Heal the World: Community Gardens

When I can get there, I try to join a water exercise class at my local YMCA.

The class, held Tuesday and Thursday mornings, addresses all the muscles and joints associated with aging. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the friendship of the other participants and have attended a few social lunches, always contributing something I make to the table.

The Y grounds have attractive landscaping, including seasonal shrubs and flowers. But it’s the huge community garden that attracted my attention. One day I happened to mention how luscious everything looked and was given a head of lettuce that surpassed any I’ve had from the grocery store or even local farm markets. On our farm, we raised chickens for eggs, and the only gardening I did was at our house, usually growing flowers and a little rhubarb.

Community gardens are particularly special to me as they remind me of the gardens we helped residents create when we worked as VISTA volunteers in Hartford, CT. Several years later, when my husband Marty served as First Selectman in Killingworth, CT, we supported creating a community garden for the residents. The Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” can certainly be applied to community gardens.

Curious about the Y program, I brought along my notebook and pen and asked some questions before a recent swim class. Launched in 2014, the Y’s “Partner to Grow” program provides fresh produce to the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantries. During the first season, they created garden beds, learned how to manage pests using an organic mixture of castor oil and white pepper spray, and how to harvest. The Y delivered more than 2,000 pounds to the food pantry from its 18 garden beds.

The next year, the Y increased its garden to 30 beds and by 2016 it harvested over 3,000 pounds of produce. Volunteers come from the local community groups – businesses, school groups, scout troops, civic organizations and programs that support individuals with disabilities. Additionally, many YMCA members and non-members volunteer, helping with the harvest every Tuesday morning from July to October. In the afternoon, the produce is delivered to the St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church where more than 80 families receive fresh vegetables.

Scott Morris, the head of the program, teaches at a local high school. He said he likes to play Big Band music while the volunteers work the harvest. “They like Glen Miller. They like to dance along while working,” he said. He likes watching how the more experienced gardeners help the younger ones, cultivating the next generation of gardeners.

I was lucky enough to be given some fresh parsley. Tabouli, anyone?

Note to readers: My mother suffered a stroke July 28th following a skin infection that led to a blood clot. She’s working hard at rehab to get back to the activities she loves: knitting, cooking, and writing her blog.


Lunching in the Yurt

In 2002, we branched out from poultry husbandry. We were invited by Winrock International, another arm of Aid to International Development, (AID), to consult with members of the “Sheep Breeding / Marketing Cooperatives in Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia.

Aid to International Development, originally “The Four Point Program”, also known as the “Food for Peace Program”, was intended for the U.S. to share it’s “know-how” and help nations develop with technical assistance, especially in agriculture. It was the “fourth” foreign policy objective presented by President Harry S. Truman, in his inaugural address, January 20,1949.

Between June 12 and June 29, 2002, we met with 64 sheep farmers, including five women at four seminars in Osh, formerly part of the old Silk Route, and the Kadamzhay, Alay, and AlaBucka regions. The sheep breeding cooperatives were growing. My husband, Marty, and his family, were among the farmers who established the Central Connecticut Feed Cooperative in Manchester, Connecticut. During the years that we were participants the Coop produced excellent feed and provided other services to the farmers, enabling the members to maximize their profits.

On one occasion, we were invited to a seminar, with lunch following, held in a “Yurt”, not far from Osh. Yurts, prevalent throughout Central Asia, are large round tents covered in animal skins. This yurt was furnished lavishly with beautiful carpets and cushions. I didn’t see other yurts, tents or buildings on the premises. This yurt could not have been a home to all of the families present, but probably housed the family that managed the site. There were cars and pickup trucks. The children were in jeans, tee shirts, sandals or sneakers. The men wore casual western clothes and some men had, cone- shaped, beautifully embroidered woolen hats, peculiar to Kyrgyzstan. The women, according to tradition, were attired in long skirts, and usually had their heads covered. Horses and sheep wandered freely; the mares were fitted with wooden aprons to prevent them from mating while they were lactating. We didn’t try mare’s milk, but were told that fermented mare’s milk was popular amongst the people of Kyrgyzstan, and was available in the market.

We noticed a tree with a dressed lamb hanging on one of the branches, and were informed that this would be our lunch.

