Queens Compost Bike Tour Recap

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in June (2015) over two dozen compost and bicycle enthusiasts gathered at the Queens Botanical Garden for the Queens Compost Bike Tour (see press release here). Participants across the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens were in attendance. Including folks from highly successful community community sites such as the 462 Halsey Community Garden, which operates one of the most active and productive community run compost sites in NYC.
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Jeremy Teperman, of the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Queens Botanical Garden, treated participants to a behind the scenes peek at QBGs composting operation and learned about the Master Composter training program.

The group rambled through Flushing Meadows Park, by the iconic Unisphere and made our way to the 34th Avenue bike lane which provided a convenient corridor to follow as we stopped at various composting sites in Queens. The second stop was St. Mark’s Church/Farmspot CSA compost site (33-50 82nd Street, Jackson Heights) where Kirsten Magnani and Evie McKenna, two Queens Master Composters, treated attendees to an inside look at a community compost site run by a local Community Supported Agriculture group, which uses space from the church to distribute its veggie shares to its members. CSA members drop off their food scraps and tend to the compost bins weekly.
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From the lush church garden we rode on to a less conventional site.


From the lush church garden we rode on to a less conventional site.

JH SCRAPS (an acronym for Jackson Heights Scrap Collection to Restore our Areas Poor Soils) is located underneath a set of train tracks, on State DOT land with a DEP pumping station adjacent to their operation.  Lenny Olsson, another Queens Master Composter, explained the nuances of creating this group, their volunteer model and future expansion plans.  It was remarkable to view composting being created underneath a highway structure and displays the innovative nature of our community and how little space is required to compost effectively.  At this site, thermophilic temperatures were above 150 degrees across the compost bins. JH SCRAPS also envisions itself as a community center, and also collects mulch from NYC Parks’ nearby Mulch Fest, and accepts fall leaves from nearby residents.
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Departing from Jackson Heights we had a relatively quick jaunt over to Sunnyside Gardens where the volunteers at Sunny Compost greeted our rag-tag group with sliced watermelon and fresh produce grown in their immaculate community garden.

Several members from the Sunny Compost team showed off their operations which includes tumblers and three bin systems. We visited during drop off hours and witnessed the magic happening in front of us with children and students chopping food scraps and then placing them into an active pile. The Sunny Compost crew also had a really nice sifting trommel and were placing finishing touches on this item.  (Their blog article of the tour)
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It was difficult to leave the well kept and hospitality filled community garden but the wide open expanse of the largest rooftop farm in NYC beckoned. Most of us had never been to the top of the hulking building located on the SW corner of Northern Ave and 39th Street. We were in awe as the elevator doors opened to the roof and the spectacular Brooklyn Grange flagship farm revealed itself, in all of it’s late Spring glory. Row after row of meticulously planted and cared for crops destined for market and chef’s pantries gave way to sweeping views of the NYC skyline.

After gawking at all of the visual stimulation, the head farmer Bradley Fleming corralled our group and spoke to us about their impressive composting operation. The Grange boasts an Aerated Static Pile (ASP) which makes for lighter work, forcing air into the pile means it doesn’t deplete oxygen and go anaerobic, thus eliminating the need to turn the pile. While chatting about some of the commercial sources that The Grange receives organic residues from, the topic of discussion shifted towards two unique companies called Global Enviro, which grinds and dehydrates food scraps, and the InSinkErator, which converts kitchen sinks into garbage disposals. Both companies are working to become standardized in NYC, both have positives and downsides but anyone interested in compost and waste management in NYC should familiarize themselves with these two concepts because they offer different approaches to the composting norm.
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After the breathtaking views, we took it easy, taking a complete lane of traffic as we casually cruised through Astoria to the Western reaches of Queens. Just shy of the waterfront, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, lies the largest community composting operation in New York City. Erycka de Jesus, of Build It Green! Compost, gave us the grand tour of this NYC Compost Project site. Replete with a box truck, bin-tipper, jay-lor mixer, bobcat skid-steer, an ASP engineered system with a forced air pump and Gore-Tex cover, motorized trommel and seemingly endless amounts of wood chips, sawdust and leaves (collectively called “browns”), this is a composters dream set-up.  In addition to BIG! Compost’s processing operation, they host regular GreenMarket and commuter (near subway stations) drop-off sites in Queens and North Brooklyn.  As amazing as it all is, it was pointed out that it all started as one Master Composters community volunteer project back in 2009.
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The final leg of the tour led us from Queensbridge to Long Island City’s Industrial Business Zone where the members of Smiling Hogshead Ranch greeted the riders with cheers and whistles, not to mention the delicious BBQ and cold beverages.

Huge thanks to O‘Neil (Erycka’s husband) for throwing down on the grill!

Before digging into the food, we took a quick tour of the Ranch, and the variety of compost methods (8 in total!) on display from the most basic leaf mold area, to our successful 3-bin systems and vermicompost, and towards advanced biodynamic systems such as hugelkulture windrows, bokashi food fermentation, and mushroom compost. Gil Lopez, co-founder of the Ranch, introduced the Ranch’s new weigh station and #NYCompost as part of a campaign to unite composters city-wide on social media. He also address local organic recovery and soil building as a fundamental form of autonomous development.

