The Most Important Lesson Learned From This Year’s Garden Is…

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Frequent readers of this blog may recall that this year presented real challenges to gardeners and farmers across the country.  The months of April and May were rainy and wet.  June and July brought record highs due to searing national heat waves.  August was almost fall-like with the temperatures going up and down. September, well it was September, and a true “Indian Summer” never really manifested in October, as many local baseball fans would attest.  The mantra I am sure that came from everybody lips was “Deal With It…Just Deal With It!  You really had no other choice but to deal with whatever Mother Nature threw down.  Our fathers…our father’s fathers…and their fathers before them all understood what we all now know…“that which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger”…DEAL WITH IT!

So deal with I did.  I posted pictures in a previous blog that showed what my garden looked like at a couple of stages this year.  At the time the pictures were taken, I was hopeful but I really wasn’t expecting much, not like last year.  Last year was fantastic…an exceptional year.  What made me more than a little concerned was that I had signed up for a program with the Garden Resource Program (The Greening of Detroit) to weigh my harvested produce.  When I signed up for this initiative I did so because of last year’s success.  But with the way things had started this year I was having some regrets and doubts very early on.

Every day I worked out in the garden, I thought of myself as a “sodbuster”, in the traditional sense.  On the rainy days I got soaked to the bone!  On the hot days I sweated like a pig!  Either way I looked like someone had thrown buckets of water on me.  One day my mother said, “Arthur, what have you been doing…you’re BLACK”!  I had to laugh for maybe my mom didn’t know that black folks tanned.  But there I was with a farmer’s tan…neck, shoulders, arms and the bottom half of my legs (I usually wore shorts when working in the garden).  My long hours working in the garden, in the sun, evoked memories and images in my mind of cotton fields and cabbage patches worked by sharecroppers back in the day.  The things I read about in history books or works of fiction were what I was living presently…day in and day out.

Lest you think that I am being overly dramatic, there is a real connection to the past here…the way we all used to live.  Being a post-war baby…a baby boomer…I can recall the days when everybody had a garden in his or her yard.  You lived off of your efforts to grow things.  If you grew tomatoes…you canned them!   If you grew beans…you pickled them!  If you had fruit trees…you made jams or pies!  We had cabbage plants, carrots, peas, cucumbers; you name it…you grew things because you had to…everybody lived off of the land.  Black, White, Asian…Martian or Venutian…you worked your garden because it was in your DNA.  History compelled you to do so.  And now 50 some odd years later, I was carrying on the tradition.  I never thought about it…never thought I would…but I was out there.  Watering plants by hand, not with a hose hooked to a faucet, to save money and resources.  Pulling and hoeing weeds…gardening organically, without the use of pesticides.  Fighting off the varmints…squirrels, birds and rabbits, fending off the damage they could and would do on a daily basis.  There were a lot of moments where I thought, “How did they handle all of these negative factors…the rain, the heat, weeds, the insects, the varmints?”  How did they survive these daily, weekly or season-long challenges?  How did they do it?  They would Deal With It…that’s all they could do…deal with it.  And so did I!

Around the beginning of July, several of the plants started to show signs of bearing fruit and I harvested my first vegetable from the garden.  It was Romaine Lettuce.  We had it as part of our Fourth of July celebratory meal.  Not too long after that, my onions were ready.  I was kind of surprised that the onions were ready so soon, but I guess because of the extreme heat we had in June, a lot of vegetables matured at an accelerated pace.  We had a big storm around July 11th and several of my tomato plants were knocked over.  The bush beans were flooded and potted plants were blown away.  But you know what I did, don’t you?

Around July 14th things started to come around.  The beans came back from the storm damage and though it looked some of the plants growth (cucumbers, zucchini and squash) was stunted due to the excessive heat, there were signs that things would be okay.  On July 19th I harvested my first batch of bush beans and the garden took off from there.  Before the end of the month I was picking beans, cucumbers, lettuces and tomatoes and at the beginning of the month of August, I was adding all types peppers and squash to the list.

