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FARM IN THE CITY

FARM IN THE CITY

Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoda once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.

THE SEED IS PLANTED

went-to-sleep
“Went to Sleep With 2 Red Pumps, Woke Up With 1” by Ted McGrath via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
In the poorest postal code in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, the old farmer’s vision has come to ground and taken root in a network of four urban farms located on five acres of reclaimed land.  They call it “SOLE Food Street Farms.”

The name is an acronym.  It arose out of a project, “Saving Our Living Environment” (SOLE), by United We Can, a Vancouver non-profit that operates a recycling program and employs street people and people from the neighborhood to clean up streets and alleys.  Until the farms were able to operate independently, they sheltered under the United We Can umbrella.

The project was spearheaded by visionary farmer and food-growing advocate, Michael Ableman (of Foxglove Farm fame), and his collaborator Seann Dory who worked for United We Can.  They put together a project that provides stable jobs and training and development for 25 people, most of whom live in the neighborhood where they work.  Together they have built an oasis of green in the middle of gray and black city hardscape.

DOWN ON THE FARM

This 2013 video, “The Story of Sole Food,” which was produced by Point Blank Creative with the support of Vancity and is available on YouTube, tells the tale:

The farms have succeeded beyond the two founders’ wildest hopes when they began reclaiming their first piece of ground in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel in Strathcona, the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver (right next door to Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in all of Canada.)

  • Every year the farms produce over 25 tons of fresh produce that includes tree fruit from a large urban orchard that grows in an abandoned railway yard.
  • The farms supply more than 30 area restaurants and sell at five Vancouver farmer’s markets. They operate a community-supported agriculture program as well.
  • They donate up to $20,000 work of produce every year to community kitchens.
  • Most importantly, they help their urban neighbors reconnect and re-ground themselves in the age-old cycles of life and growing that every farm honors and celebrates.

After the farm project had been going for several years, the MBA program at Queen’s University conducted research into the uber-local farming enterprise.

The guys in the lab coats figured out that for every dollar SOLE Foods spent on employing people who are “hard to employ,” there was a $1.70 combined savings to the person and the legal system, the health care system, the social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration and energy and transportation benefits.  A good return-on-investment, that.

empowering-people
“Empowering People With Urban Farming” by Province of British Columbia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

A TRADITION RE-ITERATED

In his book, STREET FARM:  Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier, Ableman details how the dream came together.

The book is a triumphant mash-up of Ableman’s philosophy about farming as a business and a traditional craft with pictures on every page spread (many of them taken by Ableman) documenting the continuing trials and tribulations of trying to build a real farm in the middle of the big city.   The best parts of the book are the stories about the relationships that have developed between the organizers, the farm workers, their clients, and the Downtown Eastside neighborhoods where they work and live.

If you’d like more information about SOLE Food Street Farms, CLICK HERE.

At the time it began, the scale of the farms was, perhaps, unique.  It was urban agriculture, growing food on a for-real farm that was run as a business with a heavy dose of social consciousness added in.  Many of the earlier efforts by assorted city planners and developers in various cities around the world focused on garden-scale projects – urban horticulture rather than agriculture.

It isn’t a new concept, this growing food in the middle of a city.  As cities grew, the food needed to feed the people was grown all around them.  Sumerians, back in 5000 BCE, were famous for the sophisticated irrigated agriculture in and around some of the world’ earliest cities in what is now southern Iraq.

But, these ancient farmers and all of their descendants in the long history of agriculture did not have farms built on top of pavement covering over the contaminated soil between buildings in the remains of demolished factories and other urban ruins. This is what makes these street farms so remarkable.  What makes them even more remarkable are the number of lives they have touched and the ones they have helped to nurture, heal and rebuild.

Michael Abelman says that SOLE Food Street Farms is “based on the belief that the simple act of planting a seed can bring new life to the world.”

[Amen to that one, braddah.]

“Sunrise at Mt. Haleakala” by D. A. Lewis via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a tendency to build bridges between your world and other people’s worlds.  [Foot-traffic on all the bridges you build brings many treasures into your world.]

