Monday, December 22, 2014

Homesteading with City Green

With the holidays approaching, the City Green staff dedicated a day to the art of urban homesteading by preserving fruits and vegetables left over from our seasonal harvests. As temperatures continue to drop, it may be too cold even for the hardy kale to survive. By preserving the harvest through canning, blanching and jam making, among many other techniques, it is possible to enjoy these organic, locally grown vegetables during the winter. While there is the convenience of shopping for these products at the local supermarket year-round, homesteading can provide a bit of self-empowerment and is another way to support local food systems.

Whether you want to make a simple DIY gift for a loved one or are looking for a hands-on activity to do with your friends and family, homesteading is a great pastime for the holidays.
Here are two homesteading activities we completed last Wednesday. Enjoy and please feel free to share any of your homesteading techniques!

Strawberry Jam
 City Green had an astounding 20 pounds of strawberries left over from our June harvest. What better way to savor them during the winter than by making jam! If you have frozen (or even fresh) strawberries, here’s an easy way to turn it into jam just by using four ingredients. For storage, you will simply need freshly sterilized ball jars. Keep in mind though - there are as many ways to make jam as there are jam-makers.


  •  2 pounds of strawberries (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 pouch of liquid fruit pectin
  • 7 cups of white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice

  1. Add the strawberries and pectin to a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently.
  2. Add sugar and return to a rolling boil, skimming off the foam as it forms. Allow to boil for 10-15 minutes over low heat until the berries soften and the mixture has thickened. 
  3.   Remove from heat and skim off any remaining foam.
  4. Carefully ladle your jam into sterilized ball jars leaving ¼ inch of space. Wipe the rims and close jar tightly.

Blanching Greens
City Green has been lucky to have a constant supply of our hardy greens, kale and spinach – harvested fresh from our farm. Just this week, staff harvested the greens and prepped them for some urban homesteading fun. If you have any fresh greens leftover from your holiday shopping, we encourage you to try blanching and freezing them!

  • Kale or any other hardy green (i.e. spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli greens)
  • Ice
  • Water

  1. Remove stem from kale using knife.
  2. Wash and spin kale.
  3.  Add kale to boiling pot of water for three minutes and prepare ice bath in a large bowl.
  4. Using tongs, transfer kale from pot to the ice bath. Allow to sit for three minutes.
  5. Remove kale from ice bath and spin or towel dry.
  6.   Insert into freezer bags. Store in freezer until ready to savor.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fifth Grade Feminism: Why Teaching Children to Garden Is More Than Just How to Plant

This is the first installment of several blog posts reflecting on gardening and youth education.

At a recent school garden clean-up in Paterson, NJ, I was deeply impacted by a brief interaction with a group of middle school girls that spoke to the subtle essence of youth education. As part of my responsibilities in City Green’s School Grounds program, I helped a class of about 20 middle schoolers maintain their garden by picking up trash and litter, composting the vegetable plants and weeds from their raised beds, and performing other basic tasks. 
A camper from the City Sprouts program taking a photo with vegetables picked from the City Green Eastside Park Learning Garden
Their teacher, a master of efficiency, split them into several groups that would each work separately on a raised bed. I was walking among them offering advice and encouragement, as well as avoiding the wild swings of trowels, when a trio of girls triumphantly yanked a sprawling tomato plant right from the ground. Laughing with broad smiles flecked with dirt, they reveled in their accomplishment as I congratulated them, “Great job, girls, that one didn’t stand a chance against you!”

One of the girls, gripping her tangled prize, looked at me and proudly exclaimed, “Yeah, it didn’t stand a chance because we are strong girls with girl power!”

 “Yeah, you are! Go girl power!” I quickly affirmed, pleasantly surprised that the trio of fifth graders were so vocally self-empowered.

A second girl in the group knelt back down over the raised bed and reached for another hapless tomato plant, saying, “We are strong and we’ll prove it to you!”

“No, no,” I replied, “You don’t have to prove it - I already know you are all strong girls.”

And, in a moment I hope to never forget, the girl turned to her friends and declared quietly, “See, Mr. Colin thinks that we’re strong.”

