What is the currency of community?

Why give?  A lot of organizations ask prospective donors that question. But we don’t think we need to tell people why to give.  Instead, we wanted to talk about why we’re asking.

In a few weeks, we’re holding the first fundraiser we’ve ever organized for ourselves.  It’s even weird to us that, after over ten years in business, we’re throwing our first fundraiser…ever. Why now? Well, we’ve spent most of the past decade helping a bunch of other folks.  And no doubt about it, it has been fulfilling and great.  Then, we started a new project last year — our OriginalGreen project — envisioned as a true community project.  It has definitely become that, but we’re always looking for ways to enhance and further that aspect.  Fundraising has to be supported and created by the community, too.

community currency

So, here’s why we’re asking…

  • First, we believe we’re advancing some pretty reasonable ideas that benefit a lot of people.  Common sense activities for securing fresh produce and cutting out household toxins deserve advancing.
  • Second, everything we’ve talked about in this blog, we’re actually getting into communities!  Community gardens, community supported kitchens/cooking, homemade cleaning supplies, and yardsharing.
  • And finally, we’ve never wanted only to take in money and then go do what we do. We want to create a community of sharing whose members donate funds to activities they can directly participate in. People should have venues not just for networking and learning about each other, but for sharing a “community” meal while they do so.  Breaking bread always seems to make us friendlier.  Especially in an intimate setting, with comforting music…and stimulating conversation.  Let’s talk one-on-one and get to know others in our communities who are working on things we are (or should be) interested in! Share ideas, share goodwill, share time.

Well, apparently (and unsurprisingly), we are totally unoriginal in this last idea! Not only have many others already come up with a good way for making this happen, some have encouraged others to “borrow” it.  The Brooklyn-based FEAST organization holds “a recurring public dinner designed to use community-driven financial support to democratically fund new and emerging art makers.”  Our first fundraiser (did we mention EVER?) is going to allow us to educate low-income people about green cleaning and homesteading, establish and maintain garden/yard sharing communities and initiate a dinner series to democratically fund local groups dedicated to these activities.

We’re keeping it small.  We’ve limited it to 50 attendees. This isn’t the currency of tons of dough but the currency of face-to-face interaction.  Building the value of community.

And that…is why we’re asking.


How (and where) does your public housing garden grow? Part 4.

We continue gathering information about community gardens in public housing.  Here’s a reminder why…

These gardens serve as models for affordable housing communities with information about: siting, navigating bureaucrazy (um, bureaucracy), community sharing and building, health benefits.  We want housing authorities to support community gardening and urban farming.

And, that’s it.  That is the goal of this “census.”  As we continue to do our own work at the Nickerson Gardens public housing garden, we see first hand how residents manage each of the above goals.  There are, of course, many individual residents who raise plants on their own, but our search focuses on sites designated by local housing authority as community gardens (remember, we want to know how folks navigate the bureaucracy).

In our first post we identified gardens in 18 states and talked about our process.  In our second, we talked more about the importance of even keeping count.  In part 3, we added nine states! This time, we’ve added 38 gardens and have added Florida to reach a total of 30 states!  The following are of particular note.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade Public Housing Authority has established an edible garden in the Liberty Square Housing Project; while you’ll find them at Dixie Court Apartments in the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority.  We’ve added Ingersoll Houses to New York City Housing Authority’s large number of recognized gardens.  And, Ohio’s Geauga Metropolitan Housing Authority is using the community garden model at all its public housing.  The Housing Authority of Portland has added a garden to its St. Johns Woods development.  While, in Massachusetts, we found gardens at the Somerville Housing Authority’s Mystic Housing Project.  Oh, and as a follow-up to our Part 3 post, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District in Alabama has installed demonstration gardens in its Park Place development, and is working with Jones Valley Urban Farm to bring even more healthy options to residents!

It’s always so exciting to find more gardens in low-income communities.  If you know about any gardens in public housing, please let us know!

A Positive City: One Size Fits All

Rightsizing not downsizing…I used to wish I would have come up with that phrase.  It’s so simple and sounds like a great idea.  I mean really, the idea that we might do something “right” for cities is far more attractive than simply reducing its size. It got me thinking about what is the right size for a community, and what does it mean to “down” size one?  And is rightsizing even desirable?

First, full disclosure, I’m a student of cities.  From Jacob Riis to Jane Addams, and Robert Moses to Jane Jacobs. I have taken the study to the highest level in academia, so I come at this with a lot of book learnin’ but also, I hope, with the experience of working with people most affected by poor planning. In any case, I was happy to see the phrase again recently because it gave me an opportunity to do some rethinking.  And rethinking is “continuing education” in these parts…


Positive beans


Downsizing cities has traditionally meant a reduction in size.  Rightsizing has come to mean focusing on particular areas in a blighted city, providing incentives for folks to live and work there, and moving functions from productive/consumption areas at the margins, while (sometimes) demolishing buildings to maintain the new density.  In essence, it’s been about consolidating neighborhoods and reallocating resources. But, in a recent article,Roberta Gratz writes that rightsizing is really urban renewal in a different suit.  Urban renewal was and is about demolition, introducing (often forcing) mixed-use development, reducing neighborhood density, and building freeways that slice through and cut off communities. Focusing on housing, I once wrote about the issue as it exists in HOPE VI, a program intended to improve public housing but more often resulted in large-scale demolition.  Major downsizing disguised as rightsizing.

I’ve come to think of how these concepts relate to our community food security goals at home&community.  The downsized city has forced a lot of the food production/distribution functions to the exurbs and suburbs, and decentralized the process.  The rightsized city is moving these processes out of marginal productive/consumption areas to the areas leaders want people to live and work.  I’d like to see a more organic approach.  Returning the city to more organic roots.

Density is key.  Most planners will agree that bringing people and services into some center, where everyone can connect and interact, encourages community and economic growth.  In Gratz’ view, cities improve by introducing positives not by removing negatives: you add to what exists, don’t replace it, don’t overwhelm it.

So what about our community food system (CFS) project?  Well a CFS can thrive in this context.  It can introduce a whole host of “positives” in terms of health and economic improvement. And, by its nature it includes community members in its creation and definition.  It is shaped by need and is an inherently organic process. As a “system,” a CFS needs connections and those connections must be close.  Taking into account local food and farm-to-table issues, there are no productive/consumption areas at the margins because food is produced in small lots and local yards along with local urban farms where the people already are.  Distribution points, whether they be farmers markets, mobile food carts or corner grocers become “positives” introduced into the city.  And, with proper management, the CFS responds to shifting needs in the local community.

In fact, the existence of a community food system might actually be evidence of a revitalized (or revitalizing) community. No downsizing, no rightsizing, just some positivity for a (real) change.