Seed keeping and storytelling workshop

Jo and Keight attended a Greenthumb event on seed keeping and storytelling, led by Owen Taylor of Truelove Seeds and hosted by East New York Farms. Growing plants for the purpose of saving seeds is a bit different from growing plants for harvest, mainly in that it takes longer, as you want to leave the plants growing until the seeds are as developed as possible, usually far beyond the point you’d want to harvest the plant for eating.

We walked around the farm looking at different plants and their seeds, including the popular callaloo variety of amaranth and motherwort, learning how to tell when seeds are ready to be collected. One method Owen mentioned from experience on his farm is watching when the goldfinches begin snacking on a particular crop.

Afterwards Owen walked us through different seed saving techniques depending on the type of plant. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other plants where the seeds have to be separated from the fruit itself benefit from soaking in water for several days until they begin to ferment.

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Peppers are pretty easy to deseed and don’t require fermentation, and the beet seeds we worked with weren’t too difficult to strip off the dried stems by hand. But getting seeds from dried flowers can be more difficult, as with the motherwort and tobacco Owen brought, which required several stages of work to separate the seeds from the chaff. Starting by threshing the whole plant in a bucket with a stick through a few passes through different sifters (sadly missed getting photos of these steps while we were seed saving ourselves!). In the end, he used a vacuum powered separator which uses suction to separate that lighter chaff from the seeds.

In addition, the workshop touched on the deeper stories that seeds bring with them. Truelove Seeds offers rare and culturally important seed varieties, and Owen spoke to the journeys seeds have taken around the world over just the few hundred years, becoming an important part of one culture and then evolving into other cultures. Growing plants for the purpose of seed keeping ensures the health of those plants and decreases our reliance on large seed and seedling producers.

It also inspired us to be less anxious about our plants that go to seed before we harvest them — especially as we rarely harvest all of something before the point it’s less tasty for eating! It’s as an opportunity to save those plants for future sowing and have a hand in keeping those varieties alive in the grander sense.

A field trip to Swale, NYC’s foraging barge

We posted last year about Swale, an edible forest on a barge. This year they are docked at Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal (specifically Pier 4 at 58th Street) through August 1st. They can also be found weekends on Governors Island.

Last month a few farmers went to attend a workshop on medicinal plants led by Marisa Prefer. We got a guided foraging tour of various plants and their benefits, which was of course fully interactive with plenty of tasting and exploring around the 5,000 sq foot barge.

Swale is a great spot to visit, but even more inspiring is the effect that the project has had on public policy. The NYC Parks Department has a strict rules against foraging in its parks, but Swale has proved to be a test case for how foraging could work on public land. This year the Foodway at Concrete Plant Park opened, near Swale’s first dock home in the Bronx.

See also this great short video BRIC TV produced about the project that includes an interview with founder Mary Mattingly as well as Marisa and Amanda McDonald Crowley.

Wattle fences: a project idea for bed borders

Now that we are learning more about fruit tree pruning, here’s a project that could make use of those pruned branches and help us improve the borders of our garden plots and better support our plants.

Wattle weaving is a craft that has been in use as far back as the Bronze Age in parts of Europe, in particular across the British Isles. Stakes are put in the soil and branches are woven in-between them; they can be arranged in horizontally in fences or around plants as towers. Traditionally hazel, willow and alder were used, as their branches are sufficiently flexible, but Lovely Greens has a video tutorial using raspberry canes and bamboo — the result is pictured above.

We’ll definitely be trying this technique out at the farm!

596 Acres & the potential of vacant lots

Back in April 2011, Paula Z. Segal obtained a spreadsheet that indicated all the publicly-owned, vacant public land in Brooklyn. She tallied up the areas of each lot and got the number 596 — a total area slightly bigger than Prospect Park — and 596 Acres was born.

Segal created a map of the information and started distributing it. The organization continues to build tools to help neighbors realize the potential for green spaces focused around community organizing and civic engagement.

Our tools help neighbors see vacant lots as sites of opportunity for green spaces in neighborhoods that lack them. We activate imaginations, initiate campaigns to legally get the keys to previously inaccessible vacant lots, and ultimately unlock more than just the gates. Through collaborative organizing residents become active stewards of urban land.

Now you can access their map in an interactive format at Living Lots NYC. You can check and see if there are any open lots near you, and if people are already organizing to reclaim that space for community use.