Here’s a poem:


YOUNG TREE

Young tree in the ground

Started as a seed

Buried in the dark, rich,

Warm earth.

 

Slowly it split apart,

Shoot seeking the light,

Pushing against the cradling earth,

Slowly, slowly.

 

It reaches up into the light,

Day by day by day….

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “The Hidden Radish” by Steph L via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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CHANGING THE WORLD

CHANGING THE WORLD

Baby-Boomers really did try to change the world.  We tackled the same-old with the tried and true, passed on down to us through the ages:  rebellion and protest, dreaming big dreams and making them real, and exploring new directions in spirituality and/or consumerism.

Somehow, even though the world certainly did change, the mess kept morphing in other directions.  Changing the world is not such an easy thing to do.  Who knew?

Here’s a poem about it from a Baby-Boomer point of view….


CHANGING THE WORLD

Some people seem to think

They need to change

This old World and make it fit

Some vision they are seeing.

 

If only this, if only that,

If only the Others would, they say,

Then there would be a lovely New World,

All joyousness and love and truth.

 

It’s odd, though, the way it turns out:

When their vision finally comes to pass,

Out of all their effort and struggle and pain,

Somehow it all turns into the Old again.

 

Peacemakers take up war;

Rebels turn into tyrants;

Freedom-seekers embrace chains.

Stern laws and unbending rules,

Liars and cheaters make.

Compassion turns to bitter-tasting Charity.

 

And this old World keeps on turning,

A seething, sweet, and stinking mess,

That keeps right on singing its chaotic heartsong

That always changes, always stays the same.

By Netta Kanoho

NOW COMES A BETTER WAY

Jason Haber, in his book, THE BUSINESS OF GOOD:  Social Entrepreneurship and the New Bottom Line, details the rise of Social Entrepreneurship, a way of doing business that combines an entrepreneurial foundation plus the very real desire to make a difference and wrapping it all up in sound, sustainable business practice.   There is hope as well that these businesses will promote real change.

The biggest difference between plain vanilla entrepreneurship and the “social” variety is that one of the top priorities for the social entrepreneur is doing work that makes the world we live in a better place.

Attention to business sustainability and growth is paramount, but it is balanced by a mission to work towards mitigating gnarly social problems.  One of the strategies that seems particularly effective for working towards change is connecting with people and helping them change their lives by themselves.

Below are two social entrepreneurs whose work was included in Haber’s book and one that was not.

BANKER TO THE POOR

This YouTube video by Infinite Fire is a brief documentary, a quick overview of Nobel Prize winning social entrepreneur Muhammas Yunus who invented the idea of micro-finance to help combat global poverty.  He started the Grameen bank.

In his book, BANKER TO THE POOR, Yunus points out, “Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility.  Charity is no solution to poverty.  Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about those of the poor.  It appeases our consciences.”

Jason Haber points out that more than 7 million borrowers rely on Grameen Bank.  Of those, 97 percent are women.  The average loan balance per borrower is approximately $162.  The gross loan portolio of the bank is in excess of $1.1 billion.

In a typical year, the default rate on the Grameen Bank loans is 2 percent.  This is very different from loan default rates in developed countries:  11 percent for student loans, 6.5 percent for mortgages, and slightly under 3 percent for credit cards.

YEAR UP

Another program for good reviewed in Haber’s book is Gerald Chertavian’s Year UP program.  This program gives inner-city young people the chance to develop skills that make them employable.  In the following video Chertavian talks about how the program began.

The program, which was founded in Boston and has since spread to other cities all over the United States, gives inner-city young people the chance to develop skills that make them employable.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MAP OF YEAR UP LOCATIONS. 

Chertavian’s book, A YEAR UP, describes the program.  New enrollees in the Year Up program range in age from 18 to 24.  They sign a contract that tells them what’s expected of them.  They earn a daily stipend while they participate  in the program but they don’t pay any tuition.  (The funds that maintain the program come from the fees Year Up charges to corporations and companies for well-trained interns.)