We then heard from Jennifer Plewka, Hogshead educator, who filled us in on the two biodynamic windrows which will slowly decompose and be converted into a fedge (food-hedge) on the verge of our edible forest.
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Finally, Sashti Balasundaram, founder of We Radiate, an environmental research start-up dealing with compost, provided a demonstration of their new product initiative called ThermoSense. The ThermoSense initiative records temperature fluctuations across a compost pile and offers educational feedback to users to enhance compost quality and efficiency.
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We Radiate’s fundamental goal is to minimize landfill disposal of food-waste through technologies that encourage urban composting. As a result, municipalities can reduce spending on the export of waste to landfill, and re-appropriate funds towards compost programs that encourage growth in green jobs, enhance local food production in urban settings, and promote healthier neighborhoods.  They are currently developing add-ons to eventually create a complete diagnostic tool that measures key compost indicators into a wireless device.

This bike tour was a success in that it brought people together to enjoy a beautiful day together, educated many on the important work being done around our serious issue of waste, shined a light on the people and locations doint this important work and encouraged a diverse community to become more connected and enriched. We hope that future similar bike tours will take place and the issue is delved into even more deeply. By connecting the dots between all these things we hope that there will be even more composting sites, bike tours and positive community interactions in the future.


[Media Advisory] Queens Compost Bike Tour


Queens Compost Bike Tour

Queens, NYC – June 6, 2015: Space is at a premium and waste is an ever-increasing concern. The NYC Compost Project hosted by Queens Botanical Garden has teamed up with organizers at Smiling Hogshead Ranch to host a bike tour of community compost sites in Queens, spanning from Flushing to Long Island City. Come see the great work being done by Queens composters, talk trash with like-minded folks and visit the individuals helping to rebuild NYC’s soil, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The tour will stop at seven community compost sites in Queens. Riders will experience innovation across the borough by meeting community composters developing compost sites within community gardens, rooftops, and even vacant land underneath highways! We will bike together, visit the people who make compost happen, and see the spaces they work in. Though these actions we will highlight the community aspect of community composting by fostering our connection to, and understanding of, the neighborhood projects and infrastructure that are improving our local environment.

Join us for conversations about the future of our organic waste, learn about the decomposition process and witness an important cycle of life that is normally hidden in plain sight here in New York.

Cyclists are encouraged to RSVP to compost[at]queensbotanical[dot]org so organizers can appropriately plan for food at the BBQ, which will follow the ride. Get social and share this ride with friends, the more the merrier! https://www.facebook.com/events/915715055147439/

Ride date & schedule: Sunday June, 14, 2015

1:30-1:45pm- Gather at Queens Botanical Garden (Parking Garden entrance on Crommelin Street)

1:45-2:00pm- Tour Queens Botanical Garden’s site

2:00pm- Bike tour group departs from Queens Botanical Garden

2:30-2:45 St. Marks Church/Farmspot compost site

3-3:30pm- JH SCRAPS

3:45-4:15 Sunny Compost

4:45-5:15 Brooklyn Grange

5:45-6pm NYC Compost Project hosted by Build It Green’s compost site at the Queensbridge Baby Park

6:30 End of tour: BBQ and site tour of Smiling Hogshead Ranch, including six different composting methods being demonstrated. Including the unveiling of our newest addition, ThermoSense is a technologically advanced compost monitoring system, installed in partnership with We Radiate and funded by the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board’s CCNYC 2015 Composting Grant.

Media contacts:

Gil Lopez SmilingHogsheadRanch[at]gmail[dot]com 407.432.8156

Jeremy Teperman jteperman[at]queensbotanical[dot]org 718.216.0589

Sashti Balasundaram WeRadiateNY[at]gmail[dot]com @WeRadiateNY

The NYC Compost Project hosted by Queens Botanical Garden

The NYC Compost Project helps to reduce waste in NYC and rebuild NYC’s soils by giving New Yorkers the knowledge, skills, and opportunities they need to produce and use compost locally. Queens Botanical Garden is an urban oasis where people, plants and cultures are celebrated through inspiring gardens, innovative educational programs and demonstrations of environmental stewardship.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch

Created in 2011, the Ranch is a member driven community, farming on abandoned railroad property in Long Island City, Queens. We are using urban agriculture and ideas of reskilling to connect city dwellers to our food systems, urban ecology, and to one another.  Our members strive to create fun, interactive experiences with opportunities to both learn and share. More information is available at http://www.SmilingHogsheadRanch.org

We Radiate

We Radiate aims to create tools to encourage decentralization of the organics collection process and allow high-quality compost to remain local.  We Radiate aims to minimize landfill disposal by shifting waste management practices to encourage local organic composting efforts and focuses on community engagement to enhance local capacity.

Announcing The Hogshead Hoedown

Hogshead Hoedown media advisory for immediate release






The Hogshead Hoedown will feature performances, workshops & dance parties in LIC to benefit Smiling Hogshead Ranch

Long Island City, NY (March 17, 2015) = The Smiling Hogshead Ranch is producing a three day event including performances, workshops and dance parties. This Hogshead Hoedown is a benefit for the Ranch and will provide learning opportunities, spotlight local talent, serve as outreach to potential members and raise funds to promote urban agriculture in Western Queens and beyond.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch is collaborating with the Flux Factory (39-31 29th Street, LIC, NY), which will host three days of events, including a variety show (6:30pm, Thursday, 3/26), a comedy night (7:30pm, Friday, 3/27) and a full day of skillshares, films, a community potluck dinner  and late night dance party (1pm till late, Saturday, 3/28).

