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!

Paths of Desire

Desire line by Andrew Skudder

How are the memories that people hold shown in a place?  They might be revealed in the way people preferred to go instead of the paths that had been pre-built.  Sometimes it’s a shortcut, but often a way that is more interesting or efficient or safer or scenic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a student of cities and urban form so a lot of what I do can be linked to some concepts learned in that area.  The Desire Path (or Desire Line) is one of those.  I often think about where the optimal paths are in any built environment.  They provide a type of direction people can trust, because they’ve seen others have used it.  They give us confidence to act.  I never thought, though, about how these ideas could be applied to our work building and planning urban gardens.

Are we building things that people want or will naturally come to? Are we making sure to consider the efficiencies, the scenic route?  Are we creating something that encourages others to follow upon it?  Are we thinking about the possibilities, and then moving towards the one(s) that everyone follows.  Are we setting up spaces that people want to be in, not where we want them to be?

Feedback is always helpful, but we also have to pay attention to what people are doing and the patterns that are developing.  And, we need to do this both before and after we provide a service or product.

A place to sit? Right next to a PVC pipe!

With some raised beds, I noticed a few things that tied the desire path concept to the work.  Where are people spending the most time in the garden? How are they navigating the beds? Where do they sit? Even in ones just completed, I’ve noticed residents sit on the corners – the area with the most surface area because of the top of the 4×4 post – even where there are chairs available.  It’s as if they want to be further connected to the task at hand…because it’s certainly not a comfortable perch.  I imagine that area will become sufficiently worn to the point that others will do the same on other corners.  So, we’ll take that into account on future beds.  Maybe a small platform on each corner is in order.  An easy, and simple fix that acknowledges natural behavior.

The PVC tubes installed to hold poles for netting have been sometimes used to hold sticks, with identifying information or crepe paper streamers. It isn’t a very sturdy re-use, since the sticks fall over and the PVC is on the interior of the bed.  But, what a wonderful alternative use of the structure!  What it means is that we should add a few PVC pipes on the exterior each bed just for people to engage in these types of creative uses. This we should do even beyond the garden art we’re already planning. We can’t imagine the universe of uses people will come up with, but are we allowing enough flexibility in the space? Enough for residents to develop those paths of desire?

We hope so.

Where are the paths of desire in your life?  Whether in your memory, your work, your environment.  Are they your own or shared?

(Raised) Beds R Us

We’ve been completing site planning and preparation for our South Los Angeles sites. We’re setting the template for all growing sites in our community food system, so we’re taking some time to do it as right as possible!

Meanwhile, we’ve started building raised garden beds in private front yards!  We want all communities to be part of our system.  And, private sites in single-family-home neighborhoods can help raise the profile of what we do.

So, check out more of these beds at our Original Green photo album.  Want one?  You know you do!

Unplanning

It’s been quite a month.  We held our most recent Slow Food event and completed a course of action for building the raised beds at our two housing sites.  All these things were expected and lined up, in order, in the tidy bullet points of our Original Green Community Food Plan.

One of the goals of the Community Food Plan is to provide job training for low-income residents, in garden development and construction.  Teaching people to build and maintain gardens has been considered a “down-the-road-when-other-parts-of-the-plan-are-firmly-established” kind of goal.  Well, it’s just like a plan to go and unplan itself…we are about to implement that piece, building our first raised beds on non-low-income housing, private property.

You might remember that one of our ongoing objectives is to develop linked, growing sites, at the neighborhood level.  Included in that work is encouraging a commitment to sharing, cooperation, community raising, resilience, and empathy among other things.  We’ve definitely been doing the latter, in an intangible way, through our quarterly face-to-face Slow Food events.  But our long-range plan has always included doing so on a more tangible level of food sharing across communities.  This means placing growing sites not just in low-income developments, but other private homes, too.   So, in the spirit of unplanning we engaged our first client, to shape a training program and further cement our commitment to promoting community sharing.

We’ll now install raised beds at a significantly lower cost to the property owner, in exchange for a commitment to sharing any produce overages and ultimately being included in our overall distribution system.  Now, the task is to complete the actual sharing strategy.  Yes, it was also down the list on our bullet-pointed, perfect list, but sometimes things just happen…

Looks Like We Made It

We reached the tipping point goal of our Making Our Beds campaign!

We thank everyone who donated.  Reaching our goal means we will receive funds to advance our Original Green Community Food System project at our two sites.  We think it’s also a great (early) Earth Day present for us and for the residents in South Los Angeles where we’ll start getting growing.

Here’s what’s going to happen now…

Some first steps have already been taken. We are grateful to be receiving help from Farmworks L.A. to plan our sites.  We’ve also connected with WINTER — an organization that provides non-traditional employment for poverty-level women — to work on site development.  We know an amazing, personable Master Gardener skilled in garden and crop planning who we hope will advise on our sites.  We have materials donations for our beds.

And the money? The money from this campaign goes directly towards site development and planting: irrigation systems, city fees, hardscaping, lighting and plants.

So tomorrow, for Earth Day, we’ll be enjoying the potential we’ve created.  We’ll be thinking about why we want to bring local food to residents…remembering that Local isn’t a four-letter-word.

Barry’s not a four-letter-word either, so click on his album for some aural affirmation…

Gather, Eat, Grow, Repeat.

Food-themed events are on the rise.  It’s not difficult to understand why, nor difficult to do. We can (should) all get together this way, not just to raise funds or support a particular cause.  We should for the simple benefit of connection that it brings.  Getting together and talking about things is like writing out a note in longhand instead of sending an email – you don’t do it all the time, but when you do, it’s really appreciated (and can be enjoyed even when the hard drive fails).

