comforting to me that everyone’s mannerisms, their voices, how they talk, their thoughtfulness was captured for me to listen to any time I need it. Which means I’ve watched this video probably about five times today.

I guess what I’m saying is I miss you all already.

Squash Bake. Squash Bake. Party Time. Excellent.

Currently, we have a bit of a squash problem – meaning we have seven, count ’em, SEVEN large green and yellow squash taking up half a shelf in our fridge. Keep in mind, this is after pickling five pounds of the beasts, making almost countless loaves of zucchini bread (really, I think we’re up to about eight, at this point), and devouring a previous squash bake.

20130714. So THIS happened: suddenly, it's summer!

When a friend told me her mom makes apple crisp in the summer but replaces apples with summer squash, I was all for it. Health food, it is not. But our house smells of wonderful baking deliciousness and cinnamon right now, and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. Because if you could smell it, you’d be jealous right now.

SQUASH BAKE, SQUASH BAKE, PARTY TIME, EXCELLENT. Helllllooooo, 1992!

SQUASH OATMEAL CRISP
Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups peeled, chopped squash (1/2″ cubes will do)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Putting It All Together

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oats, flour, and butter. Mix until crumbly. Lightly press half of crumb mixture into pan.
  • Spread the squash evenly over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and top with remaining crumb mixture.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

In other news, today was another amazing day at ye olde urban farming apprenticeship. We spent the morning picking onions, weeding, and planting broccoli seedlings with Genesis and Eli, the farmers at Full Hand Farm. On our way out, I told Tyler, part of the Growing Places Indy dynamic duo, that I think I heart Genesis and Eli, and he said, “They make it easy to heart them.”

Check out some beautiful photos of their farm and a little more of their story at Farm Stories, a photography project by local photographer Kelley Jordan.

I am just so continually impressed, inspired, and encouraged by the farmers in this area, their stories, and their advice, wisdom, and knowledge. I get the warm fuzzies every single Tuesday when we visit other farms and community organizations. The willingness to share knowledge and experiences and personal stories with us has been downright heartwarming, and I doubt I will ever have quite this experience to this extent again.

P.S. Click here for a special little snippet of today’s magic, captured by the lovely Kate: Eli playing a squash stalk like a trumpet. Who knew?!

Look, Ma, I’m in the News!

I finally got my hands on the paper version of the Indianapolis Star article on the Growing Places Indy apprenticeship, featuring this here blog, that I mentioned a few days ago. Front page, no less! So what if it’s the front page of the D section. I am just so tickled!

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

I’m sure I’m either saying something really profound here or talking about my favorite ice cream store in Indianapolis (Brics, for the record).

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

On that note, if you’d like to support fresh, local, sustainable, beautiful food and help me fund one of next year’s lucky summer apprentices, I just passed the halfway point in reaching my goal! Any contribution is very, very much appreciated. More details here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013

Invitation to Help Me Say Thanks and Be a Part of Something Awesome!

This week marks the halfway point in the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship, and to say it has been life-changing is no exaggeration. I want to invite you to help me “pay it forward” to give someone else this same experience next year and show my gratitude for being given this opportunity: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013.

20130620. Growing Places Indy.

The first few weeks, I felt like I was somehow cheating at life and living extremely decadently – but, really, I was just taking care of myself, learning from others, expanding my perspective and horizons, getting totally filthy and exhausted and starving every day, and spending most waking moments outside.

Five weeks later, I have been so grateful to realize that this way of life has become my “norm.” I can only hope that I am able to take this perspective and the skills I’ve learned forward with me in everything I do.

20130625. Laying drip tape at South Circle Farm.

Not only that, but it has given me new ideas and connections to begin making a bigger difference in Indianapolis. I can’t wait for some of my plans to take shape, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

My current office.

I would love if you considered contributing to help give someone else this amazing experience next summer. I am working to both show my gratitude for being able to participate this summer and “pay it forward” by raising $525 to support one of the 2014 Growing Places Indy summer apprentices.

If you’re interested, take a look here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013.

Any contribution counts and means you will play a direct part in building the capacity and leadership to Grow Well, Eat Well, Live Well, and Be Well – in this city and around the world. Thank you for your support ALWAYS!

At White River State Park, thinking about a nap under this sign.

Best Week Ever: Felege Hiywot Center

Each Tuesday during the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship, we learn new farming skills and get to put them to work, either on our gardens or at other locations around the city. This past Tuesday, we had the great pleasure of working at the Felege Hiywot Center.

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

We started the day with greetings and hugs from the founder and executive director of the center, Aster Bekele. Aster is from Ethiopia and has an amazing energy about her: friendly and motherly, extremely intelligent and well-spoken, and just full of welcoming vibes and warmth. The work was hard, hot, and totally fulfilling: we helped build new garden beds using cinder blocks and weeded and cleaned up the compost area. There was so much compost under all those weeds that we were able to fill almost all of the new garden beds!

