There’s a great initiative cropping up in some progressive cities, and the word “cropping” is no mistake. Urban Food Forests, like the Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project in Seattle, are making food foraging cool. On land owned by the city, they are planting lush edible landscapes with fruit trees, a berry patch, a nut grove, community gardens, a gathering plaza for education and events, and a kid’s area to get the whole family involved. The idea is that anyone can come pick fresh food for their own consumption.
All told, the project is seven acres of healthy habitat renewal that also commits urban energy toward community well-being. Local volunteers and some like-minded businesses and organizations do most of the boots on the ground, gloves in the soil dirty work, and all interested parties reap the benefits. They even provide some family plots if you want to do some gardening of your own within the “forest.”
Got an unsightly vacant lot in your neighborhood? What if it was growing apples and almonds instead of broken glass and plastic bags? The passions of a community coming together can make miracles happen just about anywhere.
Like a good ol’ fashioned barn raising, a Crop Mob is a community of workers coming together for the benefit of one. Primarily young, landless, wannabe farmers come together at a farm that needs help with the big stuff: harvest, planting, tilling, processing, crating, etc…and does the work as a group. It started in 2008 in North Carolina when 19 volunteers showed up to pick sweet potatoes–not for pay and certainly not for glory, but for the great spirit of being of service and sharing get-your-hands-dirty-and-go-to-bed-exhausted work. There tends to be music, and a shared communal meal when crop mobs come together for a farmer’s work (there are crop mob groups now throughout the United States). It is a great antidote to overly-mechanized agriculture, and a winning facet of back-to-the-land movements.
The website has a handy map so you can find a crop mob near you, details about time and meetup spots, and go get some dirt under your fingernails helping someone else do their chores—just because you can. No big experience required, just a desire to connect the way we used to. More information on getting involved is here, including a guide to start your own mob near you.
In light of the storm beating the East Coast has endured and the subsequently renewed worldwide conversations about climate change, it is a particularly charged, and vital, time for the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit (November 14 and 15). This annual conference forges partnerships between The Wild Center, the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), and international scholar and experts on the environment. A consortium of high school students from 28 high schools and colleges in the New York and Adirondack regions, the summit has a history of inspiring young participants to return to their home communities and undertake such projects as creating school gardens to provide food for their cafeterias, creating and expanding recycling and composting programs, updating energy saving equipment at their schools, doing energy audits and carbon offset studies for their schools, and engaging in deep discovery conversations about sustainability in their communities.
It is an energizing weekend of breaking barriers and finding new ways to think about, and take action for, the environment, leading to inspiration for a generation that will steward the planet in a way that we can hope and dream will be more responsible than what we have done for them thus far.
Photo: Tree People
Based in Los Angeles, Tree People is an environmental non-profit working to green up our urban landscapes. In addition to planting trees throughout L.A. they also run educational programs for school kids to foster better eco-understanding, offer sustainable solutions for urban ecosystem problems, work with government agencies on critical water issues, and run a beautiful park in the hills. Tree People has coined a phrase I’m fond of: Functional Community Forest, intending that every neighborhood in the city create an environment and green spaces that function like a healthy forest, using local residents and businesspeople to spearhead the transformation. Citizen foresters will revitalize areas with plantings, mulch, water catchments, gardens and green trenches, permeable paving so rainwater can soak in instead of coursing over streets and walkways, and drought-tolerant planting. It’s a pretty lofty ideal, and I’m completely buying in on the concept!
Tree People runs with the help of legions of volunteers: dive in and get your hands pleasantly grubby as you help plant trees, care for existing plantings, help in the headquarters, inspire the community and schools, photograph and document projects, or distribute fruit trees around town. When they first started pumping water into this desert to make a city, they may not have imagined it could ever grow beyond an arid state…but it certainly has (notice this season’s purple Jacaranda blossoms–one of my very favorite LA details), and greening it up more and more only makes it better…and more hospitable.
DIG (Development in Gardening) is a charitable organization dedicated to improving health and well-being for HIV-positive and at-risk individuals in developing nations. They teach skills and develop infrastructure for sustainable community gardens, thereby improving nutrition, wellness, and earning potential.
The garden projects (currently there are several DIG gardens in Uganda, Senegal, the Dominican Republic, and Namibia) are built and maintained by healthy HIV-affected workers, sometimes on hospital grounds. In addition to helping provide important, vitamin-rich fresh foods, the gardens also provide some income for the community as well as a welcoming gathering space. An offshoot of the program is HUG (Home Urban Garden) where individuals take the skills they have learned in hospital community gardens, and establish their own micro-gardens in previously unused spaces at or near their homes. This supplements the nutrition of entire families as well as a harvest of enough to sell fresh fruits and vegetables and help stabilize income.
Malnutrition in HIV/AIDS patients is a very real threat and almost constant condition in many economically challenged communities. This program not only nourishes individuals, but families and communities, and the skills shared by volunteers and staff can be passed on for generations to follow, potentially raising the level of health and nutrition for entire regions.
Want to get involved? Short term volunteers spend vacations at DIG projects, and longer-term volunteers work as interns taking stewardship of a program. Find out how to pitch in here.