Growing South

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There is food growing in South Los Angeles.  This, many know.  If you didn’t, then you are not reading the right news outlets, or blogs or talking to the people who live and work there.  Original Green has the privilege of being a partner and client in an effort by USC planning students to address food security and provide recommendations for developing our co-working space and homestead for low-income entrepreneurs.

Los Angeles Green Grounds Site

A Los Angeles Green Grounds “Dig-In” Site

We know grocery stores have fled the area, increasing the “grocery store gap”.  We know entrepreneurs have few outlets or resources for growing businesses.  But, there is food there.  It’s in the front yards planted by LA Green Grounds, who we are so pleased to have connected with on the homestead project.  The consistent theme, seldom highlighted in articles about their work, is the building of community.  At every site we have visited, residents either tell about connecting with neighbors and other locals or we’ve seen it in action in neighbors’ bags of shared produce.  We will continue to be a partner and involved supporter of their great work.

Map courtesy Community Coalition

Map courtesy Community Coalition

We are also grateful for the support and assistance of Community Coalition, which has shared invaluable knowledge on the local food justice scene and their efforts to increase access to healthy options.  Mobilizing residents is key and their work is well-known and respected on that front.  In recent weeks, we also loved hearing that the Crenshaw Farmers Market is ready for more local food.  We’re talking hyperlocal food…within 5 miles local!  We were happy to hear from and talk to the folks at the imminent SoLA Food Coop and long-standing RootDown LA.  And, we are ever grateful for access to Al Renner and the Solano Canyon Community Garden, to learn more about urban farming and opportunities for entrepreneur activities.

Our work over the past few months has entailed formalizing the homestead and co-work space.  As we move forward, we add goals and narrow our purpose.  There is a larger undertaking to achieve, of which the homestead is one piece.

There is food growing in South Los Angeles.  The question is: How do we grow more of it and get more of it to the people who need it?  We have an idea (always have) and are developing the homestead as a center for identifying and connecting the nodes of production, so that local entrepreneurs can engage in the distribution of healthy food.  We are already organizing the first meeting of local stakeholders.  Spring is going to be wonderful.

Edifice Complex

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few months ago, we acquired a free-standing homesteading, co-working site.  It was unexpected given our happy resolution to accept the next-best-thing. We are restructuring, in the spirit of the MLK quote.  This structure relies upon a DIY ethic that a lot of people call “new” but we all know is “old”.  In the not so distant past, communities helped less-fortunate and down-on-their-luck members.  They helped by directly providing resources and opportunities for improvement.  They worked to create productive members because they knew the edifice of community required it to stand. We are learning even more about our responsibilities to that process.

As we build and learn, we change things up.  We held the last in our Food Craft series recently.  Our first series of four community dinners (Soul, Solh, Sol and Seoul Food) helped us learn quite a bit about how to bring community together…and how community loves it some good food!  When we announced the end of this series, we were met with a lot of disappointment…and it surprised us.

food craft building

Food Craft: The Final Date photo by Cindy Bolf

You might call it our Sally Field moment.  We always intended to have a series of series, as it were.  The idea was to keep it changing and involve different people over time to keep building community.  As it turns out, people really love coming together over a meal, especially a meal that they create themselves.  Who would have thunk it?

People are equally excited about the development of our homesteading site (we’ve got quite a name reserved for it, too!).  It will be more than what we hoped and permit real, direct work in the neighborhoods we serve…just as communities did decades ago.

For us, restructuring means using the lessons of the past to improve the future.  So, we will take what we’ve learned from working with residents at farm sites and lessons from the first two dinner series to do just that.  This means (definitely) more food crafting.  More art.  More community.  More edifice building.

Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand…

This past Saturday, we held our third Food Craft Evening.  This one – Food Craft Evening Trois: Dopamine Release – featured the flavors of chocolate, passion fruit and chilis.  As always, proceeds benefited the Original Green Community Food Plan.  As always, it was a lovely evening full of great conversation and food improvisation!  And, as always, there are lessons in the creating.

