Planting in April?

Haven’t gotten that garden started yet?  Are you wondering what to grow in April?  We just gave a quick and dirty list to clients in Los Angeles, College Park, MD and Richmond, VA.  So, we thought we’d share.

April is the time to plant summer goodies like corn, peppers, tomatoes and melons. You can also plant beans, carrots, collard greens, cucumbers, leafy lettuce, onions, parsley, potatoes, pumpkins and squash. Herbs to plant include: arugula, basil, chamomile, chive, cilantro, dill, fennel, lavender, mint, oregano, parsley and rosemary. Here are a few regional details.

Try to rotate your crops, because vegetables that grow in the same spot every year decrease certain nutrients in the soil.  So, move things around.  Put the radishes where you put the carrots last year.

No green thumb?  No worries.  Certain plants grow in spite of the people who plant them.  We’ve had particular luck with corn, peppers, carrots, onions and all herbs (especially mint!).

Your turn to share…tell us how it goes.

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Are you food secure?

How often can you run down to the grocery store for last-minute items?  What about hopping over to the farmers market for a bunch of strawberries?  Well nearly 50 million people in the U.S. cannot — they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from.  And worldwide the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports numbers more staggering still, at over 1 billion – so nearly 1 in 7 people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

They are food insecure.

What is the difference between “food security” and “food insecurity?”  The USDA says having food readily available with no limitations is food secure, but having reduced quality, less variety or a disruption in food access is food insecurity.  At home&community inc we accept the general concept of food security that focuses on individuals, families and households in a community.  But, we believe more change can be achieved by concentrating on the concept of Community Food Security.  As a result, our work in low-income communities addresses the full food system – it includes access to grocery stores and farmers markets and education about nutritional food choices, as they affect individual food insecurity. We’re asking about the institutions that impact our ability to get food, while we improve access and self-reliance.

In the coming weeks we’ll discuss food deserts (where options for healthy food are few and far between and access is limited) and consider the many innovative ways to bring healthy food options to low-income communities.   Meanwhile, see how Bread for the World is talking about the “systems” approach to Community Food Security.

As we always say, there are some astoundingly simple actions that can be taken to help us reach our goals.  Let’s work together to get everyone food secure.

Where are you on the boat?

You know what keeps us up at night?  Figuring out ways to change habits.  We’re not sociologists, but we know once you get enough people on one end of a listing boat, the smart ones will move to other parts to keep it afloat.  The work we’re doing is an effort to change habits, so that we all benefit.

Our goals are to increase the numbers of healthy affordable housing stock and stem homelessness, by decreasing the levels of indoor air pollution and food insecurity in low-income communities.  Lofty, yes.  But no grand schemes, just some simple substitutions and making proper connections between groups and people – a little habit shifting.

We’re working on a collection of low-cost solutions that significantly improve health outcomes in low-income communities.

So, now you know where we are on the boat.  Where are you?  If you need help moving around the watercraft (while waiting for our resources, of course!) the folks at Shift Your Habit can help.   http://shiftyourhabit.com/about-us/

See you on board!

Why we focus on cleaning products

Asthma and respiratory illness has reached alarmingly high levels in low-income communities.  The prevalence of asthma has doubled since 1976 and 6 out of 10 homes are “sick” due to poor indoor air quality.  The EPA ranks indoor air pollution as the fourth highest public health risk, with the average home containing over 60 toxic chemicals that cause allergies and disease.

So why focus on changing the way low-income residents clean, when so many things trigger asthma and respiratory illness?  Because cleaning is an activity that residents can control — with immediate, significant results.  They might not be able to change unhealthy construction practices, but they can choose whether they use ordinary household cleaners.

Perhaps you know that asthma is the most common and chronic illness in school-aged children.  But did you also know that exposure to cleaning products accounts for 15% of all asthma cases, according to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care? Multiple reports confirm that simple environmental interventions (otherwise known as eliminating the bad stuff) can prevent asthma in high-risk children. The CDC reports decreases of 48% in hospitalizations, 67% in emergency room visits, and up to 30% in missed school days when residents modify certain practices — like switching to green cleaners.