The Hoedown kicks off on Thursday with a variety show curated by Hogshead co-founder and community organizing resident at Flux Factory, Gil Lopez, with emcee Roberto Buscarsi. The comedy show on Friday evening is produced by Hogshead board member Colin Anton Samuel with Lindsay Goldwert of SunnysideComedy.NYC  The evening will feature a lineup of talented NYC based comedians. Both events will include a raffle featuring items from The Ranch, Rural Route Film Festival, 596 Acre’s, First World Trash, Transmitter Brewing, Rockaway Brew Co, Exo (cricket flour protein) Bars, Build It Green NYC!, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, artist Caetlynn Booth & more! Proceeds from entry & raffle ticket sales will fund infrastructure improvements, insurance and free programming at The Ranch in 2015. We are proud to feature locally produced beverages & snacks during this event with support from caring sponsors including Rick’s Picks, Native Roasters, Sixpoint Brewery, and Prairie Organic Vodka.

Events on Saturday (3/28) are free and open to the public. The day will feature films and skillshares punctuated with interludes of music and movement. The day will be capped off with a conversation over a community potluck dinner (starts at 7:30, space is limited, please RSVP) followed by a toast to four years of cultivating community. The day will end with late night DJ sets.

Featured artwork from Hogshead members will be on display during all events. These include the Ranch’s recently published zine “The Feed” and featured artists including: Caetlynn Booth, Smiling Hogshead Ranch’s artist-in-residence; Dee Dee Maucher of MoS Collective, prints from the Beehive Design Collective, and installations by Jennie Pea, and Gil Lopez.

Come to one event or all three, but do not miss the opportunity to support this lively grassroots organization and meet with Smiling Hogshead Ranch members to learn about opportunities for participation and collaboration. Some participants can volunteer during events to have entry fees waived. Email event organizers at SmilingHogsheadRanch[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested in volunteering.* Event Details *

Location: All events will take place in the Flux Factory’s art gallery located at:                       39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, Queens, NY 11101 (http://www.fluxfactory.org/)

3/26 *Hogshead Hoedown Variety Show*: doors @6:30pm, show starts at 7pm. Tickets: $8-$18 sliding scale, purchased at the door or online at: http://hogsheadhoedown2015.brownpapertickets.com/ Performance list at time of press release: Emcee Roberto Buscarsi, “Womb” by Valerie Green; The Amazing Story of ‘Amazing Amy’; puppetry by Annabelle Meunier & friends of the Ranch; “Barbara B!tch” burlesque by Took Edalow; crowd participation skits; and musical entertainment by; Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Sol ‘Roundman’ Weber, Adrian Owen, Kelly Fragale, Oliver Lamb, Paul Kunihølm Pauper & Son, Out of System Transfer; DJ Seaarch + more!

3/27 *Funny By Nature Comedy Night*: Doors @7:30pm, show starts at 8pm. Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door http://funnybynature.brownpapertickets.com/ Hosted by Astoria native, Liz Magee; comedian roster; Ted Alexandro (Letterman), Aparna Nancherla (Conan), Charles McBee (HA! the musical), Joyelle Johnson (NY Comedy Festival), Katherine Williams (Gotham AXS TV), Frank Liotti (LOGO TV), Harrison Greenbaum (ABC’s Katie)

3/28 (1pm-late) *Hoedown Heyday* :  A full day of skillshares and artist talks from Hogshead members and supporters. Our screening room will feature films by videographers Anthony Rodriguez and Meral Agish, the 26min version of Modern Nature by director Craig Leon, plus curated films from the Rural Route Film Festival’s Alan Webber and the documentary “A Fierce Green Fire”. The day will be punctuated with interludes of music and movement. We will gather for a community potluck featuring a conversations with the Point-A project which is building new urban communities in NYC. Dinner starts at 7:30 and seating is limited, so please RSVP to SmilingHogsheadRanch@gmail.com. The evening will culminate in late night DJ & VJ sets.

* Press Contacts *

Gil Lopez

Co-founder, President



Colin Anton Samuel

Board Member, Treasurer



* About Smiling Hogshead Ranch *

In Winter 2011 a group of Western Queens resident began transforming an abandoned railroad property located at 25-30 Skillman Avenue in Long Island City, Queens. Steady work and civic engagement gave us the leverage to prompt change on a municipal level. In 2014 the state agency who owns our land, legitimized our tenure. Today, Smiling Hogshead Ranch is a member driven, non-profit organization. Always expanding, “The Ranch” is now roughly one-half acre, planted with a mix of annual row crops and the beginnings of a perennial food forest. We actively encourage the life of native plants, mycelium and beneficial microorganisms in order to support a biodiverse and resilient urban ecology while bio-remediating our post-industrial soils. Proud of our scrappy resourcefulness, we support the reclamation of the commons and a full transition to a more equitable society; starting exactly where we are. Our tools and tactics towards this end include hands-on, physical activity, educational/skill-sharing experiences, group activities and cultural exchanges that promote a just and peaceful society.

Our members enjoy co-creating fun and engaging workdays which inform our relationship to the urban landscape, fosters healthy culture in our personal/interpersonal lives and reveals our nature. We strive to both reconnect with, and begin to heal, our land, our water, our air and ourselves. For more information come to the Hogshead Hoedown and chat us up! Or you can visit us online http://SmilingHogsheadRanch.org/ or email SmilingHogsheadRanch@gmail.com

2014 @SmilingHogshead Revue

So I meant to post this back in December. Here we are, first day of February, it feels silly talking about last year at this point but this is some good stuff!

I started to list all the workdays, cultural events, meetings, milestones, skillshares and mentions in the media Smiling Hogshead Ranch and ended up creating this timeline instead. It is a fun, interactive web tool that has links and images in the major events so it can actually act as a web based archive. Click through and have a look:


Here are some of the highlights for me…

We celebrated our 3rd anniversary in Winter 2014, we also incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of New York. We held a few members meeting, and hosted a couple happy hours. We presented our project at our Community Board 2 in Queens, at Pratt Institute and the New School. We also went on weekly compost runs, which continued each week for the entire year.

