Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Collective Roots work affects the lives of thousands of school children..



Please visit Collective Roots and learn how our work is changing lives. Your support can make health and learning happen for those who need it the most.

In The Garden at EPACS (091113-129)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We didn't get the memo that greenhouse gases endanger public health

Excerpts from "Obama EPA releases Bush-era global warming finding" By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press - see entire article by clicking here.

WASHINGTON — A controversial e-mail message buried by the Bush administration because of its conclusions on global warming surfaced Tuesday, nearly two years after it was first sent to the White House and never opened.

The e-mail and the 28-page document attached to it, released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency, show that back in December of 2007 the agency concluded that six gases linked to global warming pose dangers to public welfare, and wanted to take steps to regulate their release from automobiles and the burning of gasoline.

The document specifically cites global warming's effects on air quality, agriculture, forestry, water resources and coastal areas as endangering public welfare.

That finding was rejected by the Bush White House, which strongly opposed using the Clean Air Act to address climate change and stalled on producing a so-called "endangerment finding" that had been ordered by the Supreme Court in 2007.

As a result, the Dec. 5 e-mail sent by the agency to Susan Dudley, who headed the regulatory division at the Office of Management and Budget was never opened, according to Jason Burnett, the former EPA official that wrote it.

The Bush administration, and then EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, also refused to release the document, which is labeled "deliberative, do not distribute" to Democratic lawmakers. The White House instead allowed three senators to review it in July 2008, when excerpts were released.

The agency released the e-mail and documents after receiving requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Adora Andy, a spokeswoman for EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, said Tuesday that the draft shows the science in 2007 was as clear as it is today.

"The conclusions reached then by the EPA scientists should have been made public and should have been considered," she said.

My question: WHEN DO WE GET TO SEE THE MEMO? - Wolfram

Monday, September 28, 2009

Walden Bello, The Food Wars

I just ripped through "The Food Wars" by Walden Bello.

Walden Bello Food Wars

These 176 pages provide some of the most inspired reading I have had in the field of food system change. Food shortages have become a global reality and the global food crisis is causing more human suffering than ever, and a leading factor in the collapse of our global environment. With the dizzying array of information that is proliferating about the food system, Walden Bello's brief and to the point book is like a lightening bolt of clarity.

Walden Bello

My career started more than 30 years ago working for the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, and I find it deeply disturbing that hunger is on the rise and the food system that is causing it is global crisis. Bello informs us that most Haitians today live on less than two dollars per day and they have coined the phrase "Clorox hunger" to describe a pain "so torturous that people felt like their stomachs were being eaten away by bleach or battery acid." For the world's poor, high food prices have become a fact of life. My work, centered in East Palo Alto, California, occurs right on the edge of Silicon Valley - one of the wealthiest regions on earth. 97,000 people in Silicon Valley are "food insecure"

Thanks to the global corporate food machine and unchecked social policy that addresses food issues, hunger has a new face: malbouffe (junk food) starvation. Junk food starves us from receiving proper nutrition and is a leading cause of the global pandemic of childhoo obesity. Bello highlights some the global movements and leaders that "want agrarian practice that transforms farmers into guardians of the land, and a different way of farming, that ensures an ecological equilibrium and also guarantees that land is not seen as private property." Bello highlights peasant farming organizations like Via Campesina that has become a global international force that has captured the imagination of global civil society.

Via Campesina is one of the leading organizations promoting change in the food system with a clear sense that we have to change the society if we want to change the agricultural policies. Via Campesina has demonstrated the leadership and vision to present the idea of "Food Sovereignty"...a new policy framework being adopted by social movements all over the world for the governance of food and agriculture. Food Sovereignty addresses the core problems of hunger and poverty in a new and innovative way that have caught my attention. In the past, we have talked about addressing food security and ending hunger...important tasks, but Food Sovereignty sets a much higher standard and presents a vision that goes beyond responding to the immediate crisis.

Bello highlights that Via Campesina "has a well elaborated, radical critique of the current agrifood paradigm. It questions all the basic premises of this paradigm--monoculuture, large-scale industrial farming, the Green Revolution, and biotechnology--and shows that farm from being an effective producer of food, the paradigm subordinates food production to the logic of profit, promotes dislocation and dispossesion of millions, and tailors, agrilcultural production to the needs of those with market power, thus creating the very hunger it is supposed to banish. Moreover, contrary to its claims of efficiency, the costs of industrial agriculture, in terms of chemical pollution, soil and genetic erosion, carbon emissions, and the tremendous subsidies for agribusiness, outweigh the benefits."

Groups like Via Campesina promote the idea of Food sovereignty that provides an alternative framework to the narrower concept of food security, which mostly focuses on the immediate human need of providing adequate nutrition.

