Thanks to First Mennonite of Newton, Kansas!

This past weekend we were visited by a group of Mennonites in town on a service learning trip from First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas.

They spent Saturday morning building us a new compost bin at Hannah’s Garden– much better than our rickety contraption made of fence wire we were using before!

If you are committed to not using harmful chemicals in the growing of healthy, nutritious food, you had better have a large compost production plan. Thanks to the folks from First Mennonite, now our work will be a little easier.

If you want to talk to somebody about your group volunteering at Jackson City Farm, email our director, Hugh at hugh@jacksoncityfarm.org and we can make it happen.

 

Frustrated. But still here.

It has been super dry and hot here – the heat index is over 100, and has been for weeks. It really needs to rain, and there is a light coat of dust on everything. Because we work on the weekends, we generally take Mondays off, but we have lots of transplants getting ready to be planted out, and they need watering daily. So Monday, I rolled up to Hannah’s Garden, our demonstration and teaching site, and the shed doors were wide open.

My first thought was that I had forgotten to lock them, but no – they had been pried open with some sort of tool, and the lock was busted. We had been robbed.

Maybe.

I mean, we were definitely broken into, and the doors were definitely damaged, but the only thing that appears missing is a set of secateurs, and I can’t imagine anyone breaking into a shed for a pair of pruners. Our tools were otherwise all present, hanging on the wall where they belong, our wheelbarrow was still there, heck – my gas can full of gas was still there. Weirdest robbery ever.

In any event – I didn’t have the tools I needed to fix it with me, and I didn’t want to leave the doors wide open, so I boarded it up for the night, and this morning I went to the hardware store to get what I needed to repair it.

It’s fixed now. There are bolts, boards, padlocks and hasps galore – a classic case of locking the barn door after the horses (or secateurs) have gotten out. And I have to be honest – it’s dispiriting. All I want to do is grow fresh healthy vegetables, and then give them to people who need them. And in my better moments, I know that the people who broke into our shed were not personally attacking us, or this project, it still hurts.

We have had several instances like this so far this summer. This is the second time the shed was broken into – the first time they stripped out all the tools, though.  And one weekend some folks came into the garden, got drunk and turned on all the sprinklers, leaving them running until we went back, two days later. Of course, there was a giant rainstorm that weekend too, so all the crops were damaged, wiping out our fall tomatoes.

Yes, it’s discouraging. Yes, we’re frustrated. But no, we are not going anywhere. There is way too much that still needs to be done.

Open work days!

We hear from a lot of people who want to help out in the demonstration garden, but who work during the week when we are on site.

So now we are shifting our schedule to allow staff to be onsite Saturday mornings. Going forward, we will have regular work days on Saturday mornings from 7:30 to 10:30AM at Hannah’s Garden, our demonstration site at 932 Union St, Jackson, MS.

No need to call ahead – just show up and we will put you to work! (If you are bringing a group of folks, though, we would still appreciate a heads up!)

 

 

Meet Paula

Meet the newest member of our team – Paula, who is from Halle, Germany.

She and two other folks in their late teens (one from Japan, another from Germany) are in Jackson MS, living in community and providing a year of service as part of Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program.

Paula is with us half-days (which, given the heat, is about all we can do right now, anyway!) and her stipend is covered by a small grant connected to her program.

She is a quick learner, and in the two weeks she has been with us already made a remarkable improvement to our workflow.

Welcome aboard, Paula!

Paula is planting bush beans in a clear spot among the okra  in Hannah’s Garden, our demonstration plot. We have just enough time to catch a crop or two of beans before fall frosts hit.

Approval!

This morning’s mail brought us a treat from the IRS – our approval letter!

It took 2 months and one day to come after we put our packet in the mail, but now it’s here, and we can get busy doing the work.

If you are able, we hope you will consider becoming a recurring monthly donor.  Having a recurring stream of money coming in makes it easy for us to budget, and makes sure we can get our food to the people who need it the most.

You can find out how to do that here.

First fruits

I know they don’t look like much, but today my new buddy J (aged 6) and I sat on her front porch and shared these, popping them in our mouths like candy while I talked to her momma about what we are trying to do at Hannah’s Garden, our demonstration plot.

Today, on the 11th of June, we distributed our first food grown in our own soil, to a family in the neighborhood where we grew it.

There was a bit more than this – a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes, some banana peppers, and a few cayennes. It wasn’t a lot, but it showed we can do it. And hell, we are just getting started.

J wants to know if we are going to grow any watermelons and plums because those are her favorite. I told her they were mine, too, and that I would if she would help me.

She said it was a deal.

Hannah’s Garden

This is the garden in its heyday, before the weeds and years of neglect took it over.

If you want to help people to gain control of their food supply, you have to teach people how to grow their own food. Knowing how to grow your own food gives you choices about what you eat and serve your family, it saves you money, and it allows you to have some degree of separation from the corporate food system.

