Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Food Grows on Trees - Even in the City

All of the below is lifted from a recycling listserv that I'm on.

"Watch your step!

All around the Boston area, food is falling on the ground, rolling around on the sidewalks and streets -- and generally being treated with disdain...(who would expect food to grow on trees?)

Our native Black Walnut trees and Shagbark Hickory trees are well into dropping their fruit. They look like small green tennis balls; they turn dark as they mature and get easier to open -- a source of food for Native Americans, and said to be quite tasty, although that may vary from tree to tree.

There are also apple trees of all sorts in our yards bearing fruit; some are already finishing up. And peaches!

So, look around. Do you know of any organized efforts to harvest this bounty and keep it from going to waste?

(We've already collected over 20 pounds of apples and peaches just from what is laying around on the ground -- will have to start earlier next year!)

Black Walnut husks are also a traditional dye for hair, handicrafts etc --
the plentiful juice from the green husks certainly does a good job staining skin!


Fruit for the People:
Moss Hill Orchard
by Susan Koechner

Edible Boston, Summer 2008, p.55

On a crisp, late spring day in Jamaica Plain, a small group of neighbors gather around a young man as his rough hands tenderly pack straw around the base of a freshly planted cherry tree.The spindly young plant is small, but the neighbors’ appetites are not: “I’m putting in my order for a cherry pie right now!” one man declares with a twinkle in his eye.

These residents of Jamaica Plain’s Moss Hill neighbor- hood have reason to be licking their lips in anticipation of a delicious fruit harvest.They are participants in an innovative grassroots project, led by resident Margaret Connors, to establish a communal orchard in their neighborhood. Unlike a conventional orchard with a dedicated plot of land, this one will consist of fruit-bearing trees planted on the homeowners’ private lots as well as in nearby public spaces such as the Manning Elementary School.

As co-director of the Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee (www.npacboston.org), Margaret is no stranger to communal environmental efforts. “We have to consider our communities as much more than the sum of their dwellings,” she says. “Neighborhoods are resource-rich and can be mobilized to initiate solutions to many urgent environmental challenges, including global warming. Planting a neighborhood orchard is making the best use of the collective good earth in a community. A communal orchard, a neighborhood bee keeping project,backyard city chickens—such efforts are only the beginning.”

Debbie Side, the owner of a new cherry tree planted in her front yard, expresses the spirit of the project. “I can’t use more than a basketful of cherries,” she says, gesturing to the tree with her hands covered in fresh dirt. “I’ll be happy if my neighbors come by to pick them; otherwise, the fruit would just rot. This way, anybody walking by can access it.” With the cherry and two raspberry bushes
that will be planted in her side lot, Debbie’s yardlots are bound to be popular at harvest time.

On this day, more than 30 new trees and shrubs will sink their roots into fertile nooks and crannies around the neighborhood. They include conventional fruiting trees
such as apples, cherries and peaches, as well as berries such as blueberry, raspberry and juneberry. In addition, fallowland along a public footpath will be planted with berries, hickory trees and other New England forest natives to
revive the diversity and beauty that was threatened by development.

A host of fruit, nut and berry plants that are uniquely suited to our variable New England climate can turn almost any small lot into a cornucopia of fresh, sun-ripened
foods.This is exactly what Margaret Connors envisioned when she started laying out the plan for her neighborhood’s orchard. “The idea just sort of came to me,” she
said of the project, which has few precedents. “I’d heard of Earthworks’ Setback Tree program and imagined our neighborhood with fruiting trees accessible to all the
neighbors. Earthworks reclaims neglected urban spaces for sustainable use through hands-on projects, education, and advocacy. I figured that with people out picking fruit for six months of the year, there would be a lots of activity
in the neighborhood, and we would be more likely to watch out for each other.”

Historically, the area in and around Moss Hill was home to a number of prominent wool merchants and ambassadors who built large estates, each of which included sizable orchards. Longtime resident Dorothy Meyer remembers, “Back in the ’30s and ’40s, the kids of the neighborhood used to play on those hills and we’d come down with apples in our pockets. It was very rural back then.” Some Moss Hill residents suspect that their homes sit on land that was once part of an orchard owned by Jabez and Lucretia Lewis-Dawson; their homestead, the Lewis-Dawson Farmhouse, dates back to the early 1800s and was recently granted landmark status by the Boston Landmark Commission.

Once Margaret had gauged the neighbors’ interest in the orchard project, (“They wanted to be a part of it, no questions asked.”) she got to work. She secured the help of two local organizations: the previously mentioned Earthworks and JPTrees, which works to renew the urban canopy in Jamaica Plain through stewardship and advo-
cacy for community trees.

