Valley Permaculture Alliance
After years of failed attempts with dried-out, wilted, stagnant growth, I seem to have become capable of growing a very small amount of my own food. Most of the time, I’m happy when anything grows. The simple idea that I can put a seed in the ground and someday, maybe, eventually have food never ceases to boggle my mind.
Working in a garden seems so similar to working on an art project. There is concentration, making adjustments, picking, leaving something alone, adapting and failing. Every time, you start with nothing and by the end (hopefully) you have something.
In both situations, you have an idea. You prepare to enact that idea. You toil through experimentation, a variety of tactics and the passage of time. Ultimately, you might
end up with what you wanted to create but if not, the end result could still be a new, other, interesting thing. You’ll learn from it. Maybe this is the reason why I always seem to be running into artists who like to garden.
I should start out by saying that I would never in a million years call myself a “gardener.” I hide in the shadows, planting things and hoping no one notices my poor technique and sporadic practice. I assume that somewhere around the corner, there is a master gardener shaking his or her head at me in bewilderment and disdain. (This is all very similar to not wanting to be identified as an “artist” until I’m actually proud of what I’ve done).
Lucky for me, there are plenty of fellow artists here in Phoenix who know a lot more about growing things than I do.
Lots of artists are independent do-it-your-selfers who would rather figure out how to do something on their own than have someone else do it. Painter, chicken-raiser, gardening knowledge guru, and former board member of the Valley Permaculture Alliance Rachel Bess, suggests that “(It) seems like there’s a pretty strong parallel with creating complex things from seemingly humble materials.”
If you’re a painter, you start with paint and canvas. If you’re a gardener, you start with seed and soil. Artist Mary Lucking says, “Maybe it’s the pleasure of creation without the pressure of meaning.” We can toil and adjust and allow the growth of the thing be the meaning itself.
The act of experimentation also plays into it.
“One thing I really like about it are the surprises. You never know for sure which things are going to do well and there are always strange things that pop up,” Bess says.
Although you can control a lot in a work of art, you still have to fight or work with the fussiness of your medium.
Artist Melinda Bergman, who was raised in a family that grew food on over an acre of land also tends to use chance, stating “I don’t care so much about getting a great big harvest and I like to experiment.”
Many people will say it’s like meditation, which can also be true for some artists who use painting or sculpture to relax or calm. For the rest of artists who spend days troubled over a creative block or impasse in execution, staring at plants in a garden can be a welcome respite.
Mainly, gardening and art-making seem to be equal acts of creation except with one, you might get to eat at the end. Both acts are very much about our humanity. 20,000 years ago we were drawing figures on cave walls, fashioning tools and in the beginning stages of planning cultivation. We wanted to make.
Bess says, “It gives a very basic sense of success at being a human being.”
Artists have been deemed special for the creative skills that come naturally to them, but maybe it’s more naturally human than we think, like growing food. As Melinda Bergman told me, “Gardening is normal. It needs to be even more normal. Maybe they (the artists) want to be normal instead of special.”
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After receiving a grant in the amount of $100,000 from Cities of Service, The City of Phoenix is partnering with the Valley Permaculture Alliance (VPA) and HandsOn Greater Phoenix in implementing two beneficial volunteering projects involving painting roofs of city-owned buildings with reflective paint and creating community gardens in three public housing communities.
The Valley Permaculture Alliance (VPA), already an educational resource for valley residents on community and school gardens, will partner with the city in support of three separate locations in the establishment of the new community gardens, as well as the support in the monthly series of “cooking matters” educational sessions that will be provided to interested participants.
Doreen Pollack, VPA’s Executive Director, states, “This kind of work fits closely with our mission, ‘Inspiring sustainable urban living in the desert southwest’. Last year we provided 123 classes to over 2,200 people on topics like gardening, composting and how to start a community garden. We led over 20 new community garden managers through classes that address the creation and management of gardens, leadership skills, and volunteer recruitment and management.”
The City of Phoenix will choose the three community garden areas based on where the garden can support the most people with a focus on multi-unit housing facilities. The goal will be to focus on reaching a minimum of 200 families.
