Plot Against Hunger Celebrates a Savory 4th Season
If you had visited AFAC’s Nelson Street site on any Saturday or Sunday afternoon this summer, you would have been greeted by the wonderful sights and smells of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables delivered by volunteersfrom Arlington farmers’ markets. Every weekend this summer, volunteers helped re-bag thousands of pounds of produce donated for the coming week’s distribution.
Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada; Christie Vilsack, wife of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; and Diane Kresh, Director of Arlington County Libraries, formally inaugurated the Central Library garden on June 30. All crops harvested at the garden are being donated to AFAC.
AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger program also had another successful season, due to the generosity of area gardeners and farmers. This year we continued to find new partners who helped us obtain fresh fruits and vegetables for AFAC clients. In spring and summer, nearly 40 individual gardeners, 13 local schools, six community gardens and 10 faith-based organizations helped AFAC by growing seedlings and planting gardens. We welcomed two new plots at The Vermont Gardens condo association and Arlington County’s Central Library.
The library’s “Arlington Reads, Arlington Grows” garden was developed with the help of several community organizations. AFAC volunteers played a big role in creating the garden, transforming a raised bed of groundcover into a productive, attractive, edible landscape. The garden will be a site for future gardening workshops and lectures to encourage gardening throughout the community.
Through the summer and into the fall, teams of gleaners went to pick crops with the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network (MAGNET) at Miller Farms in Clinton, Maryland and the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. AFAC volunteer Susan Callegari ably coordinated hundreds of interested volunteers who harvested thousands of pounds of fresh produce.
As evidenced in the newsletter articles on Meg Birney’s farm and From Farm to Table cooking demonstrations, our volunteers and donors help us every step of the way: planting and tending gardens, harvesting crops, driving and helping with pick-ups, repacking produce on weekends, cooking and a multitude of other tasks. If you would like to contribute your time and skills, you’re invited to join us as a weekend produce supervisor, produce team member, gleaner, gardener, farm market driver, cook, speaker, translator, website volunteer, or general helper. For more information, contact Puwen Lee by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site: plotagainsthunger.afac.org.
A Visit With Donor Meg Birney
by Dan Redmond
I first met Meg in August when Puwen Lee and I went to plant cabbage and broccoli seedlings at her farm in Gainesville, Virginia. Meg grows food in a quiet setting, removed from the hustle bustle of Arlington.
Meg Birney working with her draft horses on her farm in Catlett, Virginia.
We arrived at the farm with 300 seedlings started by Don Weber, an etymologist at USDA and an AFAC Plot Against Hunger volunteer. Meg has donated her surplus vegetables to AFAC for the past few years, and this past summer she graciously offered several hundred feet of growing space for AFAC to plant fall crops.
The day was cloudy and within moments of getting the first seedlings in, a downpour began. Drenched, we hurried into Meg’s RV, which she keeps parked beside her crops. Because Meg lives in Falls Church, she keeps the RV on the farm to reduce commuting time on weekends, especially during the summer months when planting and harvesting are at their busiest.
Once inside, we gathered around the table to chat while the heavens opened up. We learned quite a bit about Meg. Meg keeps three draft horses on the property, which do all the plowing on the farm. She and her husband began growing food five years ago, giving extra to her colleagues at Montgomery College where she is an associate professor of biology. Her colleagues insisted on paying for their vegetables, and a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm was the result. Meg currently delivers produce to 14 families during the growing season.
As a teacher of biology, Meg is well informed on the science of organic farming and plant nutrition. She is a native of Alaska and was raised off-the-grid. Farming with only animal labor came naturally to her when the Gainesville land became available. She is able to spend time with her horses while exercising them, finding that animal labor is less expensive than farming with conventional equipment. Meg keeps her plots on a structured rotation plan, planting certain crops to replenish soil depleted by previous vegetable crops. Organic farming methods are good for the soil, her horses and the environment. The fuel input is not oil for tractors, but hay for her horses. Because no herbicides are used, Meg’s organic approach requires a great deal of manual labor and so she and her husband keep weeds in check by pulling, and then pulling some more.
When the rain stopped an hour later, we went back out finish planting the seedlings. Meg spent the morning in deer prevention, stringing line around her plots. She greatly appreciated our help, and welcomes others to volunteer on her farm. This work helps feed people, enables one to experience the peace of the countryside, and removes the need for a gym membership. A few hours volunteering here would be a morning well spent.
From Farm To Table
We are pleased to announce that AFAC began a new client program this summer, From Farm to Table. The project, supported by a grant from the Social Justice Fund of the Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church, provides for bi-weekly cooking demonstrations and tastings during morning food distribution.
From Farm to Table is an offshoot of AFAC’S Plot Against Hunger program which, through donations from local farmers’ markets, gleaning and the “plant a row” initiative, has delivered thousands of pounds of fresh produce for clients. (For more about Plot Against Hunger, please see the article on page 3. )
The goal of From Farm to Table is to introduce clients to abundant but often unfamiliar produce and to teach them simple, healthy food preparation techniques. Clients watch vegetables being prepared and cooked, taste a sample of the nourishing dishes and receive a recipe to take home. Volunteer cooks and translators have been enticing clients with delicious fresh vegetable recipes including a vegetable frittata, an easy eggplant summer vegetable stew and a kale-with-bacon stir-fry.