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GROW Gardens are IDEAS filled with GROWING possibilities. Use UnWasted Land

Hack Your Waste Brainstorming Session and Random Observations

Photo of Evelyn Ihrke
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Hack Your Waste

Brainstorming Session and Random Observations


Gardens are IDEAS filled with GROWING possibilities. Use UnWasted Land

With most things we have to innovate our way out of chaos and into mindfulness… the same goes with food responsibility. There are the many threads: of good nutrition, waste which is of the most benefit, reusing energy and materials wisely, sustaining the process, and perhaps the best proof of all- making something from almost nothing and making it beautiful. The best ideas are all of these things, and more. If we consider aging urban areas and the inevitable gaps between where structures once stood, and the fallow ground that is unused there, gardens are a beautiful solution to even more threads of responsibility.

We Pow-Wowed Saturday afternoon and came up with a plan, and a couple of items that could start a garden on its way. I took pic of the paper notes- but here they are in some semblance of order.

First, the Plan: Start Where You Are:  Teach, Reach, Give

1. Garden where people eat and live

    A.  Develop forms for vertical plantings of seedlings

    Pallets are convenient to make potting benches [photo], raised beds [photo], vertical planters. Ambitious projects could build a shed for tool storage.

    Forms can also be made of recycled plastics (Vertical Garden Pockets drawing) and to make pavers which are then set in the configurations desired. Pavers are made from cement and the addition of compostable fibers, and or found items eg. clothing fibers.

    B.  Farmer’s Market & Exchanges    

2. Waste is thoughtfully planned as part of the garden system. Any garden food or plant parts not used or ruined by weather can be composted on site

3. Grow trees to replant community parks and private homes.

4. Gather recyclables at the Garden (optional, but community minded)

a. make Art: sculptures, structures— things that are useful in a garden

build dog houses, bird houses and bird feeders


notices and sayings on pallet wood : I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree (Joyce Kilmer)… etc.

b. possible revenue stream for unwasting plastics:

pelletized plastic for 3D printers or building model forms

shred for insulation

plastic forms for vertical garden pockets [drawing]


Keep In Mind:

When planning a garden choose a site that looks fertile. In all other areas plant alfalfa and other nitrogen fixing plants to condition the soil the first year.

Use many smaller gardens to involve every neighbor and to keep participation vibrant.

Making money is OK, but eating well is better!

Gardens tend all IDEAS and encourage the small sprouts to become big trees and beautiful flowers!

Community Gardens turn neglected unused lots into sanctuaries and living museums.

Build A Garden:

Most Gardens need some structures. Trellises or lattices for hanging plants and vines

Pallets could be used for seedlings and save space by being situated vertically- This could do double duty by lining the perimeter of a garden to keep out rabbits.

Compost corral in one corner, preferably near a tool shed

Nice things to have are cubes (also made from found objects) that can be used to sit on and carry things from space to space. [photo] Another good thing to have is a planter table- you guessed it- [photo] Jake made this one from pallets- and this nice log planter is just a nice way to keep some herbs off the ground.

While we are reusing the ubiquitous pallet, why not reuse the parts of old houses. Many towns have reuse centers where you can find at the very least old doors and windows. Windows are excellent for propping up one side about a foot over cucumbers- you have just made a mini-greenhouse! Old bricks and cinderblocks can also come in handy around a garden to keep young plants secure and protected at their base until they grow enough. Blocks can also be used for raised beds, etc.

Gardens are ideas filled with growing possibilities- Use what you  have!

A few random words on composting and other gardening possibilities:

I have a compost ridge in my backyard. It is filled with coffee grounds, cat litter- which is really diatomaceous earth in many cases- peelings and sometimes whole spent vegetables or fruits, some grass clipping and twigs, as well as ash from bonfires and our pellet stove. The only animal matter in there is the occasional sad dead mouse. I regularly turn the ridge over and place fresh dirt on top. Over the past four years I have been able to take what was a trench in the back and turn it into a fifteen foot long ridge. Admittedly it’s mostly cat litter… but next year I will try to grow some alfalfa and clover on it for the rabbits and deer.

My cousin has a bee keeping box in his urban home. I think this would be a great thing for urban gardens to keep in mind as a possibility. My great-grandfather Sal grew grapes over a trellis made of pipes that made a carport on his driveway… as yes, he turned the grapes into wine. [Home and Micro brewers aren’t just hipsters.]

How communities can share in the first steps  toward building a gardening mentality.


Pre-Fab compost units and tool sheds to get it going quickly (establish a work space)

Municipal water spigots

Friendly Challenges: Neighborhood Fairs, chili or BBQ cook offs, odd cook-offs: What would you do with broccoli?

Strawberry Socials: just plan to share with the broader community whatever is fun from your garden

Educational Workshops: Culinary, Cultivating, Sustainability, Forest and Land Management, Sales of plants via eg. Cornell Extension]

Coordinators and Volunteers : informal or from some agency eg. Americorp

Block Grants: these are monies set aside from the Legislature for community development and enhancement projects


Tools, seed and plant start-ups, and a municipally supplied spigot would be the minimum amount needed to spend. Block Grants or other community sources of money would easily cover an estimated $250-300 that would be needed to start a community garden on an otherwise empty urban lot.

Buffalo Architectural Machine:

BAM would like to build Plastic Garden Pockets, Log Planters, and Pallet Shelfs all day long- but they are easy enough for people to do them on-site and not have to pay shipping! However, we think that producing commercially available Vertical Garden Pockets for seedlings and herbs might be a good fit as a BAM product because it mitigates energy use, and has dual or multiple purposes. If BAM gets into molds and forms, the paver forms which could also do double duty as fountain or, bird bath, and paver forms would also be explored. BAM would post on Instructables or some other sharing site the plans for the Planter Benches and hackable Garden Pocket ideas, as well as tips for planning a  community garden. The Garden Pockets could be made with gallon milk cartons and zip tied to a vertical pallet. I apologize for using that word so much, please regard it as shorthand for any reliable, economical wood.

