Saturday, August 4, 2012

News from the garden

1. Thanks for all the garden support! It's been a hot dry season, but the garden continues to grow and we've enjoyed lots of visitors who share our fresh, locally grown and healthy produce. Cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and peppers continue to produce, with another bean planting now taking off too. I'm getting ready for fall planting so let me know if there's anything you'd like to see added, maybe we can. Please stop by anytime and enjoy -- we were happy to meet new neighbors John and Jenny on Madison Street recently, and we're always happy to see you all.

2. I'm now working for the Neighborhood Resources Corp. along with some freelance writing work and other community projects. Check out the NRC on Facebook at and please "like" and share the new page with your friends. There's lots of info about the South Bend community, things to do, NRC neighborhood programs and ways to get involved.

3. The Tapas and Tango fundraiser is one of those upcoming events.  The NRC event will be held Saturday, September 15 at the LangLab in South Bend. For more information or to buy tickets, go to the website at There's also a link from the garden website. Proceeds benefit the NRC and its programs to support and develop South Bend neighborhoods, like a garden project or youth programs. NRC also offers a free Neighborhood Leadership Academy training program, so check that out. The deadline for applications for the leadership training is August 10.

4. National Neighbors Night Out is Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. in Howard Park. Please come out and support South Bend neighbors and communities!

5. Unity Gardens is planning a 5K run in September, watch for more details in coming weeks.

6. And I'm sure I'm forgetting something so feel free to tell me what it is, or let me know about your own good things going on. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mother duck and ducklings in your yard?

Hey neighbors! Keep an eye out for a mother duck and seven ducklings last seen on McKinley near Walsh. The duck family was first spotted Tuesday night near Walsh and Colfax. A passing SBPD officer stopped traffic so the ducks could cross LaSalle, but then we lost track of them near Grace Bible Church. We think maybe they might be looking for water. We've seen ducks in recent months, but I haven't seen a whole family of young ones before this.

Other quick news of note:

1) The Neighborhood Resources Corp. has a new Facebook page. Please check it out, hit like and share with your friends, neighbors and colleagues! It really helps to build a presence, and to increase access and awareness of South Bend's communities. Here's the link:

To learn more about the NRC, check the website too at

2) Unity Gardens is holding a luau fundraiser this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please come help support the garden program -- more information here:

3) Graci Watkins did a great job in Sunday's South Bend Tribune about the garden mural. If you see her, be sure to congratulate her and thank her. The story is still online at:,0,2472942.story

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Community preparedness and resilience

Resilience. I love words, and resilience is a word that has texture and dimensions for me. You can almost see resilience and hold it in your hand. 

Resilience is flexible, and bends with the wind. Resilience is creative and resourceful, as it tries new things and laughs out loud at its failures. Resilience accepts reality without deflecting or sugar-coating it, but then asks itself what that means and what choices it needs to make. Resilience is curious enough to try puzzles and identify problems, and courageous enough to solve them. Resilience keeps its own counsel, but wisely benefits from others.

Resilience charts its course but then has the independence and -- perhaps most important -- the skills and knowledge to act on it. Most of us think of resilience as a quality that emerges during a disaster or a crisis, but I always think that resilience is just as critical to embracing opportunity, hope, positive change and other "good stuff" we might want to explore outside of a comfort zone. You need resilience just as much to welcome a new child into your family, take a class, try a sport, plan a dream vacation or make a new friend.

And if words had the power to be best friends, resilience would be mine.

Resilience may, of course, mean something different to you. It does to lots of people. In psychology circles, it refers to one's ability to cope with stress and adversity. In economic talk, resilience is the ability to survive and thrive in the buffeting winds of global financial uncertainty. Security professionals speak of resilience in the face of terror attack or cyber disruption, urban planners speak of resilience when talking about infrastructure and services, and resilience is a key word in disaster planning and emergency preparedness.

