Growing South

Our site is here

Our site is down here

There is food growing in South Los Angeles.  This, many know.  If you didn’t, then you are not reading the right news outlets, or blogs or talking to the people who live and work there.  Original Green has the privilege of being a partner and client in an effort by USC planning students to address food security and provide recommendations for developing our co-working space and homestead for low-income entrepreneurs.

Los Angeles Green Grounds Site

A Los Angeles Green Grounds “Dig-In” Site

We know grocery stores have fled the area, increasing the “grocery store gap”.  We know entrepreneurs have few outlets or resources for growing businesses.  But, there is food there.  It’s in the front yards planted by LA Green Grounds, who we are so pleased to have connected with on the homestead project.  The consistent theme, seldom highlighted in articles about their work, is the building of community.  At every site we have visited, residents either tell about connecting with neighbors and other locals or we’ve seen it in action in neighbors’ bags of shared produce.  We will continue to be a partner and involved supporter of their great work.

Map courtesy Community Coalition

Map courtesy Community Coalition

We are also grateful for the support and assistance of Community Coalition, which has shared invaluable knowledge on the local food justice scene and their efforts to increase access to healthy options.  Mobilizing residents is key and their work is well-known and respected on that front.  In recent weeks, we also loved hearing that the Crenshaw Farmers Market is ready for more local food.  We’re talking hyperlocal food…within 5 miles local!  We were happy to hear from and talk to the folks at the imminent SoLA Food Coop and long-standing RootDown LA.  And, we are ever grateful for access to Al Renner and the Solano Canyon Community Garden, to learn more about urban farming and opportunities for entrepreneur activities.

Our work over the past few months has entailed formalizing the homestead and co-work space.  As we move forward, we add goals and narrow our purpose.  There is a larger undertaking to achieve, of which the homestead is one piece.

There is food growing in South Los Angeles.  The question is: How do we grow more of it and get more of it to the people who need it?  We have an idea (always have) and are developing the homestead as a center for identifying and connecting the nodes of production, so that local entrepreneurs can engage in the distribution of healthy food.  We are already organizing the first meeting of local stakeholders.  Spring is going to be wonderful.

Will Food (Craft) for Work

We’re moving along.  Business plan? Check.  Marketing plan? Check.  Growing site? Check. Co-working space? Almost check!  Great minds? Expected check!

Original Green is gathering urban farmers and homesteaders who are creative, curious and enthusiastic (or people who want to be any of these) for the next phase in developing our co-working space.  This space, as we have narrowed it down with assistance from LAEDC, will be located in an area identified as both a food desert and grocery gap area in South Los Angeles.  It will offer networking and incubation support for low-income entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial allies who want to develop their own food production businesses.  Our existing growing site will be included as a network node for the community food plan. Our first node connection!

It’s time to DIY, open source and hack the heck out of this thing.  And we know you want to.  The main lesson learned from our Slow Food series is that people want opportunities to gather and talk about ways they can support emerging communities…in addition to their own.  Ask yourself, would you like the hands-on, direct experience of mentoring a resident creating their first mobile food or pastry making service in their neighborhood, while learning how to grow, cook and distribute items, yourself? Or would you participate in a farm and homesteading camp to support a community food system? If the answer is yes, then you’re our type of human.

Gathering and crafting

Our new series, called Food Craft, was tested with success in August. Food craft is the intuitive, traditional and scientific pairings of food flavors, from which guests craft dishes.  As the flavors are complementary, almost anything goes!  The August pairings were sweet potato, goat cheese and figs, and people came up with wonderful dishes during what basically amounted to a fancy version of playing with our food!

Sweet potatoes, goat cheese stuffed figs and kale on the grill

The next event (more on that soon) will feature the trio of pomegranates, feta and chiles.

It’s not all fun and eats, of course.  There is work to be done, and it should be done across a spectrum of experience and ideas.  Some of the best ideas for Original Green have come from our gatherings, and have proven that great minds don’t need to think alike, they just need to share (and sometimes create) a meal!

So…great minds, ready to work? Check.

Photo credits: Kiino Villand

Food Plan, a Farm and Co-working…Oh My!

We had our own version of a “journey to Oz” tornado come through recently.  One moment, you’re talking to various local folks and your little dog, too…when, Bam! You’re swept away and on an odyssey to find what you had all along. Within the span of about a month, you’re asked to talk about food security in a way you hadn’t considered before.  You’re asked to discuss community participation in the production and distribution of food.  You’re asked to research how opportunities for in-person, idea-exchange encourages and increases productivity.  You’ve got a crew of folks who aren’t just the unacquainted supporters you believed them to be, but who actually know each other through the mutualities of their various occupations and social circles.  You’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.  And, suddenly something clicks.  It becomes very clear that all the work that has been going on to establish the Original Green Community Food Plan, was becoming something even better than what you thought it was.

