Stop Stealing Dreams

So after I post the inspiring story yesterday concerning the Classroom Farm in the Bronx I was directed to an article in the NY Daily News. The article say's the program was terminated. According to the Daily News, "A celebrated classroom farm that yielded fresh produce and great jobs for students at a South Bronx public high school has been quietly shut down." It continues, "Green Bronx Machine withered last August when Ritz was moved to a basement classroom and told to stop growing food at Discovery". The Daily News says, "The city Department of Education referred questions to Discovery Principal Rolando Rivera, who failed to return repeated requests for an interview about why the program was shut down." Without the details it's hard to understand why the program was halted. Maybe a New York reader might have the answer? I do know our school system is broken. Here is a great video with Seth Godin that I watched right after watching the video on the school farm. What Seth say's dovetailed so well with what I saw in that Bronx video. It's called, "Stop stealing Dreams" It's 16 minutes well spent if your at all concerned with how the kids are being "educated" and what we can do about it. Seems the title, "Stop Stealing Dreams" fits well with the closing of the school program.


A teacher and students using horticulture to change their world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcSL2yN39JM&playnext=1&list=PL587786522B73DCBA&feature=results_video This is a great TEDx Talk featuring teacher Stephen Ritz and his Bronx classroom. According to the YouTube page, "With the help of extended student and community family they have grown over 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance. His Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible wall in NYC DOE which routinely generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America."

The future is now, and horticulture will play a huge role. Very cool.

Chicago, the city of flowers and vegetables

Some cities just know how to put on a show. Chicago has plantings like this all over town. Each one seems unique, and all are kept looking great.

I attended a talk this morning at The IGC (Independent Garden Centers) Show here in Chicago by Rick Bayless, award-winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, and TV personality. What's really cool is he  harvests organic herbs, vegetables and other edibles from his home garden  and other city gardens for his restaurants, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill.  He mentions that just twenty years ago there were no farmers markets in Chicago, so he started growing his own! Now,

any top notch restaurant in the city MUST use fresh vegetables grown locally. Yes, they also grow them on the rooftops of the city.

The edible craze will certainly die down, but it will not go away. It's a great opportunity for those of us who sell gardening. We have waited for years for this kind of opportunity. Food and gardening just go together. Having a representative of the trend like Rick will only encourage people even more to "grow their own".

Plantosaurus Rex

What a fantastic way to spend a day with a child, and let your imagination's run free. The Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco has a new exhibit titled, “Plantosaurus Rex”, and it’s all about ancient plants and dinosaurs. That’s the “hook”  to get the kids interested.  We read in an article of SF Gate that, "I was a huge dinosaur nerd as a kid," admitted Director of Operations and Exhibitions Lau Hodges, who put the display together and wrote its explanatory booklet. "It was a dream come true, a chance to show a lot of plants we don't often display." What a fantastic idea. Kids just love thinking about dinosaurs. To be able to see them in their native surroundings, what a thrill. There is even a T Rex busting through the roof of the conservatory. Oh, and there are lots of plants that even T Rex might have even trampled through. Take a child with you, and ignite their imagination.

The Conservatory of Flowers is located in Golden Gate Park.

Guerrilla Grafters

The mantra repeated in the horticultural trade businesses at this time is, if we don't start a national campaign to promote gardening people will spend time doing something else. But, why go through all the expense and time of that when we have a younger generation that is very interested in horticulture already? The concern for us in the gardening business is they're  just not shopping at the garden center like mom and dad use too. Don't think the younger generations are interested in gardening? Your not looking in the right places. The newest expression of urban gardening is "Guerrilla Grafters". Talk about taking matters into your own hands, literally.  According to SFBay.com "Guerrilla Grafters bring fruit to the masses". According to the article, Tara Hui is one of the founders  of "Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade agricultural group that  fruit-bearing branches onto public trees in the Bay Area for locals to enjoy for free."

According to SFBay, "Volunteers in the Bay Area collect branches from the California Rare Fruit Growers association or pick up donated branches from backyard gardeners and regional orchards." This bud stock is then grafted onto existing non-bearing trees like flowering pears.  In the short video above you can learn what they are trying to accomplish.