With all that in mind, Jackson City Farm has started a demonstration garden, where we can show what home-scale fruit and vegetable production looks like in our context. Eventually, it will be the site of classes and community meals as well.

The site is on Union St, near downtown, and is the site of a garden once ran by a suburban church, but that was abandoned when the local elementary school closed down. We acquired it in the spring of 2019 and have slowly been clearing out the weeds that have taken over in the years since. It is going to be a long process, but worth it in the end.

The garden is named for Hannah Hochstetler. She and her husband Caleb were serving with Mennonite Mission Network in Jackson MS when she died in a tragic auto accident in January of 2017. The garden is supported in partnership with Open Door Mennonite Church, where Hannah was serving when she died, and who asked that we name this site in Hannah’s honor.

We have created a journal of sorts that will be updated often for people who want to know more of the gritty details (what got planted today? How do the blackberries look?) and you can see that here.

We are not a garden

Recently, JCF was mentioned in an article that appeared in the Mennonite World Review (Hugh, our director, is Mennonite, and so is Open Door Church, the place this all started).  We loved the article (which is here) but really dislike the headline. Because JCF is not a garden.

Don’t get us wrong – we love gardens. We “have” a garden at one of our sites where we will teach you how to grow your own food, so you can control your own food supply. But we chose the name Jackson City Farm intentionally because we are a farm. We grow things for others to eat, not primarily for our own consumption.

But beyond technical definitions, we dislike the term garden for what we are doing here because all too often, the term is dismissive. Church gardens and community gardens are often seen as cute, as precious things that serve as diversions to the very real food crisis that pervades economically disadvantaged communities.

The problem with our current agricultural system isn’t that we have farms. It is that the farms are owned by huge corporations that have a legal mandate to make as much money as possible, and it is not at all clear how they can make billions of dollars and grow diverse, local, chemical-free crops. So they do not.

But farms don’t have to be like that. You can grow food that feeds your neighborhood, your community, your neighbors. You can grow food that is chemical free and grown with care and love. You can grow diverse crops that nurture both families and the environment.

And if enough of us do that, we can feed the world.

To paraphrase Dorothy Day, don’t call us a garden. We don’t want to be dismissed that easily.

We did it!


We did it!

Thanks to your help, we were able to purchase nearly 1 ½ acres last week!

There will be more updates in the weeks to come (for the latest news, follow us on Facebook or Instagram), and we still need funds (especially recurring, monthly funds) to build out the space, but for right now, we did it.

We are grateful to you beyond words. Together, we can work to make sure everyone has fresh, healthy food, regardless of their ability to pay.

Help us build a nonprofit urban farm!

When I moved to the North side of Jackson, MS a few months ago, several people told me about different local farms where I could subscribe to a weekly box of fresh vegetables.  These are called CSA programs, and they are quite popular among people who can afford them. But if you live in North Jackson, you are surrounded by grocery stores. Getting fresh vegetables is no problem at all.

But in South and West Jackson, it is a different story altogether. You may as well be in a different city – a city that is short of grocery stores, and whose residents mostly rely on gas stations and fast food restaurants to survive. In that part of town, being miles and miles from fresh vegetables is not uncommon. (I go into some detail about how dire it is in this post)

Who needs a farm to provide them fresh fruits and vegetables? These people.

So we decided to start one.

Using high-intensity farming methods, along with some basic season extending technology, such as hoop houses and low tunnels, we will grow fresh fruits and vegetables and provide them to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

To do this, we will need land, equipment, and some help.

Land

There is so much unused land in Jackson, MS. Abandoned houses, churches that have acres of grass they pay someone to mow, vacant lots. We have secured two vacant lots already, and have lines on others, but what we really need is a base of operations – a place we can modify as we need it, where we can erect permanent greenhouses and irrigation systems, where we can teach classes and host groups.

So last week we made an offer on a bit more than an acre of land in  West Jackson, that already has utilities, a permanent shed, and some improvements. They accepted, and we close on it March 31st.

Equipment

Because we will be multi-site, we will need a trailer to move equipment from place to place, as well as all your typical farm equipment – tillers, hand tools, wagons, seed starting equipment, and eventually, a truck to haul things around.

We already have a good tiller someone donated and some hand tools. But there is a lot we still need, and right now that tiller is sitting in someone’s garage because we don’t have a trailer to move it from site to site.

Help

This is where you come in. We need $3500 to close on the land. We need $6000 for permanent equipment, hoop houses, and so on. And that is to get started. We believe we can get grants to help with some of our ongoing costs, but grants are much more likely to come to existing concerns rather than start-ups. You can learn how to donate here.

We also need some physical help – we have several groups that have already signed up for work days, and we are hosting a group of Mennonite students from Iowa week at the end of the month. But if you or your church group, work team, or knitting circle want to come to help us out, we would love to talk to you about what that looks like.

We have big plans – but with your help, we can totally do this. Together, we can make sure that everyone can eat healthy, fresh food, regardless of their economic circumstances.

Click here to donate now!