During the seminar we were served hot tea, soft drinks and flat bread. There was a dish with something that looked like crushed pineapple, from where I was sitting. I was told that it was butter   made from mare’s milk. I remembered that was how my grandmother’s butter looked right from the churn, before being pressed into blocks.

After the seminar, Marty and I walked around. The lamb was being cooked in a large kettle of boiling water over an open fire. Some of the women were having their lunch in a shed, under a tarp, and asked me to join them. I excused myself, saying that I would have my lunch with the rest of our party so I could take notes for our report. The children were drinking the mare’s milk, which looked like cow’s milk, from bowls.

The word was out that lunch was ready. Marty and I used the “facilities”, and washed our hands in the creek. Before entering the yurt, one of the hosts handed us a towel to dry our hands; the same towel used by each of the participants.

The people in the area sat with crossed legs on the floor, but we were provided with a table and chairs. Each person was given a plate with a beautifully carved chop, a piece of liver, and a slice of meat from a larger cut, which we would use for roasts or stews. The meat was tender and tasty, but like any plain boiled meat, could have used a little horseradish for some zip. The fresh tomatoes and cucumbers that accompanied the lamb were delicious, and we didn’t peel the vegetables or ask how they were washed. After lunch we were joined by several women and enjoyed a lively party.

We offered the guidelines of the Central Connecticut Cooperative to the members of the sheep growing/marketing cooperatives in hope that these suggestions would help the cooperatives expand aid to their farmers.




Bolivia Revisited with Jack and Jane

We met Jack and Jane Zeigler in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1991, at the Arenal Hotel, where we all were staying. We and the Zeiglers, were working on agricultural projects with VOCA (Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance.) Jack, the head of the Department of Food Science at Penn State University, was conducting a feasibility study on opening up a pork slaughtering plant in Santa Cruz.   Jane, the daughter of farmers, taught school and was assisting Jack. Marty and I consulted with poultry farmers, helping them to improve their skills in poultry husbandry.

We spent most of our free time with the Zeiglers, dining together, touring Santa Cruz and traveling to other areas in Bolivia. On some occasions we accompanied each other to various sites. Abraham, a farmer whom Jack and Marty visited, was extremely pleased with Marty’s suggestions. When Marty mentioned that his father’s name was Abraham, he said that he knew that Marty was sent by G-d.  When we noticed a group of school children playing soccer with a beat up ball, we scoured all of Santa Cruz for a new soccer ball, which delighted the children.

The Zeiglers invited us one weekend to visit a neighboring community, Samaipata, and look up an Austrian sculptress whom they heard about.  We trekked across the hot desert to find her home.  unnamed-2unnamed-4 I purchased a small piece of pottery and they bought a terra cotta figurine of a mythical female character. Since this was an intricate piece, they were worried about getting it home without breaking it. I suggested wrapping the “Lady” in their underwear.

Jack & the sculptress

Jack & the sculptress

When we stopped for coffee in Samaipata, someone brought the proprietor of the restaurant a bag of apples. She suggested that we return in a couple of hours for freshly baked strudel. We accepted her invitation and happily devoured her delicious strudel.  Jane was cautious about eating only foods that were cooked or could be peeled. She’d order bottled water “san hielo”, without ice, and no familiar with the restaurants in  Samaipata, stuck to their own rations of  bananas and granola bars.

One evening we treated ourselves to steak at a prestigious restaurant in Santa Cruz. The salad was mouth watering and Marty proclaimed that he was going to eat that salad even if we didn’t. We all ate the salad. The four of us enjoyed onion soup and banana crepes flambeau, at a French bistro in Santa Cruz.

Jack and Jane were very closely involved with their family, and in the community where they lived, and with their church. They were both extremely gracious hosts, when we visited them at their home in State College, Pennsylvania. Both had excellent culinary skills. Jack surprised us with creative breakfasts and Jane cooked everything else.

We’ve been in close contact, but it had  been quite a while since we were able to get together. When we visited them this January, Jack showed us the changes in State College. He is still involved in Food Science studies at Penn State University. Jack told us that with globalization and with food coming from all over the globe, much of the work that Penn State is doing is in analysis of imported foods.

