The temperature was well below zero and the ground outside was as hard as concrete and Ephraim Smiley was talking about cabbages and Roma tomatoes and a particular type of green bean.
I mentioned that I like beets and he said he never grew beets, but he’d run into a woman who wanted him to plant Detroit beets. He’d never heard of Detroit beets.
Smiley then described himself as an intensive gardener. “It’s 11 below zero, and you and I are talking about cabbage,” he said. That’s the definition of an intensive gardener, he said.
And he is intense when it comes to gardening. Gardening and farming are in his blood, he said.
He teaches organic gardening at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. Thirty years ago you would have called him a hippie, he says, but everybody wants to be green now, so he’s not a hippie any more. He’s green.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being a hippie.
Smiley helps run an operation called Garden Angels and Urban Farmers on 14 acres on East Tillman Road. It’s a program that teaches gardening to kids and focuses on hunger relief.
“We’re cross-cultural. We don’t care where you’re from,” he says. They have hippies show up and help garden at the mini farm, and people with purple hair and people from Woodburn. “They all like gardening.”
Then, proving he’s an intensive gardener, he points out that farmers spend the winter working on their equipment and he’s thinking about the kind of equipment he’d like to have in the spring.
You see, the Urban Farmer program, which includes 4-H members and school kids, relies on two antique – borderline ancient – tractors.
One is an Allis Chalmers B model tractor from the early 1940s with a cultivating unit. It runs, but sometimes you have to start it with a crank.