Mar 31, 2013


Abu Talib

90 West 164 Street
(Between Ogden in HighBridge)
Year Founded:  1992

A sea of white middle class faces, drinking sustainable, organic coffee filled the auditorium at the Food and Finance High School in NYC on March 29 and March 30.  We were all there for the Just Food Conference, a converging of farmers, want-a-be farmers, educators, activists, bloggers/writers, community organizers, permaculture aficionados, artisanal producers, upcoming chefs, social enterprise entrepreneurs and government officials and non-gorvernment agency representatives.  It's always an overwhelming experience choosing the workshops you want to go to: so many, all at the same time.

With my fair trade, Brazil Daterra coffee featuring notes of sweet melon from Brooklyn Roasting Company, I entered the classroom assigned to my chosen workshop, "The Diversity of Life In a Bronx Garden:  Intergenerational Growing."  The panel was composed of Abu Talib and Bobby Watson, grandfather and father who started Taqwa Community Garden, and Bobby's daughter, Kadesha Williams and moderator Sara Katz from Bronx Green-Up.  I've lowered expectations in terms of learning something significant from these experiences.  These days it's all about making connections, meeting people and sharing experiences.

But inspiration came my way.  Abu Talib is somewhere between 65-70.  He grow up in South Carolina working on the land.  Surrounded by concrete, he needed to find a connection to the land.  He found  an empty lot, but it wasn't empty.  Tires, bricks, needles, feces; every kind of garbage that people can throw away littered this area. Talib was not deterred.  With determination, energy and most of all enthusiasm, he began to clear the space; others joined him.  Almost twenty years later, there is still a pile of rubble.  The rest has been used for raised beds, planters, a stage, hoop house, barbecue.  There were no backhoes or grants or city help for this garden.  Talib, Bobby Watson and friends are responsible for making this garden.

I am sure there are many similar stories throughout the country.  This is only part of what impressed me.

"To be a community garden,
you have to be a community".

"I've been called a fool
I've been called stupid,
but the garden is my soul."

We welcome everyone to the garden.
It doesn't matter what you know or don't know.
In our garden there is a place for everyone.
We work with a lot of young people.
We tell them in the garden 
you forget who you are,
you are a gardener."

Abu Talib

Taqwa is extraordinary because of its spirit.  The giving away of food to the hungry became a Grow To Give Day.  Anyone can come and receive produce.  There are no food stamps.  It's what Taqwa stands for.  Several times during class, my Pilates teacher says "just breathe."   When Talib was speaking, I had to remind myself to breathe, because what he said took my breath away.

Mar 24, 2013

What Do You Call Yourself?

I'm not big into titles.  It always comes off seeming pretentious.  Those of us in the garden game struggle with the name game.  In this country, we feel unappreciated and under-appreciated.  If we don't add Manager or Director to the title of Horticulturist, we simply haven't achieved anything.

In a recent article in Landscape Architecture,  Michael Van Valkenburgh talks about this question of one's handle.  "Farrand preferred to be called a 'landscape gardener' - not an architect..."  He goes on  "No matter how skilled and artistically inclined horticultural workers are (and they are often extremely talented), they are generally perceived as declasse, left out of design discussions and poorly paid."

The only place I have felt revered as a gardener is in the UK.  Pulling weeds or deadheading, visitors stop and admire what you are doing.  They think you are LUCKY to be working in a garden.  There is nothing ignoble about pushing a wheelbarrow or raking a piece of ground.  Most British people are gardeners on one level or another, and they admire the skill and knowledge it takes to do the job.

Gardener, master gardener, garden designer or horticulturist, it doesn't really matter.  It's great to be outside, digging in the dirt, trying to make something beautiful.

Mar 19, 2013

Like a Laboratory Experiment

Isabel and Ruben

March 18, 2013
Introduced by Cindi Leive
Editor-in-Chief of Glamour

Moderated by Pamela Golbin
Chief Curator of Fashion and Textiles
Les Arts Decoratifs, Paris

I don't believe in love at first sight.   If there was a chance of convincing me that such a thing exists, Ruben and Isabel Toledo might be able to persuade me.  They met when they were in high school and have been together ever since, both in marriage and business.

Isabel Toledo is one of those designers who flies under the radar.  Her populist moment arrived when Michele Obama wore her creation at the Presidential inauguration in 2009.  Isabel Toledo remains  a cult figure in the fashion world.  She and her husband own their own small business and they have worked to keep it that way.  It's hard to find the Toledo label, even in New York.  Access to her clothes is a rarefied experience.  You will not find the Toledo label on sunglasses, underwear, handbags, jewelery, watches, belts, ipad covers, pantyhose, sheets, shoes, luggage or jeans.
With remarkable candor, Isabel Toledo characterized herself as a scientist; in search of solutions using fabric.  Her work is as much about making sculpture as it is about engineering.  "I want to make that garment that a woman cannot get rid of.  I am a radical classicist.  A garment is brought to life by the woman who wears it."
The Toledos finished each others sentences.  Ruben, a well-known artist, illustrator and filmmaker was as supportive in public of Isabel; as I imagine he is in private.  When asked how she would define fashion: "I try to stay out of fashion.  It's a fleeting moment.  I connect with value."