Now Jane seemed to be almost completely dependent on Jack. She probably didn’t remember us. I so wanted to show her the beautiful hand knit alpaca sweater I wore that that I  had bought when we were all together in Santa Cruz.  unnamed-1

A Day Trip to LaJungus, Bolivia, 1970

In January 1970, my husband Martin was invited to counsel Peruvian and Bolivian farmers in poultry husbandry for the International Executives Service Corp. (IESC). He worked with William Hannan, an English farmer with poultry operations throughout Latin America. Hannan was the regional distributor for Highline Hatcheries and provided extension services in poultry raising for his clients.  Although provisions were made for me to accompany my husband, my children were quite young and it was difficult to have someone stay with them for about two months, the length of the assignment. I was able to join Marty for ten, exciting days.


On one memorable occasion, six of us were scheduled to visit farmers, in LaJungus, the jungle, in the most southernly region of Bolivia. Our group included Hannan, Kevin McCauliffe, a former Peace Corp Volunteer and assistant to Hannan, Dr. Tao, the veterinarian, Carlos, our driver, Marty and me.  We had flown from Lima, Peru, to LaPaz the night before, and began our trip to LaJungus, at daybreak, in an International, double cab pickup truck. LaPaz nests among mountains with the highest elevations in Bolivia, (13,500ft.) and it is common for travelers to get “sirochi” or altitude sickness in that area.  While the hotel provided oxygen to help the guests cope with sirochi, there was none available in the car and we were all affected in some way, with either headache, nausea, or vomiting. As the only woman in the group, I experienced “sirochi” in a way no man could. I got  my period, completely off schedule  and was hemorrhaging, profusely. I had anticipated traveling through areas with extreme climates in the course of one day. When we left LaPaz, it was quite cold, and I wore a black quilted raincoat over white silk pants, and kept the raincoat on for a good part of the day, even when we were in warm areas. I was determined not to let my discomfort and embarrassment prevent me from enjoying the culture and scenery observed.

Herds of llama and alpaca grazed throughout the Andes. We saw trucks carrying crates of bananas from the tropics. The workers, people of all ages and possibly from the same family, sat on top of the crates. On the way back we noticed trucks carrying supplies to the jungle, with the workers, again, perched on top of the cargo. We stopped at a mountain village and saw people squatting close together, chewing on cocoa leaves and drinking cocoa tea. The cocaine in the cocoa numbed the peoples’ senses making them both immune to the cold and to pangs of hunger. I tried the cocoa tea but it didn’t seem to have any effect on me.

The Andes are known for avalanches. Think of any mountain pass and imagine any of these passes with shear drops and no guard rails or warnings. This is what we encountered on our route to LaJungus. We got out of the truck and walked around. My husband who is not phlegmatic by nature, was exceptionally calm; while I was wondering if I would ever see my children again. Out of nowhere, people appeared with shovels, and dug our truck out of the avalanche. Carlos, our driver, took off his coat , climbed into the cab of the truck and announced that we were “Ready for Oction”.  We all climbed into our seats and were on our way to LaJungus.

It was hot in the jungle of LaJungus and I was still wearing my black raincoat. We tried to locate the party who would meet us and learned that he was in Caroica, several miles away. While we were having lunch we met a young Diocenes priest from the U.S., dressed in hiking boots, jeans and a plaid shirt. After hearing about our escapades, he casually remarked “Oh, we lose a few each month over those mountains.”  It was still early in the day and we decided that if we got some rest we could make it to Caroica that afternoon. The five guys and I entered a hotel, and Marty told the desk clerk that the “Senora would like a room.” I wished the floor would open up and swallow me. We did get three rooms though, and Marty and I were able to shower and nap.

Caroica is a town in the mountains, known for coffee production, and the  aroma of the roasting coffee embraced the entire community.  Our hotel was previously a school or a monastery. Again, we were in a climate with cool weather. I was in long pants, shoes and socks and a beautiful handknit alpacca poncho. The women in Caroica, wore Derby hats, full skirts and were barefoot as they carried their babies in blankets on their backs. To this day, when I smell roasting coffee, I’m reminded of Caroica.

From Biochemistry to Chicken Farming & Beyond

Reading Judith Warner’s “Ready to Rejoin the Rat Race,” New York Times Magazine”, August 11, reminded me of my own journey in the world of work, and the stumbling blocks along the way.