We’ve built raised beds.  We’ve encouraged residents to grow their own food and have seen the benefits of doing so.  We’ve shared nutrition information.  We’ve talked about developing a Community Supported Kitchen.  We’ve provided information and resources about starting agricultural-based businesses.  So, what could be better than all that?

How about an urban farm with a co-working space for low-income residents interested in agricultural and food-related businesses?

There are some residents in the community who want to do more than just grow and eat their way to improvement.  They want to find ways to support themselves with the lifestyle change.  They’re looking for ways to translate green and sustainability efforts into a vocation.  From landscape businesses focused on native plants, to mobile fresh food enterprises, to specialty pies preparation.  Some want to have access to an urban farm and expertise on food production.  Others just want to be able to pick up fresh produce when they want it. While still others want a place to gather and learn about all the possibilities related to having access to fresh food.

Of course, we’re very excited about this! We can expand upon our goals for sharing food and increasing access.  For us, it is an opportunity to establish both a CSK and CSA and provide farming plots that can be purchased using SNAP.  It’s the chance to host community events like educational talks, cooking demonstrations and farm camps.

So, we’ve identified a few commercial flex spaces and are tapping our crew of folks for their expertise.  We’ve found a way to do it all while implementing the Community Food Plan.  In fact…it looks like the Community Food Plan has had this inside it all along.

Earth Day Rockin’ Eve

Earth Day Eve

Okay, so it’s not quite New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.  But, we’d venture to state it’s even better!  If you’re in California April 21st — that’s Earth Day Eve – join us for an evening celebrating a bit of everything!  You’ll be treated to a not-even-boring talk about permaculture and its status as a “revolution disguised as gardening.”  You might even hear the expanded go at our “Ecological Theory of Everything.”

Can’t make it to SoCal?  We’ll set up a Google+ Hangout for you to join the fun.  Just join our circle at home&community inc’s Google page.

Build a Bed

Work continues on our garden plot.  These days of early darkness and colder temps (relatively speaking for California) can certainly challenge even the most committed volunteers.  The site is clear, though, and ready.  Soon, soon…

Meanwhile, while trying to come up with unique ways to raise funds to sustain our work, we had a brainstorm.  The raised beds we’ve already installed were easy to assemble and have proven to be durable over this planting season.  Why not provide them to the general public?

We decided to create a kit of parts for redwood raised beds.  They’re small enough to be accommodated on a condo balcony or small side yard.  They’re beautiful material…and while we can’t speak for the eventual craftsmanship, we have confidence in everyone who buys and assembles one (or two!).

Our goal is bring a little of our Community Food System Project to you.  And what better way to support us than by letting us encourage you to grow your own food?!  ← (hint: click that link for more info!)  As always, thank you.

How (and where) does your public housing garden grow? Part 5.

It has been a very busy few months at Original Green.  Yes, we’re still preparing our first urban farming site in South Los Angeles (never realized how much planning and preparation there could be!).  And we’re still holding our quarterly community raising dinners (a report on last month’s “Slow Food, Seoul Food” event coming to our Facebook page soon).  Still Tweeting about affordable and fresh food options for low-income residents.  And we’re always updating our Facebook page with information about everything from mobile farmers markets to the acceptability of modern-day sharecropping.

One thing that’s become clear, there is always something to do…and a lot of it.  It can get pretty frustrating to have ideas and feel like you’re moving at a glacial pace to put them into action.  One ongoing effort that steadily (and quickly) grows is our list of community gardens in public housing.

Since the last update, we’ve added almost 40 more sites, including gardens in North Carolina, California, Oregon, Ohio, Tennessee and a few more in New York.  Here are a few of the notable examples.

The Rancho San Pedro garden, run by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, was completed just days ago.  There are gardens in Oregon, supported by the Housing Authority of Clackamas County, near Portland.   In Cleveland, Tennessee public housing residents are growing in their individual backyards with support from The Caring Place, approved by the Cleveland (TN) Housing Authority.

The Green Thumb Program encourages gardening and provides assistance to do so in public housing sites in Knoxville.   While the Geauga Metropolitan Housing Authority near Chagrin Falls, Ohio permits community gardens that feed a number of families.  Young people and the “Sunshine Crew” are raising produce to be shared by families in the public housing communities of the North Wilkesboro Housing Authority in North Carolina.

And while it’s not part of our census (because the food isn’t grown on the public housing site) we found a great model for a youth-staffed community farmers market supported by the Southhampton Housing Authority on Long Island.  Likewise, the Providence Housing Authority in Rhode Island partners with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to bring farmer markets to housing communitiesAnd they accept EBT (formerly food stamps).

So, like all things at Original Green, the list keeps growing!  And, growing is always good!

Paths of Desire

Desire line by Andrew Skudder

How are the memories that people hold shown in a place?  They might be revealed in the way people preferred to go instead of the paths that had been pre-built.  Sometimes it’s a shortcut, but often a way that is more interesting or efficient or safer or scenic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a student of cities and urban form so a lot of what I do can be linked to some concepts learned in that area.  The Desire Path (or Desire Line) is one of those.  I often think about where the optimal paths are in any built environment.  They provide a type of direction people can trust, because they’ve seen others have used it.  They give us confidence to act.  I never thought, though, about how these ideas could be applied to our work building and planning urban gardens.

