Tell Us Your Secrets: An Interview with Chuck Anderas
CGE : Tell us where you’re from and a little about your background.
My name is Chuck Anderas. I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I left home for college and didn’t return back until I was 30 and after we had our first kid. That’s a common story with Green Bay. We move away, have kids, and realize how good our town is and how much you need your family to raise kids. I have a wife, a son, and a daughter, and my parents and brother live across town from us. My son Pete is turned three in June and likes to help out in the garden, especially planting things. There may be a little extra thinning to do with the carrots, but that’s alright. My daughter Maggie is almost a year and a half old and really likes to pick dandelions and walk around with two fistfuls of yellow petals. She also loves to pick radishes and walk around snacking on them.
CGE : Tell us about your work and garden effort.
I work for a nonprofit called the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). It is an organization that educates farmers about sustainable and organic practices. Most of what we do is farmer-to-farmer, including: a mentor program, a conference where most of the speakers are farmers, hosting field days, and a team of farmers that answer questions from other farmers. As a part of my work at MOSES I also host the “MOSES Organic Farming Podcast,” which includes interviews with farmers and a range of ag professionals. You can access the podcast either on the web (https://anchor.fm/moses-podcast) or by adding “MOSES organic” to your podcast listening app. Prior to this work I worked on farms for several years before that. Most of them were vegetable farms under 10 acres in size in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Florida.
We bought our house because of the large, sunny yard. The rest of the place had what could generously be called “potential,” but primarily we wanted a place to grow food, and it was affordable. The back third of the yard is our vegetable garden. We have two apple trees, strawberries, and raspberries. We have six chickens in a coop and run that my wife built, mostly using materials from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. If you’re not familiar with ReStore, it is kind of a thrift store for building materials and really helped us be able to fix up our house and do other projects like the coop.
CGE : What are the most indispensable things or techniques in your garden?
One of the most indispensable things we use in our garden is the compost we get from the chickens. We have our chickens in a run and we use a deep bedding system. We keep them in the run both because our kids are the age where they stick lots of things in their mouths and because we to keep them away from the vegetables. We get wood chips for free from the county, and when it starts to smell we add a layer of wood chips. When the run starts getting pretty high, I dig it out and use the compost on something like potatoes or another crop we would cook before eating, in order to be cautious about food safety.
We also use a lot of straw. We know an organic dairy farmer that’s about a 15-minute drive from us where we buy some beef, along with straw bales from his oats. We had a really weedy back corner, and earlier this spring I removed the straw from the strawberries and onto that row. After a month or so, the straw made weeding by hand and with a hoe really easy. The straw helps keep weeds down, keeps moisture in the soil, and builds organic matter.
One of the biggest things that is indispensable for me about gardening is how it helps my mental health. I have had depression since I was a teenager. Since the pandemic, I’ve had a couple panic attacks and have really struggled with anxiety for the first time in my life. Being in the garden (and eating from the garden) is one of the self-care things I do to help stay healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.
CGE : Any thoughts or practical changes you've made in the context of the current pandemic?
We’ve been more intentional about supporting smaller businesses, especially with our seed purchases (a good resource for finding regionally adapted seed is www.seedalliance.org/directory). We’ve been seeding more plants than we need so we can give them away. We’ve been outside more and talking to our neighbors more. We’ve given eggs to our neighbors, and they’ve lent us tools and given toys to our kids. We’ve checked in on each other. We tripled the amount of potatoes we are growing because they’re a staple crop that stores really well. We’re growing more flowers just for joy and beauty and bugs.
One of the biggest lessons that the pandemic, and climate change, have been teaching me is that the biggest problems we face can’t be solved by individuals. They are collective problems with collective solutions. I can plant a garden and feel resilient, but our area has seen unprecedented flooding the last few years due to climate change. Our garden flooded twice last spring, once last fall, and once this spring. On a larger scale, many farmers across our region couldn’t plant a lot of their acres because of the excessively cold and wet spring. Then we had more flooding in the fall and early snow, so a lot of the acres that were planted couldn’t be harvested. The pandemic is teaching me just how many people we rely on to grow the food in our garden. We rely on the people who grow the seeds, package them, and ship them. We rely on the farmers who grow the chicken feed, and the whole supply chain from the farmer to the processor, to the distributor, and eventually to the retailer. We rely on many more people to grow, process, package, ship, stock, and sell the food we buy. There are things we can do as individuals and families to be more resilient, and gardening is a big part of that. At the same time, we need to continue working together to build resilient food systems and resilient communities. Every garden is a community garden.