They’ve also reported recently that NYC has sold 202 city-owned lots to developers for $1 each, just since Mayor deBlasio took office in 2014.

Seed collecting for the Anthropocene era

The Next Epoch Seed Library tweaks the traditional seed bank mentality for the Anthropocene era. Rather than focusing on the preservation of heirloom varieties, this seed bank focuses on weedy species most likely to survive and thrive in the more punishing landscapes affected by climate change. Anyone can help contribute to the bank.

The following mini-documentary by Candace Thompson with the founders Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco includes them discussing the question of native vs. invasive plants as they collect seeds in the NJ Meadowlands.

The Next Epoch Seed Library from Candace Thompson on Vimeo.


How to Harvest Lettuces and Greens

Now that the steering committee at Prospect farm has decided how to divide up the food it’s time to start tasting the fruits of our labor. Harvesting begins on Saturday in a few weeks, and will happen twice a week on Wednesday evening and Saturday mornings for the rest of the season. 2 crop managers are in charge of weighing, and recording all the food, and then to help divide 20% for businesses, and the rest for members.

So what’s ready this week: lettuces, cooking greens like kale. Watch these videos on how to pick and store your fresh greens:

BFC Action Alerts Digest 4/11/11

From the Brooklyn Food Coalition

Support the Fair Wages For New Yorkers Act

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act was introduced to City Council on May 25, 2010. It requires that developers who receive major taxpayer-funded subsidies must pay at least a living wage for the jobs they create.

The Food Policy Committee is drafting a letter of support on behalf of the Brooklyn Food Coalition, but we encourage you to send a message of support to your City Council Member. Go to Living Wage NYC’s webform to send your message.
GMO: The Right to Know

Do you know what genetically modified organisms are? Do you want to know if they’re in your food? Read more about GMOs in our food in this blog post by Nutrition Evolution. One of the best ways to stay on top of the issue is to join Millions Against Monsanto. If you would like to join other BFC members in organizing an anti-GMO event on World Food Day (October 16) contact us at

BFC Action Alerts Weekly Digest

Paula our BFC Policy ambassador sends us the weeks action alerts

No Farms No Food Rally Wednesday

If you haven’t already, register today for the No Farms No Food Rally and Lobby Day in Albany happening Wednesday!

Bus transportation round-trip from New York City to Albany will be available. Bus departs Union Square at 7 a.m. and returns to Manhattan by 7:30 or 8 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

Register at
Budget Cuts Hitting Gardens and Conservation Programs

Proposed federal budget cuts threaten the GreenThumb program and its support of New York City’s Community Gardens!

Right now, Congress has proposed cuts to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the remainder of 2011, and a nearly two-thirds reduction to future CDBG funds. GreenThumb receives 100% of its funding through CDBG and could be eliminated or have its overall budget severely cut if HR1 is passed.

Contact your Representatives in the House and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand on behalf of NYC’s community gardens! Be sure to mention that GreenThumb is an important CDBG funded program, important to your garden and your community.

But wait, there’s more!

Don’t let the Administration gut innovative programs that reward farmers for environmental stewardship and protect fragile wetlands while leaving unscathed the $5 billion dollar a year that is spent on production subsidies in the form of direct payments – payments that go to farmers and landowners without regard to need or even crop price levels.

Tell U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to stand up for the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. If cuts are to be made then everything has to be on the table –a budget package that singles out conservation is shortsighted and unfair.
Join Millions Against Monsanto

Love how Europeans have effectively fought against genetically modified foods? Millions against Monsanto is taking a similar approach, targeting both government and food retailers with a grassroots message: Label GMO Foods.

Join them online and sign the petition. They are planning a day of action in NYC on World Food Day in October.
Rally & Lobby Day To Stop Unsafe Gas Drilling

Join us again in Albany for a larger Rally & Lobby Day to stop unsafe gas drilling.

The rally will start on the Capital Lawn at 10:30 AM and be followed by visits with legislators throughout the afternoon. This is the day to get you and everyone you can to Albany and show with sheer numbers and diversity that all of New York; upstate, downstate, environmentalist, capitalist, scientist, mother, farmer, father, teacher, and student do not want this pushed ahead at the expense of our communities, our health, our water and our air!!!!