I was recently talking with someone about community emergency preparedness training, and how it can offer that kind of resilience and confidence to our friends, families and neighbors. It seemed like no sooner did I have this conversation than the heat wave, severe storms and power outages sweeping our own homes and the nation reminded me that thinking ahead, having a plan and knowing what to do can make such a difference.

So after walking down to the garden and making sure none of the tomato cages had launched airborne into Madison Street on Friday – they didn't -- I started looking for helpful information and tips. I didn't have to look farther than the June water bill insert on my own desk. South Bend sent a list of plan items recommended by FEMA in it, and also posted it online at South Bend newsletter.

I worked for 10 years as an East Coast paramedic before I became a journalist and moved to South Bend, and community preparedness was my great research and practice love. It still is. I know this stuff. But as I went down the checklist I realized that I was still missing a few things. Meant to, but never did replace the gallons of water I had that passed an expiration date awhile back. Don't have a whistle. Oops, definitely need flashlight batteries.

With my NOAA weather radio alarm going off again on Sunday afternoon, I wished I hadn't procrastinated about whatever is still stocked in the first-aid kit. Now I won't be putting it off any longer. Actually, the NOAA radio is itself a resource, but there's other great information resources, at and Red Cross.

There's also the scanners at, a site that allows you to listen to any online scanner, anywhere in the country, and what public safety professionals are learning there: It's hot, but the pools are closed because there's no power for the pumps. There's no gas for miles and miles on I-79. We're still giving out water over here, but we've run out of ice over there.

Then there's Twitter and other social media, to help learn things you might not have thought of. Solar batteries, for example. Someone currently in the dark on the East Coast pointed out that if you have solar patio or sidewalk lights, the solar batteries recharge in the sun. Voila.

Now that's resilience. I suspect this Eureka! moment occurred when the entire neighborhood was pitch-black, and so was most of the state, except for the solar lights over at the Neighbor Jones house. I was certainly impressed. But the most resilient thing of all is to know that it is the Jones house. Better still, that we all know the Joneses.

Our Madison Square Garden is itself a reflection or expression of community resilience, and similar greenspace and urban garden strategies are now being used by planners in countless American cities. Any Web search will turn up new land use ideas used in Portland, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indy or here.

But the single most resilient thing about our community garden is the community part. It's knowing the Joneses, and that they are older folks -- so when it's this hot, someone should already know them and check on them. Or that Jones just went grocery shopping on Friday and he's about to lose his food with the power still out? Make some space in your own powered-up fridge or freezer.

Or, as was the case for me two years ago when the tornado sirens went off: When a neighbor tells you she doesn't have a basement and she doesn't know where she can be safer, tell her she can come to yours.

They're simple things and most of us do them already. Communities always come together for these reasons, but being resilient starts way before the tree limbs are down on the garage roof. If you'd be interested in formally taking a Community Emergency Response Team training class? I'd love to hear from you. I've wished that we had a neighborhood team here for several years now, and it'd be easy enough for us to do if there's interest in learning more.

Around the nation, it's been gaining traction. In May, a Memphis program won the national 2012 Best Neighborhood Program award from Neighborhoods USA for training its citizens on five basic things to do, focusing on the first 72 hours of a wider-scale emergency.

The program partnered with more than 200 Memphis neighborhood associations to do just that, and you can read more about it in the Memphis newspaper.

I love this program. I also said I love the word resilience, and I do. Want to find out how prepared and resilient you are? Click on the quiz links for emergency preparedness education. There are three different ones, including the one that's focused on pets and animals, but I kind of like the Baltimore County one myself.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Time for zucchini recipes and tomatillos

Hey gardeners and neighbors! Despite the dry weather, our Madison Street garden has been very productive. On Sunday morning, I noticed the first few tomatillos growing on the vine. 

The tomatillo is an interesting vegetable, used a lot in Mexican cooking and green sauces. But it's not really a green tomato, even though the plants look much like tomato vines. The fruit is green, or one of a few colors, but it grows inside a small sac that feels like paper or parchment almost.

The tomatillos share a raised bed with hot peppers and cilantro, for anyone thinking of salsa when they're ready -- some are chili peppers, some hot Thai.

