Miranda Hileman’s Year as Lexington Compton Fellow
ONE YEAR AGO IN ACE, July 2009: I’m Miranda Hileman, 2009 Compton Mentor Fellow, and have just arrived in Lexington. I am ready to get my hands dirty and grow some food! Since graduating from Berea College in May with a degree in Sustainable Agriculture, I have been fortunate enough to work in partnership with Jim Embry, founder and director of Sustainable Communities Network. For the next year, I will be working with Jim and others to create and sustain community and school gardens all over the city. I chose Jim as my mentor for this fellowship because of his passion for creating a sustainable community and because he focuses on food production and consumption. We share the conviction to educate people about the sources of their food and share the joy of growing and eating our own food. My fellowship proposal, “Grow Lexington! Nurturing Young Minds on Common Ground for a Greener Tomorrow,” focuses on providing food security for lowincome residents of Lexington.”
TODAY. JULY 2010. BY MIRANDA HILEMAN.
Coming to Lexington was overwhelming, but I was warmly welcomed. I never
lived in a city before and wanted to try it. Because of the high rate of population, urban agriculture seems like a great way to produce local, fresh goods without the high cost of transportation. What a year it has been. I have learned much; I never imagined all the things I could be a part of and all the wonderful people I would meet.
My proposed goal was to increase the resilience of the city of Lexington by improving food security for low-income residents through the enhancement of community gardens and the expansion of educational programs in food production for youth. I proposed to facilitate revitalization of ten community gardens, support and establish new gardens, and expand the edible schoolyard project in the Fayette County Public School (FCPS) system.
Working alongside agri-science teacher Carrie Davis at Eastside Technical Center (ETC) I planned to teach, focusing on gardening and environmental issues. I wanted to teach others how to grow their own food, and then to cook, consume or preserve that food.
I began mid-June, at a school garden workshop where almost 100 teachers from across Kentucky attended, ready to learn about the importance of school gardens and how to start. It was good so early in my fellowship year to meet teachers and to hear their questions and concerns. I became acquainted with the Catholic Action Center and God’s Garden, God’s Worms and the homeless population of Lexington that they serve.
I was also welcomed to PeaceMeal Community Garden of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Winburn Community Art Garden, Nelson Avenue Art Garden, Green Acres Park Garden, Marlboro Park Community Garden, the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, and the Chrysalis House Garden. I met many of the faces that have continued to pop up in the community gardening scene.
July brought meetings, I met the organizers of Hill’n'Dale Park Community Garden and the Dunbar Memorial Garden consisting of native plants, located at Dunbar High School. I found Berries on Bryan Station, a 4-acre certified organic CSA farm, where I have volunteered working the fields in exchange for Erik’s knowledge of organic farming and a day back on the farm. I was introduced to the work of Seedleaf (they are great!) To further my work on the edible schoolyard project, I met with several FCPS curriculum administrators; the topgrounds-keeper; a representative from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government; faculty and staff from the University of Kentucky’s Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability; and a representative from the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools program, which provides strategies for schools to become “green” and to provide some educational programming for schools.
It was frustrating; they were concerned about how a garden could be integrated into their curriculum.
I spent August continuing to establish relationships with the existing community gardens and started teaching at ETC. We spoke to teachers at Lexington Catholic spoke to teachers at Lexington Catholic High School, to four classes of freshman about the importance of gardening and giving back to the community at Woodford County High School.
Working at ETC was remarkable. I hope the students now know a little more about their food and resource consumption. We planted fall and spring gardens, tended, harvested, and ate. From our harvests we made: stir fry, greens, pumpkin and apple pies, salad, spring rolls, winter squash, fresh spearmint and lemon balm tea, and the students have tried raw turnips and radishes without ranch! This spring we baked bread and pastries, made cheese, butter by manpower, nutritious cookies, pizza, cooked local meats and they took all the extras home to share with their families or donated to the Catholic Action Center. We set up two different compost piles, designed a rain garden, and studied integrated pest management, ecological sewage systems, our broken industrial food system through showing Food, Inc., and the destruction of our Appalachian mountains, soils, air and waterways.