Register for the lobby day at For a bus from Brooklyn contact Eric Weltman from Food & Water Watch at (718) 943-9085 or

Policy Action Alerts from the BFC

Support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act

City Council Speaker Quinn will be holding a hearing in April for the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, Int. 0251-2010. Fighting for food justice includes fighting for food workers, which is why we think this legislation is so important.

Please show your support by calling Speaker Quinn with the message below at (212) 788-7210 or email using the subject line “Support for hearing for the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.” Include your zip code!

Dear Speaker Quinn,

I call [or write] you today as a member of the Brooklyn Food Coalition to thank you for your commitment to holding a hearing for the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, Int 0251-2010.

Too often, jobs created with public subsidies pay poverty wages with no benefits. And many, if not most, of those jobs are in the food system. The median hourly wages of restaurant workers in New York is less then $9 an hour and close to 90% have no health insurance provided by their employers. It’s time for the city to stop subsidizing corporations who in turn refuse to pay their workers a
living wage. This results in larger profits for the corporations while the workers must turn to public assistance to just get by, resulting in a double subsidy costing the city even more money. Economic
development must be encouraged but not to the detriment of the very workers it’s intended to help.

We look forward to the upcoming hearing.

Click to email individual Council people.

If you can, please also attend this rally:

Brooklyn Mass Meeting for Living Wages
Date: April 4, 2011
Time: 06:00pm
Location: Bethel Baptist Church
265 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11217

No Farms No Food Rally March 30

Please join Brooklyn Food Coalition, farmers, food advocates, local officials, environmentalists, and others who care about farms and food to lobby New York State legislators at the Capitol. Urge your representatives to support funding and legislation that:

  • Protects farmland for future generations
  • Increases consumer access to nutritious foods grown in New York
  • Helps farmers protect water and the environment
  • Strengthens New York’s farm and food economy

American Farmland Trust will provide transportation and are promising a delicious farm-fresh lunch! Sign up today and see you there.

Help Save Our Bees

Nearly a third of all honeybee colonies in North America are dying every year. ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ is a major contributor to these deaths, and while there is still no scientific consensus as to the cause, keeping pollinators healthy is crucial for the health of our environment and the future of our food.

Honeybees pollinate many of the foods we eat – from apples to chestnuts to raspberries and squash. That’s why I’m asking you today to join Slow Food USA’s campaign to save the bees, and our food chain.

Tell the White House: Put the Breaks on GM Seeds

In the space of just two weeks the USDA has deregulated genetically modified (GM) seeds for beets, alfalfa, and corn produced for ethanol. President Obama needs to hear how YOU feel about GM seeds; his administration is under the impression that supporting Monsanto will make them appear business-friendly even though GM seeds could destroy small family farms, especially organic farms.

Action: Please contact the White House (via Food & Water Watch) or call the White House at (202) 456-1111 to tell them you oppose GM seed deregulation.

Say No to Frankenfish

Genetically engineered salmon is on track to be the first GE animal approved for human consumption. It’s time to stop this Frankenfish for good by passing a bill to ban GE salmon in the U.S.

The FDA is trying to approve GE salmon as a new animal drug, but the truth is, U.S. food agencies don’t have a way to fully evaluate the impacts of GE salmon on human health or the environment. Last fall, we delivered over 90,000 comments from our supporters opposing the approval of GE salmon and so far, the FDA hasn’t approved it.

Please ask Senators Gillibrand and Schumer to co-sponsor the bill (S. 230) to ban GE salmon.

Senator Charles Schumer: (202) 224-6542 or (212) 486-4430
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: (202) 224-4451 or (212) 688-6262

Compost videos from Annie Hauck

Hello Prospect Farm Members,

Am happy that the frame insert for our ‘Straw Fort’ last year has a new home at Prospect Farm.
You can see its life as a combined insulated compost bin and cold frame to grow salad greens (assembled, filmed and maintained in our front yard due diagonal to Prospect Farm last winter – see videos 4 & 5 at

Since many Prospect Farm members are involved in composting, our videos on the NBC GreenIsUniversal blog and Facebook page link may be helpful:

Finally, we designed and constructed a three-part compost bin for the community gardeners at Ft. Tilden.Using nearly all re-purposed and found materials, the bin cost about $2.34. See it at

Enjoy and best wishes in composting,
Annie Hauck-Lawson