There's also young eggplant and okra plants in that bed. The eggplant has begun to flower, the okra will be later though. And it'll be hard to miss, because okra plants have such pretty flowers that you'd almost want to grow them for their beauty instead of their fruit. Be sure to check them out when you visit.

Fair warning: It's already zucchini season, so lock your doors. Billy, Ernestine, E.J. and Anne are among those who've been picking and planning to use some squash, though a few other varieties won't be ready until later in the season. E.J. has talked about mixing his with carrots, and Graci talked about making zucchini bread. I've made a decent veggie lasagne that uses lots of zucchini -- but if you have a unique zucchini recipe, please send it to me! 

We're also looking for different ways you fix your collards or mixed greens, and I look forward to sharing those recipes. 

Kale and spinach have been surviving the heat, and there's still a few peas. We've replaced some of the green pea rows with black-eyed peas -- they're a lot happier in the hot weather -- and we hope they'll be ready in late August or early September, when we will switch back to the fall crops.

A few cabbage heads are still available too, as the spring cool weather crops give way to the green peppers, tomatoes and lots of beans. We've already planted green and purple beans, and they're both starting to flower. We added a few new bean rows on Saturday after we removed more of the pea vines too. I saved all of the brown, dried-up pods, soaked them and made a pot of pea soup Sunday. There's still plenty of green pea vine producing though.

We also let some of the radish go to seed and as Valjean helped to weed that bed, we saved the pods. They are edible and have a milder radishy taste that you may like to try in salads or stir fry, especially if radishes are a little too strong for your tastes. There's a few pods still on the picnic table. 

Finally, thanks to Gavin, who has been making friends with some of the younger children and teaching them a little bit of gardening, too. Gavin wants to encourage math skills -- it's among his own strong suits in grad school -- and he's been talking about ways maybe to teach simple math skills based on gardening problems. We try to never miss a teaching moment when kids are at the garden, but we'd love more ideas on how to add value to the children's gardening time so let us know about them. 

Gavin's caught two of those pesky groundhogs as well, so be sure to thank him when you see him. And for his efforts? Gavin has a new catnip plant to go with his adorable new green-eyed kitten.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tour de Unity and Locavesting

If you're out walking, you may notice bright green route-marker arrows on the pavement. The Tour de Unity fundraising bike ride was Sunday, and featured a visit to the Madison Square Garden site. 

We did the whole 25 miles, visiting the Unity Gardens around town, hearing the stories of neighborhoods and communities growing together. 

Plus, we checked out the new mural on Dave's garage wall. It was painted just in time to greet our Unity bicycle guests to the neighborhood, and we decided a few weeks ago that an urban garden theme on that old barn of his would be a lot better than one of those Chew Mail Pouch fading paint jobs. Thanks Graci Watkins for help with some true artistic talent and beauty!

Tour de Unity riders aren't the only ones to make recent visits to the Madison site. New friend Ira recently stopped by to donate seeds, and Jennifer helped take more of the bountiful peas off our hands on Friday.

We've harvested more cabbage and collard greens, and there's likely a few raspberries. Zucchini is coming on strong -- some almost ready this week -- and many small green tomatoes and peppers have formed well. The heat has been hard on all gardeners, but we saw some much-needed rain.

Other recent guests to the garden included Fred Ferlic, the 4th District councilman interested in how South Bend residents, as ordinary citizens caring about the city's future, can help rebuild and beautify our neighborhoods. About 30 stakeholders and constituents toured the garden and the immediate area, and then met back at the Robinson Community Learning Center to discuss ways that Neighborhood Watch, Code Enforcement, Unity Gardens, private investors and other partners can help local communities do that. There's an ongoing conversation on strategies to improve safety and quality of life. Thanks Gary King for the photos!