Via Campesina's seven principles of food sovereignty include:
1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision making on food and rural issues.
(click here to see full page on food sovereignty on wikipedia)

Bello qoutes Philip McMichael, author of "The Global Restructuring of Agro-Food Systems" who state that "food sovereignity in theory and practice represents a political, ecological, and cultural alternative to a 'high modernist' corporate agriculture premised on standardized inputs and outputs and serving a minority of the world's population...the principle of food sovereignity embodies neither a return to bucolic peasant culture--rather, it is a thoroughly modern response to the current neoliberal conjuncture, which has no sustainable solutions to its thoroughly modern problems."

Bello also qoutes Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls who point out that "conventional wisdom is that small farms are backward and unproductive, in fact, "research shows that small farms are much more productive than large farms if total output is considered rather than yield from a single crop. Small integrated farming systems that produce grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products outproduce yield per unit of single crops, such as corn (monocultures) on large-scale farms." Bello underscores this counterpoint to conventional thinking, factoring in "the ecological destabilization that has accompanied the generlization of industrial agriculture, the balance of costs and benefits lurches sharply toward the negative. Bello qoutes Daniel Imhoff who points out that "the average food item journeys 1,300 miles before becoming part of a meal. Fruits and vegetables are refridgerated, waxed, colored, irradiated, fumigated, packaged, and shipped. None of these process enhances food quality but merely enables distribution over great distances and helps increase shelf life." Bello highlights the absurdity that industrial agriculture has created the situation "whereby between production, processing, distribution, and preparation, 10 calories of energy are required to create just one calorie of food energy."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Robert Garcia and Saree Mading

Two incredible human beings: Robert Garcia and Saree Mading posing in front of the Giant Green Dome (Greendom) in the Collective Roots Garden at East Palo Alto Charter School. Why are they there? The garden has become a destination point for many who connect at the intersection of food, health, environment, education, community, and fun!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

W.K. Kellogg Foundation: LaDonna Redmond - Urban Agriculture and Food Access - Food Systems and Rural Development

W.K. Kellogg Foundation: LaDonna Redmond - Urban Agriculture and Food Access - Food Systems and Rural Development: "

LaDonna Redmond is president and CEO of the Institute for Community Resource Development (ICRD), Chicago, Ill. The Institute’s mission is to rebuild the local food system. ICRD projects include: building grocery stores that bring access to sustainable products to urban communities of color, organizing farmers markets, converting vacant lots to urban farm sites and distributing local grown produce to restaurants.

A community activist and mother of a child with severe food allergies, Redmond began researching the food system in order to feed her son. Through her work, she discovered that people in urban communities want, but have limited access to, healthy food. This discovery led Redmond to get Chicago Public Schools to evaluate access to junk food in schools and create a task force to examine the potential of other pilot changes, such as connecting farmers to schools. Her discoveries also have led the Mayor of Chicago to consider urban agriculture as a good use of urban space.

"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Salad Day at East Palo Alto Charter School

An amazing Salad Day event was held at East Palo Alto Charter School yesterday is featured on the Collective Roots’ flickr site. Read the great descriptions of the event by Anne-Marie McReynolds, staff photojournalist for Collective Roots,under each photo on the Collective Roots Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/collectiveroots/ .

Anne-Marie is writing a feature story about the event that will be available through various media channels.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Stew: White House Farmers Market launches Thursday

The Stew: White House Farmers Market launches Thursday

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Jim Hightower Tells it Like It Is

Smart is the new cool thing. There's a smart car, cities now tout smart growth, and you can buy a smart refrigerator. Now comes another breakthrough: Even your breakfast cereal has gotten smart.
At least that's what we consumers are being told by a group of major food corporations that are hoping to cash-in on the growing public concern about nutrition. Your concern is their concern, they say, so these eager-to-serve marketers have launched a snappy food labeling campaign to guide your nutritional choices. They've designated hundreds of their food products as being not just tasty, zesty and zowie — but also good for you.
You'll know which ones to reach for on the supermarket shelf because they'll be labeled with a snappy green checkmark on the front of their packages, along with the phrase, "Smart Choices."
The industry says that this seal of approval is all about helping today's busy shoppers save time. No need to read those tedious lists of ingredients on the backs of food boxes, bottles, jars and cans, for the simple green checkmark is your one-glance reassurance that you're making the smart nutritional choice for your family.
You know, smart choices like Froot Loops, Fudgesicle bars and Frosted Flakes. Yes, all of these sugar-saturated concoctions and many more have received the industry's good-for-you checkmark.
Well, snaps one of the designers of the labeling scheme, it's not a matter of selecting foods that are the best for you, but of helping consumers choose products that are better than those that would be the nutritional worst. For example, she says: "You're rushing around, you're trying to think about healthy eating for your kids, and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal. So Froot Loops is a better choice."
Uh ... no, ma'am. Not necessarily so. A serving of Froot Loops is 41 percent sugar. Good grief — there are plenty of doughnuts with a better nutritional balance than that. And, by the way, the average American supermarket does not limit our breakfast choices to doughnuts or Fruit Loops.

