From SoLA to Santiago

Since our last post, we’ve continued to develop the food and farm entrepreneurship program, with some exciting additions. The SoLA Entrepreneur Ecosystem Development project – SEED – is now in service, and it’s already taking lessons on the road.

To recap, the SEED project gives participants a practical foundation in the areas of aquaculture, hydroponics, and aquaponics and they can pursue further education and/or job training in careers related to agriculture, science and engineering. During two-day workshops, members participate in a real, working alternative energy center focused on urban agriculture and farm technology.

CUBA bad tinaMuch of our permaculture work over the past few years has been informed by lessons learned from Cuban farms. In particular, farms in and around Santiago de Cuba have some of the same edaphological, climatological, and social challenges as those in South Los Angeles. So, with friends in Cuba’s second-largest city, we thought it was time to travel to learn directly. We created a sister-city program to share food production practices and visited farms for a week in May.

During the trip, we proposed a project that uses solar power and general STEM concepts and Arduino microcontrollers. If you’re not familiar with these little devices, don’t worry, we weren’t either up until a few years ago! But once you get to know all the Arduino applications you’ll love them as much as we do. This microcontroller is essentially a little computer with a lot of places to plug things in (like switches and sensors, etc.). It can be used to control motors, pumps and watering all with a little simple programming – effectively increasing growing efficiency and productivity.

CUBA Lavastida sign

We met with staff and other participants in the permaculture program of the Centro Lavastida, in Santiago. Elmer Lavastida-Alfonso, the organization pastor, met with us along with Heidi, a physician and coordinator of health, nutrition and food production programs. They gave us a 30-minute presentation on the organization, in their beautiful art-deco building. Then Heidi organized a personalized, private tour of three permaculture sites in the rural suburbs. We spent nearly four hours traversing the countryside visiting fincas and organopónicos.

CUBA small plot okra

Quimbombó (okra)

 

At one site in a large yard, I talked about how the inclusion of solar power will increase efficiency and water flow. At another, we met with Cesar, agronomist and head of Lavastida’s permaculture projects. I shared how our proposed solar system, hooked up to Arduino, could store energy in batteries and automate the growing and aquaponics processes at his finca (large farm). Finally, we visited a medium-sized organopónico run by a professor of mathematics at the local university. She shares her bounty, which includes amazing sun-dried mangoes, in the larger community.

It was at the finca that we were able to participate in a workshop event where 30 people, from the surrounding six provinces, were learning about permaculture techniques. It was exciting to talk about how we will work together.

Back at home this month, we’ll be firming up our SEED work at the Ghettostead. Some of the materials we’ll be working with are solar packs and batteries, Arduino sensor arrays, drip irrigation control, soil moisture calibration and connecting monitoring applications like Carriots and Twitter. While much of the system plans are equivalent in both cities, notably, in Cuba there will be no Carriots and Twitter…for now. There are only about 50 hot spots on the entire island. In order to access the hotspot, you have to buy $2 Internet cards that contain one hour of access. So, our focus will be on technologies that allow farm systems to interact and automate without the Internet or wifi, like OpenHAB, Zwave and Apitronics and SMS technologies.

There are some meaningful changes coming to these cities and their growing sites. Importantly, we believe these small systems will keep farms efficient and productive in the face of looming pressures to introduce non-sustainable practices in both the U.S. and Cuba.

What Happened?

growing happeningAs it turns out, plenty!!

It may be an understatement to say that it has been a busy and productive year here at home&community. With our OriginalGreen and fiscal sponsorship projects firing on all cylinders, it’s often been dizzying but always exciting. One sneak peak for 2016 we think you’ll dig…we’re bringing some neat, new technology to the farm sites.

We know a lot of friends and supporters follow our activities and many of the news items we post, but it’s still easy to miss some of the news! So, we’ve put together a list of our most popular posts for the past year.  Let’s see…

We became certified to sell at the farmers market AND we sold out of produce on our first outing. The culmination of a months-long process to get our first farm entrepreneur selling has been satisfying, since we’ve been working without the benefit of large donations or funding.