Pollack adds “We have seen dozens of community gardens transform neighborhoods and provide fresh, healthy food to families over the past few years through our Community and School Garden Programs. We are excited to work with the City of Phoenix and HandsOn Greater Phoenix to bring three more gardens to communities where fresh food is not readily accessible due to the location of grocery stores. The classes on gardening, provided by the VPA, will help ensure these gardens are around for years to come.”
The city grant will begin in January 2013 and run through December of the same year.
To learn more on how The Valley Permaculture Alliance is inspiring people toward self-reliance through more than 100 different classes, workshops, home demonstrations, and events on multiple sustainable topics including community gardens, please visit the VPA classes and events website page.
About the Valley Permaculture Alliance: The Valley Permaculture Alliance (VPA) is a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. The VPA mission is to inspire sustainable urban living in the desert southwest by offering over a hundred different classes and several major events each year. Events include, but are not limited to: Tour de Coops (the only local tour of backyard chicken coops), fruit tree education and sales, Mesquite Bean Milling and Milling Pancake Breakfast, as well as a 72 hour intensive Permaculture Design Course. Thousands of members participate in the interactive website at www.valleypermaculturealliance.org. VPA is the proud recipient of Valley Forwards’ 2011 Crescordia Award in Environmental Education, as well as the Phoenix NewTimes 2012 “Best of Award” For the Best Place to Learn About the Science of Composting.
Six finalists have been chosen to present their innovative ideas tonight at the Arizona Science Center for Beckettʼs Tableʼs first annual Feed Your Dreams Dinner. The search for the next big idea in food and science will culminate in an evening featuring presentations by each of the contest finalists and a five course dinner with wine pairings.
The offerings from Chef Justin Beckett and the executive team, which includes two world-class sommeliers, will demonstrate the award winning restaurantʼs own talent for crafting delicious and innovative dishes.
Chef Beckettʼs desire to “pay it forward” and contribute to success of local entrepreneurs with a passion for food and science provided the inspiration for the event.
Says Beckett, “The idea and the heart of the contest is to give back to the community on a local level.” Contestants were asked to submit their dream idea to win a chance at a portion of a total prize package of $27,000 in cash and business assistance.
Dinner attendees will vote live at the event to select one winner who will be announced along with the winners of the Grand Prize and Peopleʼs Choice awards. A limited number of tickets are available to purchase for $145 until 5pm at feedyourdreamsaz.com.
So whose big ideas made it to the finals?
Charles Lee, Chandler – mberry
Lee wants to expand his existing business to market and distribute the miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) to make healthy living fun and delicious.
Jason Raducha, Phoenix – Noble Bread
Raduchaʼs idea is to develop mobile micro bakery producing artisan bread. A custom wood- fired bread oven built from 5,000 pounds of fire brick and refractory cement and mounted to a dual axle trailer can literally bring fresh baked bread to your doorstep.
John Bogart, Phoenix – Self-Sustaining Aquaculture
Bogart wants to create a self-sustaining aquaculture that uses fish waste to fertilize a vegetable garden. Truly a self-sustaining eco-system, the hydroponic garden will also be used to grow the food for the fish themselves.
Bruce and Tina Leadbetter, Phoenix – Stone Hoe Gardens
The Leadbetters run an organic farm that repurposes waste from the local food industry to create nutrient rich soil in nylon socks. With the help from some earthworms the socks are filled with a mixture of organic food waste, water and coco-peat to create an “uber-soil” to grow local produce.
Cade Stripplehoff, Phoenix – Sub-Irrigated Planter Systems
Stripplehoffʼs new technology uses 50% less water and an automated refilling system to grow heirloom and high quality produce. Designed for homes and restaurants, the planters are virtually weedless and make growing accessible and simple.
Christoph Kaiser, Phoenix – V Gen Powerplant
Kaiser has an elegant solution to convert cooking grease into electricity and biodiesel fuel. Affordable and compact the generator is ideal for small and narrow spaces.
If you go
Event: Feed Your Dreams Dinner
When: TONIGHT, August 20 at 6 p.m. Tickets available until 5 p.m.
Location: Arizona Science Center