Read the whole article at http://www.truthout.org/091609H

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mad Green Scientists

Mad Green Scientists

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Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up?

Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up?

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New Farm-to-School Tactical Teams Will Assist School Administrators Transition to Purchasing More Locally Grown Foods as Part of USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative'

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2009 – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a new initiative to better connect children to their food and create opportunities for local farmers to provide their harvest to schools in their communities as part of USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will team together and form 'Farm to School Tactical Teams' to assist school administrators as they transition to purchasing more locally grown foods. The agencies will also issue updated common-sense purchasing guidance to schools so they can buy fresh, locally grown produce for students eating through USDA's school nutrition programs. Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Julie Paradis made the announcement on Merrigan's behalf at the Homegrown School Lunch Week Kickoff in Hanover, Md.

"It is important that our children have access to healthy, nutritious food and our focus on enabling schools to purchase local produce will provide opportunities for local producers," said Merrigan. "This will enable greater wealth creation in communities by allowing producers to build their capacity by serving local institutional customers like schools."

USDA's Farm-To-School Tactical Teams will soon begin touring America's school cafeterias to identify challenges and opportunities to help them transition to purchasing more locally grown foods. The team will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to develop Farm-To-School projects and provide assistance on the best ways to buy more local produce for the National School Lunch Program. USDA will partner with schools, the U.S. Department of Education and non-profits to develop and enhance these resources. Additional information will be made available soon.

As part of this announcement, USDA will make $50 million available for schools to buy local produce. The 2008 Farm Bill gave the department new flexibilities to procure local fresh fruits and vegetables for the school lunch program. Using that flexibility, USDA is proposing that schools now be able to arrange to buy fresh produce grown locally through their state agencies.

USDA will also write common sense guidelines for schools to procure food. To date, the department has allowed only minimal processing of regional fruits and vegetables purchased for our school meals programs. USDA will now allow additional processing like cutting or slicing, and will work to fashion policies that will allow year-round produce in areas with short growing seasons.

This announcement is just one component of USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity. By successfully restoring the link between consumers with local producers there can be new income opportunities for farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities; a greater focus on sustainable agricultural practices; and families can better access healthy, fresh, locally grown food.

Click here to read the news on the USDA website.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cool Tie


Cool Tie, originally uploaded by Wolfram's World.

I love the idea of social enterprise. This tie was made to support midwifery work in Guatemala via my work with Xela Aid (http://www.xelaaid.org/).

The 4 C's of Community


The 4 C's of Community, originally uploaded by David Armano.

I love David Armano's work. Now I know I'm not crazy.

I recently discovered this old hymnal - What a gem!

"Earth was given as a garden, cradle for humanity;
tree of life and tree of knowledge placed for our discovery.
Here was home for all your creatures born of land and sky and sea;
all created in your image, all to live in harmony.

"Show to us again the garden where all life flows fresh and free.
Gently guide your sons and daughters into full maturity.
Teach us how to trust each other, how to use for good our power,
how to touch the earth with reverence. Then once more will Eden flower.

"Bless the earth and all your children, one creation: make us whole,
interwoven, all connected, planet wide and inmost soul.
Holy mother, life bestowing, bid our waste and warfare cease.
Fill us all with grace o'erflowing. Teach us how to live in peace."

Words by Roberta Bard Ruby

Friday, September 11, 2009

Effects of poverty, food, insecurity, and hunger on children.

One of my new friends is Lee Michelson, CEO of the Sequoia Healthcare District. Lee and the Sequoia Healthcare District support the work of Collective Roots and invited me to attend the reception of the new CEO for the Second Harvest Food Bank (Kathryn Jackson) last night in San Jose. The guest speaker was John Cook, a Professor from Boston University Pediatrics who spoke eloquently about the effects of poverty, food, insecurity, and hunger on children.

Dr. Cook

Dr. Cook's talk was inspiring and reminded me of where my own career roots began 30+ years ago working for the Interfaith Hunger Coalition in Los Angeles.

Dr. Cook spoke eloquently about the effects of the lack of healthy food and hunger on children. Here are a few highlights:

"My pediatrician colleagues at Boston Medical Center tell me that they see the results of hunger written on the bodies of their patients."