First, the participants needed to perform site evaluations with the help of Earthworks. Most important, they had to consider how many hours of sunlight a plant
would receive. While berry bushes can produce in shady spots, fruiting trees require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day to flourish. Next, they conducted simple
soil tests through University of Massachusetts’ Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory to determine the soil quality including acidity, texture, drainage, fertility and presence of toxic metals. This information helped Earthworks recommend plants which would thrive in the available spaces.

Then came the fun part: plant selection. Steve Larson was one of many who decided on an apple tree. “I like apples,” he said. “Also, because I’m new in the neighbor-
hood, I thought that this would be a good way to meet people.” Because multiple species can be grafted onto a single rootstock, those who choose apples will enjoy harvesting different kinds of apples from a single tree. Other recommended fruit and nut-bearing plants included cherries, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, persimmon, pawpaw, mulberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, juneberries, hazelnuts, walnuts, hickories and chestnuts.

At long last, the day of planting, May 17th, arrived. On hand to help plant and provide education were Ben Crouch, Urban Forestry Program Director of Earthworks,
and Melissa Moore, an Earthworks-trained volunteer of JP Trees. After a brief introduction, a group of about 15 neighbors, young and old, picked up their tools and
marched energetically off to the first planting site.

Ben held onto the small bare cherry tree, just six feet tall, as he demonstrated the complete planting process. “Most fruit trees will grow in almost anything except
highly disturbed soil,” he noted while turning over the turf with a tock, a garden tool that resembles a pick. He dug a hole for the tree’s bare roots and explained that while the tree would not grow much in the first year, they could expect growth of two to three feet per year until maturity. Amazingly, fruit would become available in only two or three years from planting..."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Discover Roxbury

When Back Bay was still a back water, Roxbury was the place to be. With apologies to local First Nations, cause I don't know which may have lived here, though I'd guess Wampanoag (actually it's the Massachusett), Roxbury is where it all began - for Boston, anyway.

Roxbury is the place to be now, as well. It's just that most people, thank goddess, don't know it. Shh. Don't tell.

But don't take my word for it. Discover Roxbury has lots of information on tours, history, and notable locals. Don't be a sheep. Come visit.

Highland Park Transportation Presentation

Last week Howard/Stein Hudson presented the findings of their Transportation Study of the area.

We all agree that cars need to slow down, that intersections are dangerous, and that pedestrians are at risk everytime they take to the sidewalk. To permit park, or not to permit park - that is the question which will raise the most ire. In the presentation, the biggest reason given to oppose permit parking was that residents' dinner guests would have a hard time parking.

There are reasons to oppose resident permit parking in Highland Park other than dinner guests not being able to park - which makes an objection to permit parking sound almost frivolous. Having family and friends visit becomes a real production - even hardship- in the case of some of elderly relatives - when parking is restricted. A reform of Boston 's ridiculous permit system would be one worthwhile solution. Even Somerville has a better system.

More importantly, though, as the HSH survey noted, 27% of Highland Park residents don't own cars. Doing without the expense and hassle of a car is one of the biggest benefits of city living. Though we choose not to buy cars, they are sometimes a necessity in our car-centric culture and fortunately rentals and Zipcar are available. If Highland Park embraces permit parking , those of us who have chosen to live in an economical and environmentally beneficial way by eschewing the automobile as a "normal" part of life, will be penalized. Given the huge and very real threat of global warming, the American obesity epidemic,  and the almost daily and commonplace incidence of road rage, it's not the folks without cars who should take the hit.

Art is not a pretty picture

Fall in Boston is the time when Jane and Joe Office (or Jane and Jane Desk, or Joe and Joe Suit or Jane or Joe, alone - is everyone covered?) take to the neighborhoods to observe homo artifex in her natural habitat, a phenomenon known as Open Studios. You don't need to wait for Roxbury Open Studios to see some of the best these streets have to offer.

If only I'd had a camera in 2003, when the person who I assume is the same artist who created the above catchy visual comment, dotted the streets of Mission Hill with an image of the US flag in the shape of a sheep. Brilliant. Thank you, Anonymous. (Are you a woman)?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Overheard on Cedar Street

“you’ve got to be born in the ‘hood to be from the ‘hood”.

My thoughts? Miscegenation will save us. And no matter where you’re born, we all come from Lucy.

