Following Leaders 7/30

We always like to give you insight into how we get our Follow Friday list.  It’s always interesting to us how people use Twitter, so maybe it’s interesting to someone how we do.  In any case, we just think it’s important to give people props!

This week someone asked us about replating.  And, if you read the prior blog post, you see our take on that.  That same conversation yielded topics like housing the homeless, bartering, and cooperative community building.  Since the discussion took place during a meeting about our collaboration on urban farming in South Los Angeles, some Twitter posts about the history of the area were especially eye-catching.

Much of the week we also focused on another collaboration – an ongoing fundraiser that kicked off with a benefit concert.  So much fun!  And proof once more that community can really come together to do something great.

Again, thanks everyone!

@RachelSurls – for a lot of great information on self-help cooperatives and ongoing history lessons about Los Angeles agriculture.

@ShareableDesign – for oodles of helpful posts on community sharing, exchanges and bartering.

@ShareTompkins – for practical ideas about how to implement a sharing program and ways for communities to trade goods

@naemhomelessness – for the simple message in asking the right questions to “Do[ing] What Works” and, as always, continuing work to end homelessness.

@PlayItFwd – for a wonderful concert that raised funds (and fun) to help people affected by the Nashville floods.


Replating, Dignity and Planning Ahead

We are working on increasing food security in low-income communities.  So, we talk a great deal about innovative ways to feed people with solutions like mobile food markets, or urban gleaning, or sending excess produce to pantries, or increasing SNAP/EBT benefits at farmers markets, or public community gardens.  You’ve seen (or can see) our posts on the various ways.  All the food mentioned in those solutions is fresh and unused.  But, a few days ago, we received a note asking about our take on addressing food security through re-use of food, or “replating.”

To begin, we’ve only seen the concept referenced as a method to feed homeless populations. People plan to leave the uneaten portions of their restaurant meals on the top of the nearest trash receptacle. But, we were being asked about it as a solution in low-income populations, more generally.  As much as we are steadfastly behind the idea of people offering food to people who need it, we can’t get behind the idea that replating is a “creative” way to get food into the hands of people who need it.

We totally get what people are trying to achieve by formalizing this food giving.  All the standard cliché’s arise: every little bit helps…something’s better than nothing.  And it’s noble to try and address the issue and call it activism.  It just doesn’t strike us as “activism” with so little “action” involved.  For us, activism is movement and direct action towards sustainable change, and interaction is an integral part of making sustainable change.  If you’re organized enough to plan where you’ll leave food and how, after you’ve been to a restaurant, then you can plan ahead for how to find a person to give it to.

Again, we don’t wish to denigrate good intentions…that valuable leftovers don’t get left. But if you’re already planning, why not push for restaurants to serve smaller portions to begin with?  Or eat your own dang leftovers.  Learn to make creative new dishes. Don’t make waste.  If you want to give, give directly to someone, or to a pantry or shelter.  Want some feel good? Take it from me, volunteering at one of these places makes you feel good.

We’re just worried that this is a way for people to further remove themselves from the plight of the hungry.  The dignity seems absent, like leaving scraps.  Not quite the same as seeing the hungry person, or appreciating that a real person needs your help.  And, just because some people eat from trash bins, doesn’t mean they want trash to eat.

One argument is that people don’t want you to pity them, so they’d rather take food left anonymously, than a doggy bag.  This has not been the experience of anyone here.  People usually appreciate the humanity in direct contact.  (Of course, there was a time I was cursed out for the type of food I offered.  Can’t please everyone, and that even happens in my own house sometimes.) Give directly to folks.  Walk up and ask if they’d like it.  But remember, sometimes people just want to be people and make choices about what they want — we all do.

If you must hand out food, and you’re planning ahead, think about getting a giftcard from a food store.  Or make it fresh produce.  I gave someone an apple the other day (freshly picked!) and he was so grateful it almost made me cry.  His cart was filled to the hilt with a life’s possessions, and here an apple was an uncommon delicacy.