We gave it our best shot at lot takeover with Broadchester Farms (we’re not giving up, just yet!) and even received nice local news coverage (here and here), along with starting urban farm work with Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Tech students, at a donated site next to their high school.

There were posts offering insight into gender and farming.

And we highlighted successes in public housing gardening while continuing to add to our own public housing garden census (nearly 150 strong across the nation!).

We grew peanuts and a great soul food garden at the Ghettostead!

We talked a lot about the benefits of growing food in the city (they go far beyond nutrition), and the fact that 20% of the world’s food is growing in those cities (but what does that mean?), while contemplating growing food without owning land.

We shared lots of science! There was a bit of “we told you so” about the benefits of living near trees.   Not to mention some knowing nods about a 30-year study revealing organic farming outperforming conventional farming in years of drought.

Last and absolutely not least, our farm sites were cleaned, amended and all-around transformed, by the volunteers from GoogleServes.

What will we do next?  Well, there’s even more planned than the sneak peak we gave you about new technology.  You’ll just have to keep up with us in the new year!

Tech Sneak Peak

Tech Sneak Peak

We’re in!

HF Farmers Market 6What happens when you grow using some of the best permaculture techniques, get certified by the county to sell your produce, then take said produce to your first farmers market experience? You are a colossal success, that’s what! Yes, we sold out of produce on our first outing. The culmination of a months-long process to get our first farm entrepreneur selling has been satisfying, since we’ve been working without the benefit of large donations or funding. Many simply do not believe that a food hub in South Los Angeles is possible. But, not us and certainly not our food entrepreneurs.

It has been an eventful past several months. We’ve hosted volunteers from GoogleServe, participated in working groups to advocate for local fresh food options, attended permaculture workshops, advocated policy to farm on urban vacant space, established a partnership with a local tech high school, and continue to brave the vagaries of local politics in holding on to the large site we have been working. But mostly we’ve been growing…multiple pounds of tomatoes, burgundy okra, squash, cucumbers, kale, papayas, lemongrass, greens, and nopales, just to name a few.

The fact is, this South Los Angeles food hub will not be thwarted! Our success at the farmers market tells us so. People appreciate and long for local, fresh food options. So, we are in the farmers market. Not only are we in, we are rocking it!

Lot 666

It has been awhile, but there has been a “lot” of activity (pun intended)!  The Ghettostead continues to develop and grow.  This year, it will include two farmers along with an additional raised bed and co-working activities.  We’ll post more on that soon.  But, you may be wondering about the title of this post…

Broadchester 666

You remember that lot of land we were working to acquire?  Well, there’s strength in numbers, and we’ve collaborated with some folks to takeover two parcels at the site.  We’re happy to report that the group is halfway there!  Thanks to the assistance of staff in the offices of CD8, our group gained access to city-owned Lot 666.  Broadchester Farms is on its way!

Now, some folks laugh (and some gasp) when they hear the designation of the lot.  But, we say “awesome!”   We decided it’s time to re-appropriate this “scary” number, especially when we learned a few things about it.  The best of which is, 666 symbolizes Carbon 12 — you know, 6 protons, 6 neutrons, 6 electrons — the foundation of life on earth!

Pretty auspicious, right?  Seems we’re set to get some amazing produce!

The Right Race

Vote!

Vote!

We submitted our first ever “vote-for-us” campaign. There have been many things to come out of it. But one thing is: 

It helps to have a huge email database!

Don’t get me wrong, it has been fantastic to receive such support from our dedicated folks and be reminded of how people appreciate what we are doing…along with getting a chance to spread the word to several more people.  That has been nothing short of great.

It’s the campaigning and realization that some of the time, you can have a pretty neat thing you’re doing, but without ready access to big numbers of people to vote, there’s a lot of “campaigning” to do.  There are a lot of proposals to read! Even I have only been able to read about a third of them in our category of 60. (I intend to read them all, because they deserve that.)

