Growing SEED

It has been a busy four-plus months since our last post!  We shouldn’t have been surprised that talking more and more about SEED and the automated system with more and more folks generated more and more questions.

What exactly is it? How does it work?  What’s in it? Who can use it?  Among others.

It was difficult to answer some queries simply because there was no assembled package.  But there was also the matter of sharing too much and having an idea appropriated before we even got it off the ground (literally!).  So, we began further developing the SEED project kit so that we could answer some of those questions without losing the more proprietary elements.

SEED_prototype

The kit, which is run on Arduino, is receiving a lot of interest and we have taken it on the road.  One of the highlights of the last month was an invitation to share SEED at the Food Day LA showcase at Los Angeles City Hall.

SEED Food Day LA

“But still,” you ask, “what is SEED?”   SEED is —

TRAINING and ENTREPRENEURSHIP – The future-forward job skills participants learn can be transferred to work in larger food/agriculture technology companies, neighborhood small farms, or their own enterprises, and each participant learns how to install resource-conserving systems that reduce waste and expenses.  Our goal is to provide this training as a key opportunity for traditionally hard-to-employ groups such as youth, veterans or previously incarcerated community members.

STEM EDUCATION and AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGY – South Los Angeles, like many low-income communities, is often ignored in terms of technology and innovation.  So, we’re working to tap into the agriculture technology and robotics market – an industry projected to grow to $16 billion by 2020.

WORKSHOPS – Our current workshop curriculum educates community members in food security and production topics such as permaculture gardening, food preparation and preservation, health and nutrition and food distribution, along with job training to prepare residents for work in the emerging “green economy.”  STEM sessions focus on: assembly and utilization of low-cost technologies; garden and farm development; explorations of computer coding; soil management; permaculture; and, business development.

FOOD SECURITY and SUSTAINABILITY – SEED engages residents in the citizen science and food system innovation that increases access to fresh produce. Importantly, our participant farmers analyze scientific and engineering processes to understand the complexities of our globe’s food and ecological sustainability challenges.

SEED Food Day LA box

We know that is still a lot of words — and little visual — but we hope you will stay tuned as we complete development of the growing kit and eventually make it available to the public!   Oh, and if you’d like to see the kit in person, we’ll be at the DTLA Mini Maker Faire December 2nd.

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From SoLA to Santiago

Since our last post, we’ve continued to develop the food and farm entrepreneurship program, with some exciting additions. The SoLA Entrepreneur Ecosystem Development project – SEED – is now in service, and it’s already taking lessons on the road.

To recap, the SEED project gives participants a practical foundation in the areas of aquaculture, hydroponics, and aquaponics and they can pursue further education and/or job training in careers related to agriculture, science and engineering. During two-day workshops, members participate in a real, working alternative energy center focused on urban agriculture and farm technology.

CUBA bad tinaMuch of our permaculture work over the past few years has been informed by lessons learned from Cuban farms. In particular, farms in and around Santiago de Cuba have some of the same edaphological, climatological, and social challenges as those in South Los Angeles. So, with friends in Cuba’s second-largest city, we thought it was time to travel to learn directly. We created a sister-city program to share food production practices and visited farms for a week in May.

During the trip, we proposed a project that uses solar power and general STEM concepts and Arduino microcontrollers. If you’re not familiar with these little devices, don’t worry, we weren’t either up until a few years ago! But once you get to know all the Arduino applications you’ll love them as much as we do. This microcontroller is essentially a little computer with a lot of places to plug things in (like switches and sensors, etc.). It can be used to control motors, pumps and watering all with a little simple programming – effectively increasing growing efficiency and productivity.

CUBA Lavastida sign

We met with staff and other participants in the permaculture program of the Centro Lavastida, in Santiago. Elmer Lavastida-Alfonso, the organization pastor, met with us along with Heidi, a physician and coordinator of health, nutrition and food production programs. They gave us a 30-minute presentation on the organization, in their beautiful art-deco building. Then Heidi organized a personalized, private tour of three permaculture sites in the rural suburbs. We spent nearly four hours traversing the countryside visiting fincas and organopónicos.

CUBA small plot okra

Quimbombó (okra)

 

At one site in a large yard, I talked about how the inclusion of solar power will increase efficiency and water flow. At another, we met with Cesar, agronomist and head of Lavastida’s permaculture projects. I shared how our proposed solar system, hooked up to Arduino, could store energy in batteries and automate the growing and aquaponics processes at his finca (large farm). Finally, we visited a medium-sized organopónico run by a professor of mathematics at the local university. She shares her bounty, which includes amazing sun-dried mangoes, in the larger community.

It was at the finca that we were able to participate in a workshop event where 30 people, from the surrounding six provinces, were learning about permaculture techniques. It was exciting to talk about how we will work together.

Back at home this month, we’ll be firming up our SEED work at the Ghettostead. Some of the materials we’ll be working with are solar packs and batteries, Arduino sensor arrays, drip irrigation control, soil moisture calibration and connecting monitoring applications like Carriots and Twitter. While much of the system plans are equivalent in both cities, notably, in Cuba there will be no Carriots and Twitter…for now. There are only about 50 hot spots on the entire island. In order to access the hotspot, you have to buy $2 Internet cards that contain one hour of access. So, our focus will be on technologies that allow farm systems to interact and automate without the Internet or wifi, like OpenHAB, Zwave and Apitronics and SMS technologies.

There are some meaningful changes coming to these cities and their growing sites. Importantly, we believe these small systems will keep farms efficient and productive in the face of looming pressures to introduce non-sustainable practices in both the U.S. and Cuba.

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.

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!