The students’ Year Up is split between 5 months in a classroom environment learning personal and professional skills and six months in a full-time internship program.

Eighty-five percent of the Year Up graduates are in school or have a job within four months of graduation, Haber says.  They earn an average of $32,000 a year for full-time employees and $16 per hour for part-time work.  Even during the Great Recession, Year Up students were succeeding, earning 30 percent more than those outside the program.

This video, Year Up Journeys, tells the stories of three young people who participated in the program.

ENTREPRENEURIAL THINKING = WORLD CHANGE

Here’s one other program that sounds particularly interesting.  It is not featured in Haber’s book.

Jeremy Liddle is Director of Entrepreneurship at The Enterprise Network for Young Australians (ENYA – www.enya.org.au), a not-for-profit organization established in 2002.  It is described as being “run by young people for young people.”  The organization has the vision that Australia will lead the world in innovation, and that every person will understand that starting their own business is an immediate and viable career choice.

Liddle believes that entrepreneurial thinking can change the world.  His passion is focused on creating a world of job creators, people who are in control of their own financial destiny.

The following TedX talk was given by Jeremy Liddle at Macquariel University in Sydney, Australia in 2013.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The social entrepreneurship movement continues to grow.  It seems like that is a very good thing.

Picture credit: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far go together” by J. Mark Dodds via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

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REVIEW: MAKING GOOD

REVIEW: MAKING GOOD

In 2009, the portends and omens were not looking good for the global economy.  It was the aftermath of the grand collapse of the-world-as-we-knew-it.  The young people coming up (as well as every other person on the planet) were facing a future where the dust was still settling.

Scary times were not coming; they were already here.  Everybody was scrambling, trying to make sense of the shifting landscape and trying to figure out which direction to take and what moves to make.


PRODUCT:  (Book) MAKING GOOD:  Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World

Authors:  Dev Aujla and Billy Parish

Published by Rodale Press, 2012


Two young men, Billy Parish and Dev Aujla, both of whom were already successfully working in their own ways to help rebuild a broken world, connected with each other and committed to collaborate on putting together a book “on how to make a living while saving the world.  It came out in 2012.  It was titled, “MAKING GOOD:  Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World.”

When they began working on the book, both Parrish and Aujla were already “making good.”  Billy Parish dropped out of Yale University to co-found the Energy Action Coalition.  He grew the Coalition into the world’s largest youth advocacy organization working on climate.  Meanwhile, Dev Aujla was the co-founder of DreamNow, a charitable organization that works with young people to develop, fund, and implement their social-change products.

The men’s side-hustles, the ones that made the money they needed to live the lives they wanted, were aligned with their primary visions for putting the world back together.  They were walking their talk.

The basic question they tried to answer in MAKING GOOD was a big one:  “How do we translate the desire to do something good into a rich and sustaining life path that affects real change?”  The question, posited in a more pragmatic way, boils down to, “How do I feed and support myself and my family while I work to help fix the broken world?”  A very good question.

Parish and Aujla went looking for the back-stories of people who were finding the answers to that question, each in their own way.  They talked to major players on the international scene.  They talked to local, small-time organic farmers, artisans and business people who were working to make their communities better.

The authors distilled the lessons learned from these stories as well as from their own adventures to put together a book that – as promised – lays out how to sort through the confusing array of choices and options, opportunities and resources available in the existing, confusing mish-mash.

Their book guides you through assorted techniques and strategies you can use to find your own way through it all.  It comes replete with encouraging stories about what worked well for other people as well as cautionary tales that help to ground your dreaming.

IT AIN’T EASY….

The authors do not promise “easy.”  They tell you upfront:  “This book is not a quick fix.”  As the authors point out, “Real change requires diligent mental and physical training and consistent effort.  It’s a marathon.  We all have routines and patterns etched deeply into our lives, and finding free reign to start something ambitious might not be as appealing as the idea that change will arrive in a miraculous moment.  We just wish it were that simple.  But let’s get real.”

Nothing in this book will work without long-term, sustained, and mindful effort put in by you.  That said, I do want to note that this book is one of the few I have seen that lays  out the process and practice of creating a meaningful life in a clear, authentic and very do-able way.