Last Spring we found a fiscal sponsor in Palm’s for Life and saw a major uptick in events at the Ranch events starting with tree care and Love Your Block workdays through to biodynamic and mycoremediation skillshares. We ended a Queens TA bike tour at the Ranch, had several outdoor yoga classes and hosted different groups from LIC Girls Scouts and LaGuardia students to international participants visiting as part of the HORT’s Urban Ag conference. Hogshead got props in the media from DNA Info. We also presented to the Brooklyn SWAB and NYC Community Composting Council and participated in FIGMENT NYC. Our garden infrastructure was also improved with the delivery of our tool storage pod.

In the Summer of 2014, after 3-1/2 years of working the land, we signed the Garden License Agreement with the MTA/LIRR. The Summer Solstice brought a bit of a lull. But we still got stuff done including instituting monthly compost work days and board meetings. We hosted a diversity from groups from corporate workdays to the Two Row Wampum camps closing ceremonies and a few other community based workdays and gatherings.

Labor Day weekend was the kickoff to the most active season Hogshead has ever experienced. Fall 2014 was absolutely amazing and intensely busy at The Ranch. The 5boro bike ride ending at the Ranch’s ribbon cutting ceremony was epic! But we didn’t stop there the next few months where packed. MOS Collective held their Fall Mud Ball in conjunction with Flux Factory’s Utopia School, and we became a GreenThumb Garden in October. September we hosted the Paving Through the Pavement national permacultire tour. We also hosted multiple school groups and hosted our first bioremediation job training prgram with Fortune Society. Fall was rounded out as we built our hugelkulture biodynamic windrow memorial.

We sent out our first newsletter on the Winter Solstice and enjoyed the holidays with friends and family. We are now having stirrings of reinvigoration and we are planning a Happy Hour on February 19th as well as an awesome three days of programming from March 26-28 for the Hogshead Hoedown (to be helped at the Flux Factory. Please keep an eye out for details about these events on our Facebook or Tumblr pages.

Inspiring Living Landscapes

I attended a lecture by Doug Tallamy at yesterday’s Plant-O-Rama event. I was absolutely inspired by the topic and the delivery of his talk, which was based on the new book he authored titled, “The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden“. For a little background, you must know that I have a degree in landscape architecture and am actually pretty passionate about the topic. But I wiped my hands clean of the profession, for the most part, after practicing at two landscape design firms in Central Florida.

I attended a fairly progressive Landscape Architecture program, believe it or not, at Mississippi State University. I thought landscape architecture was about reinserting nature into the built environment, ecologically sound siting of buildings and manmade features, increasing biodiversity and doing all of it with simplistic grace and beauty. Turns out, that was a highly idealized concept for the profession, perfect for my learning process but very upsetting as I entered the field of practice. I worked for firms that designed planned communities, resorts, theme parks, business parks and residential estates. I felt the firms I worked with where letting the client, which was usually a developer, lead us by the nose. All we where doing was putting parsley around the pig. I wrote manifestoes about the inputs required by the landscapes we designed (including water, petro chemical derived fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, the massive poor immigrant workforce, machines spewing CO2 and noise pollution, etc) and the lack of productive return we gained from these landscapes (it was all ornamental plant species). They where actually vicious cycles of input to grow and work to control and repeat. I was laid off, twice, not necessarily for the manifestoes, but due to the housing bubble burst of 2008. I took menial jobs but devoted a large chunk of my personal time and energy teaching people about organic gardening and permaculture with the Simple Living Institute. I re-found my passion and meaning for which to apply my knowledge and skill-set.

When I moved to NYC I had a short contract to perform construction management for Million Trees NYC. It was no design position but I thought it worthy, and still do. While I have met some practitioners who are pushing their practice towards better values, those professionals are actually fairly rare. Long ago I decided I would discontinue my pursuit of a professional license to practice landscape architecture. I have not really looked back at landscape architecture too often, aside from helping the ASLANY chapter organize a productive landscape symposium and a few other flourishes of pushing my ideals onto the profession. While I love to entertain the idea that the things I write, the words I speak and most importantly, my actions, could affect the profession of landscape architecture at large, I am nearly sure that I am not a player in that world and never have been or will be.

It is for this reason of helplessness and the observation that the profession was not budging, I met this presentation yesterday with such delight. While most talks at gatherings of nurserymen and horticulturists includes extraneous lectures on new ornamental varieties, I would almost expect round-up ready roses at this point! This talk was nuanced in its delivery of a strong voice advocating for biodiversity, less lawns and more bio-regionally appropriate designs, plant community clustering and a focus on ecological services that could be provided by our human shaped landscapes. Mr. Tallamy spoke of biological sampling of different woody plant species to look at the number and different speciation of caterpillars found in native trees and shrubs vs. introduced ornamental trees and shrubs. The native species host hundreds of individual catarpillars and dozens of species, while introduced ornbamentals only hosted less tha a dozen individual catarpillars and a measly one or two species. Catarpillars are important as they are a major source of food for birds. In this way trees could actually be seen as bird feeders, native varieties bing big, full feeders and non-natives representing small empty feeders (but taking more resources to mantain) He detailed how native trees and shrubs produce berries that are necessary for wildlife populations at the appropriate times of the year comparing that to berries produced on non-native ornamentals that are more like junk food, providing sugars but laking essential fats. The results where eye opening.