If the above doesn’t convince you, here are a few more sobering facts: the EPA reports that the cleaning products in many homes can make the indoor air quality almost 200 times worse than outdoor air quality! These products can be so hazardous that they are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and considered hazardous waste when discarded.

Over time, we’d like to share information about certain, common cleaning products, and their natural substitutes (like baking soda and vinegar).  So, we’ll let you know when we give the low down on disinfectants, detergents/surfactants, degreasers, anti-bacterials, and polishes along with alkaline, emulsion and abrasive cleaners.

Why do we focus on cleaning products?  Because, it is unacceptable in an era of green boosterism that something as simple as using a natural cleaner – which is known to remarkably reduce indoor air pollution – isn’t shared with residents living in areas with high rates of respiratory illness.

Want even more facts about indoor air pollution?  Check out what Environmental Working Group has to say http://www.ewg.org/node/16209.

Whole Home Philosophy

What is sustainable living in low-income communities? As promised, we’d like to share with you a little bit more about what drives us and what we aim to do.

We believe everyone should have safe, affordable and healthy housing.  Our organization was started to help low-income residents organize to improve affordable housing through policy change.  In other words, we were focused on getting legislation and rules changed.  But as we visited residents, we would see problems caused by unhealthy communities — people suffering from increased rates of asthma and obesity.  Looking into some of these health issues revealed solutions that were astounding in their simplicity.  For instance, cleaning with low-cost products like baking soda and vinegar instead of toxic household cleaners could significantly reduce instances of childhood asthma.  Access to fresh produce significantly reduced obesity in residents.

We were already using the power of community to address housing problems in low-income neighborhoods…it was a natural progression to use that power to promote sustainability.  Shouldn’t all low-income residents be part of the green revolution?

We still advocate and support all efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing.  But we are also helping residents make direct changes in their own homes with what we call a “whole home” philosophy.  Whole home includes not just the bricks and mortar improved through building green and legislative advocacy, but also a focus on how residents live in those buildings.

So, we are providing information to help reduce illness caused by poor indoor air quality and increase participation in nutritional programs. That means listing and educating about all the ways you can clean and maintain your home with non-toxic products. It means finding innovative programs that promote our green cleaning and nutrition education and access goals.  It means compiling every single farmers market in the country and detailing which ones accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (food stamps). It means promoting and educating about urban farms, community gardens and Community Support Agriculture.

What is sustainable living in low-income communities?  For us, it’s social, health and environmental equity.  What is it for you?

OriginalGreen project

We thought our first blog post would be about who we are and why we’re here.  But, we soon realized that time is of the essence.  There is so much to talk about and so much to do.  We need to get to work improving communities! You’ll be getting to know us in the coming days and months, but for those that need to know now, you can read all about us at www.homeandcommunity.org .

Spring is here, and we’re planting.  It got us thinking about the ways we’re helping low-income folks create their own urban gardens via our OriginalGreen project.  There are a lot of ways of knowing out there, and we work with people in at least 40 states.  But, our garden is in Los Angeles, and it is decidedly different than yours in Madison or yours in Greensboro or yours in Bloomington.

So, instead of reinventing the (garden) wheel, we’re looking for ways to involve everyone in the good work of adding to our research.  We know there are a lot of you out there with mad gardening skills to share.  Tell us what your process is for growing in a small area like a side yard or containers.  What works — maybe more importantly, what doesn’t?

If you’ve actually got a garden to show us, go to our Facebook page at OriginalGreen, become a fan and check the Discussions tab for details about sharing your images. We’re giving away free stuff for your trouble!  And we’ll eventually compile the information into a national gardening resource for the low-income residents we serve.

It’s great to be here!