Many minis!

This past week, we’ve been working a lot on two projects.  One required research on farmers market rules and regulations, the other about ways community activity decreases crime.  These are seemingly disparate subjects, so it was a happy surprise when one article — about mini farmers markets — appeared on both computers.  It was clearly something to check out.

One of the difficulties communities have in bringing farmers markets to residents is cost.  The interest may be there, but the costs to establish markets can be steep.  There are permit and license fees.  There are also vendors that need to sell in large quantities and seek out larger venues.  So, it was intriguing to discover the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Streetwerks program in Minneapolis.

They developed a system for getting fresh produce into communities on a smaller scale.  Small farms and community gardeners can take part.  The start-up fees are smaller and set-up/break-down times are shorter.  In our own work, we’ve seen several instances of groups wanting to set up a table or tent to sell produce in low-income communities, while being thwarted by local regulations and/or cost.  What a benefit something like the mini farmers market would be to these communities!

First, it means more local food and improved nutrition. Then there’s the economic benefit to local growers and entrepreneurs. And those are just the most obvious benefits.  It can also become a job training opportunity, where people learn about growing, selling and distributing produce.  Specific types of produce can be sold in different ethnic enclaves.  Depending upon the regulations, residents can bring their own produce to sell at the small market.  Because they can be set up and down faster, markets can open after work hours, so people can buy food as they come home.  They might even deter crime in some areas, just because they bring people to the street and give kids jobs.

Outside of the Minneapolis example, these types of little markets have been established in Detroit as it expands its urban farming programs.  And small produce stands have been started by Foodlink in Rochester.  An interesting turn is an effort by the Pritikin Research Foundation to encourage fast food companies to offer mini farmers markets in their parking lots.  Canada also has a similar set up around British Columbia called pocket markets.

In order to bring more of these markets to low-income communities, cities would have to streamline their permit process to allow these smaller markets to be established (a cheaper and faster process).  In Minneapolis, they established regulations for a “local produce market” permit.  There would also have to be more Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons distributed instead of the SNAP/ EBT benefits cards, since accepting the cards requires a more extensive wireless set up.

Lets get a different kind of mini-market on every corner in our low-income communities!


Gathering states

Over the past decade, we’ve worked with and have connections to people in forty states.  Most of those connections have been established through housing policy work.  We realized from the beginning how important it was to identify and assimilate the “good” programs out there – the ones actually helping low-income people.  Of course, networking wasn’t as easy as it is now, with technology and whatnot.  So a lot of time was spent traveling to nearly all those forty states.  But introducing a “good” program in a new state meant Missouri could benefit from Utah, or Ohio could help Louisiana.

In our food security work, we think it’s important to provide information about states for the same reasons — it shows both the need and the good work out there.  Every state, large and small in geography or population has people addressing food security. Both rural and urban settings have food deserts.   We’ve got friends in 31 states on our OriginalGreen page, and we’ve been providing information about their states.  Posts have focused on SNAP/EBT (foodstamp) acceptance at farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture for low-income residents, urban agriculture training/work programs, mobile food programs and community gardens for homeless people, among other stories.  Every post is about how a community is working on food security and anti-poverty issues by growing food.

The information isn’t provided just to let people living in those states know about local programs, but also to inform everyone about the variety of programs across the country.   As with our housing policy work, we want to share inspiring food programs and provide models for change.  If it’s shown enough times how many programs are out there and how great the need is, maybe people will be interested enough to support or start a program in their own community.  Maybe we can help connect folks in the same or different states who face similar issues.

So we gather states, because there’s a certain power in knowing we all have the same things going on and can help each other address them.

Following Leaders 8/20

It was nice patting ourselves on the back last Friday – and evidenced by the work our friends are doing out there, we all should do that now and again.  But now it’s back to proper props.

This week, as mentioned in the last post, one of us (me) had to deal with a cranky collaborator.  While I was dealing with this, um, person, I was also gaining a better appreciation for how social media could enhance our work here.  It allowed me to share a life lesson (that apparently resonated with more than a few people), and it helped our OriginalGreen page grow to 31 states and four countries.  In particular, though, a few of our Twitter friends were the consummate social media mavens this week.  And while the cranky collaborator had me dreaming of criminal acts, it was fun to see other “criminal” acts in the fields.