Our February Repeat

Our event last Saturday once again proved that groups can be really creative. Discussions about art, elementary school education, local yard sharing and homemade wine surrounded the main topic of urban farming and community food system work.

Gathering like this is one of several ways we can all participate in advancing urban agriculture and community food.  Brainstorming about it helps bring awareness and provide resources to interested folks.  We can also go foraging and take extra food to pantries. Another thing to do is to start growing. Even growing on a small strip of land or in containers is a valuable education into how things work and can promote sharing of extra produce. Start a yard share. If you like to garden…but don’t have space…and have a neighbor/friend who does have space but doesn’t know how or like to garden…take over their yard.  They’ll let you if you show them how great it can be.  Are they single? Maybe there’s a date in it for them.

Then, bring it all around full circle and have a neighborhood feast with the harvest.

Why not?

I’ve been asked to explain “why” we’re getting people together in our community raising series.  My answer has typically been “why not?”  The answers to that question reveal more about the asker’s sense of optimism and, more than likely, that they are great candidates for more community face time.  For your consideration…

How many times a year, a month, a week do you sit down at the dinner table with friends and family and have a conversation?  If you do, you know the sense of connection when conversation becomes free-flowing and meaningful exchanges take place.  Sitting down to eat with other people can be an inspiring, creative experience.  Plus, reaching up and out as a group is sustainable, encouraging and fun.  And that brings me to what we at home&community inc get out of holding this kind of gathering and how it’s related to our overall goals.

We need to meet with and reach out to other people so we can remember, appreciate and care about other people. Simple right?

Our community food system and homesteading project relies upon this truth.  For so long, it has felt like everyone is trying to do something but little is coordinated.  Or there are a bunch of hoops when it’s a simple concept of growing and sharing.  Between the universities, schools, community garden associations, food/homesteading bloggers, backyard gardeners, restaurants, us…it’s just overwhelming.  After our last community raising dinner and all the meaningful conversations there, we took a deep breath and decided — in the immortal words of Nike — to just do it.  We’ve got some land, we’ve got some seeds, we’ve got major Home Ec skills, we’ve got a bunch of people that are ready to learn, we’ve got you and everyone who’s ready to get ideas in motion.  And we’ve got it all on a pared down, intimate, personal and meaningful scale.

We’re doing less, so we can accomplish more.

Our new sites are smaller and manageable to make it easier to have a meaningful exchange with the low-income residents we serve.  We’ll coordinate training and production at these smaller, close-knit sites.  Each site will know its own, local needs — what kind of distribution plan  (ie: how much to neighbors, how much to market), what kind of homesteading programs (ie: canning, nutrition, sewing, cleaning products), etc.  All with the added benefits of helping residents develop marketable skills and entrepreneurial opportunities.

So, our effort is to get folks to the table (literally) to eat, talk and create.  Once you get going, it’s easy, makes perfect sense and feels right.  It all begins with baby steps.  For instance, resist the temptation to send an email.  Write to someone on paper every now and again (on recycled, homemade or seed-filled paper!). Resist in little and big ways.  When we do, we might just grow something…because resistance is fertile!

Kissing babies, shaking hands, digging dirt…

2011. Some folks have resolutions.  We’ve got promises.  They’re like campaign promises for our own Garden Party.  Without further ado, here is what we’re getting done this year.

1. We are acquiring developing a site for our first company-directed urban farming enterprise. (Wait, did you see how we already achieved our very first promise?) You will be hearing a lot about this project in the next several weeks — the initial work in our Community Food System.  We’re excited we’ll be able to incorporate visual art and sound along with innovative site design.  And, importantly, this project will link to our work at the Nickerson Gardens public housing community garden.

2. We will focus on community raising.  This is not your garden variety community building.  Well, maybe it is garden variety, but definitely not standard.  We have scheduled four community-funding dinners, continuing the series initiated in November.  People will again have the opportunity to connect with each other, share skills, support Original Green, and help fund community members who have projects that promote sustainability and meaningful participation.

3. We will continue our census of public housing community gardens and organize the information into a document.  It will include resources and tools for creating these gardens in public housing and highlight the work at several successful sites.

4. We will get you involved.  You’re going to help us achieve this agenda for change, because Resistance Is Fertile.  And, yes, that’s our new campaign slogan.  More on that to come!

Festivus for the rest of us

It’s around this time we all become much more aware of giving and helping each other out.  Whether compelled by singular events and people around us or as an ongoing activity, it is a fact that this time of year finds people sharing more of themselves.  At home&community inc, we love all the traditions and celebrations of the holiday season, but perhaps one nicely (funly?) sums up how we’d like to think about giving.  Although it’s not officially celebrated until December 23rd, Festivus is that tradition.

We don’t make judgments about the “when” of giving.  We don’t even make judgments about the “how.”  We’ve been fortunate to receive volunteers, kind words and even a little money this year.  And just like Festivus did, it feels like we’ve inspired our own, real, Human Fund, raising Money (and food!) for People.   Our community grantmaking series is off the ground.  We’ve located a parcel of land for an urban farm in Watts.  The first components of our Community Food System are in place.  And, our census of community gardens in public housing is progressing.

So, how can we celebrate the elements of Festivus? Perhaps a minor “Airing of Grievances”…we need to share more and care more.  Maybe one “Feats of Strength”…we can all find a problem to wrestle and defeat!  And of course, we wouldn’t mind a “Festivus Miracle”…fully funded gardens in low income communities!

Happy Festivus.  We look forward to sharing more good things with you.  And we thank you for a wonderful year!