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.

Advertisements

From Santiago to SoLA: More tales of two cities

Two weeks ago, we headed back to Santiago de Cuba for phase three of our Arduino automatic irrigation project. We held a full-day workshop to train permaculture farmers – promotores – how to code and program the Arduino system.  Home&Community was beyond fortunate to have the assistance of workshop trainer, Ruby Ríos, who rose to every challenge with calm and smarts.

Traveling to the island always requires a special kind of organizational skill. We had to manage bringing our materials in to support the training – Arduinos, breadboards, relays, moisture sensors, LCDs, LEDs, mini-solar panels and more wires and tiny things than anyone needs to travel with! Security screeners in both countries seemed unfazed by all our knickknacks.

CUBA 6_17 taller 4

Once we were in Santiago, the fun began. Thank goodness we’ve got great partners on site with the Centro Lavastida. They always provide a wonderful workshop space along with lunches and transportation.

The workshop was a great success! It was so exciting to see each participant, notebook in hand, diligently and intensely learning this new system.  There were so many great questions and hours of problem-solving.

In one particularly long session, we discovered it was only a matter of reversing the > symbol in a line of code. It certainly was a great lesson in the precision and flexibility of coding!

Over the next two days we visited four chosen sites of varying sizes, to determine where each irrigation system would be installed based upon water source, plant layout and sun exposure. When these systems are fully operational, each participant could see up to a 30% increase in yields.

It is so hard to leave our friends there each time, but we’re always buoyed by the prospect of returning to complete our work.

In city number two, just a few days after our return, we welcomed the volunteers from Google for our third-annual GoogleServe event. Each year the good folks at Google have come out to help us set up, build and plant at our farmsite in South Los Angeles. This year, over two days, they built two new beds, including one in the parkway, planted our herb garden and connected new drip irrigation to our existing automatic system.  Several plants, shall we say, blossomed (maybe exploded!?), while we were away in Cuba.  We’re happy to report no volunteers were lost in the tangle.

With the renovations of the workshop building and addition of another 130 square feet of outdoor growing and demonstration space, the SoLA site is almost ready to commence the fall workshop series. Gstead workspaceNot only will participants learn sustainable growing practices in our Permaculture 101 series, but there will also be opportunities for folks to create their own automatic irrigation systems using microprocessors like Arduino. We’re excited about the possibilities for other agtech projects, too (automatic aquaponics monitoring, anyone?).

More food, more farmers with economic opportunities, more folks with marketable tech skills (especially in agriculture), more sustainable practices. The SEED program (SoLA/Santiago Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development) is growing! All puns proudly intended.

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.

What Happened?

growing happeningAs it turns out, plenty!!

It may be an understatement to say that it has been a busy and productive year here at home&community. With our OriginalGreen and fiscal sponsorship projects firing on all cylinders, it’s often been dizzying but always exciting. One sneak peak for 2016 we think you’ll dig…we’re bringing some neat, new technology to the farm sites.

We know a lot of friends and supporters follow our activities and many of the news items we post, but it’s still easy to miss some of the news! So, we’ve put together a list of our most popular posts for the past year.  Let’s see…

We became certified to sell at the farmers market AND we sold out of produce on our first outing. The culmination of a months-long process to get our first farm entrepreneur selling has been satisfying, since we’ve been working without the benefit of large donations or funding.

We gave it our best shot at lot takeover with Broadchester Farms (we’re not giving up, just yet!) and even received nice local news coverage (here and here), along with starting urban farm work with Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Tech students, at a donated site next to their high school.

There were posts offering insight into gender and farming.

And we highlighted successes in public housing gardening while continuing to add to our own public housing garden census (nearly 150 strong across the nation!).

We grew peanuts and a great soul food garden at the Ghettostead!

We talked a lot about the benefits of growing food in the city (they go far beyond nutrition), and the fact that 20% of the world’s food is growing in those cities (but what does that mean?), while contemplating growing food without owning land.

We shared lots of science! There was a bit of “we told you so” about the benefits of living near trees.   Not to mention some knowing nods about a 30-year study revealing organic farming outperforming conventional farming in years of drought.

Last and absolutely not least, our farm sites were cleaned, amended and all-around transformed, by the volunteers from GoogleServes.

What will we do next?  Well, there’s even more planned than the sneak peak we gave you about new technology.  You’ll just have to keep up with us in the new year!