The discussion was furthered on many fronts including information on the evolutionary codependency our native insects and animals have with the native plants and how introduced species, while they may naturalize (AKA not be wildly aggressive and outcompete for resources due to lack of natural predators) they also do not help the wildlife in the same way the native plants can and do. The lecture was given in astute and extremely knowledgable fashion with beautiful photography of the flora and fauna being discussed.

In addition to being upbeat and positive, I think it really broadens the dialogue between those passionate about native species and those who argue the merits of plants no matter where the origins lie. All to often, pro-native species arguments come from what i would classify as an “anti-immigrant” type of standpoint rather than a meritocracy position. I believe that adding the merits of natives to the biodiversity and ecological function of a landscape contrasted with the demerits exhibited by introduced, selected ornamentals, is a much better way to frame the conversation.

While I am not sure of the proper direction for the assimilation of this knowledge, I find it reassuring that these ideas are being promoted amongst the landscape trades. It may be true that the client, or the end user, may be the one that needs convincing in order to accept a landscape design that doesn’t conform to their preconceived ideas of what an American landscape is.  But this culture shift will have to change on many fronts. I think if the trades folks present at yesterdays lecture can market the merits of natives over the superficial qualities of non-native ornamentals, the industry as a whole will begin to shift, An even stronger position the trades have is to stop growing the lack-luster ornamentals all together and make them unavailable, this would necessitate change rather than just encourage it. On the other side of that spectrum, it is of utmost importance that landscape designers get up on these ideas and reassert themselves as the professionals with the knowledge and ability to do more than simply produce pretty designs with plants. While beauty can be achieved responsibly, a reshaping of what beauty actually is must be instituted upon society at large. Landscape designers must stop allowing clients to lead them by the nose. Stop chasing the money! It has lead us down the wrong road too many times already. This times it not just our economy, jobs and livelihood at stake, we are tinkering with the balance of nature, if we do not acknowledge this fact and refuse to at least try to work within the parameters of a health ecosystem, then we as a species may just be laying down the foundation of our own demise. We rely on ecosystems for so many things, from fresh water, food pollination, clean air and the many resources we use to build shelter and make clothes.These are our basic needs and we have become so far removed from which they actually come from we find it hard to connect our building habits with the functions that allow us to continue living on this planet. I often speak in hyperbole, but I feel it is justified. We live in the Anthropocene and it is high time we acknowledge it through our everyday actions.

More info here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/garden/at-plant-o-rama-in-brooklyn-the-message-was-that-beauty-is-no-longer-enough.html

Biodynamic Compost Preparations Info

All the below information was researched and compiled by Jennifer Plewka. I am simply delivering it to those who asked for the information. I hope you enjoy. If you have any questions or comments I encourage you to comment on the Smiling Hogshead Ranch Facebook page or in the comment section below. I will do my best to convey things to Jennie and solicit her responses for you. This info was delivered during our biodynamic, hugelkulture, memorial windrow build on November 23rd 2014

a couple other resources:




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Biodynamic compost piles are known as “windrows” They are built upon alternating layers of brown organic matter such as dead leaves which provides carbon and green plant matter that provides N. The BD preparations 502-507 are placed 5-7 feet apart in strategically placed holes at around 20 inches deep in the pile.  BD preparation 507 or liquid valerian is poured into one hole and applied all over the outside by spraying, or hand watering.  The windrow is then scattered with a few handfuls of soil, covered with straw and left to decompose for six months to one year. Organic residues break down into smaller particles and are then re-synthesised into complex humic substances.  Bioactivators are organic (living) materials that help break down other materials. In the case of compost piles and garden waste, bioactivators trigger the biological process of decomposition. If they’re abundant in the soil, they do several things. First, they break down the remains of plants into their chemical components, which makes them available in a form plants can use in the garden. By breaking down plant material, they also enhance the soil structure. They can also be added to existing compost piles if the pile isn’t decomposing quickly to trigger the natural process of decomposition.

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The following Biodynamic compost preparations were added to the biodynamic windrow at Smiling Hogshead Ranch on 11-23-14.

Preparation 502: Yarrow flowers are harvested at peak bloom, dried and sewn into a deer’s bladder. The bladder is hung for the summer with direct exposure to the sun. In fall the bladder is buried in the soil for the winter. The following spring, the yarrow is removed from the bladder and immediately inserted into the compost pile. Yarrow influences plant reproduction and growth by stimulating sulfur and potassium intake.
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Preparation 503: Chamomile flowers are harvested at peak bloom, dried and stuffed into cow intestines, which are buried in the soil over the winter and then inserted into the compost pile the following spring. Chamomile influences plant reproduction and growth by stabilizing nitrogen within the compost while influencing the calcium and potassium content of the compost.

Preparation 504: Stinging nettle leaves are harvested in early summer and buried in the soil with a layer of peat moss until the following spring when removed and inserted into the compost pile. Stinging nettle is thought to “enliven” the soil by influencing sulfur, potassium, calcium and iron content.
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Preparation 505: The bark of an oak tree is chopped up and stuffed into an animal skull in the fall. The skull is buried for the winter in a place where water or rainwater will wash over it. In spring, the oak bark is removed from the skull and inserted into the compost pile. Oak bark is thought to provide healing forces by increasing calcium intake and combatting harmful plant diseases.
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Preparation 506: Dandelion flowers are harvested in peak bloom, pressed together and sewn up in a cow mesentery. The mesentery is buried for the winter and inserted into the compost pile in the spring. Dandelion influences silicic acid content and is thought to attract cosmic forces to the soil.
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Preparation 507: Valerian flowers are harvested in peak bloom and pressed to make a high dilution juice. The dilution is dynamically stirred for ten minutes in one gallon of water. Half of the liquid prep is inserted into the compost pile while the remaining half is sprayed over the compost pile. Valerian stimulates the compost so phosphorus can be properly used by the soil.