To answer the original inquiry, though, about replating in low-income communities…  It’s probably clear that we wouldn’t advocate it.  People who are housed probably won’t be out searching drop off sites for replated food.  And, for the reasons already mentioned, it feels a step backward from humanity.  So what to do?  Yup, food does get wasted.  But if someone is really concerned about the issue, we encourage them to start from the front end – limit waste and provide food access for all – or give directly, not organizing and planning where to set out half-eaten meals. Let’s not further remove ourselves from being a community of human beings that are aware of and care about the welfare of one another.

Following Leaders 7/23

Homelessness, food distribution and peaches.  What’s the connection?  Well, this week all three were prominently featured in our activities.  Early in the week, we met a homeless farmer. It was probably because my mind was on his plight and what we could do for him that certain links from Twitter friends resonated.  They provided some happy news about rehousing and — keeping it all in perspective — some not so happy news about rehousing.  Mid week, it was mostly about researching food delivery methods for our community food system project.  So, it’s not surprising that a post on a food delivery plan caught my eye. Then, yesterday, we received a bounty of peaches.  And one tweet was right on time!

Follow Friday is becoming a real treat for us.  Getting a chance to think about our week, and what our Twitter friends have been up to, keeps us motivated.  Thanks, as usual…

@hominc – for uplifting news about 80 people who moved into the ranks of the formerly homeless.  Bravo for great work.

@PSCtweets – for a link to a study on homelessness that reminded us that it takes more than a voucher to maintain housing stability (hint: people need a myriad of supportive services).

@newurbanhabitat —  for hipping us to an NPR story about Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket Project, which combats a food desert via grocery pick-ups at the local library; and, it accepts SNAP benefits. This one definitely goes in our food distribution files.

@farmcurious – for a perfectly-timed tweet: what to do with all those peaches? Peach salsa!

The community that cooks together…

Recently we began collaborating with a local farmer who is working to create an integrated local food system.  More soon on that collaboration with OriginalGreen.  But, what really struck us was an insistence on creating a way for residents to share in the bounty of their gardens and urban farms with economic advancement and training skills and community building. Our favorite kind of building. Our friend emphasized cooking food in a collective way and it was right in line with a concept we’ve been reading about – Community Supported Kitchen or CSK.

What is a CSK?

Well, if you’re familiar with Community Suported Agriculture (CSA), you’re halfway to understanding the CSK concept. A CSK is a place, you guessed it a kitchen, where community members can volunteer to prepare locally-grown and produced food. As with a CSA, community involvement includes volunteering (in this case, the kitchen) and/or buying shares in the form of meals.  Most of the examples I’ve seen have professional chefs, or people who have worked in the food prep industry.  Most have a lot of volunteer cooks, too.

There are a few strong examples across the United States, with most placing an emphasis on the community and nourishing it.  Berkeley’s, Three Stone Hearth highlights “nourishing traditions of a different part of the world each week.”  While a goal of Salt, Fire & Time, in Portland, Oregon, is to provide a place for community and community empowerment and nourishment. Across the way, in Portland, Maine, Local Sprouts Cooperative supports local farmers and teaches youth and adults about cooking, with an emphasis on building community. And, they have a café. While an alternative model is the “private eating club” operated by the Food Nanny in Urbana, Illinois, whose background in local food advocacy prompted bringing healthy food to the community.

Each of these, in addition to others highlighted in a Serious Eats article, are useful models.  They first and foremost focus on community building.  So, how might this concept, based upon CSAs, work for poor people?

Maybe the real question is: should a CSK look the same as a CSA for poor people?  In a traditional CSA, members pay in advance for a share of what a farm produces.  It has been difficult to create these for low-income folks – especially those requiring financial assistance and benefits – because the USDA will not allow SNAP or EBT payments in advance.  So the CSA is more like a produce stand or store. This is just one of the differences; and, such creative solutions should, of course, be carried over to the CSK in low-income communities.  But, we believe a CSK should have additional economic development and support components.

We envision a CSK that is a part of the “integrated local food system” advocated by our local farmer friend. It will be specific to individual communities and address their needs. This kitchen would provide local residents with jobs. It would encourage and increase local gardens and farms, which in turn promote entrepreneurship and agricultural jobs. It would serve as a nutrition education center, teaching people about the benefits of fresh food and ways to use seasonal produce. It could even establish a retail food service component.