There are a host of unanswered questions we could think up about this. That's not the point, however. This crazy interest in grafting and gardening is what catches my attention. Grafting is not always an easy process, yet this 100 member volunteer group has learned how to do it, and are doing it. It is even spreading to other cities and countries. Call it "Guerrilla Grafting" if you like, but it's still a form of gardening. If we in the trade are going to capture these peoples interest and enthusiasm it's not through large campaigns, or media blitzes. It will be by providing the tools they need, and helping them spread the word of how cool gardening is via social media.

Work at Annie's Annuals

Work with me!Here is a great opportunity to work at one of the more dynamic nurseries around. Annie's Annuals in Richmond Ca., is looking to fill three different nursery positions. You can check them out here. According to Elayne who works at the nursery, "we're quirky, offer good health benefits and pay fairly. We work really hard - but we also have a lot of fun!" If I wanted to build or continue a career in garden center retail this would be a great place. Frankly, there are not that many places around that afford this kind of opportunity in our trade. Learn and work with people who are leading the way in garden retail.

Make your message easy to spread

One of the coolest logo's of any garden center is Sloat's Garden Centers in The San Francisco Bay Area. This chain has been in business since 1958 and takes it's name from the site of the original store on Sloat Avenue, near the zoo.

The logo is perfect for the time and place. Forward looking woman who looks like she really gardens. This person is ready for business. This is the  opposite message of The Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies. While both are "fictional" the Sloat logo sends a different message. Self-reliance as opposed to "needful", intelligence as opposed to "gossipy", independence as opposed to "group think". You could take the Sloat logo, and put it on a gift bag, or bumper sticker and it sends a message. Put the "Ladies" on a shopping bag? Not. You could even take the Sloat logo and paste different sayings across it. "Rebel", "Independent", "Flower Power", "Change", "Hope", etc. I am going to take a guess and say most women would rather where a tee-shirt with the Sloat logo on it than a tee-shirt with the "Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies" printed on it.

Is there a description of the "average" garden center customer? Is there one logo or idea that will work for all garden

centers, or appeal to all garden center customers? No. Perhaps in some regions The Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies will resonate.  You cannot please everyone and each store has to decide what direction their marketing efforts go. What you have to figure out is how to allow your customers to spread the word for you. One way is through "social objects" like logo's. You want an easy way for people to share your stores message. They have to want to spread the message, and the message has to resonate with others.  "I want a tee shirt like that" or "I want to be the type of person who shops at a cool place like Sloats." Make your message easy to spread. Make it a message people will want to spread.

Sid's two retail garden center's in Chicago area to close

This is sad news for gardeners in Chicago Land.

Sid's Greenhouses in Palos Hills and Bolingbrook, Illinois will be closing their two retail locations. According to Sid's website, "In announcing the closings to employees and the public, Company president Philip Schaafsma, Sr. said, “'It is with a great deal of emotion that I must tell you that Bill and I have been forced to close the stores. Lagging sales over the last several years along with declining property values on which our loans and credit lines are based are among the factors leading to this difficult decision. We thank all of our employees and customers for the wonderful memories associated with our stores, and wish all of our employees the best as they seek new opportunities in the coming weeks.'” Approximately 110 full and part-time employees will be displaced by the closures; many of them have worked for the Schaafsma family for twenty years or more. The closures also mean a loss of millions of dollars in retail sales and accompanying tax revenues to the local economy."

Sid is a member of our Independent Garden Centers and Nursery page on Facebook and made the announcement to us just hours ago. I hope it all works out for the family and crew. The same issues that have plagued all of us in this trade over the last few years we're just too much for this 50 year plus business. It could happen to anyone. One can only imagine what the owners and staff are going through. I wish them the best of luck in whatever the future holds.

Self-sufficiency is not a crime

At a time when we need more people growing their own food and becoming more self-sufficient we have government pushing back. Check out this picture of a families home in Oak Park, Michigan. Seems they have run afoul of local ordinances. According to theagitator.com "'City code says that all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material.'  Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are what Basses see as suitable."

According to Oak Park’s Planning and Technology Director Kevin Rulkowski  the city disagrees. He says, “If you look at the dictionary, suitable means common. You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard.” Of course you won't find another vegetable garden that consumes the front yard, it's illegal. Since when do we allow the government to tell us we cannot grow food to eat?