I recently read "Locavesting" by Amy Cortese. While many of us are familiar with supporting "go local" movements, like local food or shopping, Cortese takes that local ethos, that local focus on creating vibrancy and resiliency, and extends it into local philanthropy and, mostly, local investing. It's a pretty quick read with some interesting ideas on a "local view" that began to captivate me a few years ago: how to put your money into where you and your neighbors live. And as many of us have come to understand urban gardens, local food co-ops and groups like Sholo, it's a natural extension of "local."

Comfortably sophisticated but really accessible in its writing style, Cortese's book takes a look at how to invest in local businesses and opportunities, drawing from models in other American cities where revitalization is being accomplished by ordinary citizens networking, pooling resources and seeking creative solutions to their economic roadblocks and dislocations. They're bypassing venture capitalists and creating their own adventures. And they are, as I sometimes put it, opting more and more out of Wall Street and choosing to "occupy" Walsh Street -- in quiet, modest, constructive ways at home.

South Bend has plenty of us. For example, check out what Beth Harsch is doing online at this link:, where you can find lots of service opportunities, grassroots ideas and events. I've met Beth, and she made me laugh out loud when she introduced herself as "just a person." 

There's some wonderful stuff getting done by a lot of just-a-persons around town, including the entire Unity Gardens network, the impact the gardens have on neighborhoods and community health, and the endless innovation set into a sense of place they spark as people, disciplines and interests connect.

So I'd love to hear some of your own just-a-person stories, even if you don't want to use your name publicly. 

Tell me what you, or someone you know, does quietly -- OK, quietly except for Felicia and Herschel and his Madison Street drumming, since we all know that's the best kind of not quiet. ... But I'll bet there's other just-us-persons like me who want to know about it and I'd love to put them on the website.

Which reminds me -- we did have some names come up recently, and congratulations to new Northeast Neighborhood Council members, Gary (LaSalle) and both Tim and Rob (Madison)!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rose campion, that's what we think

OK, we think this flower is the lovely rose campion. It grew wild in my yard for years, clinging to tree roots in its forlorn neglect and surviving on dry dust, mostly.

Which, apparently, it actually likes more than good soil.

Finally showed it some love, and moved some to the north perennial border and the southwest corner at Madison Square Garden. But still couldn't identify it, since I'm not that good with flowers yet. People said the leaves look like lamb's ear, but I think it's the rose campion.  If so, I'm pleased to see it blooming here.

It's considered an old-fashioned classic, referred to and sold as heirloom. Though not native, the flower came to America in colonial days and Thomas Jefferson wrote that it grew at his boyhood home, Shadwell. Grown since the 1300s, the Latin genus name means "lamp" because the ancients used the campion leaves for wicks.

It's pretty romantic, but I don't know who planted it here. The former owners of my home have been kind enough to share its garden history -- who planted the strawberries, how long the river birch tree has been here. But no one knows for sure, so if you're knowledgeable? Stop by Madison Street and tell us what you think. If you're not, that's fine too.

There's plenty of other reasons to stop by the garden. We're picking peas on Monday, and some radishes. Thanks to Graci for all the weeding help she did Saturday on the green peppers, tomatoes and cucumber. All of the plants are taking off and also include: beans, spinach, kale, mustard and collard greens, corn, okra, tomatillos and hot peppers, several squashes, potatoes, onions and garlic. Please come take some garlic! We're trying to get it out of the bed now. It's the tall stalk with the globe at the top.

Other veggies and fruits include strawberries, raspberries and Lisa's new blackberry starters. The carrots. And there's broccoli, cabbage and a mystery brassica family plant we think is cauliflower growing from last year. I know it wasn't started this year, so ...

If you have any ideas about what to grow, let me know. We've doubled the tomatoes this year, and planted another little patch of cucumbers.

Other notes:
  • Welcome new friends: Jason, Ernestine, Tasha, Juanita and Diego among them.
  • Indiana tax credits for Unity Garden donors. Unity participates in the state Neighborhood Assistance Program. If you're not familiar, NAP credits work almost like a matching grant that benefits the donor. Any resident or business can take a 50 percent tax credit on minimum donations of $100. These credits are designed to encourage giving to local nonprofits, keeping the benefits in Indiana. Unity has "sold" more than 90 percent of their FY 2011-2012 credits, but still has a few days to go before the reporting deadline so now's the time! Check the link to Unity for donation info, or call executive director Sara Stewart at (574) 315-4361. Go online here for NAP credit info.
  • Tour de Unity is June 17, and my favorite bicycle ride around town. There's also a link to the right for more information about this family-friendly fundraising event. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rain barrels, radishes and ... tropical birds?