But, perhaps the most significant reward, would be that sense of community achieved by the CSK’s mentioned above. ..something that has the potential to bring even more long term benefits.

Following Leaders 7/16

This week we started some work on an urban farming initiative in Los Angeles.  That meant less time on the computer, and more time out in the field!  Great!  But we still found opportunities to check in with our Twitter friends, and we still found some pretty cool (and always helpful) information from them.

Since we do read EVERY post (yes, still do) a lot of the reading during this busy outdoor week focused on our friends with resources for urban farming and growing. Thank you, as usual.  And as usual, here’s why you should follow them, too:

@SEGlet – for incredible resources on renting rooftops and yards for sustainable projects

@Leaders4Change – for bringing the change we love to the next generation of social changemakers!

@Farmcurious – for inspiring this urban homesteader in training.  No, we don’t think a home-cooked meal requires a can opener!

@Farmland – for being our go-to spot this week for urban farming (Farming on the Edge report) and a post on agri-tourism.

@Urbangardens – for a really great post on 66 ways to grow food without a garden and generally “unlimited thinking”!

Shhh! Top Secret!

We added a “Top Secret” tab on our Facebook page for our supporters.  In other words, if someone has “Liked” our OriginalGreen page, they have access to content non-Likers don’t.  It’s not a gimmick…there’s just some news that we think might be more interesting to people who are already connected (maybe invested?) in the project.  We just wanted to keep them apprised of some of the details of our work, in addition to a few little goodies here and there!  Don’t worry, if you don’t “Like” us, we still like you!  And there’s still plenty of good information to take from the page.

So, if you’re already digging this blog, check out our Facebook page by clicking on the green logo over there on the right, and see if any of our links and news inspire (or even provoke) you in any way. Then, go ahead and “Like” us for even more!  We want to grow a community dedicated to finding solutions to food insecurity and increasing sustainability in low-income communities.  We’d love for you to be a part of it…

Following Leaders 7/9

Last week was “oldie but goodie” week on our OriginalGreen project’s Facebook page.  Sometimes we see posts that help us stroll down memory lane to remember why we really, really like (and have previously “Friday followed”) some of our Twitter friends.

This week, while working on mapping accessibility to farmers markets in low-income communities, much of the conversation turned to race and engaging communities of color.  In Los Angeles, those conversations also turned on a trial. All the while, posts about food seemed to keep catching my eye confirming the do-tasty-with-what-you-have mantra.

Thank you to our oldies but goodies…

@LocalDirt – for some intriguing Top 10 lists we shared with clients…from worst things to do at farmers market, to regional foods you’ve never heard of (oh, and an amazing tomato egg bake).

@hyperlocavore – for posts on Tim Wise’s essay with a strong message about “when your narrative lets you down” and on Oscar Grant which reminded us of the importance of being reminded (and remaining mindful) about things that affect all of us.

@farmingconcrete — for partnering with one of our faves @bklynfoodcoaltn on a community food survey and a retweet of new rules that worry community garden advocates in NYC.

@RachelSurls – for suggesting that Los Angeles declare a “Year of Urban Agriculture” like Seattle has.  Yes, let’s!

@SeasonalWisdom – for a visual history of outdoor porches and more food suggestions: goat cheese, figs, lavender honey appetizer.  Le sigh…

How (and where) does your public housing garden grow? Part 2.

About ten years ago, I saw residents of public housing growing food in their small yards in Richmond and New York.  I didn’t think about it a lot until recently, though.  I didn’t think about it until I started really appreciating the role of a garden in my own life.

At home&community inc, the work has been ongoing to help residents with housing and community development policy. But, there are some fundamental concepts about health that seem missing from some of our client’s daily lives. Our first effort to address health was in the form of green cleaning strategies. We still do that with our OriginalGreen project. But, there was more and more talk about nutrition and community health concerns, and how we might work on those through the OG project.