"Food insecurity, which means essentially lack of access to enough healthy food for a healthy life, is an economic problem and its not just an economic problem for the families because they can't afford enough food, it is a economic problem for you and for me because those children who are suffering from hunger are not learning, they are going to school hungry, and they are not attaining the same level of educational attainment if they weren't hungry and they are having behavior problems, they are acting out, having what we call externalizing problems and internalizing problems and having a higher level of disease called dysthymmia which is basically a kind of depression which leads too often to suicidal ideation and in some cases actual suicidal attempts and they also do basically worse in school than if they were adequately fed."

"We know that if these children are adequately fed and nourished and they have the kind of supportive environments that they need they will start kindergarten ready to learn, and if they start kindergarten ready to learn, they will do better in the first few years of school, the will do better in middle school, they will do better in high school, they will be much more likely to finish school, and they will be much more likely to go on and get a college education. All of that will lead to being much more functional members of society, being better employees, for all of you that have businesses, lower health care costs for your businesses, lower labor costs overall, and higher performance by your employees. All of this because we are able to feed children the kinds and amounts of food they need in the first few years of their life. I know this sounds oversimplified, but it is true. Some of the most important research that has been done over the last ten years has been done on brain biology and brain growth and it has been very clearly shown that the food and nutrition environment that a child secures in the first few years of life can actually change in very radical ways that child's brain architecture."

"I want you understand that hunger is a moral issue and we shouldn't tolerate it, but its also an economic issue, its a health issue, and its an economic issue because it is a health issue."

"There are 12.5 million children in the U.S. in food insecure households."

"We don't have to tolerate this, we have solved much more difficult problems."

"We are a capable and industrious people and we know how to solve the problem of childhood hunger--we absolutely know how to do that, and we have a chance to do it now."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Farmers' Markets Back to the Future

Last Thursday, I attended a celebration of "Farmers' Markets: 30 Years and Growing” in Los Angeles. The day’s events included a gathering of founders of the farmers’ market movement in L.A. and a press conference held at the Farmers’ Market in front of L.A. City Hall. A design competition was featured: "Redesign Your Farmers' Market." Some photos are featured in the slideshow below and others are featured in previous blog posts.





The press were available prior to the press conference to conduct interviews after a round of quick introductions. The event attracted local media, including the Los Angeles Times. The celebration focus was "Farmers' Markets: 30 Years and Growing." We addressed the past, present and future of farmers’ markets in L.A. and beyond. The "We" included Vance Corum, who served in lead role to organize the event. I joined many of my colleagues from the founding days of the farmers' market movement in Los Angeles: Mark Wall, Gretchen Sterling, the Cabral Family (egg producers), Vicky and Vince Bernard (family farmers), Jim Churchill and and Lisa Benneis of Churchill Orchard, and others who are among the shakers and movers today in L.A.'s world of food system change, including Tracy Houston (founder of Menlo Lab Communities), Mia Lehrer (award winning farmers' market designer), Ali Bhai and Nat Zappia (leadership of Garden School Foundation), Kurt Floren (Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner), Pompea Smith (CEO of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of L.A.), Robert Gottlieb (Director of Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute), and more. One delightful encounter at the event was meeting the Afghan family that owns Bolani East and West Gourmet Foods. Based in Concord, East and West Gourmet Afghan food typifies a great Farmers' Market success story. Bolani Matriarch Bilal Sidiq and her family immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan and has created a delicious line of fresh, organic, and vegetarian foods. Turns out Bilal and her family business are well known in Bay Area farmers' markets.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a 10-minute high energy address culminating in an announcement of a taskforce being created to study the formation of a Los Angeles Food Policy Council and an assessment of our foodshed stretching from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and inland. At one point during the presentation he actually hopped back and danced on one foot. Bless this brand of Mayor who gets so worked up over farmers' markets. Are you surprised that Los Angeles County now has more farmers' markets than another in the State?

Here is a photo of us all with Mayor Villaraigosa (I'm in the back row):
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and founders of the farmers' market movement in Los Angeles

And I received a souvenir:
Wolfram Certificate LA Farmers Markets

As President Obama has been reflecting in the recent health care discussions, a farmers' market at the White House might be a good idea to move some of veggies out of the White House garden and help highlight and sustain a few local farmers. We need our President to be willing to talk about farmers' markets. This is also the time to encourage Mayor Villaraigosa and other mayors to put the pressure on Congress to see programs like the USDA Farmers' Market Promotion Program (FMPP) expanded.

At the event, we were encouraged to speak about the FMPP program and other efforts that will encourage the improvement and expansion of farmers' markets. We were asked to talk about what motivates us to farm or manage or attend markets – and share any reflections that might help educate consumers: reconnecting people to the food system, the soil, the environmental impacts, reducing our food carbon footprint, addressing the obesity epidemic, challenging the health care system toward preventative care through proper nutrition, or other concerns.