The book unpacks and illuminates the six steps that make up the path that leads toward making up a life that is not unsatisfactory.  These six steps are:  REFLECT, ADAPT, CONNECT, DESIGN, LAUNCH, and ORGANIZE.  Each one comes with an array of tools, strategies, and resources you can explore.

CONSULTING YOUR INNER SMARTY-PANTS

The one step that resonates with me is the first one, REFLECT.  The start for successfully making the changes to get to a meaningful (and sustainable) life begins in your own head, the authors say.  It starts, in other words, with consulting your Inner Smarty-Pants.  You ask yourself the hardest  Life Questions and then sit there and listen for the answers that arise.

The problem is your Inner Smarty-Pants lives in your right brain and it isn’t very big on words and talking.  It tends to use shorthand and code so you have to unpack its messages your own self.

In the book the “daily practice exercise” that is meant to help you access your Inner Smarty-Pants is dubbed “Inner Knowing.”  It is a four-step process that involves what they call centering, asking, receiving, and applying.  It’s one of the daily practices scattered throughout the book that were adapted from ones presented by Robert Gass at the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s year-long “Leading From the Inside-Out” intensive training.

Personally I’ve encountered and tried similar exercises before and I’m here to tell you they do work.  However, in my own Life-Built Poem-making, I did add a refinement to the basic daily practice thing in the book…mostly because sitting still waiting for my own cantankerous, stubborn Inner Smarty-pants to say something is just NOT my forte.

What I do instead of trying to quiet my over-active monkey-mind is this:

  • I just ask one very important “burning question” as I am falling asleep.
  • When I wake up in the morning, I usually have some sort of answer – usually only a vagrant sentence or two floating around like cauliflower in the soup that is my mind. I’ll write down that short message immediately.
  • After I’ve got the coffee brewed and poured out into my favorite mug and the paper and pens ready, I’ll sit down and start writing out everything that comes to mind when l look at that wake-up phrase.
  • I’ll keep looking at all the blather that accumulates until I can see what is in there and then I make a poem out of it all.

Very often that poem will contain either the answer I need or more directions to explore.

YOUR PASSION + WORLD’S NEED

It is necessary to point out in all of this that REFLECT is just Step One of the meaningful-life exploration.  If you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life and where to go next, self-examination is only one-sixth of the process.

Besides taking a look inside the person in the mirror, you also have to look outside yourself and observe the world around you.  You take in all the broken places and look at the parts that work well.  You look for the place where, as theologian Frederick Buechner says, “…your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”  And THAT is where you will find the path you can walk to create a meaningful life of your own.

FINAL TAKE….

My final take on this:  There is a wealth of valuable information in this pragmatic and inspiring how-to-do-it manual.  I do highly recommend it to you.

Here’s a poem:


THROUGH THE MARSHES

Okay.  Got it.

I am useful for your aims

So you reach out to me.

 

But, what is this?

Out of the loving-kindness in my heart

I am supposed to give and give and give…

To you.  Just you.

Everybody else’s priorities don’t matter to you.

You’ve made that very clear.

Your imperatives are the ones that count.

 

And I have to ask:

What’s in it for me?

What about these other folks?

How does this thing work, exactly?

 

I am noticing that

There is a fine line between

Doing good and getting done good.

The shift can be imperceptible to

A heart determined to stay open.

 

So, here I am,

Picking out a trail through

The boglands of reciprocity.

“Interdependency” gets tiresome, I find,

When the one doing the carrying

Is ALWAYS me.

 

Am I a Sherpa now?

Why?

 

And I notice:

Gratitude is an ephemeral thing.

It get sucked down into the quicksand

Of new crises and other goals.

Been there.

Done that.

Over and over again.

The sound of mud resounds in my ears.

 

You know what?

I think I’ll just stay here on this solid bit for a while

And figure out a new plan.

I am realizing something:

It sure is hard to drain a marshland

When you’re up to your ass in alligators….

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Amazon.com

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

 

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