That’s when I started inquiring about public housing gardens I’d seen years ago, and the status of gardening in those communities now. Public housing authorities are in a position to institute some of the health and sustainability programs touted by the White House – community gardens, physical fitness, green living.  Gardening is a great way to get multiple benefits (mental and physical!), and many residents are either knowledgeable about growing (real OG‘s!) or really, really ready to learn.

Since our first post, we’ve found twelve more gardens in Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, California, Kansas and Tennessee.  Check out the three at Lots to Gardens in Lewiston, Maine and The Farm in the City, at John Henry Hale Apartments in Nashville, Tennessee, and the training farm at the Juniper Gardens complex in Kansas City, Kansas.  Pretty darn cool.

Wouldn’t it be great if all the housing authorities took a lead role on this? Encouraging residents to plant food?  We’re going to be pushing for them to do so, and for bringing gardens to empty lots near housing developments.  We’re also working on getting gardens into affordable housing developments (usually run by private and/or non-profit developers) and making residents aware of other food options in their neighborhoods.  And, we’ll need your help.

Don’t worry, it’ll be easy peasy and make you feel good, too…

How dark is it?

It’s so dark that…

in a recent article a Pennsylvania researcher concluded that her rural farmers market was losing its local farmers to more affluent urban areas. In effect the farmers from Linda Aleci’s food-insecure, Lancaster community were reestablishing a food desert by taking their wares to people who would pay a premium for them. This, the article concluded, was the “dark side” of farmers markets. And, for Aleci, it revealed the need for a fair distribution of food to support the entire region.

A lot of questions were raised after reading the article. What is the reality of Aleci’s perspective, across different regions?  When and how do farmers markets serve low-income residents? Are they really generally expensive? How can rural farmers serve their local areas and make money? In addition, what is Local food?  How far is Local?  Is 140 miles okay?

In answering at least the first few of these questions, things don’t seem to be that “dark.”  Yes, there are more markets in affluent areas, but they can flourish in poorer urban areas. When they do, it is usually in conjunction with community stakeholder groups like non-profits and churches and hospitals that have obtained or have funding. Prices aren’t generally higher than those in the grocery stores. And, if you bring a chatty 6-year-old with you (who gets to know the vendors by name) you’re sure to get a discount.  In fact, regarding cost perception, a study found farmers markets quite competitive in terms of prices. In one California study, on a cost per pound the farmers markets won more often than not.

Where there are regions that have higher costs at farmers markets, we’ll always assert that it’s time to focus on creating more local, urban farmers to meet the needs of low-income residents.  That means, encouraging growing in private yards, yardsharing, participating in community gardens, etc.

If rural communities are becoming food deserts as farmers head to urban areas, then it’s time to look at ways to create more local opportunity for those farmers.  In some farming communities like Merced (one of the top ten agricultural counties in California), people can buy grower direct at the certified farmers market using WIC/SNAP benefits, and/or opt to receive shares from local farm Community Supported Agriculture programs.

Some farms are also taking advantage of agritourism – getting some of those wiling-to-pay-top-dollar urbanites to come to them!  These farmers are bringing the staycation and Local food to another level.

Did you hear the one about the city family that toured the farm?  Maybe there’s a punchline rural farmers can live on.

Following Leaders 7/2

It was vacation time this week.

But, one thing most of us realize is, it’s never solely vacation week when you’ve got technology…especially the kind that fits in a palm and does nearly everything a laptop does.  So, although little work was done on our food security or affordable housing projects, there was time to be intrigued and educated about gardening jobs, homelessness, urban homesteading and sharing (always sharing).

Don’t worry, much resting and vacationing was done.  But, it was with the contentment that our Twitter friends were making good things happen out there.  Safe (and sane) holiday to everyone!

@yesmagazine – for a link to The Garden Project providing job training with environmental stewardship, and a list of 10 easy steps for becoming a radical homemaker (start by hanging laundry!)

@ASPANlink –  for reminders about effects of warm and storm weather on homeless people

@farmcurious – for making it at home (and teaching others how to!) and for diced plums in ice cream…we gleaned some and diced up, too!!

@closestcloset – for getting something started – sharing, giving, community building — and not being deterred by the “copy cats”