I was fortunate to be at ground zero of the farmers’ market movement in California and serve as one of the first full-time organizers of farmers’ markets in Los Angles—back in 1979.


The first markets were all organized in low income communities. This is where we saw the greatest need 30 years ago, and today, this is where the greatest need remains. Now we may have now use exotic lingo like “foodsheds,” “food deserts” and “food system change.” But, despite our evolving awareness and lexicon, and despite enormous progress, our evolution of knowledge about the food system has not put an end to the dysfunction that continues to foster hunger, malnutrition, disease, and profound levels of health disparities today. We still have much work to do.

Notice in the press release above, written three decades ago, that we were advertising a 15-40% savings to shoppers at the farmers' markets. In general, farmers' markets are no longer a guaranteed bargain, in fact, you may now expect to pay a premium at some farmers' markets, especially in urban areas. This makes the job of sustaining farmers' markets in low-income communities even more difficult (having to compete with upper-income communities that are willing to pay higher prices for farm fresh food). In today’s world, for a variety of reasons, it is more challenging than ever to bring solutions like certified farmers’ markets to low-income communities. Farmers markets, now popular in so many communities are generally no longer associated with bargain prices, despite eliminating the middlemen from the equation. There is a lot more competition from other community based markets, and fewer local farmers to recruit.

Food system change advocates use catchy phrases and talk about “slow food” and “100 mile diets,” and urge us all to eat local and eat fresh, when there are typically communities within those 100 miles that suffer from a profound lack of food access. So the headlines focus on the haves versus the have-nots. This may not be intentional, but it is real. The headlines leave out the people who simply need “real food,” “healthy food,” and "affordable food." While these are not headline grabbing terms, please consider the shocking and disturbing news that "living without access to healthy food robs many years off of your life."

Mark Wall was among a short list of my colleagues present at the event who helped initiate the farmers' market movement in L.A. several decades ago - and continued on without stopping to present day. He says that that "what we need, is what we once had, more risk and experimentation and creativity to create a better food system that solves the old problems and some of the new ones." Mark currently works for a market in Westwood that is designed to serve Veterans - click here to visit the Westwood Farmers' Market website.

Vance Corum is another one the amazing "lifers" who have committed their lives to food system change. Vance was a key ringleader of the event in Los Angeles and has demonstrated a life-long commitment to developing farmers' markets in the U.S. I admire his leadership and passion that is driving efforts to increase funding for programs like the USDA Farmers' Market Promotion Program. Vance was among the authors who wrote the "The New Farmers' Market: Farm Fresh Ideas for Producers, Managers, and Communities." Back in 1979, Vance secured a position with the California State Direct Marketing Program and I was hired by the Interfaith Hunger Coalition. We worked together for several years organizing the first markets in L.A. While this was a seminal experience in my career, my work has taken a few segues in social service since then; Vance plowed on through several remarkable decades of work in this field demonstrating exceptional lifelong leadership in his service in the farmers' market movement.

Ideologically, our ideas about food and foodsheds must evolve so that the most vulnerable among us are not left out of the important changes we are making happen. One of the most important ideas about the food system is that OUR FOOD SYSTEM CONNECTS ALL OF US…however it is not blind to race, income, and social status. The food system change movement must retain a strong sense of social-justice and avoid elitism, regardless of whether it is intentional or not.

General Benefits and Questions

How can we establish that the availability of healthy food solutions such as farmers’ markets is directly linked to community development and revitalization?

Farmers’ markets can have a positive impact on multiple levels including health, economy, environment, and social and cultural conditions. It would be great to have case studies readily available in each of these areas – so that advocates, city governments, and other decision makers do not have to look very far to prove these values.

Farmers’ markets provide a community based solution to deficits in the food system – the numbers of farmers’ markets have been increasing steadily for decades.
Farmers’ markets are known for making municipal centers more visitor friendly and reinforce pedestrian habits, and for increasing tourism and community pride. What are some of the greatest examples of this?

The availability of a farmers’ market and local sources of fresh food are considered influencing factors on quality of life when selecting a city to live in and are considered positive elements in preserving local agriculture, revitalizing urban centers, and for attracting new residents to the city. I would love to see quantitative data on this be more readily available to city planners and realtors.

Food interest is high in all cultures, and farmers’ markets are a well-established historic and global solution that provide natural settings for diverse groups of people to experience food and culture in positive social settings, celebrate and build community, promote a sense of accessibility and provide communal space for diverse groups of people to gather, speak multiple languages, and build cross-cultural linkages in a positive, health oriented setting.

Farmers’ markets are good for youth development, providing opportunities to learn where their food comes from and meet food producers, offering job training and professional development opportunities (youth employment, service learning, college internships, etc.). It would be great to have a list handy of programs that do this.