Tech Sneak Peak

Tech Sneak Peak

We’re in!

HF Farmers Market 6What happens when you grow using some of the best permaculture techniques, get certified by the county to sell your produce, then take said produce to your first farmers market experience? You are a colossal success, that’s what! Yes, we sold out of produce on our first outing. The culmination of a months-long process to get our first farm entrepreneur selling has been satisfying, since we’ve been working without the benefit of large donations or funding. Many simply do not believe that a food hub in South Los Angeles is possible. But, not us and certainly not our food entrepreneurs.

It has been an eventful past several months. We’ve hosted volunteers from GoogleServe, participated in working groups to advocate for local fresh food options, attended permaculture workshops, advocated policy to farm on urban vacant space, established a partnership with a local tech high school, and continue to brave the vagaries of local politics in holding on to the large site we have been working. But mostly we’ve been growing…multiple pounds of tomatoes, burgundy okra, squash, cucumbers, kale, papayas, lemongrass, greens, and nopales, just to name a few.

The fact is, this South Los Angeles food hub will not be thwarted! Our success at the farmers market tells us so. People appreciate and long for local, fresh food options. So, we are in the farmers market. Not only are we in, we are rocking it!

Lot 666

It has been awhile, but there has been a “lot” of activity (pun intended)!  The Ghettostead continues to develop and grow.  This year, it will include two farmers along with an additional raised bed and co-working activities.  We’ll post more on that soon.  But, you may be wondering about the title of this post…

Broadchester 666

You remember that lot of land we were working to acquire?  Well, there’s strength in numbers, and we’ve collaborated with some folks to takeover two parcels at the site.  We’re happy to report that the group is halfway there!  Thanks to the assistance of staff in the offices of CD8, our group gained access to city-owned Lot 666.  Broadchester Farms is on its way!

Now, some folks laugh (and some gasp) when they hear the designation of the lot.  But, we say “awesome!”   We decided it’s time to re-appropriate this “scary” number, especially when we learned a few things about it.  The best of which is, 666 symbolizes Carbon 12 — you know, 6 protons, 6 neutrons, 6 electrons — the foundation of life on earth!

Pretty auspicious, right?  Seems we’re set to get some amazing produce!

The Right Race

Vote!

Vote!

We submitted our first ever “vote-for-us” campaign. There have been many things to come out of it. But one thing is: 

It helps to have a huge email database!

Don’t get me wrong, it has been fantastic to receive such support from our dedicated folks and be reminded of how people appreciate what we are doing…along with getting a chance to spread the word to several more people.  That has been nothing short of great.

It’s the campaigning and realization that some of the time, you can have a pretty neat thing you’re doing, but without ready access to big numbers of people to vote, there’s a lot of “campaigning” to do.  There are a lot of proposals to read! Even I have only been able to read about a third of them in our category of 60. (I intend to read them all, because they deserve that.)

But really, no sour grapes here.  No way. It’s simply a realization that these platforms work best for groups with large followings or ones that can quickly energize numbers to compete with those large groups.  The difficulty (sometimes) is that smaller groups already have limited resources to commit to such a campaign.  Of course, there are examples of small groups getting something going and going viral in an effort. Of course there are!  It is finding that one compelling image, story, video that takes your issue from relative obscurity to superstardom! It’s a different kind of race, really.

So, yes, there have been many things to come out of this.  Lest this comes off as negative or defeatist, there’s this:

More people see the value and are behind this project…momentum!  People are asking us about how to create a fair food system and how to bring more food to low income communities and how to take charge of food production.

The project is actually in progress.  There is food GROWING and being shared on site and it is getting notice by and inquiry from neighbors who live in the community.  They are asking how they can grow at their homes.  It’s incredible and this is what we’ve wanted.  

We're growing at the Ghettostead.

We’re growing at the Ghettostead.

There are many among us that want to do things that are meaningful and some of us are unrelentingly compelled to do so.  With Original Green, we at home&community inc are aiming for multiple hundreds (dare we dream thousands!) of households served, but even serving 10, 20, 50 has been worthwhile.  That’s 10, 20, 50 families that are eating better and feeling better and reviving their community.

A fair food system, more access and increased decision making.  That’s our primary race.  And we’re already hitting that trifecta of food justice, food security and food sovereignty.  Oh, and we haven’t given up the campaign by any stretch.  There’s still time to vote.