One of the evening’s hits was our version of Three Floor S’mores.  There’s an awesome recipe for these on the Callebaut site.  It’s a truly gorgeous display of graham cracker, chocolate, marshmallow and caramel sauce!  But, recreating that beauty was not practical for our event.  Seriously, look at the link.

What do you do when the very thing you really want is not available?  The German language has a word for this: Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand. Or what if the thing is perhaps just not possible in the scope of your available time? Obviously, you could quit the entire idea.  You could substitute another thing altogether.  Or, you can use what you have and put your own spin on things.

As we’ve been developing our co-working space, we’ve idealized the perfect site as a free-standing building with a large outdoor growing area.  And, that has been the quest.  But what do you do when the very thing you really want is not available?  We’re certainly not going to quit the entire idea.  We can’t simply substitute another project or concept.  But perhaps it’s time to use what we have and put our own spin on things.  Our site may very well be available space in a larger, multi-use building with gardens on the roof.  Just maybe…

Here’s our version of Three Floor S’mores…

Food Craft s'mores

photo courtesy Cindy Bolf

Homemade graham crackers and caramel sauce with marshmallows and chocolate.  Were they really delectable? Seemed so.  The thing that was almost the thing we wanted, became our thing that was meant to be.  It’s likely that our co-working site will also be the thing that was meant to be.  Unsurprisingly, the Germans have a word for that, too: lebenslangerschicksalsschatz.

Will Food (Craft) for Work

We’re moving along.  Business plan? Check.  Marketing plan? Check.  Growing site? Check. Co-working space? Almost check!  Great minds? Expected check!

Original Green is gathering urban farmers and homesteaders who are creative, curious and enthusiastic (or people who want to be any of these) for the next phase in developing our co-working space.  This space, as we have narrowed it down with assistance from LAEDC, will be located in an area identified as both a food desert and grocery gap area in South Los Angeles.  It will offer networking and incubation support for low-income entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial allies who want to develop their own food production businesses.  Our existing growing site will be included as a network node for the community food plan. Our first node connection!

It’s time to DIY, open source and hack the heck out of this thing.  And we know you want to.  The main lesson learned from our Slow Food series is that people want opportunities to gather and talk about ways they can support emerging communities…in addition to their own.  Ask yourself, would you like the hands-on, direct experience of mentoring a resident creating their first mobile food or pastry making service in their neighborhood, while learning how to grow, cook and distribute items, yourself? Or would you participate in a farm and homesteading camp to support a community food system? If the answer is yes, then you’re our type of human.

Gathering and crafting

Our new series, called Food Craft, was tested with success in August. Food craft is the intuitive, traditional and scientific pairings of food flavors, from which guests craft dishes.  As the flavors are complementary, almost anything goes!  The August pairings were sweet potato, goat cheese and figs, and people came up with wonderful dishes during what basically amounted to a fancy version of playing with our food!

Sweet potatoes, goat cheese stuffed figs and kale on the grill

The next event (more on that soon) will feature the trio of pomegranates, feta and chiles.

It’s not all fun and eats, of course.  There is work to be done, and it should be done across a spectrum of experience and ideas.  Some of the best ideas for Original Green have come from our gatherings, and have proven that great minds don’t need to think alike, they just need to share (and sometimes create) a meal!

So…great minds, ready to work? Check.

Photo credits: Kiino Villand

Food Plan, a Farm and Co-working…Oh My!

We had our own version of a “journey to Oz” tornado come through recently.  One moment, you’re talking to various local folks and your little dog, too…when, Bam! You’re swept away and on an odyssey to find what you had all along. Within the span of about a month, you’re asked to talk about food security in a way you hadn’t considered before.  You’re asked to discuss community participation in the production and distribution of food.  You’re asked to research how opportunities for in-person, idea-exchange encourages and increases productivity.  You’ve got a crew of folks who aren’t just the unacquainted supporters you believed them to be, but who actually know each other through the mutualities of their various occupations and social circles.  You’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.  And, suddenly something clicks.  It becomes very clear that all the work that has been going on to establish the Original Green Community Food Plan, was becoming something even better than what you thought it was.

