Paying it Forward

From left Rebekah Kosier, Jacob Firman, and Nicole Caldwell work in a neighbor's garden.
An integral part of Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program is community service work. These activities serve dual functions: to pay manpower forward and to teach students new skills that can be applied to future projects (and paid forward in future community service activities). Our belief is that a successful, sustainable community utilizes bartering, volunteerism, and the sharing of specialized skills to propel neighborhoods forward. This has been proven time and time again at Better Farm; where the volunteerism of our neighbors is largely responsible for how far the "better" project has come in four short years.

Here are the service projects we all took part in last week.

Home Repair and Revitalization
We helped a neighbor scrape old exterior paint on his house to prepare for a fresh coat. Several of the people working on this project hadn't done a scraping project before, so this was a new skill for some of us. Understanding the basics of scraping, powerwashing, and painting will allow you to take care of your own home throughout your life; and will save you thousands (yes, thousands) every time you DIY your paint jobs. Keep in mind that when figuring out paint costs, the paint only accounts for between 15 and 25 percent of total costs (the rest is labor). We'll be back at this property later this week to finish the scraping and start the painting... stay tuned!

Garden Work
Working in other people's gardens and seeing how they do things allows our students to gain a broader perspective on options for their own gardens when they go back home. We talk a lot about different versions of permaculture gardens, basic components of growing organically, options for getting rid of weeds, and more, but nothing trumps hands-on experience. For that, last Friday we visited a garden a few towns away to mound dirt into hills for pumpkins, stretch black plastic over rows, and get some peppers and tomatoes in the ground.
The garden we worked on functions similarly to the gardens at Better Farm, except we use cardboard as our weed barrier while this tract uses black plastic. After raking the dirt into rows, the plastic is stretched over the entire space. Holes are cut along the raised rows to make room for seedlings, and composted dirt is added directly to those plants throughout the season for additional nourishment. This allows a gardener to focus organic fertilizers on the plants themselves without worrying about tilling nutrients into a larger area. The plastic works as a perfect weed barrier and lasts several years; while cardboard has to be replaced throughout the summer as it continuously decomposes.

Educational Outreach
Lyme Central School in Chaumont hosted a "Backyard Science Day" that we stopped in at to talk to kids about building their own solar ovens. We also got to take a look at that school's brand-new hoop house and compost set up (stay tuned for more information on that). Click here to read all about the solar oven and to download the plans for yourself.

Know of someone in the North Country who could use a hand? Want help making your garden "better"? Get in touch! We can be reached at or (315) 482-2536.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.