Farmers’ markets are good for the environment and decrease the carbon footprint of consumers and the city overall by reducing the need to drive outside of the city for fresh food. Is there quantitative data on this?

Approximately 50 years ago in the united states, most foods were generally consumed within close proximity to where they were being produced and or packaged, while today, food typically can travel approximately 2,485 miles from farm to table.

Low Income Communities

Farmers’ markets are good for public health, promoting access to nutritious food and lack of access to nutritious food is linked to poor diets, obesity and diet-related diseases. I would love see a website where this type of data would be featured.

Fruit and vegetable intake is likely to be encouraged when farmers’ markets are closer, providing special programs like the WIC program and food stamps/EBT and offer a positive step towards fulfilling the who’s “5 a day” recommendation.

Farmers’ markets are good for improving food security and access for citizens of all income levels, adding to the general availability, accessibility, and affordability of nutritious and safe foods in the community. It would be great to see research establishing these benefits available on one clearinghouse website.

East Palo Alto, California

East Palo Alto has a rich agricultural history and farmers’ markets encourage local growers, farmers and gardeners, with diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, to share food grown in the local foodshed including farms, backyard gardens, and school gardens. Many communities have similar histories. Wouldn’t it be great to see these agricultural histories featured in a more high profile manner?

The East Palo Alto Community Farmers’ Market is a community based and City endorsed social enterprise promoting the health and well-being of the Citizens of East Palo Alto

The achievements of this effort as an initiative that was started by the Ruben Abrica, Mayor of East Palo Alto, and the progenitor of the East Palo Alto Community Health Roundtable, a collaborative group supported by Collective Roots (nonprofit sponsor), the Ravenswood Family Health Center, the Get Fit EPA Collaborative, and numerous other community based organizations.

Government Leaders Have an Important Role

Formal municipal endorsement is crucial to the achievement of long-term sustainability of this effort. City governments should require all city departments to support farmers' markets by providing interagency cooperation, waiving fees when appropriate, and eliminating the need for additional temporary use permits.

Local school districts also have an important role. Many low income children rely on the food they receive at school as a leading source of nutrition. School gardens and farm to school programs should be considered essential elements of school district wellness plans.

County and State government also have an important role. Recognition and endorsements of local community efforts to create food system change should be offered and encouraged. The Mayors in L.A., San Francisco, and Oakland are among the growing list of Mayors who see political futures in promoting farmers' markets because they are places that bring together community, health, and culture. This should be communicated and endorsed by County government, State Assembly Members, State Senators, U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators and any other appropriate government or community leaders.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Wolfram Alderson

Posing with the Mayor of Los Angeles was fun. I'm thankful the Mayor sees political currency and provides mindful support to the Farmers' Market movement. Every Mayor in the United States should be standing in front of City Hall and proclaiming that farmers' markets are essential to communities and to our health. Thank you Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Wolfram Certificate LA Farmers Markets

Thirty years ago I never imagined that someday I would be standing in front of City Hall with the Mayor of Los Angeles celebrating the incredible 30 year history of farmers' markets in Los Angeles. Yet there I was, thirty years after my career was started when I was the first staff hired by the Interfaith Hunger Coalition to start the first farmers' markets in low income areas throughout the Los Angeles Area.

Mayo Antonio Villaraigosa, Wolfram Alderson

It was heartwarming and amazing to think that 30 years have gone by since organizing the very first certified farmers' market in Gardena, California. I was carrying thoughts of the remarkable visionaries like Gene Boutilier and Mike Fonte who were among the leadership of the Interfaith Hunger Coalition that first brought the dream and vision of farmers' markets to Los Angeles. Mike Fonte shared the story with me that "Gene took a gaggle of us cross-country in an old van to
Indianapolis for a meeting of folks involved in food/hunger issues.
Someone spoke about farmers' markets and the great combination of helping farmers and poor consumers at the same time....we took it back and made it happen through the IHC and with the good help of the State's direct marketing folks." Mike hired me as the first full-time organizer to lead what became the Hunger Organizing Team. My job as "Food Self-Reliance Coordinator" involved several years of work organizing the first farmers' markets in L.A.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

News Release Gardena Farmers' Market

My very first news release announcing the grand opening of the Gardena Farmers' Market.

Wolfram Alderson and Vance Corum at the Gardena Farmers' Market

And there I am with Vance Corum who has become a legend in the field of farmers' markets. The media coverage of the first markets in the Los Angeles area was incredible.

Wolfram Alderson and Mark Wall at the Gardena Farmers' Market

I served as the first interim market manager for the Gardena Farmers' Market. Mark Wall became the permanent manager of this first of what became many Certified Farmers' Markets in the L.A. area.