To distribute this tincture, we made a broom out of a stick and tied a large hand full of dead grasses to it. Dipped the broom into the bucket of BD507 and sprinkled the tincture over the windrow instead of spraying.
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Biodynamic Compost Hugelkulture Memorial Windrow

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Over the weekend (November 23rd 2014) a group of caring and engaged citizens gathered at Smiling Hogshead Ranch for our Biodynamic Compost Hugelkulture Memorial Windrow build. I am personally so pleased about how this event came together and the convergance of the many different things to make this event a community building, earth loving, fun, educational, empathathic, endearing and participatory happening.

There was wood wall building, a weigh station, food scrap container brigade, leaf distribution, leveling team, branch deconstruction, wood chipping, food and drinks, a compost and biodynamic gardening lesson, Mood Cookies and Tea, a container cleaning crew and so much more.

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The seeds for this event where planted in my mind back in late April 2014 when I spoke on a Brooklyn SWAP hosted panel entitled “The Future of Composting” at Brooklyn’s Boro Hall. There I met Melissa Provenza (who helped organize the panel), she introduced me to David Hurd, who works for GrowNYC and organizes distribution of organics collected at GreenMarkets to local farms and gardens to be composted locally. Marissa encouraged me to create a large windrow at Hogshead and offered support of her composting buddies. I have been wanting to make this happen at Hogshead ever since.
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The completed windrow

I really enjoy putting multiple ideas together to make one workshop. Jennie Pea is the active Hogshead member who bottom lined this workday. She has a special interest and focus on composting and biodynamic practices. Jennie has been making regular pilgrimages out to Southold, Long Island to visit a biodynamic farm run by KK Haspel and her husband. I joined Jennie on a trip out to KK’s Farm on the weekend after the Brooklyn SWAB event.

The following Monday, I received a text from Marissa:

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It was a lot of behind the scenes work to create this day and it didn’t all come together in the timeframe I suggested in the above text. Then came October 2014, it was a month of unexpected loss in which two important people passed away.  This is why we decided to dedicate this windrow in loving memory of both Melissa Provenza and KK Haspel. These two held a reverence for the natural world and understood the cycles and rhythms of nature. It only made since for us to create this living memorial in their honor.
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KK at home at her farm. Bare feet and dousing rods in hand – Southold, Long Island, NY
 photo IMG_8469_zps841eb168.jpgMarissa, Myself and Oliver at the People’s Climate March in NYC – 11/21/2014

Creating this event took some amount of effort from, Marissa connecting me with the BK|SWAB folks to KK putting love and intention into the creation of the biodydnamic preparations we used. After the Hogshead members agreed that receiving tons of organic byproduct to our site would be a good idea, we partnered with some wonderful groups to pull the whole off. During the days leading up to the event we received 117 containers of kitchen scraps containing over four tons (9022.2 lbs to be exact!) of residential kitchen scraps from GrowNYC collected at various GreenMarkets throughout the city.  We also worked with Build It Green (BIG!) Compost to get about 16 cubic yards of leaves collected at local parks, and we hosted our own Project LeafDrop for local residents to come by and drop off leaves and yard debris from their own yards during the event. We even had our artist friend Maria D. come and host a Winter Mood Cookies and Tea in the back gathering area after the heavy lifting was all over.
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I was traveling during the two weeks leading up to the event and Jennie really took the reigns and made all of this come together so nicely. Coordinating all the other things needed to ensure this would be a proper biodynamic windrow, including a trip to the beach in Long Island to collect seaweed and shells, two trips to our friends at the Hellgate Farm Collective to clean their chicken coop, harvest hen poop and deliver it to the Ranch. She also printed out lots of info and brought plenty of items that describe more about biodynamic preparations and principles. Dee Dee reached out to her networks and Shig came through with a shredder, Colin went to pick it up. So many moving parts came together so seamlessly!
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One of the things we are constantly doing at the Ranch is clearing out new areas and folding them back into the master plan of the garden. We had cut a lot of Ailanthus trees and some other dead/dying trees at the beginning of the month and I wanted to make a hugelkuture berm with them. For this workday we used these trunks and branches to create a bit of a retaining wall on the low side of a fairly steep slope leading up to the inactive railroad tracks behind the building adjacent to our site. We leveraged these branches to build our windrow on so it wouldn’t just slump off and roll down the hill. After we had built our windrow, we stuffed leaves in between any exposed branches on the back side of the hill (I later found some myceliated coffee grinds from an earlier experiment and crumbled it up between the leaves and branches as well). In this way we now have a 45′-50′ windrow that will not be turned, it simply rots in place, the wood will absorb the nitrogen over time and we will plant nitrogen fixing plants on it over the next few years to increase nitrogen uptake. After awhile, the wood will be sufficiently rotten and it will soak up lots of water, acting lice a sponge at the bottom of our berm, all the while slowly releasing that nitrogen it has been sucking up in the first few years of decomposition. Slowly, we will begin planting fruit tress and shrubs, groundcovers and pollinator attractors, eventually planting productive vines next to the maturing trees to create a full on food forest. As if all that was not enough, Jennie taught a lesson about biodynamic preparations and we incorporated these into the windrow as well. She gathered lots of research for this one and I will be posting that in a later post, which I will also link to here (https://verdantcities.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/biodynamic-compost-preprations-info/).