But really, no sour grapes here.  No way. It’s simply a realization that these platforms work best for groups with large followings or ones that can quickly energize numbers to compete with those large groups.  The difficulty (sometimes) is that smaller groups already have limited resources to commit to such a campaign.  Of course, there are examples of small groups getting something going and going viral in an effort. Of course there are!  It is finding that one compelling image, story, video that takes your issue from relative obscurity to superstardom! It’s a different kind of race, really.

So, yes, there have been many things to come out of this.  Lest this comes off as negative or defeatist, there’s this:

More people see the value and are behind this project…momentum!  People are asking us about how to create a fair food system and how to bring more food to low income communities and how to take charge of food production.

The project is actually in progress.  There is food GROWING and being shared on site and it is getting notice by and inquiry from neighbors who live in the community.  They are asking how they can grow at their homes.  It’s incredible and this is what we’ve wanted.  

We're growing at the Ghettostead.

We’re growing at the Ghettostead.

There are many among us that want to do things that are meaningful and some of us are unrelentingly compelled to do so.  With Original Green, we at home&community inc are aiming for multiple hundreds (dare we dream thousands!) of households served, but even serving 10, 20, 50 has been worthwhile.  That’s 10, 20, 50 families that are eating better and feeling better and reviving their community.

A fair food system, more access and increased decision making.  That’s our primary race.  And we’re already hitting that trifecta of food justice, food security and food sovereignty.  Oh, and we haven’t given up the campaign by any stretch.  There’s still time to vote.

Failure is like…

…a word that gets used far too often as a motivator for change or some instructive path to success.

Lately, I’ve been surrounded by people talking about failure. They find comfort in quotes about failure being necessary to reach a goal.  They seek permission to fail. They worry that they are not making or building anything of consequence.  They lament that they are not achieving this or that plan.

Well, I won’t ever give someone blanket permission to fail, and I’ll argue that what we often call failure is sometimes not.  On the point of making things, I say pick something and do it.  Start something.  Make something.  Grow something.  If it helps people in some way, even better.  (I’ll like you more.)  On the point of achieving this or that plan I ask, “Are you moving a plan forward?” It’s not even “are you moving THE plan forward?”  Because THE plan often changes.  (The fact that it shifts is usually what makes you think you are failing.)

Now…it is important to distinguish between a plan and the goal.  The goal, that’s the thing you choose, and it doesn’t change.  That is the “eyes on the prize”.

We have a goal for OriginalGreen: food justice and food security in South Los Angeles.

I do not fail

How we achieve this is a consistent strategy: create a healthy community food system, empower low-income food entrepreneurs, increase access to fresh food.  But there have been a bunch of variables and incompletes along the way, including loss of land and lack of resources.

The thing is, I’ve never conceived of these incompletes as failure, even if some folks consider them the traditional definition: “lack of success”. They’ve been opportunities to learn and get the thing right.  And that’s why I don’t buy into the vaunted “cult of failure” discussed all over the Net, in start-up culture and entrepreneurial philosophy.

Moving towards a goal and not reaching it the first, second, or even tenth leap, is not failure.  It is moving towards a goal.  It’s taking all the steps.  Even those times you hit it out of the park, you still have to run the bases to validate the effort.

Now that home&community is the closest to opening the co-working homestead, is connected to 67,000 square feet of growing space, and has technological help for our open tools platform, I look back on getting here and see the incompletes, the almosts, the detours.  Actually, I saw them pretty clearly when they were happening, but none seemed negative to me.  They are simply the 100 things that won’t work and needed to be figured out.

So, no “embracing failure” or “failing forward” or “failing fast” for me, OriginalGreen or home&community.  We’ll stick with trial and error, process, making, doing, collaborating, risking.  Failure is too easy, and it doesn’t get people fed.

As always, the garden and farm offer a great metaphor for failure and risk.  A garden is the ultimate laboratory for goal-seeking and learning from mistakes.  You don’t fail in the garden; you don’t founder on the farm.  You learn and then you keep growing.