Madison Square Garden has its new rain barrel!

The 2nd Annual Rain Barrel Auction in early May benefits the IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future and the art museum in South Bend, along with the local artists who design and paint the rain barrels.

This year, five barrels were donated to Unity Gardens and our neighborhood was fortunate to get one.

Area school children designed these barrels, some of which were on display at the County-City Building before moving to their homes around town.

Big thanks to neighbor Dave Wright on Madison Street, who agreed to install the barrel right next to the garden. So look for a few brightly colored fish swimming along near the cucumber and potato patches.

Collard greens, mustard greens and radishes are being harvested in the garden. The peas are in flower but not ready yet, and strawberries are just behind them. Corn is just now poking up too, along with beans and okra. I'll get a complete list of what's growing and when up on the site as soon as I have the chance to write one.

Special thanks to Lisa, who brought marigolds on Mother's Day to brighten up the garden, and of course to all the new neighbors we've met lately. Thanks Gavin and Pam for supporting the annual Unity plant sale!

By the way, Jacob the missing macaw did find his way safely home. But it was kind of fun having the escaped tropical bird visit Madison Street, and talking with all of you as we watched him in Maxine's tree.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A green roof doghouse to go with the rain barrel

How cute is this? I was checking out some "green roof" doghouses and decided that Madison Square Garden clearly needs one to go with our new rain barrel. Maybe we'll paint them to match after we get the barrel installed and have a mini toolshed on site too.

Let me know if you know of a doghouse to repurpose like this!

There's always creativity in the various gardens, and Mayor Buttigieg will be among those on hand Saturday at the main LaSalle Square garden for its season opening, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The garden at 3701 Prast Blvd. is just under 10 acres, and LaSalle Square is the flagship garden for the Unity network that includes Madison Street and about 50-60 other gardens. Some big, some small, all committed to building community and community health.

The main garden site will show off its new native planting area, planned beehive section and family garden plots. Plenty of free kids activities and light refreshments.

If you're coming, think about making a donation to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. A collection truck for cans and other nonperishable items will be on site, in partnership with the National Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Day. If you've never seen the LaSalle garden, out near Honeywell? It's really pretty amazing.

Another way to help Unity Gardens grow? Take advantage of a 50 percent Indiana state tax credit by making a monetary donation. Unity participates in the state's Neighborhood Assistance Program, which permits any Indiana taxpayer (resident or business) to take that 50 percent credit on their state tax filings.

The credit is still available through May 31 on any monetary or in-kind donation of $100 or more. To donate online, go to the Unity Gardens Inc. Donations Page on the main site.

To learn more about the program, go to the Indiana NAP page for information.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Yes, it's true that finding time for weeding the garden is easier than getting new posts up on the Web! We promise to try and do better ... as soon as we're done weeding the peas ...

The 2012 garden season has brought renewed energy to Madison Street. We've added three raised beds to the tilled plots, and now have about 1600 square feet of vegetable gardening space.

We've also added perennial landscaping at the Madison and McKinley corners along Walsh Street, using all repurposed materials and by dividing a lot of plants from home. Seriously, any day lily committed to growing between the cracks in the patio stones deserves a better life! Much but not all of the landscaping has been done with native plants, so watch for more black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, coreopsis and other pretty stuff.

The beans, cucumber and zucchini were started from seed and still mostly too small to plant yet, but with the warm temperatures we've got a head start on tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, among other things already in.

Thanks to Dave and Steve, who helped with getting the organic compost into the garden this week. Uphill, in the rain, both ways ...