Oh, and we couldn’t go without acknowledging an amazing 49 days in Arizona.

Thanks for another great week!

@DoreenPollack – for being the ultimate retweeter of helpful information and for a great link to a story about a family of four that grows food in their pool.

@BeetnikMedia – for an exciting new social media venture helping gardening and eco living businesses make those important connections.  Can’t wait for more!

@alleycat_acres —  for robbing potatoes and serving as the Washington State resource on our OriginalGreen page this week.

@hominc — for 52 move-ins in 49 days!  What?! Wow! So very cool and inspiring.

When a thrown compact is a life lesson…

I learned a lot about dealing with people and working towards joint solutions on one particularly epiphanic day when I was 14.  That day, my sister made me really mad.  I mean, really, really mad (she’s five years younger than I am, so you can imagine the ways).   I was paralyzed by a compulsion to react physically towards her.  I had certainly never hit her and had no idea how to resolve the situation.  One thing I did have was something I’d just purchased.  An item I’d coveted for months…a brand new compact with brand new eyeshadow in it.  So, I threw it at her.  I threw it as hard as I could.

And, it missed her.

Instead, it hit the wall.  Glass, powder, plastic — all shattered into an unrecognizable mess.  She laughed and ran downstairs.  I stared at my loss.  That day, I learned that if you throw your stuff, you’d better have good aim.  But, in subsequent days, I understood that there was a deeper lesson.  Reacting without thinking rarely solves anything.  Reacting without thinking about the other party’s position and needs only breeds resentment — in both of you.

Any time I come up against a “conflict-attracted” person in my work, I think about that day.  I absolutely do.

A few days ago, it happened.  For the record, I don’t generally get outrageously angry.  But, a perfect storm was in place: my resistance was low, the contentious person was transferring frustrations from their own recent bout with a “conflict-attracted” person, and then there was the goading and pushing.  I really wanted to throw the compact — in this case, some well-crafted barbs and withdrawal of support.  But, to what end?

More than likely, they would have hit the wrong target and shattered into an unrecognizable mess.  The kids would lose their chance to garden.  The food project would be stalled, and the other party would have run downstairs laughing.  Instead, I did what I’ve learned to do.  I paused and asked:  “Do you need something from me?”  After withstanding a few more attempts to get my goat (which they probably did out of habit more than anything else), I repeated: No, really, do you need something from me?  And the tide was turned.

We started exchanging information.  The other person began to realize that clients were watching and were interested in the response.  Ultimately, the person was being made a major part of the solution and allowed to direct my response.  And you know what came out of it?  Better understanding and a better partnership.  We’re designing a Community Supported Agriculture program and cropsharing.  This CSA/cropshare will be an integral part of the community food system plan we’re developing.

And, who knows, some day I might be saying this is the best partnership ever — just like the best sister ever — and that would be very, very cool.

How (and where) does your public housing garden grow? Part 3.

It’s Friday.  And usually we give thanks to our Twitter friends, in the “follow Friday” tradition.  But today, we follow ourselves.  We put in a lot of work this week on our public housing and community food project…so we’re giving our own back a pat.  It has been really exciting to continue our work finding community gardens and urban farms in public housing.  Since our last update we’ve confirmed that produce is growing at nine more sites in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, California, Washington and Virginia.  Alabama is a new state on our list!

The community food project we’re working on includes a large garden at a public housing development.  (You can check out photos and information about it at our Facebook page.) So, you can imagine that many of the programs we’re finding are really helpful!  Many serve as wonderful models with programs we will certainly replicate in our own local project.

For every public housing garden (or farm!) we find, we’re excited at the prospect of finding more!  We’d like you to see some of the recent additions, because we think you’ll feel the same way.

The Ohio City Farm grows at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Riverview Towers site in Cleveland.  It includes a community kitchen and farmstand.  While the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles’ Growing Experience at Carmelitos Housing Development, has a CSA program and green jobs component.  St. Mary’s Urban Farm is in Alemany Public Housing a development of the San Francisco Housing Authority.  And, a garden provides food at the Seattle Housing Authority’s Yesler Terrace development.  The Garden of Goodness grows its goodness in Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Friendship Court in Virginia.  We’ve got Georgia growing in a Thomson Housing Authority plot.  And that garden in Alabama?  The Garden of Park Place in Housing Authority of Birmingham’s Park Place public housing neighborhood.

