It was just about fifteen months ago that we closed on the derelict property on Muriel Street that was to be renovated and turned into a neighborhood center for promoting sustainable living models.
With this short article, we’d like to update you on what the last year has brought us at Fallen Tree, the name we have given to our center in honor of the redbud tree in the front yard, which coppiced after it was knocked over in a storm. Like our society, being knocked over in the storms of climate change, social alienation, and resource depletion, we have the chance to find new roots and ways of moving ahead. This tree is out totem of hope.
In April of this year, after a full renovation of the house under the careful hands of our carpenter Tom Howarth (with heating and plumbing handled by Ron Shipe), we had our first intern move in. Lisa Malloy, a student at Cornell, has been passionate about the project from the start. She helped us furnish the house and get the outdoor space ready for gardens, She reassured us when we were sure we were totally crazy, and helped plan out the larger vision of the center for community, sustainability, mindful living and joy.
In May we welcomed two bee colonies to our yard. The bees came from a regional beekeeper, passionate about organic farming, Dan Fimlaid. We named the two queens: Vendeli (Norwegian for Friendly Traveler), in honor of the new baby of my host in Oslo in the summer of 2015 when I went there to study pollinators in urban settings, and Mirieux, named after an elderly French woman I met in Asia in the spring who was designing a health equity policy for the EU to assist refugees. The bees moved into their fresh, newly painted hives and thrived in spite of the drought. These names and people embody what we want: care and friendliness as we move through the world. The bees are now settled down for the winter. I continue to be mentored by Lesli Sagan, a beekeeper and owner of the wonderful local business Avital’s Apiaries. (Note to wannabee beekeepers: You need a mentor!)
We also set up a large composting area to take care of the debris from the gardens. We cleared dead or dying trees and turned the extra material into brush fences, wood chips for paths, and firewood. In the fall we hired Aaron Axtell from Cascadilla Tree Care to come and do a proper pruning job on all the healthy trees, including a magnificent grand oak, the grandmother of our space. Her children of six young oaks surround her in a healthy circle.
We were also able to renovate an existing chicken coop from the property that had been here since the house was built in 1954. We upgraded it to welcome six hens when the laws in the Town of Ithaca changed to allow up to six hens in medium density residential neighborhoods. We used entirely recycled materials to put in a large window, allowing passive solar for the hens, and recycled door jams to line the interior of the shed. We were happy to have played a part in getting that legislation passed. Cosmo (age 12) and Ari (age 9) Wessell from our neighborhood spoke out at the final town meeting in favor of chicken keeping.
Another neighbor, Dan Boucher, who testified when we got our original variance for hens almost two years ago, has become involved in the project as well. For his workouts, he comes and carries hay, feed, and logs around when we need the help. One always needs a cheerful schlepper!
We prepared the front yard of the property to be a pollinator garden, and received a $300 grant from Sustainable Tompkins for plants and labeling. We were able to get these gardens set up nicely, but had a setback with the drought. By the time the rains came, it was amazing to see how much energy the plants had stored up. Things burst into bloom. We had a lot of milkweed, and a variety of plants beloved by bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. This fall we planted a lot of bulbs so that spring will be a riot of color to delight the neighbors as we show this property waking up from a short period of neglect after the death of its lovely ecologist owner.
By June, we welcomed three WOOFers (Working On an Organic Farm): Erin from Rochester, who has skills in carpentry, helped us set up our woodworking shop, and built many fine gates for the property; Kristy from Australia, who was great at building brush fences, gardening, and caring for chickens; and Yasmin from Turkey, who was not only passionate about the gardens and chickens, but also was a professional videographer and made us many fine educational videos. All three of these women have become like family and we hope to see them come again.
In the summer, neighbors Su George from a few streets over and Kelly Wessell and his family from across the street had community garden plots. We hosted a neighborhood planting party and many people came. In spite of the drought, we had a good supply of tomatoes, turnips, and greens, and many volunteer plants that had been planted by the original owner: ground cherries, wild onions, rhubarb, and other things.
Late summer, we welcomed two wonderful people into our expanding family of Fallen Tree: Danielle McDougall, who did a lot of gardening for us, and Levi Reynolds, a skilled craftsman and carpenter. Levi finished the chicken coop and built a stunning greenhouse for us that will serve both the private residence next door and Fallen Tree gardens. For the winter, our hens are enjoying it, but come spring, we hope it will help us expand our growing season by a month on either end.
In the fall, Lisa came back from a summer doing a Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan, and we also welcomed Katherine Constas, a local intern and recent Cornell grad, as an intern. Katherine works with Healthy Food for All and helped us think harder about food security issues. She and Lisa will be focusing on outreach to the neighborhood in the spring.
On the Chinese New Year, we hosted a Chinese zither concert in the back yard at Fallen Tree under moonlight. Su George invited the Cornell Chinese Students’ Association to come. This inspired us to build a permanent small stage platform for outdoor acoustic (non-amplified) music concerts in the spring under the crabapple tree.
Ari and Cosmo, our neighborhood great kids, have started a project to label the trees and help get more young people involved.
In the fall, we put the gardens to bed, and put up a free pallet fence around the community gardens and divided the area into eight distinct plots which will be available to people living in the cigarette streets in the summer of 2017. We plan to put up for Norwegian brush fences inside the pallet fences, making them more attractive and providing habitat for spiders and solitary pollinators, while blocking out rabbits and groundhogs as well. We want people to see that by using recycled, free materials from the waste stream, we can have beautiful things that are functional and contribute to sustainability and only expend our labor.
In the house, we turned the old garage into a meditation room, and in December, we welcomed Dr. Rev. Masaki Matsubara, a Zen priest from Japan, to Fallen Tree for a meditation retreat. Fourteen people participated and had meditation, silent reflection, meals in silence, and a chance to do some garden work. This happened right before finals and most of our participants were Cornell students. We plan to have Matsubara back several times in the spring and often in the years ahead.
During 2016, we had many wonderful people come into the project. We have learned the true meaning of the old Indian saying that “your neighbor is your first brother.” We look forward to 2017. In February, we will update people on the plans for the future: vermiculture, canning workshops, fermentation of vegetables for krauts and Kim chi, starting seeds, propagating house plants for gifting, mixing herbals teas, growing herbs, international vegetarian potlucks and many more exciting things. If you would like to hear more about what we are doing, feel free to contact Jane Marie Law at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lisa Malloy at email@example.com.