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  • Jennifer Jewell


Ross Gay - Poet & Gardener, Photo by Natasha Komoda |


On her email signature line, the irrepressibly optimistic and enthusiastic Patty Spence has this quote: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” -John Lewis

Growing our own food, re-envisioning our communities, concepts of social justice and land access, as well reclaiming urban land for ecological purposes are all high in our cultural consciousness right now.

This week we hear about an organization bringing all of these concepts together. Patricia Spence is the president and CEO of Boston’s Urban Farming Institute.

I sat on a panel with Patty in March of this year at a symposium on Women and Cultivating Space, hosted by Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, I caught up with Patty more recently to see how life at this time was going for this growing organization. I am really pleased to welcome Patty from her office at the Urban Farming Institute headquarters where you can hear the life of the city going on around her as we speak.

“We don't just grow food, we grow people."

Patty Spence, Urban Farming Institute, Boston

Since 2013 The Urban Farming Institute of Boston has been cultivating and supporting urban farmers and their communities - re-envisioning urban land use and modeling the concept of urban farming while building community.

With a mission to develop and promote urban farming to engage individuals in growing food and building a healthy community, Patty stresses the importance of collaboration and cross pollination with like-minded organizations for the Urban Farming Institute’s work and success.

For more information about UFI or to donate in support of their work, go to

Join us again next week when in this very unusual back-to-school season here in the US, we’re joined by Julie Cerny, whose book "The Little Gardener" provides some unusual and inspirational guidance for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and educators who want to help children explore the natural world through gardening. Part how–to, part teaching tool, and part inspiration, The Little Gardener shows gardeners of all ages how to envision and build their garden together by making the process an adventure to be treasured, with much to learn along the way.






The word incubation is the word I am rolling around today – the various images it brings to mind, the ways in which we use the word and know it. A mother bird (some father’s too) sit on her clutch of eggs to keep them warm, to keep them safe while the develop and grow in their shells. We incubate ideas and our own young, and in the last several years the phrase Farmer Incubator Programs has become more and more common. The concept being to develop and train and support new farmers in our world – as our existing established farmers age out of the work, as fewer children of farmers want to take on the life, and as small farms have been increasingly consolidated into large corporate farm holdings. These incubator programs can be found around the country, and it brings to mind our previous conversations here with Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm in upstate new York, and a later one with Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Farmers – like gardeners – need to be grown in warm, safe, supportive environments.

We of course also incubate disease – another form of incubation on our minds and in our fears for good reason right now. The incubation period refers to the period of time between when we are exposed and when an infection takes hold and expresses itself physiologically in our bodies.

While we often don’t have control over being exposed to germs and the subsequent incubation period – we do know that a healthy immune system and caring our our overall health gives us the best possible chances of successfully staving off disease or not incubating it at all. It’s not 100%, but it improves our chances.

I think about this and then I think about what it takes to incubate a young farm, or farmer, or healthy resilient community and healthier world in general. It takes time, attention, nourishment in the form of land, money, materials, care, and more time, with liberal doses of patience. It occurs to me as I water and do a tiny bit of weeding under the smoky skies of California’s long fire season, which experts widely agree has been exacerbated by decades and decades of fire suppression and hundreds of years of erasure and disconnecting from the traditional ecological knowledge inherent in Indigenous land care and management relationships and it occurs to me that incubating a better body politic is just a fews scales up the life ladder from incubating a healthier body.

And I ask again of myself – what is my garden and what am I as a gardener incubating?

Incubating anything successfully takes knowledge, knowing, skills. In its most specific instances people often refer to such as Institutional Knowledge. But I also think of this as cultural literacy – a term I often use as to where I think gardening should by positioned in our world – it should an integral part of our cultural literacy, like language, or reading, or arts, or science, or kindness. When we think of institutional or cultural knowledge it is what we know (or should know) just by being in a place immersed in and experiencing the culture we swim in.

Each of our individual cultural literacy is comprised of the landscape, the language, the ways, the colors, the sounds, the songs, the lessons layered onto and into our ever-forming selves throughout our lives. It is all that we put into our hearts and minds through what we spend our time doing, and where we direct our attention. And it is never done. We add knowledge to this literacy every day, every week, every year compliments of the experiences, people, activities, and things to which we have paid our attention.

In this world and in our lives where we choose to direct our attention is essentially who we are choosing to be – the sum of all our parts and our parceled out attention.

It is perhaps a literacy, and a currency, worth cultivating more carefully, more consciously, for all of us.

I for one am off to sow and then incubate - in the sense of watering and if needed offering wind and frost protection – my fall carrots, beets, onions, and garlic. What about you?




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