We have also intensively discussed energy-efficient, net-zero systems and human impact on the land through the new FCPS Agri-science Center being built and will be ready for students in the fall of 2011. At the Future Farmers of America end of the year banquet, I was awarded an Eastside Chapter Honorary Degree.
In September, I met with the Gainesway Community Garden coordinators to expand programming and interest. I attended a hoophouse building workshop at Breaking New Grounds; an organization in Louisville that turns used coffee grounds into soil for the city’s greening efforts by composting and vermicomposting. Staff from Will Allen’s Growing Power, Inc. led us through the building process. We constructed one with the Catholic Action Center at Fresh Approach. Seedlings started there will be transplanted into God’s Garden and the food produced will feed the hungry.
October was the month of conferences. The Governor’s Conference on Energy and the Environment was hosted in Lexington with no mention of food whatsoever!
I attended the Kentucky Council of Churches 62nd Annual Assembly, focused on care of creation and then helped them assemble their GrassRoots Ecumenical Environmental Network.
In Milwaukee, I attended the Growing Food and Justice for All conference, on our way home we stopped in Detroit to learn about the devastation of the city and the efforts for change there. It was appalling to see the dilapidated houses, broken fences and empty streets; yet inspiring because there is momentum for city-wide greening and positive change. I also spoke as part of a youth panel at the Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference in Louisville.
November and December consisted of garden cleanups, soil samples, pumpkin cooking, pureeing and pie making, teaching at ETC, and continually reaching out for more interest in spring garden planting.
I also helped with some gleaning for food pantries and for the holidays many hands cooked close 80 fresh pie pumpkins into pies, breads, cookies, and soup.
January provided me with much more encouragement! FCPS contacted me and asked for help with three “big” projects: Meadowthorpe Elementary, William Wells Brown Elementary and Mary Todd Elementary. I also began working more intensively with a new alternative school, The Learning Center at Linlee. I began volunteering at the The Arboretum, Kentucky’s State Botanical Garden, learning to be a tour guide and helping with their children’s programs and the invasive exotic plant removal in the woods.
In February an idea that has just become a reality was hatched! Through the Blue Grass Community Foundation, signs saying “Food Grown Here” are available to gardeners all over the city. I hope this will promote community in a different sense and create excitement about and dedication to growing food in urban locations. Look for them around town!
The weather that March brought let me shed my sweatshirt and break out the sunscreen! FCPS gardens were installed and are growing at: Bryan Station High School, Meadowthorpe Elementary, Liberty Elementary, The Learning Center at Linlee, Tates Creek High School, Tates Creek Elementary, Dixie Elementary, after school programs at William Wells Brown Elementary, James Lane Allen, and Russell Cave Elementary. At Woodford County High School they took it upon themselves to install a garden at Woodford County Middle School!
In April with the Catholic Action Center we installed new gardens at two of their residential locations: The Preakness in Lexington and Edgewood Village Apartments in Nicholasville. On Saturday, April 3, Community Farm Alliance, an organization out of Louisville dedicated to supporting small farmers and changing the food systems, sponsored an event in Berea, Farms.Food. Film. Food, Inc., was shown, local music, representatives and information from local organizations, and local prepared food at the first outside Saturday Farmer’s Market of the season. I went to John Jeavon’s Grow Biointensive workshop and I absolutely loved learning from John; I am convinced this is one way to provide food security, but also to create peace within ourselves and our communities. I came back to Lexington ecstatic about biointensive and PeaceMeal was gracious enough to provide me with a plot to try! I have dug two beds so far.
Growing Community, an event held May 1 at William Wells Brown Elementary. We taught community members to grow their own, even if it’s only a few containers full of vegetables. Fayette County Extension will continue providing educational programs at least once-a-month for an entire year. I took a 4-week grantwriting course. Sixteen ETC students accompanied me to Liberty Elementary, with a horse, an angus bull, a dairy calf, a baby lamb, two goats and three snakes! We set up a sort of petting zoo, and ETC students taught the elementary students about the animals, and specifically presented information about the place of animals in the food chain. It was fabulous, I could not have asked for the ETC students to have done better!