Unity plant sale is this weekend at Junk Evolution, 528 E. Colfax Avenue in the East Bank Village area.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A green thumb? What happened?

Here's an update on Madison Square Garden, the Unity Garden at Madison and Walsh streets:

Martin's Super Markets donated some flowers and vegetable plants, and we planted both over the weekend.

There's two new honeydew melon plants, to add to our expanding fruit selection: strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe and watermelon are all planted and growing too. One neighbor to the north said they'd try to get us some grapevines, so I'm thinking about where we'll put them.

And when I explained to one of the kids that if we planted an apple tree this fall, it would take a few years before we'd have any apples she said: "Well, then you better hurry up ... ."

Six of the eggplant were put in, thanks to help from the same Madison Street kids. They're in a section where we added more tomatoes and a few peppers too. Last weekend, the children planted pumpkin seeds near one of the corn plots, and we're waiting to see how they're going to do.

As for the corn, neighbor Linda said she can't believe how tall it's getting. She helps to lead the small Grace Bible church on the block in McKinley and said her members are helping to keep an eye on the garden, too.

It's great to see how the garden builds community: Neighbors stop by, cops and firefighters and bus drivers wave, people on bikes say hello. Steve came by Saturday and said he's sorry he doesn't have time to garden with us, but he promised to bring us his grass clippings. Perfect!

Valjean helped me to weed beans and potatoes on Saturday, and we harvested mustard greens and collard greens.

The first official tomato has been picked too. OK, not the first -- there were two others -- but it was the first that the children helped me to find and then took home with them.

I told one of the kids that Valjean sure has a green thumb, and the girl's eyes got big and she said: "Really? What HAPPENED?"

So we had to explain what that means ... It was one of the best things I've heard in a long time ...

Elsewhere in the garden are zucchini and acorn squash plants that have really taken off, and a plot of cucumber hills. I've seen fuzzy baby cucumbers growing, and it looks like there will be zucchini before long too. The marigolds seem to be keeping the rabbits away. So far. We'll see.

Okra was an afterthought, but we put in a row and they're coming up nicely. They're in the same place you'll find spinach, carrots and radish rows. And I'm told now that some of the onions were really garlic plants. So I guess we'll just find out, because I forget which came from where ...

With the flower donations, we were able to clean up a little on the southwest corner at McKinley, plant a small border and create a container planting for the newly painted picnic table.

And with more rain forecast (!) it looks like Monday will water itself again.

Regular volunteer times are 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 4 to 7 p.m. if you'd like to come by.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tour de Unity on Saturday

Madison Square Garden, the new Unity Garden at 1230 E. Madison St., will be one of the Tour de Unity bike tour stops on June 11, this coming Saturday.

It's a great chance to come out, meet neighbors -- and see the garden as it continues to grow! Stop by and bring a friend too.

Saturday volunteer hours are normally from 9 a.m. to noon, with the riders -- so far, there's about 30 of them -- expected at about 11:30 a.m.

Information about the bike tour is at, along with a map and other information for Near East neighbors that's already linked there.

Laureen Fagan
215 Walsh St.
(574) 289-3693

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day weekend

Busy weekend for Madison Square Garden. When I left for work at 6:30 a.m. Monday, Muhammad was in the garden hard at work.

Planted the mustard greens and carrots, along with some coneflowers and landscaping on the corner. Hoping the little pumpkins will take, along with the sunflowers near the tree stump.

Started the compost pile and cut the grass. Steve dropped off some landscaping timbers, and Mitch dropped off the picnic table so there's a nice spot to sit in the shade.

Which might be nice with the near-record heat for Memorial Day. Hoping to get more flowers planted, and maybe the raspberries when evening arrives.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Madison Square Garden is now open.

What began as imagination almost two years ago is now the new Unity Garden, at the corner of Madison and Walsh streets on South Bend's near east side.

So far, we've planted the tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and corn.

I forgot -- and the beans, and some onions.

But there's plenty more planting to do, especially with all the rain this spring.

Volunteer times are 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 4 to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

If you just want to visit, stop by and check it out.