This Thursday I started my regular weekly service at William Byrd Community House’s (WBCH) farmlet. The WBCH is a community center, day care, after school program, and food kitchen. As part of the food kitchen they operate a half acre urban farm or “farmlet” to provide fresh food alongside non-perishable items. They have a large focus on nutrition and self sufficiency, so they also often teach cooking classes and attempt to bring fresh produce to the area through a farmer’s market that accepts food stamps. I have been interested in the urban local food movement for quite a while, and so I wanted to volunteer with WBCH to experience it for myself.
This Thursday Matthew, the farmlet manager, showed me the shed that houses all the tools, materials, and unfinished projects. He is currently working on a worm composing system that captures the nutrient rich fluids the worms produce. We then got to work transplanting two grape vines to a platform that will have a soon to be built pergola for the grapes to grow up. I had never transplanted a plant before, so I was extremely nervous about potentially killing them.
We dug two holes near the platform, encountering two challenges in the process. Being that this is an urban farm we ran into an old rusty 4 foot long pipe in the ground that was left over from an old house that once stood on the site. On the second hole the soil was near to a bank that was eroded and severely sun bleached, so the soil was extremely poor and sandy. Using extra compost for this hole we were able to create a better bed of soil for the transplanted grape plants. I felt like we were actually repairing the land; taking poor and brick/pipe strewn soil and reviving it through natural means.
Once we finally got around to planting the plants Matthew explained how you have to prune the plants by almost half in order to urge them to grow more. In addition we had to make sure to incorporate some of the poorer soil with the compost, so that we wouldn’t create a rich bubble of soil that becomes impenetrable when you reach the poorer harder soil. It would be like a clay pot within the ground.
This work was absolutely fascinating to me. The idea of repairing that plot of earth, slowly making the soil more hospitable, creating habitats for bees and other insects, composting so much organic matter. It was exhilarating to see the different scatterbrained projects Matthew has in the works. He has so many ideas for improving the small plot of earth to become a bright spot in an old neighborhood. I’m excited to be a part of them in the upcoming weeks.