I know we have heard stories like this before, but these are times when growing your own should be a right, if it isn't already. These homeowners should be held up as examples of what we should be doing in our front and back yards. I hope these people are not forced to remove their garden. The city should be ashamed for telling these people to stop being self-sufficient and toe the line of mediocrity and conformity.

And as far as putting shrubbery in the front yard I asked famous plantsman Roger the Shubber and he had this to say, "Oh, what sad times are these when government ruffians can say Ni at will to vegetable growers. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even  I, a Shrubber by trade say let them grow food, and skip the shrubbery".

Here is a petition you can sign in support. 

Should the actions of the parent company matter, Pt.2

When I posted yesterday about Urban Outfitters using the designs of a small business owner with out attribution little did I realize the story would end up at Boing-Boing and The Huffington Post. It shows the power of people talking, and spreading the word. A friend who is a nurseryman commented yesterday. He said, "There seems to be a question of who came up with the design originally. People are stating that these 'I Heart State' pendants have been on the market long before I make Shiny Things came up with the idea. I feel that if you are a small business and you come up with an original idea that you wouldn’t want someone to steal, then you should patent or trademark that idea or product. Being a small business is no excuse to be ignorant of being a good business person and protecting yourself your ideas and your original products.

Trey, if I hybridized a really cool original daylily, let’s say a Red Stella De Oro with variegated folige, and I just started selling it on the market without patenting it, and then all of the wholesale nurseries started picking it up and selling it and then I started crying foul what would you think? You would say 'Wow Keith, I feel bad for you. Why didn’t you patent it? Sucks for you man!'"

Fair enough, but things have changed. Now the small hybridizer like yourself can spread the word about what happened. Here is my answer to my friends comment.

" Yea it sucks. But you know what, I would be pissed off with you. Sure there we’re no laws broken, but still. If that happened to you perhaps you would Tweet your displeasure, and I would pick up on that. I write a blog post on your situation, meanwhile others are Tweeting their displeasure. Next thing you know Boing_Boing has picked up on it. Now I seeThe Huffington Post has picked up the story. Is it right or wrong? Was it right or wrong of these wholesale nurseries to take your hybrid? It’s all grey. The point is, there is something you can do now to get your story out, where as in the past it was a lot harder. Seems that lady is selling her jewelry out as we speak, and a lot of people know about her business now, and know about Urban Outfitters, too."

Right or wrong companies that do stuff that is legal, but a bit nefarious, are going to get called out. How they respond to the that will reflect on their companies for a long time.


Should the actions of the parent company matter?

Remember when Urban Outfitters opened up a retail garden center called Terrain back in 2008? We talked quit a bit about it at the time. Frankly I found then, and still find Urban Outfitters foray into the garden world simply an attempt to cash in on their name. I have been in Urban Outfitters, and while they do have some interesting stuff, it always seemed a bit phony. Doesn't matter, as I am not the target audience and they don't care what this middle aged guy thinks. It's Urban Outfitters and the are just so hip and cool, and if you don't get it your not. Does Terrain’s being owned by Urban Outfitter’s mean anything when the parent company is caught "borrowing" ideas from smaller independent artists? I came upon a Tweet by Stevie in Chicago who owns imakeshinythings.com She designs and makes jewelry, which she sells online through Etsy. She say’s Urban Outfitters stole her designs, and is now marketing them under the Urban Outfitters label. Take a look here and here and see what you think. Of course now she wishes she had copy-righted her designs, but never the less it does seem a bit sleazy.

My question is, do the actions of the parent company affect the other businesses they own, like the garden center Terrain? Should it? I believe this kind of stuff does resonate, and over time degrades the image these companies have worked so hard to build. Suddenly Urban Outfitters doesn't seem so cool.  Terrain?

Looks like Boing-Boing, one of the worlds most popular blogs picked up on the story this afternoon. I wonder if they saw it here? I like to read their blog, so you never know. Never the less this shows the power of The Internet to spread ideas.

Now the Huffington Post has picked up the story.




SF Botanical Garden fee's not enough. Let's spend more!

