By: Nilsa Garcia-Rey
I first started gardening with my grandmother in the Bronx where she lived with my grandfather in Kingsbridge Terrace. They lived in a fine old apartment house made of fieldstone that faced the Hudson River. The building may have once been a grand stone mansion, because it also had a nice sized backyard shaded by tall trees where my grandmother had several small garden beds mostly with herbs. She also kept box turtles there that she would bring back from visiting us in “the country.”
Our family had moved from Queens to Croton-on-Hudson where we lived in a newly built house on an acre of land, 4 miles from the village in a woodsy setting on Mt. Airy. Croton was famous for its Dam, the second largest “handmade” structure in the world after the Pyramids of Egypt according to local lore, built by Italian masons in the early 20th century, that held the water supply for New York City in a large reservoir behind it. Croton was also a railroad hub, a major stop on the Penn Central Line, and my father joined the legion of mostly men that commuted to the city every day. On weekends my grandparents would visit us and sometimes we would visit them. I loved visiting them in the big city, a concrete neighorhood with a large public playground and lots of kids. Their neighborhood was in a hilly section of the Bronx and we had to climb long cement stairs to go anywhere. It was such a different world from our quiet life upstate.
My grandmother’s garden seemed haphazard to me and semi-wild, unlike the landscaped yard my parents were carving out of their hillside in Croton, butressed by retaining stone walls my father helped build on the weekends, and lots of evergreen shrubs as was the style in the 50’s. My parents weren’t interested in growing vegetables, that was the domain of first generation immigrants, but they allowed my grandparents to have a small kitchen garden in our backyard, where they grew tomatoes and peppers. Abuela didn’t have many tools, a shovel, maybe a hoe. Her hand tools were all old kitchen utensils, a large spoon and a dull carving knife. I loved helping her dig in the dirt with a spoon that I could easily hold in my small hand. I learned to plant seeds, mostly cilantro and basil and all kinds of beans. I now find it ironic that I first learned about gardening in New York City, even though I lived in a rural setting an hour away. It wasn’t until I left home that I had my first garden, during the “back to the land” years, and I never stopped gardening, whether in a backyard in Cambridge, or a rooftop in the South End of Boston or a plot in a community garden.
I now find myself on this unique and wonderful farm in South Dartmouth where I am growing herbs and flowers, mostly for medicine but also for the many pollinators that are so important to our local eco-system. I came to Round the Bend Farm as a volunteer helping Ashley grow produce, and I fell in love with the land and what they were all doing there. All of our activites are interrelated, all organic waste is composted or fed to the animals.There is great attention paid to what grows wild and naturally and we try to follow the principles of permaculture using no-till methods when possible. As the season finally begins I am excited to be planting new beds of plants I have just learned about. I will experiment and find out what grows and what doesn’t. I will discover which perennials will thrive and come back next year. I wil dig up burdock and dandelion roots to make aromatic decocotions. I will forage for St. Johns Wort in the woods behind the tiny houses. I look forward to sore muscles, a good tan and dirty fingernails. And I still have my grandmother’s spoon.
Check out the article by Laura Killingbeck about Nilsa Garcia-Rey and her amazing herb garden at Round the Bend Farm. This article was originally published in the North America Permaculture Magazine
Collaborative & Regenerative Land Management with Livestock Co- Contributors Lauren Miller-Donnelly of Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary and Geoff Kinder of Round the Bend Farm and Paradox Acres
At Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, a patchwork of invaluable wildlife habitat stretches across the landscape. A primary goal at this Mass Audubon property is the management of grasslands for native wildlife, particularly birds. Grassland bird populations rely on this habitat which has decreased in recent decades, now accounting for a fraction of our national and local landscape. Once maintained through periodic disturbance by native herbivores, fire and early agricultural techniques, modern agriculture and sub/urban development are major contributors to grassland habitat loss today. Land conservation groups such as Mass Audubon now work to create and maintain these critical habitats. Through cross-sector collaboration and creative land-management strategies, the partnership of Mass Audubon and Round the Bend Farm represents a successful initiative to achieve these ends on the South Coast.
Traditional agricultural management created a mosaic landscape favored by the many species of grassland birds, where they could forage, hide, nest, and rear their young. Modern agricultural management now relies on machines, which create large swaths of homogenous landscapes. These landscapes lack structural and plant diversity, depriving birds of quality hiding places, foraging grounds, and nesting areas. Mechanical management itself can also be dangerous to bird populations, destroying eggs and fledglings when incorrectly timed.
Over the last 8 years, in collaboration with Round the Bend Farm, Mass Audubon has practiced more nuanced and place-based management: rotational grazing combined with timely hay harvest. Together, staff ecologists and farmers plan seasonal grazing and haying patterns that will be most conducive to conservation goals, mainly bird nesting and fledging. This solution is unique and quite beneficial to wildlife and the environment.
During the spring and fall, when cold-season grass growth peaks, cattle cycle through designated parcels of land. Rotational grazing encourages the development of a structurally diverse, natural landscape dotted with pathways and mounds, tufts of fibrous grasses and open spaces. This terrain would be unfeasible to duplicate mechanically, and is perfectly suited to grassland bird species like the Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Savannah Sparrow.
By grazing fresh vegetation and creating patches of openings, animals prepare the land for the summer arrival of grassland birds. Around the first of June, as grazing animals are moved off pasture, warm season grasses become active and native birds begin nest incubation. In this season, bird populations at the sanctuary have the protection they need to reproduce. Ecologists monitor the timing of the birds until their young have fledged in the fall, and decide when the land may again be grazed and/or hayed.
By stewarding the land through systems that mimic nature, the Allens Pond grasslands are gradually more suitable for native wildlife. Moreover, the benefits of rotational grazing extend beyond the natural environment. Regenerative interactions between grazing herbivores and the land promotes functional diversity within this ecosystem, molding a landscape that is attractive to visitors and wildlife alike.
Mass Audubon’s commitment to climate change action is supported by reducing the reliance on fossil-fueled machinery to manage the fields and transport both hay and meat. The production of locally raised beef that consume grass on-site in a system where carbon is rapidly recycled cuts down on excess methane release. The collaboration between farmer and wildlife sanctuary reduces the need for additional staff and machinery. Eventually, grazing animals become available as high-value, local, grass-fed meats, reducing waste by the end consumer, enhancing the local food shed, fostering community health, and supporting sustainable farming livelihoods
This collaboration between Mass Audubon and Round the Bend Farm signals a cultural shift. It heralds a new chapter in land stewardship, where ecology and agriculture are integrated. At the Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, farmers and ecologists are devoted partners in the aim to protect wildlife and conserve the land. We see here, and hope to see increasingly elsewhere, that diverse stakeholders can sit at the table together and find solutions only possible through synergy: solutions that value a vital local ecology and thriving food system, while embracing the far-reaching opportunities of collaboration.
(photo credit Desa Van Laarhoven of Round the Bend Farm)
Round the Bend Farm (RTB), a Center for Restorative Community, located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts is a working farm and educational non-profit. We are a living laboratory that cultivates, educates, and empowers people of all ages. We are devoted to the global paradigm shift toward hope and abundance by valuing diversity, modeling nature, and redefining wealth.
92 Allens Neck Road, South Dartmouth, MA 02748