I kept planting beans throughout the summer and ultimately those efforts paid off.  Before that garden was done, I had planted four successions of Contender and Provider bush beans along with Cherokee Yellow Wax Beans.  My pole beans were a victim of the summer heat as they flowered quickly and then just died without producing anything.  But everything else just flourished.  It seemed that every day it didn’t rain I was picking stuff from the garden.  My “yard of plenty” was giving me plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors.  Some of the biggest tomatoes I have ever grown.  The fleshiest and tastiest beans, the sweetest cucumbers and peppers that were both hot and sweet.  Even my first year test of growing tomatillos was showing signs of success.  Since I was weighing everything I harvested, I was surprised to see at the end of the month that I had harvested 60 pounds of produce.  WOW!

September was even better!  This time last year I was fighting a losing battle with the squirrels that lived in the trees around my yard.  I was talking to a friend about the garden and pest control when he asked me how much had I lost to the squirrels this year.  I thought about it for a minute and said that I had lost between 1 to 2% of this year’s yield up to then.  It sounded so insignificant when compared to last year when I spent hours every day chasing the varmints from my yard and was unable to stop them from feeding two or three times a day.  His remark was to SHUT THE F**K UP!  I wasn’t just getting by…I was getting over!  And he was right.  September was even better than August when it came time for me to audit what I harvested for the month.  On September 15 I had harvested a total of 117.66 pounds (August/September combined) and the final tally for the month showed that I had harvested 166.84 pounds.  I had harvested over 100 pounds during the month of September.  The breakdown was:

Category

 

  • Leaf/Greens            10.6 lbs.
  • Cabbage/Broccoli            8.4 lbs.
  • Beans              16.4 lbs.
  • Squash/Zucchini/Cucumbers            20.06 lbs.
  • Tomatoes            82.09 lbs.
  • Tomatillos            7.13 lbs.
  • Peppers            12.55 lbs.
  • Onions            9.0 lbs
  • Herbs              1.0 lbs

 

Total                           166.84 lbs.

 

For October, though the numbers are incomplete, to date I have harvested 63.31 pounds of produce.  I have harvested everything I can but still have quite a few tomatoes and tomatillos on the vine, along with broccoli, which has several shoots on each remaining plant.  So by my count I am well over 200 pounds and I just might, if I don’t get hit by a hard frost before the end of next week, reach 250 pounds.

So in spite of all my worrying…hand wringing…cries of despair, I have had a truly remarkable year.  What an effort…what a great yield!  I learned a lot form gardening this year but the most important lesson I learned was…no matter what comes up…meet it head on…and just Deal With It.  You may be real surprised as to way things turn out!

 

 

Ode To The End Of Summer

 

 

Summer, adieu

Adieu gregarious season

Goodby, ‘revoir, farewell

Now day, comes late; now chiller blows the breeze on

Forsaken beach and boarded-up hotel

Now wild geese fly together in thin lines

And Tourist Homes take down their lettered signs

 

It fades—this green this lavish interval

This time of flowers and fruits,

Of melon ripe along the orchard wall,

Of sun and sails and wrinkled linen suits;

Time when the world seems rather plus than minus

And pollen tickles the allergic sinus

 

Now fugitives to farm and shore and highland

Cancel their brief escape.

The Ferris wheel is quiet at Coney Island

And quaintness trades no longer on the Cape;

While meek-eyed parents hasten down the ramps

To greet their offspring, terrible from camps.

 

Turn up the steam.  The year is growing older.

The maple boughs are red.

Summer, farewell.  Farewell the sunburnt shoulder

Farewell the peasant kerchief on the head,

Farewell the thunderstorm, complete with lightning,

And the white shoe that ever needth whitening

 

Farewell, vacation friendships, sweet but tenuous

Ditto to slacks and shorts,

Farewell, O strange compulsion to be strenuous

Which sends us forth to death on tennis courts. 

Farewell, Mosquito, horror of our nights;

Clambakes, iced tea, and transatlantic flights.

