Now that I am back in the United States and exploring options for work, I find myself each day asking: What is the most direct and effective way that I can work for positive social change here in the U.S? In this exploration, I am continuously pulled back to the garden. An unusual place for social revolution, so why is it that I end up here?
As an environmentalist, I see clearly that the production, processing, transportation and storage of food (aka the food industry) certainly provides an enormous challenge to the American and international environment. It also represents an incredibly political debate when we look at the money spent subsidizing unsustainable, destructive agriculture by our government. I like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan as an introduction to this conversation. Additionally, food access is a public health concern in almost every under-resourced inner-city community (and many more rural towns) across America (for more exciting discussion on this topic check out the Plantastic! Ted Talk playlist starting with Ron Finley). But that is just the start!
Gardening is also one of the greatest ways to build community. Starting in Berkeley where I lived at Fort Awesome (an 18-person cooperative house) I saw immediately that the garden, more than anything (except maybe the kitchen) brought people together. A garden is a place where we can work together, play music together, host parties with our neighbors and teach each other about ecology and our beautiful planet. Even more, the garden connects us to each other and to the Earth and creates peace in mind and spirit. I would spend hours and days out in our beautiful Fort garden.
Now that I live in Long Beach in Los Angeles County (what is often seen as a concrete jungle), I again find myself in the garden. To begin with, I have already put more than 30 hours this month into creating a garden right in my front yard. Change starts at home, and having a local food source reconnects our house to the Earth and helps provide sustainable food for our shared meals. Plus, it looks great, it brings the house together and everyone who comes over now feels more at peace.
Most recently, however, I have been gardening in the community. Every Thursday and Sunday, I volunteer with FoodScape, a local non-profit that builds gardens on unused plots in Long Beach to create a sustainable food source and to educate the local population on alternative and organic agriculture. Earlier this week, I also helped teach a class with EnrichLA, which operates at more than 50 middle schools and high schools across LA County. It is the most far-reaching garden education program in the country. Los Angeles schools have a huge demand for garden classes to teach students about the importance of growing their own food and to give kids a chance to be outside during the day and to get dirty. Starting in two weeks, I will be co-teaching 3 classes at Markham Middle School in Watts every Wednesday. This will be an incredible chance to connect with the local South LA community and work with youth to understand food, agriculture and concepts of sustainability.
As I look forward at potential careers, connecting inner-city youth to food, ecology, agriculture and the environment is certainly a possibility. On a large scale, this has the ability to provide under-resourced youth across the country the opportunity to create their own food source and escape the fast-food diets that lead to diabetes, obesity and other health challenges. Most importantly, an unhealthy and unsustainable food system is a threat to the entire planet and one that must be faced immediately for the health of ourselves, our children and the Earth. I hope that I can make a small contribution to this movement over the next few months as I continue to explore angles for creating positive social change locally and around the world. Anyone have experience with other garden projects in the U.S. or abroad?? I always love to share stories…