Wolfram Alderson and the Melon - Squash Grower

Clowning around at the Gardena Farmers' Market during our early days (1979).

Cornucopia in Gardena Parking Lot

This article featured the grand opening of the Gardena Farmers' Market, the first Certified Farmers' Market in the Los Angeles area. That is me in the back of a farmers' truck helping with sales that were brisk right from the the very first day. What an exciting time. Three decades later, I still am supporting the development of farmers' markets in low income communities. Visit http://www.epafarmersmarket.org to view the most recent effort I have been associated with.

Bread & Justice, Interfaith Hunger Coaltion Newsletter

Thirty plus years ago my career started in the food system change movement while working for the Interfaith Hunger Coalition. Tomorrow I will celebrate what has now grown into a farmers' market empire in L.A. "Farmers' Markets: 30 Years and Growing" will be hosted by the City of L.A. with partners on September 3rd, 2009.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009




Some of you may know that my mother Cella was a talented poet.










I have posted some of her poetry in a Yahoo Group called Cellabells that may be joined upon request.

Simply email cellabells@yahoogroups.com to request joining.

Here is a sample of her amazing body of work:

Moonshine

This is for you while the moon fattens
above the city abloom again
with inviolate millennia
though still incomplete, still playing
to the planets.
We are not yet acknowledged; our gifts
have not yet arrived from the streets.

(Patience, please, impatient one:
a new step here, another hour there,
one more refrain of rosegold neon heartsong
will surely turn the trick
tomorrow night and bring the moon about.)

And this is for you fishing in
your heart of hearts while the moon banks
on you alone -- the bait --
while street lights beam in mechanical unison
and windows glitter in bold invitation.

(A little more incandescence, please.)

O this is for you while the moon blooms
in full sweet resolve,
unmasking alleys where love hides its shame
when its name is forgotten or taken in vain
Yes and this is for you and moonglow
melting down bars of sad dark
while singers are stringing bright harmonies
high on new tunes
and dreamers are casting platinum rods
to catch the night’s loose radiance

(Have faith, wandering one, trust the vision please.)

And this is for you while the moon wanes
and we roam dreams and secret routes
where few follow except for one
who stumbles in pain and cries Wait! Wait!
Stay where you are one moment more!
this time I promise I’ll shine for you
enough to show it is really love
(with Fancy handy at the helm)
which lights our way and not the moon alone.

Cella Coffin

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Land Hoe! Personal reflections on the subject of returning dignity to hoes and men.














My lifelong love of horticulture and career involving urban agriculture has resulted in the fact that I have developed a love of hoes and other implements used to cultivate the earth. You may already be snickering beneath your breath and wondering why on earth a man would use the expression “love of hoes” in a today’s world where the use of the true meaning of the word “hoe” has long been lost to boys and men who have lost their sense of dignity and love for that which is most sacred on earth: our women, our soil, and the basic tools for cultivating our food and our dignity. As boys and men, the language we use to express our sensual ideations has been degraded in the streets, playfields, and locker rooms to terms that achieve the opposite goal of endearing the subjects of our love interests. With sadness, I observe that too many boys and men today have a stronger emotional connection with the word “ho” than “hoe.”

This degradation of terms of endearment has permeated almost every level of American society. I can state this both because I am a man and also leader in the exotic and wild field of cutting edge education known as “garden based learning.” In essence, practitioners in this field use the garden as a classroom to teach life sciences and other subjects that are catalyzed and leveraged by getting children out the box (indoor classrooms) and engage them in their school and community environments in ways that accelerate and stimulate the learning process. We make gardens and learn in them.

I can guarantee you that I can walk into nearly any classroom in America and stand with a hoe in my hand and announce that I am going to give a lesson on the importance and history of hoes and then spend the rest of my time trying to suppress the giggling and laughter that will tend to override any sense of curiosity about REAL HOES, and how important that are to the both the evolution and survival of humanity. I have realized through numerous such experiences that I cannot get to the exciting subject of hoes until I first address the degradation of the vernacular and resulting loss in human dignity that is apparent in the current state wherein one cannot discuss the value and history of one the world’s most important tools for producing food without being laughed out of the room. So, I write this essay to gather my thoughts and prepare myself for the challenge. I reclaim my hoe and male dignity with this essay. You may laugh and giggle, but kindly observe the dis-ease in your body with this laughter, and kindly consider reclaiming a word and a tool that is essential to human life: the hoe.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: the term “whore” has been abbreviated in the crudest manner to the term “ho”. The expression has become a part of pop-culture and media, and rears its ugly head across all color and class lines. The word “ho” seems ridiculous from a linguistic point of view since the word “whore” was already a one syllable word. On the surface this not only reflects the ugliness and ignorance of the speaker, but also the laziness. Ironically, the term “ho” existed long before in the English language: the word “ho” pronounced “hō” served linguistically as an interjection or exclamation, emerging in the etymology of Middle English in the 15th century as a term used to attract attention to something. A classic example, and often reiterated in old black and white movies is inspired by the literature, such as the 1620 documentary work of “Land Ho!: A Seaman's Story of the Mayflower, Her Construction, Her Navigation, and Her First Landfall” by W. Sears Nickerson and Delores Bird Carpenter.