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

Aster, who used to be a chemist at Eli Lilly, explained to us that she had decided she really wanted to teach kids about science. At the same time, she started purchasing empty lots and homes at 17th and Sheldon St. on the near eastside in the Martindale-Brightwood area of Indianapolis. One garden bed grew into many; houses were torn down or renovated to provide cooking and eating space for kids in the neighborhood; and the kids started coming. Through Aster’s programs, youth learn how to grow vegetables, tend land, sell crops, and recycle. In addition to developing their skills and knowledge around nature, the environment, and gardening, kids also get involved in their community, building a sense of place and pride for their community.

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

I was so inspired by Aster’s story because, in some ways, it seemed so simple and straight forward: she had a dream to teach kids about science and that is exactly what she’s doing. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae or to want to have everything planned out before you start something big (at least, I do). But Aster’s case is a great learning example: she had a dream, she realized she could connect with youth through gardening, and it has snowballed from there into year-long programs, summer camps, and employment opportunities.

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

Not only that, but her place is beautiful. What was once abandoned lots and worn down houses is now something that the community can take pride in. And there are so many empty lots, so many worn down houses where similar things could happen, all around this city.

So my assignment for you all: find one of these special places in your community, and volunteer an afternoon or a day to help them out. I have never felt both so thanked for our efforts and so grateful for the opportunity to help than I did at Felege Hiywot.

20130618. At the Felege Hiywot Center.

Sometimes, I can’t believe this is my life. In a good way.

Peppermint Wishes and Asparagus Dreams

I am trying to soak in every minute of the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship. Heaven knows I’m having a hard time writing it all down. By the time I get around to updating ye olde blog, I am either falling asleep on the couch/drooling on my dog or I feel like I’m coming off very Pollyanna about the whole thing.

Fair warning: this entry will be of the Pollyanna variety.

As I process all that we have done over the last three weeks (and oh, we have done a lot), things have shaken out a bit:

  • Week 1: I’ve Got Nothing to Do Today but Smile – I ended the week in a total state of bliss, pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
  • Week 2: Back to Life, Back to Reality – During week 2, the rubber hit the road (figuratively and literally, in terms of my bike traveling 60 miles around Indianapolis in four days). The hard work began, and my body, used to hours sitting in front of a computer, was jolted into a new reality: sunshine and fresh air and work in the dirt among the green things. By the end of the week, I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.
  • Week 3: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends – This week, I felt comfortable enough in the work that I could expand my gaze to the people around me – the apprentices and leaders of the program – and make the mental space to really talk with them and enjoy their company, building relationships over mulberry trees and Jerusalem artichokes. It has been my favorite week so far for that reason alone.

I’ve also met even more people across Indianapolis who I would like to be when I grow up. I am in awe at the variety of things going on in this fair city and the incredibly open, welcoming, and inspiring people behind them. Just in this past week, we’ve met:

  • Bob Shaver, Karp Resources, about job options in local food economies.
  • Thom England, Ivy Tech Culinary Center, who is passionate about all things local and sustainable, including operating a beautiful state of the art, no-waste culinary school facility. Note: this is no small feat!
  • Amy Matthews, South Circle Farm, who is one of the hardest working women I have ever met. Not only do I want to be her when I grow up in terms of the work she is doing, but her whole demeanor was so kind, welcoming, and chill; I aspire to learn a little something from that, too.
  • Imhotep Adisa and Paulette Fair, KI EcoCenter, who shared so much of their worlds with us. I was inspired by the obvious passion and love they have for their community and especially the kids within it.
  • Sister Faiza, Living Well Community Garden, who recognized a need in her community and, three summers later, has a garden that brings people together to grow, to cook, and to share. I loved hearing how quickly a spark on an idea can become something as wonderful as a community garden.

Before I started the apprenticeship, I was most excited about learning the farming aspects: hands on skills, planning tools, strategies for making a living and bringing food to market, and getting my hands in the dirt. After this week when people ask me about the apprenticeship, I start by gushing about how amazing everyone in the program is, followed quickly by how inspiring the people of Indianapolis are.

I didn’t anticipate that going into this program, but maybe that says more about me and my own headspace than anything else. I always want to know how to get things done and then do it. The more I think about it, though, relationships are perhaps the most important thing we can build and grow – in encouraging a local, sustainable food culture and economy, for sure, but also in everything we do. I feel like I had somehow forgotten that amidst all the to do lists and deadlines and conference calls and tasks that need to be accomplished.

20130613. Asparagus dreams at the Near Eastside Legacy Center.

Speaking of relationships, the beautiful and awesome Elise, one of my fellow apprentices, shot this picture of me on Thursday, tied up in the asparagus fronds. I think this is an accurate depiction about how I feel about all of my new friends, aka the other apprentices in the program, and my general lot in life.