This is more than a simple compost pile or windrow. It is beyond biodynamic or permaculture. This is how we cultivate community at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. We are inspired by loved ones, we come together to toil and show our respect for those who have moved on from our realm. In the name of love we have taken “waste” products and are turning them into earth, which, in turn will continue the life cycle and provide nourishment for many plants and animals to come. This is a powerful living memorial. The most miraculous things happened as Jennie and I finished up the workday and put the finishing touches on the windrow. We sat and read aloud, the poem that Marissa had written, and Oliver lovingly transcribed onto a wooden sign and posted at the end of the windrow. There was absolute silence as we read and our hearts swelled to immense proportions, the air was full and alive.

Grey to red and back again.

Ashes to Birth,

Blood to Earth.

and large knives

or the tomatoes

gleaming in the sun,

the sun weening

off the tops of buildings,

I imagined dying here,

how beautiful to succumb to the fear

in a red dress and mirrors reflecting rivers of blood—

but how this prison,

now heals me,


and all the leaves yearn

to fall with the changing seasons…

Knowledge is a glass half full.

A rotting apple core.

The compostable heart heaves forward.

And forever.

And all the little children,


Reaching for the apples.


As we read the final verse we were silent, but a strange and beautiful sound began to ring from what seemed like nearby but had to have been far away. It was a high pitch frequency but not sharp or abrasive, a perfectly tuned slow melody. I thought it could have been the train wheels grinding against the tracks in the rail-yard across the street but I have heard that sound many times and it definitely was not that. The sound was far too sweet and melodically sustained to be any of that racket. As Jennie and I began to catch ourselves in the dizzying beauty we spoke aloud to one another asking if we could each hear the sound. Yes we confirmed, and the wondrous music came to a poetic and decided end. We went on to speak aloud about the beauty of these two women. Jennie knew KK and I spoke of Marissa. As we did a riot of what sounded like fireworks began to sound off in the distance, maybe it was in Manhattan or over the East River. There was a distinct break in the calamity as Jennie ended here remembrance of KK and I began to recall Marissa. As we spoke and began walking around the cadence and volume of the distant rumbling increased. It was uncanny. As the rumbling subsided, we decided to find the broom which we had made and used to sprinkle on one of the biodynamic preps. We took it apart to distribute it’s grass parts onto the windrow. As we began laying the intention infused grass stalks onto the windrow the rumbling began again. This time it sounded more like a military shelling happening just over the hill. It was so close and loud, Jennie ask, not in jest, if there was a military action happening, but we both knew we had nothing to fear. It rose to a crescendo, and I recall very clearly, as I went to lay the final straw on the end of the row, it was akin to the grand finale of a pyrotechnic show, a deep, continuous rumble coming from the sky and the darkened horizon, yet somehow from the earth itself, all at once. Jennie and I looked at one another with absolutely no doubt in either of our minds.  “The two ladies are here” we said to one another. It was the most transcendental thing I have ever experienced, it was absolutely real and positively radiant. The air seemed to vibrate and everything was alive. I don’t know why I am trying to use these words to describe the moments and the energy of the place. But it was amazing and I wish nothing more than to convey it. I beg you to visit, to read the sign Oliver made with Marissa’s poem, to sit and listen to the winds and feel the earth under foot.

I know that they are there, as the windrow turns to rich soil, as the plants take over, as the abundance springs forth. It will be their lives and spirit that are honored. A living memorial, for those we love. You are missed but not forgotten.

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Urban Homesteading with the Baltimore Free Farm

I’m back in NYC after a couple weeks of travel and adventure. my main focus was a cluster of income sharing communities in rural Virginia (which I will write about soon). But before all that, on my way down to VA, I stopped in Baltimore, Maryland for a few days and visited some urban agriculture allies there. This is a summary of that short visit.

I had to delay my trip in order to host the Permaculture Action Tour at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. Thankfully the Bolt Bus from NYC to Baltimore is easily negotiable and the trip cost less than $20 even after changing my ticket. I was scooped up from the bus stop by Reagan in her white pick-up. We got back to the Baltimore Free Farm (BFF) just in time for their Monday meeting, which was happening in their warehouse space. There where about a dozen in attendance, half of which where members, others were interested in membership or proposing events for the space to members. Me, I was interested in meeting process, group organization, the history of the Farm and what was the personal motivation driving each member to work together on such a noble pursuit as an urban based, free farm.