 

The zinnia withers, mortal as the tulip

Now from the dripping glass

I’ll sip no more the amateur mint julep

Nor dine al fresco on the alien grass;

Nor scale the height nor breast the truculent billow

Nor lay my head on any weekend pillow.

 

Unstintingly I yield myself to Autumn

And Equinoctial sloth.

I hide my swim suit in the bureau’s bottom

Nor fear the fury of the after-moth

Forswearing porch and pool and beetled garden,

My heart shall rest, my arteries shall harden.

 

Welcome, kind Fall, and every month with ‘r’ in

Whereto my mind is bent.

Come, sedentary season that I star in,

O fire-lit Winter of my deep content!

Amid the snow, the sleet, the blizzard’s raw gust

I shall be cozier than I was in August.

 

Safe from the picnic sleeps the unlittered dell,

The last Good Humor sounds its final bell

And all is silence.

Summer, farewell, farewell.

 

By Phyllis McGinley

 

Lastly, a special thanks to all of the people of the Garden Resource Program.  Lindsay, Kido, Carmen, Tepfirah, Eitan and all of the rest…thank you for your kind and generous support.  See Y’all Next Year!

 

Peoples Creative Ensemble Is Looking For Help From Anybody That Can…YES YOU!

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It is the unfortunate state of our times, with budgets being cut from our schools and social services programs, that the people, seniors to teens, that need and would benefit the most from these formal programs are being asked or in some cases forced to do without.  The sad thing is that this is not being restricted to one area…one program…one service…it is happening every where…locally, regionally…nationally and at several levels.  Not surprisingly, one of the areas that has been hit the hardest is at the cultural level.

Back when I was a kid (during the 1950’s and 60’s) it seemed like there was so much to do…so many things to experience.  Wages were low but there apparently was an adequate tax base that enabled the city fathers/planners, board members, etc., to extend a hand to make sure that as a people, black or white, we were not culturally or socially deprived.  We could go on and on…round and round…about what’s wrong, how things went wrong and the despair that grips our communities but at the end of the day, not too much will be done.  Thankfully, there are those who’d rather not just talk about the problems, but would rather solve them and one of those individuals is Ron Jackson.

Many of the readers of this piece may have heard about Ron and the various projects he has developed.  There’s Ron Jackson Entertainment, where he operates as a Disc Jockey, providing a range of entertainment services such as live music, mobile disc jockeying, videotaping, photography, karaoke, ballroom dancing. Hustle instructions, African Dance groups and consulting for special events.  With this he has worked with such notable organizations like Vista Maria, Urban League, NAACP, COTS, Focus Hope, Southfield Delta Sigma Theta, Black United Fund, Ford Motor Co., Barat House, Detroit Public Library, Detroit Science Center, DSO, Wayne County Community College, and New Detroit.  He has performed at schools, recreation centers, nursing homes, senior citizens and weddings of all shapes, sizes and flavors.  He is a very busy and in demand artist.

But what really gets his motor running…his deepest pleasure is the Peoples Creative Ensemble.  It is here that Ron feels he is doing his best work.  For Ron this is more than a hobby or another way to fill his already filled day. 

The Peoples Creative Ensemble is a mission and in his words a spiritual quest that is “God’s plan” for him to pursue on the behalf of anybody and everybody that has not had the access to the things that he and many of the fortunate have experienced in their lifetime.

Peoples Creative Ensemble (PCE) was founded in 1983.  Its mission is to “provide individuals without music education prerequisites exposure to performing arts education, social programming and to showcase indigenous music and other genres”.   Initially, he started with just three programs…

  • Hustle for the Heart and Ballroom for the Body – a health education program that extols the benefit of dancing to maintain a healthy body and mind.
  • Music For Special People – A program for the general community with an emphasis on youth, seniors and the physically/mentally challenged
  • Chance to Choose Youth Touring Program – a program that gives youth the opportunity to act out their aggressions on stage instead of in the streets with a gun.

But as times have changed, definitely not for the better, the demands for these programs and others, along with the benefits they provide have increased significantly.  Forget the political rhetoric of today, because we are all affected, and we all need to do whatever we can to make the most of these hard times.