We’ve built raised beds.  We’ve encouraged residents to grow their own food and have seen the benefits of doing so.  We’ve shared nutrition information.  We’ve talked about developing a Community Supported Kitchen.  We’ve provided information and resources about starting agricultural-based businesses.  So, what could be better than all that?

How about an urban farm with a co-working space for low-income residents interested in agricultural and food-related businesses?

There are some residents in the community who want to do more than just grow and eat their way to improvement.  They want to find ways to support themselves with the lifestyle change.  They’re looking for ways to translate green and sustainability efforts into a vocation.  From landscape businesses focused on native plants, to mobile fresh food enterprises, to specialty pies preparation.  Some want to have access to an urban farm and expertise on food production.  Others just want to be able to pick up fresh produce when they want it. While still others want a place to gather and learn about all the possibilities related to having access to fresh food.

Of course, we’re very excited about this! We can expand upon our goals for sharing food and increasing access.  For us, it is an opportunity to establish both a CSK and CSA and provide farming plots that can be purchased using SNAP.  It’s the chance to host community events like educational talks, cooking demonstrations and farm camps.

So, we’ve identified a few commercial flex spaces and are tapping our crew of folks for their expertise.  We’ve found a way to do it all while implementing the Community Food Plan.  In fact…it looks like the Community Food Plan has had this inside it all along.

Earth Day Rockin’ Eve

Earth Day Eve

Okay, so it’s not quite New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.  But, we’d venture to state it’s even better!  If you’re in California April 21st — that’s Earth Day Eve — join us for an evening celebrating a bit of everything!  You’ll be treated to a not-even-boring talk about permaculture and its status as a “revolution disguised as gardening.”  You might even hear the expanded go at our “Ecological Theory of Everything.”

Can’t make it to SoCal?  We’ll set up a Google+ Hangout for you to join the fun.  Just join our circle at home&community inc’s Google page.

How do we appeal to thee, let us count the ways…

Hello community food and urban gardening friends!  We’re one-twelfth of the way through 2012 and working away.  Some of that work is the work of raising not just food, but funds to raise food!  Thankfully, we’re surrounded by great friends who are stepping up to support that part of the effort.

We’ll be holding our first and largest fundraiser of the year just before Earth Day.  There will be plenty of green swag for everyone!  Later in the spring, there will be a gleaning fieldtrip and an event to learn about (and enjoy!) winemaking.  Then, we’re holding a Great Gatsby themed function in the fall, complete with an era-appropriate drink and food menu!

Meanwhile, we’ve got an ongoing “mud and wheels” appeal – offering a recurring donation option.  Did you know that for only $ 7.50 per month – the oft-quoted cost of a few grande lattes – you can provide dirt and water and (hopefully) a delivery bike for our clients at our Original Green growing sites? That’s more than just mud and wheels!

Here’s the latest…We’ve got five beds growing and building seven more for spring and summer planting.  Our plan includes acquiring another donated site (already identified!) and food deliveries to elderly residents.  In addition to the mud, we’ll need seeds, plants, redwood, amendments and kid-size tools.  We raised nearly $2,500 for our community food plan in 2011.  That’s a great number, and we are grateful, but we can definitely grow more good with more help!

Maybe you’ll trade a latte to help us make mud (and expand our community food plan)? You can learn more and find our “Subscribe” button here.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, here’s a video from one of our Slow Food events, courtesy the folks at PowerSharing. It highlights some of the work we engaged in last year with our friends and master gardener at Nickerson Gardens. Thank you, and stay tuned!