When I graduated from Hunter College in 1952 with a biology degree, I was offered several jobs throughout New York City. I accepted a position in Steroid Biochemistry at Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, where I traced radioactive Carbon 14 in extracts of cancerous tissues. I thoroughly enjoyed the job and the work environment.

Yet there were employee relations, not acceptable in the workplace today, that weren’t questioned then.  For example, one morning, as I exited the subway, I heard someone say, “hi, Babe.”  I turned around only to see my boss behind me. We shared a laugh and walked to the laboratory together. I was not offended. He was a wonderful person and always respectful.

It wasn’t in the cards for me to become another Marie Curie. I was a biochemist for less than two years when I met Martin Klein, through a mutual friend at SKI. When we married I didn’t wish to commute from Madison, Connecticut to New York on what was at that time, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railway and left the job. There were opportunities for employment at both Yale and St.Raphael’s hospitals in New Haven, but the pay was considerably less than what I earned in New York. My husband convinced me to work on our poultry farm with him, assuring me that we would enjoy a rich life together.

So I morphed from a research assistant to a chicken farmer. The closest thing I did that resembled laboratory work was vaccinating chickens against diseases, hardly under sanitary clinical conditions. I also helped Marty treat a hen with an abscess. She survived!

It was most exciting when we received a shipment of baby chicks. My children stayed home from school to help unload the chicks and get them settled under gas brooder stoves. Marty and I were rarely apart. We were partners in the business and attended conferences on raising poultry together. We packed, sold, and delivered eggs. I was in charge of all the bookkeeping, finances, taxes and insurance. I purchased merchandise and supplies and hired farm workers. When we expanded the business I introduced a line of gourmet and health foods to our retail operation.

While my two youngest children were still toddlers I worked part -time in a chemistry research lab at Yale University, School of Medicine. This position was short lived because I was unable to find a nanny. Reliable day care was scarce or non-existent.

Years later, when I was in my late forties, I started thinking about expanding my career. My laboratory skills were rusty and I was more interested in improving the delivery of health care than working with test tubes. I explored several graduate programs relating to health care and volunteered to serve on many boards of agencies that worked toward expanding health services for the underserved.  I remember going for an interview with the head of the department of a graduate program, and was asked if I wanted to spend my life as a volunteer, when he read my resume. It was the same story of how does one get experience if nobody will give you the chance.

After I earned a Master’s degree in Health Care Management, I was hired as a senior planner at the regional office of the federal Health Systems Agency. My specialty was Certificate of Need Review; my function was to establish new, much needed services, and also eliminate needless, costly duplication. Unfortunately this position didn’t last. The federal government didn’t consider investing in health planning necessary. Does this sound familiar? The organization was downsized while undergoing restructuring. Since I was the last hired, I was the first fired. Within a few years the Health Systems Agencies were eliminated.

During the early 1980’s we closed our farm and “retired”. Our partnership did not end when we gave up farming. We served in the Peace Corps as a team. Marty and I also provided technical assistance as agricultural volunteers, on assignments with AID, Aid to International Development. We worked with farmers in South America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, West Africa, and the U.S. We were involved in our community, sitting on several boards and active in politics. Both us were elected to public office; I was a member of the Board of Selectmen from 1975-1977 and Marty was elected First Selectman from 2005-2007.

 Of our many experiences, one of the most rewarding was working for Vista, Volunteers in Service to America, now known as Americorps.  Marty and I helped develop community gardens in the inner city of Hartford to enable the gardeners to have fresh vegetables and stretch their incomes. We provided greenhouses, sought contributions of seed, plants and tools, and used our truck to deliver this to the gardeners. I learned to use a computer and wrote the press releases for the garden newsletter, “The Green Thumb.”

When either of us held public office we could depend on the other for help. Several years ago we gave our farm a facelift and a new purpose. With our son, we are currently the proprietors of a golf driving range, developed on the site of the farm. We continue to have lunch together every day.

The search for employment and fulfillment didn’t begin with the “Baby-boomers”. We pre-Boomers also tread that path.

Marty as Vista volunteer

Marty as Vista volunteer

Community Gardens

Community Gardens