The Botanical Garden in Golden Gate park instituted an admissions fee in August of last year. The formally free venue decided to start charging $7 for non-residents. Residents can enter free, with proof of residency. According to SFGate.com, "Officials initially estimated that the entrance fee would generate $650,000 in the current fiscal year, which began July 1. But the projection later was reduced to $402,401, due in part to delayed implementation and lower-than-expected attendance by nonresidents. Now, according to Rose, the projections have been lowered further, to $355,992."

The fee was instituted with the caveat that it would come up for a vote of The Board of Supervisors the following year.  While some on the board want to keep the fees, others say it's time to end the fees and allow people to walk through free. The Parks and Recreation Department and Botanical Garden Society officials have raised their expectations for revenue for the next fiscal year, "they anticipate the nonresident visitor fee will bring in $542,055, or $337,219 after administrative costs." Administrative costs for the botanical garden are over $210,000.

The revenue last year was not what they expected, so this year they raise the revenue expectations by 52.3%? How are they going to do that? According to Sarah Ballard, policy director for the Recreation and Park Department, "this facility has never really been promoted. This is a world-class living museum." According to SFGate, "she said a robust marketing campaign is planned to draw more tourists to the Botanical Garden." I wonder what the "robust marketing campaign" is going to cost? What is the basis for expecting an increase in revenue by 52.3 percent, and how do they come up with these figures? 52.3%?

Originally the fee was suppose to end "if voters approved a citywide tax increase to bring in more revenue. That happened in November, when the city's real estate transfer tax was raised." Why are we then talking about continuing the fee?

If the arboretum is "world class" then that by itself would be enough to attract the needed attendance without the marketing campaign. Back in the day I use to visit the arboretum all the time. It is a wonderful place, yet the visit's would have been a lot fewer if I had been charged an admission fee. As the article in SFGate quotes Supervisor John Avalos, "one only has to linger a few moments at the gate to see frustrated San Franciscans without their (identifications), and nonresidents who don't want to be gouged, turned away".

So the fee was suppose to end if a special tax was passed. The tax passes, but that's not enough. Revenue is down so let's estimate a 52.3% increase in attendance for no other reason than a yet to be determined "robust marketing campaign". Sound's like a whole lot of wishing going on.

One businesses social media nightmare

Interesting conversations going on at Twitter concerning the term Urban Homesteading. Apparently a business in Los Angeles named Darvaes claims to own the right to the term. They operate a web page titled, Path to Freedom where they explain why they feel they have a trademark on the term, as well as others. Here is the post. The following is a list of tradmarked terms Path to Freedom say's are owned by someone, somewhere. "SQUARE FOOT GARDENING, EDIBLE LANDSCAPING, SEEDS OF CHANGE, THE PIONEER WOMAN, SIMPLE LIVING, LOCAVORE, HOMESTEAD GARDENS, BACKYARDFARMS, GAIA, VEGE, HONEYBEES, HOMEGROWN, BIODIESEL, BICYCLING, GARDENER, URBAN HOME, GARDEN, COMPOST MASTER, HOMEGROWN HARVEST, LIVING HOMEGROWN, HOMEGROWN HIPPIE, PLANT THE SEED, GARDEN GIRL, URBAN FARMING, HOBBY FARM, URBAN FARM, BIODYNAMIC, GROW BIOINTENSIVE, SLOW FOOD, CERTIFIED ORGANIC BY CCOF, If anyone is offended by these common trademarks, please contact the respective trademark owners!"

Apparently their fans decided to take them up on their suggestion to "contact the receptive trademark owners". The outcry from former fan's of the Dervaes has hit a nerve with the business as they Tweeted just a couple of hours ago, "know the facts before you (re)Act. Stop the 'mob of misinformation' and insighting malicious emails and harassing phone calls." Here is a link to the Twitter page #Urban Homestead. This is where former fan's (the mob) of the business are venting their outrage.

The terms listed above are commonly used by people all the time without problem. What got the Darvaes in trouble was they started to send notices to bloggers, libraries, and other that we're using the term, urban homesteading. They threatened the very people who have been their biggest fans and helped spread the word, bloggers.  It will be interesting to watch this and see what happens. They have had to close their Facebook Page because of the outrage. The continuing attempt to keep people from using the term is only going to erode any goodwill the business has left. Once you start a fight with your customers it's over. Calling them a mob doesn't help either.