November 3, 2010

DIY Utopia Workshops Hit the Fine Points

Claudia Joseph speaks to a full house about techniques of composting, as well as success stories from her own garden at the Old Stone House

On Monday night, we attended DIY Utopias: Growing Against All Odds, a series of four workshops at the Old Stone House in Park Slope that dealt with different aspects of growing food in the city, do-it-yourself style. The event is part of Brooklyn Utopias, an annual exhibit and event series founded in 2009 by Katherine Gressel, in which artists are
invited to consider their vision for an ideal Brooklyn. For a full description of the event, take a look at our previous article.

The second floor of the Old Stone House was just about at capacity for Monday's event, but the venue still provided an intimate feel that a DIY forum deserves. The night began with permaculture expert Claudia Joseph, who spoke about some of the concepts and practices of permaculture by which she manages the edible garden in front of the Old Stone House. A live tutorial followed the slide show that showed the audience how to properly set up small-scale composting for a personal garden or planter.  Claudia stressed the importance of nutrient-rich compost, especially in no-till situations where we don't know what harmful materials are in the city soil.

Freida Lim demonstrated that building basic windowsill or rooftop planters capable of food production, can be done at low cost, using simple materials. Freida is an activist, artist, and agrarian, and runs a modern sub-irrigated rooftop micro-farm called Slippery Slope Farm, located in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Sub-Irrigated Planters water plants through capillary action from a reservoir beneath the soil bed, using less water and producing higher crop yields. Freida's growing units are designed to be simple to install, easy to maintain, and capable of replication by anyone with a little space and a desire to grow their own food.

Andrew Casner works with rainwater harvest systems for GrowNYC and spent his time showing us examples of different systems that are fairly simple to install in your home or apartment. With a proper system in place, personal gardens generally do not need to draw from city taps at all. Andrew's slide show included line drawings and diagrams of his systems, and he also brought in the materials required to demonstrate the basic connections of a rainwater collection system.

Andrew Casner gets down to the details while demonstrating rain water collection techniques

The final presentation was by Adopt-A-Farmbox, an newly-formed group that is organizing support for school farms by building and donating simple planter boxes for one school at a time, with the hope of catalyzing the community and connecting people though healthy food. As a volunteer-based grassroots campaign initiated in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Adopt-A-Farmhouse is a great example of a DIY organization that has started something exceptional with very few people or resources.

Claudia Joseph mans the merchandise and refreshments

The crowd stuck around for the entire show, and so many questions were asked after each workshop that not all of them could be answered. It was a great opportunity for any amateur gardener in New York City to come listen to local experts and ask any questions on their mind. The associated art exhibition, Brooklyn Utopias, is currently on display on the second floor of the Old Stone House. The show is curated by artist Katherine Gressel and Derek Denckla of TheGreenest Blog, and though the venue is not quite as chic as its Chelsea competitors, there is some very interesting work up on display. Selected images from the exhibition are below.

Thank you to the organizers for putting on a great event. We look forward to more in the future.

Check out our previous article: Brooklyn Grange Pushes Successful First Season

Trailer Park Print by Kim Holleman is a photograph of an old trailer home that the artist converted to an actual park, complete with brick planters, plants, and even a waterfall.

Work AC's exhibit includes video, books, and pamphlets about their projects that involve urban agriculture, such as Public Farm 1.

Christina Kelly's Brooklyn Maize Field Map traces historic American Indian maize fields that existed on land that is now Brooklyn in the 17th century.

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