We, Nathan

They live in the park across from the Symphony Wholefoods supermarket, pitching a tarp and toughing it out. Last December, they said, was a tough month because of all the snow. The snow would melt and leak through the seams of the tarp and get the blankets wet. This past summer was wet, too, if warmer.

What do they need when they live on the streets? They like hats that cover their ears and protect them from the sun. Suncreen, too is helpful. Even at shelters where clothes are distributed, men's belts are hard to come by. Food isn’t as much of a problem. “We get food stamps and can eat well at Wholefoods,” says Nathan.

After a stint at the Pine Street Inn they moved back outside because Pine Street is just too dangerous – that whole area of town is too dangerous, says Nathan.

“Who else is with you, Nathan?”

“We’d rather not say,” he answers.

Roxbury Heritage at Dudley Square

At the Oscar-Parker community garden in Mission Hill, Joe the Dahlia Man gives away to the public after he's given away to family, friends, and other community gardeners.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center Arrives in Roxbury

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

The first thing I saw when I walked into the open house on August 30 at what I like to call The Mosque, though it is also a community center and will someday house a school, were the nuns from St. Margaret's all lined up like the girls in the Madeline books. The neighborhood was invited and maybe 30 -40 showed – Byron Rushing and Chuck Turner among them.

Our hosts were quite gracious and while we noshed on pastry, yogurt, oj and coffee (“what do they eat”, one of my family members asked – Food! And it was all from Stop and Shop), we heard the ISB’s story of the history of the building. The details of all the political intrigue landed like so many much wah, wah , wah , wah on my ears. I’d wrested myself from my garden, which is my church, out of curiosity about the building, its owners, and their religion. Though I do know a little about Policastro’s lawsuit against the Center, the BRA, and RCC what is more interesting is that ISB, in exchange for a reduced sale price, is required to sponsor and provide “a variety of educational and cultural programs and services to the local community in Roxbury.”

We were repeatedly told that the building will be open to the community and that we are welcome to join in prayers and other services – something that I’ll be taking them up on. Would I have to wear a head scarf and perform ablutions – as a Muslim would – if I did attend prayers? No on both counts – it’s a come-as-you-are-kind of place. Inclusive cultural events and comparative religion study groups were also suggested.

Ramadan began this month and we may be invited to the Eid celebration – well, we are technically invited to everything. And it helps that, at least rhetorically, the Center so far seems to be devoted to inclusion and not exclusivity.

The building itself isn’t bad. An original plan for stairs leading from the sidewalks to the building was canned once they realized that students heading from Roxbury Crossing T stop to Madison Park would take the short cut and use the stairs to cross through. On the amazing side, only once in the 2 years construction was delayed did the building get tagged. Impressive, given that a neighbor keeping track of tags in the neighborhood and has counyed 52 overall in a much shorter span of time.

The building provides only 58 parking spaces, another 58 to be built when the school is constructed. Sure hope they’re all riding their bikes and taking the T to services. We didn’t climb into the minaret this tour but hopefully will on another one.

There’s a jut-out on the northeast side of the building to make the direction of Mecca obvious – due East leads to Ireland, we were told.

In the mosque itself, men pray on the first floor, women above them on the mezzanine and there’s a separate and private room for women with small children and babies.

Entering the building for prayers, men and women repair to separate washrooms to remove their shoes and wash up. All genders purportedly being equal in the USA, men and women can enter through the same door. Or not, if they prefer, in the spirit of more traditional mosques which have separate entrances for each gender.

Salam alaykem.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

FREE Green Your Home and Life Workshops

FREE is good and green is too. Free and green are best. Check out these FREE workshops being offered by NEXUS,

“Boston's Full-Immersion Green Building Resource Center.

Green your home, green your life. Second Saturdays.

• 10 am Gain tools to green your home and life,
• 11 am Attend a class on greening your home,
• 12 pm Ask a green expert about greening your home, and
• 1 pm Tour our green office at NEXUS.

When Second Saturday of every month, 10 am–2 pm
Where NEXUS, 38 Chauncy St., 7th Floor, Boston, MA 02111
How RSVP at www.nexusboston.com/space/events”

If you go, let me know what you thought.

NEXUS is a project of The Green Roundtable, Inc the folks who consulted green on the Project Hope Building in Dudley Square, featured on the front page of the Green Roundtable web site.
How good can it get? A green building in a neighborhood besieged by public health issues (crappy air quality and high rates of asthma among them) for an organization devoted to improving the lives of the poor and homeless in Boston.

Heads Up Roxbury Artists

Roxbury open studios are being planned here. Get involved now or visit during Roxbury Open Studios on October 4 and 5.

More Haitian Crafts