Stay tuned!

Making it

A few weeks ago GOOD asked the question:  what do you make or grow instead of buy? So I decided to make my own list.  And I wanted to do it with our clients in mind.  As it turned out, it was really easy to start a list, because we’ve been talking a lot here about the ways we can simplify and reduce.  But, in starting my own list I realized that even though there are a bunch of things I’ve given up, there is still a lot more I could.

If you’ve recently discovered us, you’ll notice a lot of the focus has been on issues of food security.  But, our OriginalGreen project grew out of encouraging use of natural cleaners in low-income households.  In fact, we still distribute clean kits with our Clean recipe book.  I’m sure this is why most of the “made” things on my list relate to cleaning products, as that is what I’ve been making the longest.  So, here goes…

The things I no longer buy, because I make them are: laundry detergent; dishwashing liquid; all-purpose cleaner; oven cleaner; air freshener; facial astringent/toner/cleanser; furniture polish; bug spray.  Then there is butter, along with pies, cookies, muffins, pizza (all still requiring flour, which I’m not brave or patient enough to produce yet).  Wrapping paper, cards and notebooks are on the list, too.

The things I grow or glean include: various bell / chili peppers; squash; scallions; basil; peppermint; rosemary; lavender; platanos; tomatillos; oranges; lemons; peaches; apples; and avocados.

Doing these things makes me feel less wasteful and more conscious of the areas where I still am.  I was actually surprised at the length of the list, but very much aware that it isn’t as long as a true homesteader’s!  I don’t buy pre-packaged meals and don’t own a microwave, but I’d like to use the clothes dryer less and sew a bit…slow down a little more, in general…maybe make my own pasta.

Some of this “making” has become really easy.  And often, once mixed, products last three and four times longer than pre-packaged items.   The recipe book has been fairly easy to introduce to clients.  We are working on a comparable plan for food security and nutrition, and have already addressed the issues of time and cost in a prior post.  So right now, it’s also about simplifying and reducing in other ways.

You’ve seen my list.  But what about yours?  What kinds of things do you make instead of buy? And better yet, what will you?

Being Service

A lot of people pooh-pooh tweeting.  But, the leaders we’ve followed on Twitter are out there making changes.  Some in big ways…some small…but all succeeding in “being” service.

Over the past several months we’ve followed SEGlet, Farmland, Urbangardens, hyperlocavore, TheCityFarmer, AnarchyGarden, and UrbanFarming — as urban farming/gardening resources.  It’s been newurbanhabitat, and fallenfruit for information on mobile and free food.  While naemhomelessness, hominc, PSCtweets, homeaidamerica, chtrust, vermonthousing, and willamettenhs have been constant resources on housing and homelessness.  Then, ShareableDesign, ShareTompkins, and closestcloset have been community sharing resources.  We are consistently inspired by the things we see each week.

So, what about it?  Easy enough to list folks and say thanks, but what have we done with all this inspiration, learning and direction?  Well, we’ve hinted a lot over the past few weeks that we’ve begun collaborating on a community food plan.  It’s got multiple parties and partnerships.  It involves farmers, businesses that support farmers, a university, and cities, along with social and non-profit organizations.  It includes community members, and importantly, a bunch of kids!  It’s about food security, nutrition, mobile food support, food mapping, housing, community kitchen-ing, and food-selling.

It seems our work in housing policy and preserving people’s homes has naturally evolved into preserving people’s health in those homes.   And, sometimes, just when you think something can’t be done, someone gives you something for free!  Or introduces you to the perfect person. Or a link crosses your (computer screen) path.

The spirit of collaboration and service has privileged us to work in communities on issues outside of food security, too.  We’ve become fiscal sponsors to Action Kivu (@actionkivu), in their efforts to help victims of sexual violence in Eastern Congo, and Play it Forward Nashville (@PlayItFwd), as they help Nashville residents recover from May’s flood damage.

How can we best be of service?  This is the question we all need to ask ourselves.

The answer:  You have to become service.  Be a resource, not just provide one.  That’s what our friends we follow are.

So, this Friday, a different take on our follow Friday props.  But still the same ending: Thank you!