Talking about a Food Hub

We will be revealing our online food hub and aggregation site very, VERY soon.  In advance of that, here is a video that provides information about why, where and how we want to do this work.  This hub is an integral part of promoting the co-working homestead (whose name is revealed in the video, too!).

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Failure is like…

…a word that gets used far too often as a motivator for change or some instructive path to success.

Lately, I’ve been surrounded by people talking about failure. They find comfort in quotes about failure being necessary to reach a goal.  They seek permission to fail. They worry that they are not making or building anything of consequence.  They lament that they are not achieving this or that plan.

Well, I won’t ever give someone blanket permission to fail, and I’ll argue that what we often call failure is sometimes not.  On the point of making things, I say pick something and do it.  Start something.  Make something.  Grow something.  If it helps people in some way, even better.  (I’ll like you more.)  On the point of achieving this or that plan I ask, “Are you moving a plan forward?” It’s not even “are you moving THE plan forward?”  Because THE plan often changes.  (The fact that it shifts is usually what makes you think you are failing.)

Now…it is important to distinguish between a plan and the goal.  The goal, that’s the thing you choose, and it doesn’t change.  That is the “eyes on the prize”.

We have a goal for OriginalGreen: food justice and food security in South Los Angeles.

I do not fail

How we achieve this is a consistent strategy: create a healthy community food system, empower low-income food entrepreneurs, increase access to fresh food.  But there have been a bunch of variables and incompletes along the way, including loss of land and lack of resources.

The thing is, I’ve never conceived of these incompletes as failure, even if some folks consider them the traditional definition: “lack of success”. They’ve been opportunities to learn and get the thing right.  And that’s why I don’t buy into the vaunted “cult of failure” discussed all over the Net, in start-up culture and entrepreneurial philosophy.

Moving towards a goal and not reaching it the first, second, or even tenth leap, is not failure.  It is moving towards a goal.  It’s taking all the steps.  Even those times you hit it out of the park, you still have to run the bases to validate the effort.

Now that home&community is the closest to opening the co-working homestead, is connected to 67,000 square feet of growing space, and has technological help for our open tools platform, I look back on getting here and see the incompletes, the almosts, the detours.  Actually, I saw them pretty clearly when they were happening, but none seemed negative to me.  They are simply the 100 things that won’t work and needed to be figured out.

So, no “embracing failure” or “failing forward” or “failing fast” for me, OriginalGreen or home&community.  We’ll stick with trial and error, process, making, doing, collaborating, risking.  Failure is too easy, and it doesn’t get people fed.

As always, the garden and farm offer a great metaphor for failure and risk.  A garden is the ultimate laboratory for goal-seeking and learning from mistakes.  You don’t fail in the garden; you don’t founder on the farm.  You learn and then you keep growing.

Growing South

Our site is here

Our site is down here

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.

Your grass, too, can be green. Just water it.

grass-is-always-greenerIt’s the end of the year, when a lot of people start thinking about the prior 11 months and things they have/have not done to fill all those days.  Have I worked on things I’m passionate about? Have I spent meaningful time with friends and family?  Did I learn how to play Lola on the ukulele?

Thankfully, mostly the answers are yes.  But when talking to some about this, I hear a familiar refrain (complaint) from people who haven’t reached goals they wanted: I wish I had what [insert some other person who isn’t the speaker] has.  The coveted thing might be a certain job, a certain relationship, a certain skill, a certain item.  Often, the conversation then moves to me and how I have what I have.

It’s always interesting because what I think I “have” is not generally quantifiable or obvious to describe.  My impulse is to answer the questions by asking more questions.  “Exactly what do you think I have and why do you want it, too?”  But, I’ve learned that my experience in the gardens with residents and friends can be instructive in providing answers.

For the most part, it’s true that I’m happy, motivated and forever optimistic….because I consistently engage myself in things that make me happy, motivated and forever optimistic.  I water my garden.

Things are green on my side because I try to keep them that way.  It’s work and it’s intentional.  What needs to get watered today?  Optimism getting a little dry? Happiness wilting a bit?  Go fill up the jug.  Think about those “goals” you missed.  What exactly were you trying to grow? Blue fescue is going to need different care than St Augustine (as will a tomato from rhubarb).  Do you even like the fescue you’re trying to keep alive? Maybe something else is more appropriate for you.  Maybe try focusing on something else for a while.  Become an “accidental creative.”

Your water may vary, but, thinking about what you’re growing and remembering to water at all is more likely to get things as green as you want them to be.

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