Recognizing that since the financial crisis that hit our nation charitable donations are down across the board, Ron is looking for help and support in other ways, Ron says…

  • If you are a musician…call Ron
  • If you are an artist…call Ron
  • If you are an actor…call Ron
  • If you are a dancer…call Ron
  • If you are a health instructor…call Ron
  • If you can teach…call Ron

If there is any way you can help…at any level…call Ron.  And…if all you can do is write a check…make a donation…large or small…CALL RON!  Your help and support will not be refused or rejected.  Our communities need the programs that Ron is trying to provide via the Peoples Creative Ensemble and Ron needs you!  Call Ron…do it…today…right now!

Peoples Creative Ensemble (PCE) is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization; therefore your donation will be tax deductible.  Contact PCE via phone (313) 341-6981 or (313) 758-9476 or via email info@pcedetroit.org 

Former Motown/R&B Musician and Noted DJ Working Hard to Promote Health in the Community

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People typically know the name of Ron Jackson because of his musical abilities.  Yes, this is the Ron Jackson that as a trumpeter has more than 30 years of experience playing a variety of music.  As a sideman he has played Jazz, Oldies, Gospel, Blues, Motown, R&B, and Reggae.  He has played with such notable Detroit artists like The Spinners, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Contours, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, the Clark Sisters, Parliament-Funkadelic as well as Joe Tex, Bobby Blue Bland, Millie Jackson, Carl Carlton, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Chi-lites, the Dramatics, Chuck Jackson, Lou Rawls, Tom Jones and the great Sammy Davis Jr.  He has played with the crème-de-la-crème of musical entertainers and has no intention of slowing down.

Evoking the words of Charlton Heston, Ron says with a laugh, “You will have to pry my trumpet from my cold dead hands!”  Ron is ready to play with anyone, anywhere and at a moments notice.

But it is not playing the trumpet that gets his juices flowing nowadays.  Though he stills loves and wants to play, Ron believes that he now has a higher calling.  A slim and healthy 65 year old, Ron is using his skills to engage and motivate others to lead healthy lifestyles.  Ron feels that one of the best activities one can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to dance.  Not surprisingly, many health studies and officials tend to agree with him.  And to that point Ron gives hustle and ballroom dance lessons for mature adults and others five days a week.  He holds classes at Farwell Recreation Center, the Redford Community Center, ELKS Lounge and Trinity Faith United Methodist Church (for a complete schedule of dates/times/addresses go to www.ronjacksonent.com).

Dance class students "bustin' a move"!

I have personally attended his lessons and though I have not yet joined in the festivities, I can see how much fun he and his students of all ages are having.  His teaching style is pretty simple as he stands in front of the classroom, demonstrating the various steps or moves to the group and then once the music begins he moves smoothly around the floor giving individual attention to those that need it.  His patient manner is almost seductive as the unskilled dancers became skilled (or something close to that) right before my eyes.  It is probably just a matter of time before this old “foot breaker” will be on the dance floor moving with the grace and ease of a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly and preparing for a casting call to join “Dancing With the Stars”.

You would think that after all of the performances he has done and with his advancing years, Ron would be ready to sit in a rocker on the porch and let the shining sun warm his face.  “Not so”, says Ron!  The beat within him remains strong and he finds much enjoyment by being active.  Besides the dance lessons he also works as a disc jockey.  When conducting his classes he has come upon yet another bonus, and that is being able to teach the young how to do these dances.  With so much attention on learning the hip-hop style of “free form” dancing, many of today’s youth do not know how to dance cheek-to-cheek…face-to-face socially with a partner.  When asked how he feels about all of the rump shaking that goes for dancing today, Ron just shakes his head and says it doesn’t take any real talent to do that kind of stuff.  When you look at the diverse age group of some of his sessions that is something that the old as well as the young agree upon.

