Sunday, August 19, 2007

Holyoke Buildings

From Boston, it took me four hours on a Peter Pan bus, then a local bus to get to downtown Holyoke, MA.Holyoke is an old paper mill town. Like a lot of smaller US cities, the heart has been ripped out of the downtown. Holyoke Mall is located a fair way out of the centre of the city, off the interstate. So people are moving out of the downtown and driving to the mall for everything they need.
Downtown Holyoke is beautiful, but strangely deserted. There are two canals running through the centre of town. Seems like it's only a matter of time till folks catch on to the cheap red brick buildings and Holyoke will be on the road to gentrification.

Nuestras Raices, Holyoke

Nuestras Raices (Our Roots) began as a organisation that managed community gardens in Holyoke. Now it encompasses a range of projects, many of which are based on a 4 acre farm on the Connecticut River in Holyoke. 40% of the population in Holyoke is Puerto Rican, many of whom were born in Puerto Rico, growing up on farms or working on farms in America.

Nuestras Raices has three main aims:
Celebrate Puerto Rican culture
Support local business
Environmental Justice Nuestras Raices runs business courses and leases plots to participants who develop successful business plans. They also manage community garden plots, though the business plots are significantly larger. The businesses operating on the Nuestras Raices farm include food crops, cut flowers, Paso Fino horse stable and a youth run petting zoo.
You will see Casitas like this one in most of the community gardens around town. They were constructed as tool sheds, but resemble Puerto Rican cottages. The gardens and farm provide an opportunity for teenagers and older people to work and learn together. Teens are involved in decision making processes and are paid to work on the farm, among other things running the petting zoo.
There is a lot of Puerto Rican food grown in the Massachusetts climate of Holyoke. I was interested to know if there were issues of land contamination. The paper industry was responsible for much of the industrial waste that polluted the Connecticut River. These days, the river is contaminated by raw sewage which overflows into the river during storms. Holyoke youth are involved in environmental stewardship programs addressing some of these issues.
The Farm Store sells coconut soda. Delicious. I wonder where I can get it in Australia?

Holyoke, MA and the landlocked Marine Reef Aquarium

I went to Holyoke to visit Nuestras Raices, an organisation that grew out of community gardens to be a major supporter and innovator of community development in Holyoke. They strongly support local businesses. When I landed in Holyoke and found their office, I came across Jerry, a passionate, energetic coral farmer. Jerry grows coral in aquarium tanks - 100 miles from the nearest ocean.
Jerry's vision is grand and fantastic. He grows coral from round the world, creating a kind of seed bank should coral reefs need to be replenished. He explained that he cools and warms the water in his tanks to encourage the coral to reproduce by releasing spores. Consequently, his coral is hardier to changes in water temperature than some naturally occurring corals. Jerry is a man that lives for marine environments, having grown up in Puerto Rico, and has found a way to live his passion in a place that seems so far from the ocean.

This is Jerry's nephew who shared fresh tamarind with me.
Jerry's Marine Reef Habitat makes its earnings from supplying aquariums to businesses and fish appreciators. He is also creating a domesticated coral trade so that there is an alternative to harvesting natural coral for souvenirs. Jerry's grand plan, however, is focused on the short and long term preservation of marine habitats.

White Point

We drove to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and stopped in a tiny fishing town called White Point. I got out of the car and walked the way the stick pointed. If there's anything I want to remember about this walk it's the smell. Red clover flowering in the heat. I wish I could blog in smell-0-rama.

Spins and Needles

In Halifax we took Sasha to Spins and Needles, a Craft and DJ event that tours Canada providing DIY crafting and funky beats.
Felt monsters and pixel bead badges were on the menu. I sewed the felt monster while Sasha cut out the nose, mouth and eyes.

The best part was watching all the Halifax hipsters lining up to use the glue gun. And the funky, happy beats made it all so much more fun.

Montreal Community Gardens

I really liked the way the Montreal Community Gardens were set up. This one in Village Tanneries was situated on a bike path, at the end of a local street. There's a community compost bin, which makes sense, as there seemed few backyards in this area. I like their fences too.

Halifax Community Garden

The Halifax Community Garden were running a wild weeds walking tour when we visited. I learnt about how comfrey tea can be an effective treatment for old athletic injuries and quickly went home and applied it.
They've done a lot with a very small space here. This garden gave me a lot of ideas, from the string climbing frames to the milk crate raised beds.

Red Hook City Farm, Brooklyn

The Red Hook Community Farm is situated on an asphalt basketball court in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They supply food to local restaurants, along with a fruit and vegetable store nearby. Like a lot of community farms, they have youth interns over summer. One advantage of the US academic year is the three months of summer. Enough time to really throw yourself into a project and learn stuff.There are huge piles of compost at Red Hook Farm and as I was walking around I wandered if they'd dug any of the asphalt up, or if they were growing food on top of it. As they explained to me, digging up the asphalt was too big a job. They get manure from the Bronx zoo and green waste from the city for free. The only costs to the farm is transporting this material to the site. So they even have fruit trees growing on top of the asphalt. Eventually they may break through, but until then they seem to be doing quite well.As I visited during summer holidays, there were lots of school buses waiting around.
Red Hook is like a big yellow school bus hangout.

Organic Farm - Quebec

Organic farm in Quebec. We visited in strawberry season. Jamie and Nora sell their produce at the Atwater market in Montreal. It's odd to visit a part of the world that has such a long dormant growing period. In Quebec it's because of the snow. In our part of the world it's the opposite. Either too much water, or not enough it seems.

We learned how to cater to feed five guests, family and farm workers, serve kale pesto with spaghetti and green salad. So much green food makes for happy people.

Williamsburg Bridge

New York in June was too hot for sleeping. I took an early morning walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to see the Rosenwach Wooden Water Tank Factory.

Bright colours, strong lines, and the coffeemobiles of Williamsburg.