Are we building things that people want or will naturally come to? Are we making sure to consider the efficiencies, the scenic route?  Are we creating something that encourages others to follow upon it?  Are we thinking about the possibilities, and then moving towards the one(s) that everyone follows.  Are we setting up spaces that people want to be in, not where we want them to be?

Feedback is always helpful, but we also have to pay attention to what people are doing and the patterns that are developing.  And, we need to do this both before and after we provide a service or product.

A place to sit? Right next to a PVC pipe!

With some raised beds, I noticed a few things that tied the desire path concept to the work.  Where are people spending the most time in the garden? How are they navigating the beds? Where do they sit? Even in ones just completed, I’ve noticed residents sit on the corners – the area with the most surface area because of the top of the 4×4 post – even where there are chairs available.  It’s as if they want to be further connected to the task at hand…because it’s certainly not a comfortable perch.  I imagine that area will become sufficiently worn to the point that others will do the same on other corners.  So, we’ll take that into account on future beds.  Maybe a small platform on each corner is in order.  An easy, and simple fix that acknowledges natural behavior.

The PVC tubes installed to hold poles for netting have been sometimes used to hold sticks, with identifying information or crepe paper streamers. It isn’t a very sturdy re-use, since the sticks fall over and the PVC is on the interior of the bed.  But, what a wonderful alternative use of the structure!  What it means is that we should add a few PVC pipes on the exterior each bed just for people to engage in these types of creative uses. This we should do even beyond the garden art we’re already planning. We can’t imagine the universe of uses people will come up with, but are we allowing enough flexibility in the space? Enough for residents to develop those paths of desire?

We hope so.

Where are the paths of desire in your life?  Whether in your memory, your work, your environment.  Are they your own or shared?

(Raised) Beds R Us

We’ve been completing site planning and preparation for our South Los Angeles sites. We’re setting the template for all growing sites in our community food system, so we’re taking some time to do it as right as possible!

Meanwhile, we’ve started building raised garden beds in private front yards!  We want all communities to be part of our system.  And, private sites in single-family-home neighborhoods can help raise the profile of what we do.

So, check out more of these beds at our Original Green photo album.  Want one?  You know you do!

Unplanning

It’s been quite a month.  We held our most recent Slow Food event and completed a course of action for building the raised beds at our two housing sites.  All these things were expected and lined up, in order, in the tidy bullet points of our Original Green Community Food Plan.

One of the goals of the Community Food Plan is to provide job training for low-income residents, in garden development and construction.  Teaching people to build and maintain gardens has been considered a “down-the-road-when-other-parts-of-the-plan-are-firmly-established” kind of goal.  Well, it’s just like a plan to go and unplan itself…we are about to implement that piece, building our first raised beds on non-low-income housing, private property.

You might remember that one of our ongoing objectives is to develop linked, growing sites, at the neighborhood level.  Included in that work is encouraging a commitment to sharing, cooperation, community raising, resilience, and empathy among other things.  We’ve definitely been doing the latter, in an intangible way, through our quarterly face-to-face Slow Food events.  But our long-range plan has always included doing so on a more tangible level of food sharing across communities.  This means placing growing sites not just in low-income developments, but other private homes, too.   So, in the spirit of unplanning we engaged our first client, to shape a training program and further cement our commitment to promoting community sharing.

We’ll now install raised beds at a significantly lower cost to the property owner, in exchange for a commitment to sharing any produce overages and ultimately being included in our overall distribution system.  Now, the task is to complete the actual sharing strategy.  Yes, it was also down the list on our bullet-pointed, perfect list, but sometimes things just happen…

Looks Like We Made It

We reached the tipping point goal of our Making Our Beds campaign!

We thank everyone who donated.  Reaching our goal means we will receive funds to advance our Original Green Community Food System project at our two sites.  We think it’s also a great (early) Earth Day present for us and for the residents in South Los Angeles where we’ll start getting growing.

Here’s what’s going to happen now…

Some first steps have already been taken. We are grateful to be receiving help from Farmworks L.A. to plan our sites.  We’ve also connected with WINTER — an organization that provides non-traditional employment for poverty-level women — to work on site development.  We know an amazing, personable Master Gardener skilled in garden and crop planning who we hope will advise on our sites.  We have materials donations for our beds.

And the money? The money from this campaign goes directly towards site development and planting: irrigation systems, city fees, hardscaping, lighting and plants.

So tomorrow, for Earth Day, we’ll be enjoying the potential we’ve created.  We’ll be thinking about why we want to bring local food to residents…remembering that Local isn’t a four-letter-word.

Barry’s not a four-letter-word either, so click on his album for some aural affirmation…