Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Community, Bicycles, and Fresh Food with Free Cycles by Claire Compton

In the first week of January I went out to lunch with one of my oldest friends.  We shared stories of important events gone by and made predictions for the year to come.  When the conversation quieted, she asked me, “If you were to sum up everything that you want for this year in one word, what would that word be?”  I panicked.  I had no idea what to say.  I laughed and gnawed on my salad when all at once, the answer barreled into me.


This semester, my internship has been working with Free Cycles to build community.  Over the winter, I came up with this hair-brained idea that I couldn’t shake: what would happen if we started planting vegetable gardens in shopping carts?  Could that address our dependence on packaged grocery-store food?  I met with Bob Giordano, Free Cycles’ director, and we started bouncing ideas off each other.  It didn’t take long for this hair-brained scheme to begin to take shape. 

Since the semester began, I’ve been working with Free Cycles on a project aiming to bridge the gap between people and our food sources both physically and metaphorically. 

In today’s cities food is obtained by driving to the grocery store, grabbing a shopping cart, and loading it up.  Whether your food choices are local or imported, organic or conventional, the act is the same.  My goal was to take a symbol of this disconnect, the shopping cart, and transform it into a bicycle trailer mobile garden to bring fresh food to those most in need. 
In order to do this, I had to get well-acquainted with bicycles and bike trailers.  I found myself ogling the hitches of every trailer I passed in my daily life.  It took a lot of trouble-shooting and problem-solving, but Bob and I managed to make two shopping cart trailers out of entirely recycled materials, mainly bike parts.  This meant I had to learn every part of a bicycle in order to find the exact part to fit a specific need.
While I was still working out the kinks, I began looking to the future.  I really wanted to get community involvement, but building the cart was so complicated that it was hard to imagine getting volunteers to come help.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to host an event to plant the gardens.  When I told Bob about this, he suggested that I tag along with an event that was already planned: fixing up bicycles for the Boys and Girls Club at Council Groves Apartments.  So I contacted the manager in hopes that she would be interested in hosting me so I could teach the kids about gardening.
I had never organized anything like this before.  Everything had to be timed perfectly.  First, I went to the Library and checked out some vegetable seeds (if you have never used this resource, I highly recommend it!  Go to to check it out).  I borrowed seed starting supplies from a friend and hoped that the seeds would germinate in time for the event, but not so soon that they would out-grow their four-packs.  In the meantime, I finished up the construction of the trailers and attempted to work out any kinks.  I mixed up a special light-weight soil blend that would allow for easier toting.  I did a few practice runs before the big day to make sure that everything would go smoothly.
The event was perfect.  All of my hard work paid off.  The kids were so excited, they raced each other, pulling the trailers behind them.  They all gathered quietly and respectfully in order to get their hands dirty and plant some vegetables.  It was wonderful to experience the joy that gardening can bring to kids.

During fall semester, the Wilderness and Civilization program got me thinking a lot about the problems that we face as we lose our connection to the land.  Some moments, I got overwhelmed worrying about the future of the interface between civilization and the natural world.  This internship has helped me to understand the many ways in which a person can foster care for the land.  While mobile gardens don’t solve the world’s problems, they encourage people to get dirty under their fingernails.  They have the potential to help feed communities and plant the seeds of sustainable agriculture even on the smallest scale.  I can’t wait until, a few weeks down the line, I bring the gardens back to the Boys and Girls Club and show them the magic of fresh food.

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