Popularity Contest

Photo: 1959 Martinsburg HS Bulldogs

As we wind down the year here at home&community inc, I’ve been doing that “year-end-review” thing…trying to understand what we’ve accomplished, learn from what we haven’t, and prepare for what is still to come!

One of the most instructive (and interesting) activities has been discovering our most viewed blog posts for 2011.

By far, our post on More SHAREcropping was the most popular.  Talking about how to re-appropriate the urban farming concept in low-income communities strikes a chord with folks.  And we’ll keep talking about it and doing it in the coming year.

Next most popular was Kissing Babies…  Looks like people wanted to check in on whether we were staying true to our goals!

Next was Spring Gleaning.  Most here really like that one; I’ve heard it’s because it gives everyone a chance to find local fruit in a way that they never considered!

And last, there was a tie between Paths of Desire and Gather, Eat, Grow, Repeat.  I think it’s no small coincidence that thinking about how we interact with our environment and how we interact with our community would be viewed in equal measure.

Next year promises even more good works!  We can’t wait to share our plans with you in the next several days.  Thanks to all our supporters and here’s to getting it done in 2012!

Build a Bed

Work continues on our garden plot.  These days of early darkness and colder temps (relatively speaking for California) can certainly challenge even the most committed volunteers.  The site is clear, though, and ready.  Soon, soon…

Meanwhile, while trying to come up with unique ways to raise funds to sustain our work, we had a brainstorm.  The raised beds we’ve already installed were easy to assemble and have proven to be durable over this planting season.  Why not provide them to the general public?

We decided to create a kit of parts for redwood raised beds.  They’re small enough to be accommodated on a condo balcony or small side yard.  They’re beautiful material…and while we can’t speak for the eventual craftsmanship, we have confidence in everyone who buys and assembles one (or two!).

Our goal is bring a little of our Community Food System Project to you.  And what better way to support us than by letting us encourage you to grow your own food?!  ← (hint: click that link for more info!)  As always, thank you.

How (and where) does your public housing garden grow? Part 5.

It has been a very busy few months at Original Green.  Yes, we’re still preparing our first urban farming site in South Los Angeles (never realized how much planning and preparation there could be!).  And we’re still holding our quarterly community raising dinners (a report on last month’s “Slow Food, Seoul Food” event coming to our Facebook page soon).  Still Tweeting about affordable and fresh food options for low-income residents.  And we’re always updating our Facebook page with information about everything from mobile farmers markets to the acceptability of modern-day sharecropping.

One thing that’s become clear, there is always something to do…and a lot of it.  It can get pretty frustrating to have ideas and feel like you’re moving at a glacial pace to put them into action.  One ongoing effort that steadily (and quickly) grows is our list of community gardens in public housing.

Since the last update, we’ve added almost 40 more sites, including gardens in North Carolina, California, Oregon, Ohio, Tennessee and a few more in New York.  Here are a few of the notable examples.

The Rancho San Pedro garden, run by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, was completed just days ago.  There are gardens in Oregon, supported by the Housing Authority of Clackamas County, near Portland.   In Cleveland, Tennessee public housing residents are growing in their individual backyards with support from The Caring Place, approved by the Cleveland (TN) Housing Authority.

The Green Thumb Program encourages gardening and provides assistance to do so in public housing sites in Knoxville.   While the Geauga Metropolitan Housing Authority near Chagrin Falls, Ohio permits community gardens that feed a number of families.  Young people and the “Sunshine Crew” are raising produce to be shared by families in the public housing communities of the North Wilkesboro Housing Authority in North Carolina.

And while it’s not part of our census (because the food isn’t grown on the public housing site) we found a great model for a youth-staffed community farmers market supported by the Southhampton Housing Authority on Long Island.  Likewise, the Providence Housing Authority in Rhode Island partners with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to bring farmer markets to housing communitiesAnd they accept EBT (formerly food stamps).

So, like all things at Original Green, the list keeps growing!  And, growing is always good!