Since I already have four home garden areas- my son put his own raised beds in this year- I would be willing to walk people through what my gardens accomplish functionally, as well as the long family history from way back to my great-grandparents and their yearly gardening endeavors. I’m sure most people will recognize that family gardens have a solid place in the urban and suburban environment. I would meet with community groups at their proposed site to promote urban and suburban gardening. One of the most important things is for a neighborhood to develop is a political connection to get access and money for water, possibly security, some recognition, and the platform to discuss common goals and new methods.

Participants: Evelyn Ihrke, Hanna Ihrke, Jake Kandra, Dan Ihrke Pretty much a family brainstorming session- Saturday September 10, 2016

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Placing drawings and How-To on-line. Meet with community centers that currently do not have a garden.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Compiling legislative and community action from community gardens that have already been successful. Turning this into a shareable pdf booklet and creating a website: community garden forum. Sharing ideas about unusual garden ideas eg. the bee keeping, and other ways to keep urban lots UnWasted.

Tell us about your work experience:

As Director of Buffalo Architectural Machine I'm concentrating my efforts in building sustainable product designs. I have worked as a Substitute Teacher, Commercial and Art Photographer, Builder and Remodeler.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s just been created! It’s existed for 1 day - 1 month

Attachments (1)

Garden Pockets.jpeg

Drawing of Garden Pockets. Unit is 40cm long, formed from two pieces of material, a backer board and a front board which has been vacuum formed to create a space.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Evelyn Ihrke

Awesome update: We were able to get two parcels from the County Auction... Hops and Bees and a few trees... and veggies! 

Photo of Obua Godfrey

Dear Evelyn,
Thanks for the great idea, please keep it up.
Godfrey Obua.

Photo of Evelyn Ihrke

Hey Everybody!

Sharing my abbreviated food waste diary.

Biggest take aways:

Our trash is less than usual- all packaging from cat food meow mix trays.

Mindful of waste and food makes you more mindful…

If one out of ten people just talked about this more we could have a greener sustainable space.

Tip: Cold brewing your coffee lets you reuse the grounds three times- it just becomes more dilute. We then put the grounds into our compost pile.

Photo of Evelyn Ihrke


I think we should start calling this a Peace Garden... Referencing what I mentioned to you yesterday about sister cities and how we need mass amounts of collaboration...this can be bigger than a certain place... but it certainly is about Peace!

Please join our team- Peace Bro!

Peace Gardens

Photo of Jake

Taking pride in the small things you do can go miles in all aspects of your life and can help to build a more positive environment in all aspects of your life and those lives you impact.

A garden can be done in a multitude of fashions and doesn't have to be a general traditional type. Be creative and use what is around you and fits your current space conditions.

Photo of Evelyn Ihrke


This is why I love you and love collaborating with you- even when it’s work (real work): Up in the middle of the night with a positive attitude! Right on Man! Teach me that! haha!

In the the original post I forgot to mention a few other things we had talked about. And, as you say, it’s the small things that can sometimes put it all in perspective for people. The community would be great incorporated in schools, and, importantly, gardens connected to a restaurant, even if or just growing herbs!  Community Garden amplifies the benefits of a restaurant, creates more spaces to be together, creating a vibrant community. Restaurants and purchasers benefit by having having some fresh hands down the street that know how to GROW! It’s also the kind of hobby that requires only whatever time you can give. It’s not a chore, it’s a privilege to have the opportunity.

Hanna specifically said: Most people waste fruits and vegetables because they're not that fresh when I get them and this would be one way to keep it in the ground until you really want to eat it and then develop recipes for when you have a lot of things.

A pretty cool idea is to grow a bunch of hops and either microbrew it or sell it to a small brewery.

Or using the grain silos for aquaculture? 26 pounds of seafood are killed to get one pound of shrimp- and that’s sold so what? five dollars? We can do better!
The sense of pride that your garden can share is immeasurable. Taking control of your connection to everything around you makes for a resilient and accomplished community.

I’m thinking of my friend Scott, too, who taught me more about mushrooms that I can ever remember! My great-grandfather Bernard who was so happy to get 6 figs from a tree he grew in his yard in Buffalo… In fact, do people in Buffalo remember that the corner of Eggert, Sheridan and Niagara Falls Boulevard used to be family garden plots? Yep- one of the busiest intersections was until the 1920’s a community garden spot. When that land became valuable toAmherst development my great-grandparents were able to sell it and buy a house in North Buffalo. Where Jenny continued to make sun-dried tomatoes for sauce on the back balcony.

Think of the stories a person can tell when breaking through the urban blight and creating sacred spaces that nurture communities!

Photo of Hanna Ihrke

Having a garden close to your home would mean you're eating the freshest produce all the time. Most fruits and vegetables are picked before they can ripen on the plant and are then allowed to ripen in a semi truck on their way to you. 

Vertical gardens are also great for urban areas and it would be neat to see employers in cities allow their employees to plant roof top gardens. Imagine picking vine ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and basil right before you leave work and making a very fresh salad for dinner. This could alleviate the need to run to the grocery store every few days to buy fresh vegetables. 

Photo of Dan

The pallet bench looks nice, and is a good use of wood that is typically discarded. Maybe a smaller shelf with hole to fit small pots above the back would help.