BFF is a consensus based, “horizontally organized collective, which means that all of [their] decisions are made as a group, and no one person is considered a “boss.”” I found the meeting structure refreshing and the decision making process was somewhat reflective of that I know well from regular Monday meetings at the Flux Factory, where I am currently the community organizing resident… with the addition of some fun lingo, oy = approve & zzub = disapprove. I won’t go into detail about the meeting discussion but the broad topics where also familiar from Flux and Hogshead meetings including; working with outside groups, financial issues, upcoming events, member updates, etc. In 2010 a group of anarcho-punk, DIY, do-gooders found out about the the City of Baltimore’s Adopt-A-Lot program. They gained access to the Ash Street lot and started a community garden in their Hampden neighborhood. This quickly expanded to two adjacent lots within the block which were not part of the adopt-a-lot program. They cleaned up all three lots (leading to their very compelling Pile Theory), then grew and distributed food locally.
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One interesting historical narrative I captured in my notes was that of the 2013 acquisition of what is now the Baldwin Permaculture Garden. After BFF cleaned up the various lots, the city decided to auction two of them off. BFF persistently organized around these Baldwin St. lots and set themselves up for a fight to keep them under community possession.  They produced a petition, garnered some media coverage (including the Baltimore Sun, WBLAtv and others). BFF used the media attention to speak out about the city shopping out the lots “to those who provide the highest economic value, rather than those who provide the highest community value.” They also made the apt observation that, “With many other vacant houses and lots in the Hampden area, we feel like selling these two particular lots for development is unnecessary and unfortunate.” A campaing to rais money to participate in the bidding process against one unnamed developmer was successful and, in the end, some elected officials and influential community members supported BFF’s efforts. The City of Baltimore awarded “an exclusive negotiating privilege” to BFF to negotiate and purchase the two vacant, city-owned lots they had already cleared and started a garden on. A success direct action for the community and the movement at-large. Now the BFF members are wrestling with how their involvement in the neighborhood is affecting further change. A good few conversations where had about that but those tactics I will not divulge here.
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Their warehouse across the street has a very interesting back story and the use of it is quite dynamic. They struck up an amenable agreement with the absentee property owner, but even this seems to also be in a state of financial flux with a seemingly insecure future. I do not like resigning myself to the simple statement that this is the nature of such pure anti-capitalistic pursuits, but I am not convinced BFF has found a workaround and neither have I for our similar situation at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. Nonetheless, I was inspired by the many warehouse uses including an office, a blacksmith shop, an LGTQ bike fixer collective space, a performance gallery, Food Not Bombs meal preparation and distribution areas, an impressive zine library and more. I worked with Reagan and Don clearing spent tomato vines from the garden, dividing and repotting perennial plants and mulching pathways. I briefly assisted with some blacksmithing work and busied myself collecting seed and saving them for BFF members to repackage and sell, or give away, next spring. Some members awoke extremely early on Wednesday morning to go on a food rescue mission, which they do every week. There was a sonic meditation workshop led one night during my stay and, based on Monday meeting discussions, I know they are planning many fun and varied events in the near and not to distant future.
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Bravo to the good folks making the Baltimore Free Farm happen. If you are in the Baltimore area I highly encourage you to visit and get involved with this group. I myself look forward to visiting again in the future. A huge thank you to the BFF members who hosted me and facilitated my stay, including Reagan, Tarryn, Holden, Jenny, Kenny & Don. Mad respect!

#PushingThroughThePavement tour @SmilingHogshead Ranch


Last weekend (November 10, 2014) we where part of a 32 city Permaculture Action Tour that was set around a concert tour featuring The Polish Ambassador, Mr. Lif, Ayla Nereo and Liminus. (why not give the music a listen while you read about the action)  Roots Rising, an Occupy the Farm organizer out of San Fransisco, got in touch with the musicians and convinced them to host two day events in each city along their tour route. The first day was the concert, the second was a permaculture day of action. NYC was the final stop on the tour and I was looped in by a permie friend Kelly F. (thanks Kelly!). NYC organizers worked with the tour organizers to put on a three day weekend which included a Friday evening Permie potluck social at The Old Stone House in BK, a moving the farm workday with Feedback Farms and four distinct events on the Sunday after the show, the main site being Smiling Hogshead Ranch with satellite events at La Plaza Cultural in the LES and the Old Stone House in Park Slope. We all left each site in the afternoon and converged upon Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island, BK which was bulldozed last year and the case is currently going through a contentious court battle, including, most recently, the judge recusing himself! More on that later.

During the day at the Ranch, we gathered and shared some breakfast, the 7 train was not running so it was a bit of a late start but a hearty crowd did arrive. Our friends from the MoS Collective greeted guests with an orientation, nametags and anarchist oatmeal cookies (anarchist because they are free!) as they arrived. The Polish Ambassador, and Ayla Nereo lead their permie followers in garden projects around the Ranch. We moved finished compost from old compost bins and top dressed many veggie beds for next year. They moved piles of mulch around to reinforce the paths and gathering areas for the Winter and next Spring. Volunteers lined the pond area with newly felled limbs and branches then covered them with leaves, spent plants and soil that was dug out of the pond itself to create a hugelkuture around the pond. The base for the cobb oven made serious progress. More trees invasive trees where cut down to make way for fruiting and productive species. We planted blueberry, goosberry, raspberry, blackberry and strawberry plants. The good people from More Gardens! lead volunteers in banner painting for the afternoon action at Boardwalk Community Garden. Then we took a much deserved break and enjoyed our potluck lunch, which was supplemented by some hot rice and vegetarian chili provided by a local food service company to support our action. This food was also packed up and brought out to Coney Island and the folks meeting at Boardwalk.

After our meal I led a tour af the Ranch. My friend Anthony R. documented this portion and made this nifty video:

After the tour we finished up our banner and all mobilized down to the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island to meet up with the gardeners there and other Perma-Blitz folks participating in action at the two other satelite events in NYC that day. While at Boardwalk we heard garden members speak out against this injustice and illegal act of taking by the developer and the City, we heard renowned permaculture instructor Andrew Faust speak about bio-regional level issues involving self, toxins, and a culture of resistance. We ate and meditated together, we threw seedbombs into the lot and delivered worms and mycelium from the fertile land at Smiling Hogshead Ranch, and we discussed leveraging our movement into larger cultural consciousness streams using new media.

All in all it was an amazing day full of friends, new and old. I learned a lot from the folks who shared their stories, time and wisdom with me and our gardens. It is always so fulfilling working together in the soil and sun with other enthusiastic, adventurous and open minded people. I am extremely thankful for everyone who came out and participated and would like to think all the artists and organizers with the Pushing Through the Pavement tour for including us in your whirlwind of activity and I want to thank all the Smiling Hogshead Ranch members and volunteers who stepped up to make all of this come together. I could never have made any of this happen without each and everyone of you and are thankful for each of you being in my life and a part of this urban gardening world with me!

In peas and SOILdarity,

Gil Lopez