About ten years ago, I had a chance to buy a Toledo coat at a tremendously reduced price.  I was feeling flush at the time.  I know something about fashion, but nothing about the making of clothes.   In spite of this shortcoming, I instinctively reacted to the fabric as a transformative medium.  Not owning it, I felt regret at the time.  Hearing Toledo last night, a pang of anguish washed over me. 

When I left FIAF, it was still snowing.  I stopped thinking about the Toledo coat. Instead I opted for another of Toledo's past times, the hula hoop.  As soon as I finish this post, I am going online to find a hula hoop.  For Toledo it's a mediatative experience, I only hope, it will do the same for me.

 Fashion Talks with Pamela Golbin

Naeem Khan
March 27 at 7 pm


Mar 14, 2013

A Pleasurable Experience

New York Botanical Garden
March 14, 2013
A friend of my mine called to tell me that she would NOT be going to the lecture by Bill Thomas at NYBG.  "I don't learn anything new at these talks.  It's just a bunch of pretty pictures. "  I understood what she was talking about.  I often feel the same way. 

I went to hear Bill Thomas.  Partly, I felt obligated.  I had received a scholarship from Chanticleer and emailed Bill Thomas many times over the course of a year, but I had never met him.  This was my opportunity.  I was not disappointed.  

If you want to take a walk through a garden, any garden, I feel the best person to do that with is the designer.  Bill Thomas has been overseeing Chanticleer for over 15 years.  He gave an intimate and comprehensive look at the gardens at Chanticleer, their intentions and changes over the years.

Every garden (public or private) is making efforts to reduce their costs, use new technologies and create sustainable opportunities.  Chanticleer is no different.  For me, this was the most relevant part of Bill's talk.

1.  Creating areas where turf is only mowed once a year.  These are normally in places where bulbs are planted.  These high grass areas create texture and form in an otherwise flat plane.  In concert with this idea, is the education of public.  Will people accept areas of non-mown grass or substitutes like Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)?  As Thomas said, leaving long grass or planting an alternative "on a day with frost is like the icing on a cake and in the rain they shiver."

2.  Controlled burns are common in the UK, but rare in this country, especially in botanical gardens.  Chanticleer has instituted a controlled burn. The burn lasts for 43 minutes under the guidance of the fire dept.  Chanticleer burns its sporobolus (prairie dropseed).  The plants are healthier and without the donut hole in the middle that most grasses have after a number of years.

3. With  3 water retention basins that hold 30,000 gallons, Chanticleer is able to reduce its reliance on traditional water sources for a great deal of its water practices.

4.  The garden has also experimented with cover crops: Little Bluestem, radishes, buckwheat.

5.  In a garden whose mission is aesthetically driven, like Chanticleer, compost is hidden behind high walls.  One of the gardeners is experimenting with composting in public areas and planting into the compost itself.

6.  The ultimate plan: no organic material will leave the property.

7.  In addition to cisterns, 18% of Chanticleer's electricity is produced by solar panels.

8.  For the woodland garden, Chanticleer is using  recycled rubber mulch glued down for  pathways.

In a garden with a hefty endowment, instead of remaining stucked in some historic period, Chanticleer is  trying get ahead of the curve.  It's beauty, creativity and diversity inspire me.

Mar 11, 2013

Surprises Happen

Life of Disappearance
A Portrait of Louise Bourgeois
Friday, March 8, 2013

How do you get to know someone?  This is the question Cornand's film Grabigouji poses.  The film is a series of taped phone conversations between Brigitte Cornand and Louise Bourgeois. The filmmaker adds a series of still photographs and occasionally video clips.  The audience was advised in the introductory remarks about Grabigouji, that Cornand's films unfold slowly.  I might say painfully.  

In one badinage, Bourgeois talks about the 5W's - who, what, when, where and why  She explains that the 5W's  are essential to unify any text.  Cornand must have forgotten this strategy for getting at the nature of things, mainly in this work.  Her film, although experimental in form, lacked conventional content.

We get to know Bourgeois through her repetitive grilling of Cornand over the phone.  "Have you picked up  the signs from the Bazar de Hotel de Ville?   The entire conversation is punctuated with this question, asked and answered many times and in many different ways.  Bourgeois' persistence was humorous, but also an indication of her badging nature.  

Every now and then, interspersed among the most mundane conversation in the world, some gem would drop from Bourgeois's lips.  She lists collectors of gifts, trips, lists, happy moments, drawings, etc. etc. etc. and then................................... "collecting is a defense against the fear of disintegration." This is when it dawned on me, what the introducer was trying to tell us, wait for will be rewarded. 


My Beautiful Women

Saturday, March 22
2 pm
In Annette Messager's Nets
The Sweet River and Saint Louise and the Hawk

Saturday, April 13
2 pm
Dear Louise
Joan Jonas:  Portrait of the Artist with Dog
Q and A with Brigitte Cornand
Joan Jonas, Carolee Scheeman, Gween Thomas & Martha Rosler

Saturday April 20
2 pm
Homage to Louise Bourgeois
The Sweet River
Book Signing of Grabigouji , to my friend Louise Bourgeois 
The Whisper of Whistling Water
Grabigouji:  Life of Disappearance