Ron would like to collaborate on an ongoing basis with one of the healthcare companies or hospitals in the area.  He would like to put together a program that incorporates elements of an approved health program.  He has started to bring a scale and keep a log on the progress some of his students have made losing weight.  “If Kirstie Alley and Marie Osmond can dance the pounds away and keep them off, so can you”, Ron says with his easy smile.  “In fact, I can’t think of a better or more socially entertaining way to do it”.  And you know what?  Neither can I!

Ron...Smooth as Silk!

If you or a group would be interested in joining/starting a dance program or hiring a disc jockey for an event contact Ron by phone at 313-758-9476 (cell) or by email djron45@yahoo.com.  His office is located at 11000 W. McNichols, Suite 100, Detroit MI 48221

Back In The Saddle!

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“Back in the Saddle Again” by Gene Autry

It was a cool September morning, when the truck pulled into the driveway.  After a brief greeting, a handshake and a hug we loaded up the truck and were on our way.  It was a three-hour drive to our destination and we were anxious to get there.  It had been several years since the last onstage performance of the original members of the locally relevant band Code Blue and though we were very familiar and comfortable with each other’s ability there was still a feeling of uncertainty in the air.  The plan was to perform as a quartet, but just a day before the performance, the keyboardist, my brother Isaac “Little Top” Littsey, had taken ill and would not be up to taking the trip.  Such is the life of a working musician; you know the old saying…“The Show Must Go On!”

The time spent on the road was filled with reminiscing and not-so-tall-tales about people we hadn’t seen in awhile and performances from way back when.  Tom Mayer, our drummer who had returned from a long sojourn in Paris, France, regaled me with some of his experiences as an American working overseas.  His French was better than some peoples English and though he had a wonderful time you could tell he was glad to be back home.  So glad, that we compared his return to that of a returning war veteran.  There were so many friends and acquaintances to see, it was a bit of a challenge to spend time with his parents, Carl and Margaret and his sister Amy.  Soon the tour would be over and he would be able to settle into a normal routine once again.

When we finally arrived at the home of our bass player John Adams, we are all smiles.  John, who is a great cook, had the grill going and our pre-gig meal was almost finished.  I had to take a quick look at his garden, it’s twice the size of mine, and received a quick dose of “pepper envy”.  His peppers, as with most of what he was growing, were big and fat…just ripe for picking!  Row upon row of vegetables…beans, tomatoes, squash, beets, lettuces, herbs…you name it, growing quite impressively in his garden.  Tom thought it was pretty funny that we could go from businessmen to musicians to gardeners in a matter of seconds.  Maybe it is because of our shared backgrounds…we all work in advertising, we love to perform and we have a real appreciation for the beauty of nature. We are able to move back and forth from one mutual interest to another with relative ease.

After dinner, which was simple yet tasty, we create the set list for the night’s performance.  I was going to use the guitar of our recently departed friend and John’s brother-in-law Rob Finney, a mahogany Fender Telecaster, as a simple tribute/dedication.  Plus, this style or model of guitar was the instrument of preference of one of my heroes, the late and great Muddy Waters!  Knowing that we were going to be onstage for approximately two hours we had a lot of songs to choose from and settled on doing a classic blues set with the typical Code Blue-style twists.  The songs were:

  • Help Me
  • Boom Boom
  • Highway 49
  • Spoonful
  • Tin Pan Alley
  • Hucklebuck
  • Louisiana Blues
  • Evil
  • Rock Me Baby
  • The Same Thing
  • Wee Wee Baby
  • How Many More Years
  • Wang Dang Doodle
  • Mannish Boy

We were doing material by all of the greats…Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King.  We hoped to entertain and we did!

When we got into the beautiful town of Niles, Michigan we were greeted by the promoter of the concert and were given several copies of that day’s newspaper.  There we were on the front page of the town’s paper (just below the fold) with a nice story about the band.  Here it is in its entirety…

 

“Blues band wraps up Thursday night concerts!”

 

“The last Thursday night free concert of the season, blues band Code Blue, will play from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Niles Riverfront Amphitheater.

Originally a five-piece blues band that was launched in the late 1980’s, Code Blue virtually from the very start has been a featured performing act and has played most of the major blues rooms and festivals in southeast Michigan.

