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Community Turns Out to Raise a Greenhouse

A sea of green: tomato plants rise up along trellis lines held aloft by rollerhooks.
A sea of green: tomato plants rise up along trellis lines held aloft by rollerhooks.
This past Friday morning was a busy one. As volunteers helped me finish trellising our tomato plants onto overhead lines, the head of construction from Griffin Greenhouse was working out the last of the kinks in our control systems. My ag scout was checking on the work of our newest staff: the parasitic wasps that are busily mummifying the aphids in the greenhouse while other volunteers made their way through the trellised rows, pollinating the flowers with hand-held pollinators.

As we finished up the morning, I felt a huge wave of relief. The last three weeks have been hectic and hard, and it's only through the rallying efforts of many that we now have a greenhouse full of rapidly growing, beautiful plants that will soon be bearing fruit.

Thursday morning, Joaquim came in to say hello. One of my favorite gardeners, he is a long-time farmer in the neighborhood. His whole yard is a jungle of squash, beans, and corn. It also has a patch of strawberries in one corner, and of course the requisite patch of collard greens in another. We have worked with Joaquim a lot over the years, experimenting with phyto-remediation and compost remediation of his plot, which, like many yards in the neighborhood, has elevated lead levels.

As happy as I was to see him, I was also a little worried. We had just finished delivering compost to yards around the neighborhood (a service that we have been providing for years and one that is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more gardeners look to us for compost delivery). I knew we had delivered less compost than he would have liked, and braced myself for what I thought was going to be a difficult discussion. However, while it turned out he had come by to ask about the compost, he was more interested in the rollerhooks I was putting out on our trellis lines to attach to the tomatoes. He told me how happy he was to see this project coming to life, and jumped into helping me with setting out the hooks for the next hour. This type of thing has been happening regularly during the last few weeks.

The previous day an elderly neighbor followed me down a path using his cane to gather up the suckers I cut off of the plants. And last week one of the Catholic monks who recently moved into the neighborhood contributed a day's worth of labor helping to set up our trellising system. Alongside our own youth, young people from DSNI and Youth Build have also contributed to the mix of work.

A trio of plump, juicy tomatoes in the making.
A trio of plump, juicy tomatoes in the making.
Outside of the neighborhood, I've been lucky to draw in new volunteers who showed up at the drop of a hat to help pull salad mix, add compost to beds to prepare for the tomatoes, and of course get them planted. Farmer Andrew Rogers of Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton has been making time to take my panicked calls and calming me down with kind words of assurance and advice. Former staff member Courtney Bissonnette has been drawing on her past experience in a greenhouse tomato operation to help me figure out the growing system. She’s also been drawing on her current experience in the restaurant world to lend advice on marketing.

Along with volunteers Skeet (who brings a wealth of knowledge from working in commercial greenhouse operations in Florida) and Ashley (whose work ethic and knowledge comes from being born and raised on an Iowa farm), this Friday morning’s work crew has patiently and diligently pruned, suckered, and trained our bays of tomatoes. Finally, our tomatoes would be a mess, were it not for the efforts of Ethan Kiermaier, a friend and former TFP volunteer who I called in desperation two weeks ago when I realized I was totally in over my head in attempting to set up an overhead wire system that would hold the kind of weight the tomatoes would require. Ethan donated carpentry time and made arrangements to have time donated by the Pine Street Inn carpentry training program to get the system set up in the nick of time.

Thank you to you all for your hard work and support! These past few weeks I've been reaching out often for help, and can't believe how much I've received. The greenhouse truly feels like a community venture and I look forward to sharing it with you all.

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