All in all, 13 school gardens were created or expanded. The ideas and information that I was able to share and teach has been noticed. The administration has changed their land-use policies to make installing gardens on the property, accessible and less intimidating to teachers. I realize now that community gardening is not going to create full-blown, complete food security for Lexington. Nor is it going to solve all the social injustices that happen so blatantly and frequently.
It is going to take a significant shock of stability to really invest in making these changes and also a significant amount of food to feed this city! Food security can happen once people have skills. To get skills they must have practice and education. Food education right now, is at the point where we are teaching people to eat fresh, healthy food. There are many dedicated individuals focused on creating a sustainable city. I am finding it hard to step out of this role.
I have laid so much “groundwork” and planted ideas; I have left the gardens in good hands. They will continue to grow, just like the people involved. Though these gardens may not grow incredible amounts of food, they will bear the fruits of joy, community engagement, patience, neighborly love, gentleness, and peace. My final wish for the year is that these gardens will teach our children and their parents to be connected to the earth, to the insects, to the water, to the animals, to the air, to the plants. I hope everyone will continue to feel the sunshine on their faces, feel the soil beneath their toes and grit under their fingernails. All these wonderful things have provided me a way to continue moving on and forging ahead throughout this fellowship. Gardens have the capacity to provide freedom to experience, to learn on one’s own, to be curious and adventurous. Food is everyone’s common ground, our universal experience. We learn to love and nurture each other and heal ourselves through gardening– whether it is food production, native flowers, or hanging baskets of petunias– we will learn from the land and the plants.
I have become a Lexingtonian and am proud of it. Thank you for letting me join you!
Miranda Hileman is moving on to a new job as a Cooperative Extension Associate with the University of Kentucky focusing on horticultural entrepreneurship.
The Compton Foundation annually sponsors ten Compton Mentor Fellowships, the program is based on the belief that life-changing experiences occur when formal learning becomes transformed by action. They believe that complementary learning, creativity and a serious commitment helps one see and appreciate the entire world through different eyes and a broadened perspective. The Fellows create their proposals alongside Mentors and through the self-directed nature, the Fellowship is meant to deepen and enrich knowledge, and guide Fellows to apply new understanding of themselves and the world in original ways. Info www.comptonmentorfellowship.org.
2010 Community Garden Tour
The 4th Annual Lexington Community Garden Tour hosted by Sustainable Communities Network (SCN) will begin at The Rock/La Roca United Methodist Church, 1015 North Limestone on Thursday July 29, 2010 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For the first time, a bike tour is included; all riders are invited to participate.
The tour offers a chance to experience a diverse group of community gardens and meet individuals that are working to GROW Lexington through urban gardening activities. In the words of Ginny Ramsey of The Catholic Action Center, “Urban gardening is a way to empower neighborhoods and individuals in the creation of a community hub while eating healthier and regaining a connection to our food source.”
Sumaya Rashid of Virginia Place says “I was inspired by the 2009 Garden Tour and
knew I had to help lead the effort to have one at Virginia Place. Our garden plots have been a wonderful addition to the bonding of mothers and children”.
Bus transportation will be provided and others are invited to BYOB-bring your own bike.
Pre-register by July 27 at: sustainlex@gmail. com or call 859-312-7024.
The tour meets at The Rock/La Roca Church, check-in and observe the gardens along North Limestone; at 5:30 p.m. board buses and hop on bikes to begin the tour through the city looking at five (5) community gardens: The Rock/ La Roca Garden, Fresh Solutions Hoop House, Drug Court and AVOL Gardens on Nelson Ave., Columbia Ave, Virginia Place and Beaumont Presbyterian Church. The bike tour will include stops at Kid’s Café, William Wells Brown Elementary School, Drug Court/AVOL, London Ferrell, Fresh Stop, Columbia Ave and others. The tour concludes with a potluck dinner.