When I realized that I had unexpectedly supported fifth grade feminism, I was proud. Although I had set out that day to help clean up a garden, I felt that our interaction had embodied the immense potential of working with youths in a garden, as well as having the privilege of being a person that can empower them with skills, knowledge and value.
Campers dancing with Growing Strong Camp Counselor during the summer
It was truly humbling that a group of girls had looked to me for assurance that they are strong and worthy of respect and admiration. They certainly are. This experience demonstrated that inevitably more happens in a garden than planting crops or turning over soil for the next season - children have someone to encourage them, look up to, and learn from. No matter how trivial or small your home or local garden may seem, it is important to remember that it is through gardening and mentorship that our children learn to grow more than just vegetables, they grow themselves.
City Green is proud to run School Grounds, City Sprouts and Growing Strong - three programs devoted to working with children and youth where they can enjoy hands-on garden and education programming

by Colin English

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Elysian Fields Community Garden

At the Elysian Fields Community Garden near the historic district of Paterson, beacons of hope and empowerment are visible everywhere in this former vacant lot. Little by little, this space has been transformed from an area overgrown with weeds, decaying debris and garbage to a beautiful community garden.

Mural at Elysian Fields
 In the summer and early fall, the garden glowed in its full splendor. Noticeable from anywhere in the garden were the colorful murals painted on the perimeters, along with the cheerful sunflower patch that offered a welcoming atmosphere to visitors, volunteers and the local families who came to harvest vegetables from the raised beds. 
Volunteers in front of the murals and sunflower patch at Elysian Fields
Elysian Fields is spearheaded by Gilman Choudhury, the young parent coordinator at Paterson Full Service Community School # 5 who has a passion for community organizing and sustainable community development. By assembling a coalition of committed professionals, a broad spectrum of community members and recruiting his students from John F. Kennedy High School’s robotics team, Choudhury has brought the community together to build and support the garden as it achieves its many milestones. People have volunteered their time to do everything from mass garden clean-ups to mural painting to garden installations. In total, 23 local organizations, private businesses, city and county agencies, student groups and other volunteer groups have served in the development or maintenance of the garden over the course of 2014, which began with a grant from City Green’s Dig In! program. 
Gilman Choudhury pictured with team member, Anjali Alumkal
According to Choudhury, the garden was initially conceived as a means of providing more nutritious food for local families. As the garden quickly gained support from different groups, Choudhury and his team saw the potential to expand the vision of the garden into a symbol of positive change and community development for the City of Paterson. Choudhury knows the challenges faced by postindustrial cities such as Paterson - blighted spaces, crime, and substance abuse – but says that underneath it all, there are people actively working towards positive change. 
Reading Garden at Elysian Fields
One way to achieve that, he says, is by focusing on the assets, strengths and potential of the community. He believes Elysian Fields is part of the “rebirth of a city” where people grow food and get to know each other, enjoy open green public space with some respite from the fast paced environment and a place where youth can learn important life lessons. 

Mr. Ahmed, a community gardener who is retired, says that the garden provided him with an activity to pass the time, have a constant supply of fresh food and most importantly, help his family save money. For the many other Bengali families who maintain plots at Elysian Fields, the garden has permitted them the opportunity to grow food in their adopted community for the first time and exercise the agricultural skills they learned in their native home of Bangladesh. 
Gardeners participating in Garden Planning workshop taught by City Green
As 2015 approaches, Choudhury plans to move forward with phase 2 of the garden - the installation of a rainwater harvesting system. For the 37 families who currently garden at Elysian Fields, the water system will be a much needed amenity to improve their crop production and ease the time and effort spent on transporting water in buckets and containers. There are also long-term plans to develop a potato patch, pumpkin patch, a wildflower garden, an art space and other projects. By 2016, Choudhury and his team hope to complete the three year plan for the garden. 
Raised beds at Elysian Fields. Pictured here are Gilman Choudhury and fellow community gardener.

The success of this urban garden exemplifies a progressive vision coupled with community solidarity, perseverance and civic engagement. People came together and made things happen to build positive change for their community.  Much can be learned from Elysian Fields and it will be wonderful to track the garden’s progress through the upcoming seasons. 

Elysian Fields Community Garden received funding from the “Dig In! City Green and Passaic County Community Garden and Neighborhood Farming Program.” 

by Claudia Urdanivia