Featuring the voice and guitar work (lead guitar and slide) of “Little Brother Arthur David” Littsey, the band is known for its hard driving “Chicago-influenced” style of blues.  Arthur’s growl will remind listeners of either Louis Armstrong or the Howlin’ Wolf, and his guitar will either take concert-goers along the banks of the Mississippi, the cotton fields of the delta or the smoke filled barrooms of Bourbon Street.

But this band is not “Little Brother Arthur David” by himself.  Much has been said and written about the dynamic rhythm section of Johnny “Ace” Adams on bass guitar and Tommy “Tomcat” Mayer on the drums.  Very reminiscent of the tight sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sidemen “Double Trouble” (Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton), these two provide the foundation that propels the sound of Code Blue like a train dieseling down the track.

An added treat for at any performance is Isaac “Little Top” Littsey on keyboards.  Isaac is the older brother of “Little Brother” and is more or less responsible for giving Arthur his stage name.  “Little Top” follows in the tradition of another great keyboardist, namely Booker T. Jones (of the MGs).  His rich Hammond organ sound clearly adds another ingredient to the mix turning it all into a rich “blues stew” that is not only tasty, but very funky too.”

 

When we were introduced we received a few humorous comments about being a Detroit-based blues band with a “Chicago” style or sound and continued to confused the audience by playing the songs in a way that showed tremendous understanding and respect for the genre but not a note-by-note reproduction of the material.  Each song was given a warm applause, hopefully not just because of the audience’s familiarity with the material but for our interpretations.  Since we had practiced as a quartet, playing as a three piece made us think and perform each song differently than what was planned.  But at the end of the night we were as happy about our performance as the audience was.  In fact, we were even asked to do an encore…“I’ve Got My Mojo Working”.  Code Blue had it’s mojo workin’ and we can’t wait to crank it up again soon! 

 

 “Back In The Saddle” by Aerosmith

Situation Wanted: Church Shuttle Program

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Detroit, Michigan is known for its harsh winters.  The inclement weather combined with personal hardship makes it difficult for many of its citizens to shop for quality food on a timely basis.  With that in mind several area retailers have banded together to address the transportation problems of the elderly, the handicapped and the disadvantaged to ensure that they have at the minimum weekly access to a local supermarket.  The stores, Imperial, Krown, Banner and Apollo, all owned by the Shina family and under the Spartan Stores umbrella are taking the unusual step of paying local churches and/or schools with buses to shuttle those in need to their stores.  What they need now is the support of qualified churches or schools to make the program complete.

“All we are asking is that the “transporters” meet some minimal expectations, like having a bus that can transport at least 25 people and it meets all of the standards required by the city and/or state (valid licensed driver, insurance, inspection certification).  We will pay $100.00 per trip, according to Mazin Shina, the owner of Imperial.  There are no restrictions as to how many trips per day or week…we will pay.”  No minimum purchases required either!  That could add up to a tidy sum for any enterprising church that is looking for ways to pay off some of its debts or is just looking for another reason to do something good for the community.  It is a win-win-win situation…for the church, the community and the stores!

Mazin Shina owner of Imperial Supermarket in Detroit

The group of stores represents 4 non-competitive territories of the city, basically covering the northwest side (7 Mile & Evergreen), the north central (8 Mile & Conant), east central (Caniff & Mound) and south central (Schaefer & Lyndon).  Therefore it should be very easy to find partners for the program as word gets out about the program.

“We feel it will be important to help the people shop within their existing neighborhoods where they are most comfortable.  They know our people…our employees; they are their neighbors and friends, too.  Anything that we can do to ensure that our customers are happy is a good thing, especially when the weather starts to change and it will be hard for anybody to get around.”

“So people get ready”!  Let’s get those buses rollin’!  If you are an official with a church and want to get involved in this program all you have to do is contact Arthur Littsey at (313) 369-1710 or at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net and if you are a reader address this article with your church leaders to see if they or a church that they know that is qualified can become part of this very important initiative.  The opportunities has been defined and presented and now the solution is in your hands.