Even deeper and more ancient than this nautical reference is the origin of the word in either Old Norse language hó or in Old French language wherein ho is understood to mean “halt”. Meanings such as these are generally lost in the present day use, a mostly American corruption of the word whore, a slang pejorative referring to a sexually loose woman or prostitute. In general use, the term is used as vulgar noun and flung about in the streets and pop culture as a highly offensive term referencing females with connotations of loose sexuality.

I ask us to turn toward land for meaning, to halt the corruption and hijacking of the word “hoe,” a useful and important term for our culture and cultivation, and to reclaim and rejuvenate our sense of meaning with regard to the word and the tool. In contrast to the vulgarization “Ho”, the term “hoe” has entirely different and far more interesting etymological origins. The Old English noun was recorded as early as 1363, referring to a "hoe, mattock, or pick-axe" and is related to the Old English “heawan” "to cut" (see hew). The earliest known use of the verb was recorded in 1430. The term has morphed and taken many turns in the language from the reference to a “Hoe-cake” in 1745 American English, referring to a pastry that was reportedly baked on the broad thin blade of a cotton-field hoe, to the Hoedown, an expression for a "noisy dance," that was first recorded 1841, perhaps inspired by a group of dance motions commonly found in mundane farm chores.

As a verb, “to hoe” can refer to actions such as cultivating the surface of the soil around plants, to cut, dig, scrape, turn, arrange, or clean, with a hoe; as to hoe the earth in a garden; to pile or move soil up around the base of plants (hilling or berming), to create narrow furrows (drills) and shallow trenches for planting seeds and bulbs, or generally digging and moving soil away from roots or tubers (such as harvesting potatoes or carrots), and to remove or chop weeds, roots and crop residues. Colloquialisms such as “To hoe one's row” refer to do one's share of a job or a “tough row to hoe” in reference to a difficult task to carry out.

I could easily write an essay just on the etymology of these words and contrasting the differences and similarities in their meanings. But in this case, I have a tough row to hoe, that is to keep your attention long enough to explore a topic that on the surface seems to have little relevance to an urbanite such as yourself. I presume that you are probably an urbanite, because I imagine that most farmers and country folk might consider this topic a rather mundane one, versus one of urban legend. Regardless of whether you have dirt under your fingernails or not, I want to return to exploring the basic understanding of the hoe as an agricultural implement.

The hoe is a tool that used around the world, evolving from the use of a simple stick and enhanced with a wide variety of bits of metal, (and in earlier human history with bone or stone). Many of you are familiar with the common hoe, usually a long handled tool with a flat blade of various shapes, primarily used for weeding and for breaking up the soil. After the use of sticks, it was most likely among the first agricultural implements in recorded history. The earliest hoes were bent or forked sticks. Flaked-stone implements were used in Mesopotamia in the 5th millennium BC. Archeologists have found evidence of these tools along with flint-bladed sickles and grinding stones and other evidence associated with farming settlements. Hoe blades were made a variety of objects found in nature, including animal horns, bones, and seashells.

Over the course of history, in all corners of the planet, we can find variations on the hoe, such as the pick, the adz, and the plow. The two basic parts of the hoe, the stick (handle) and the head (blade) have evolved over time, and progressed from bone/stone/shell to copper, bronze, iron, and steel. Modern hoes, as in ancient times, are dragged or thrust.

Farmers and gardeners today use a wide variety of hoes that can readily be identified on the internet: American hoe, adze, asadon, bachi gata hoe, burgeon and ball hoe, grape hoe, eye hoe, circle hoe, hula hoe, collinear hoe, diamond push-pull hoe, gooseneck hoe, half moon hoe, ibis hoe, plow hoe, scuffle-neck hoe, swan neck hoe, trapezoid hoe, warren hoe and the list goes on and on. There is a hoe for every purpose, for chopping, scrapping, cultivating, shaping, aerating, harvesting, and more. There are museums around the world that feature hoes, companies that specialize in hoes, instructional materials on how to hoe, histories of hoes, international hoes, culturally specific hoes, mechanical hoes, even metaphorical poetic hoes.

Jembe (Hoe)

A hoe as we know it, with its sturdy handle, is a hoe that has no fear of grass.
And those who say this isn’t so don’t belong with us.
The hoe doesn’t fear grass; that’s been its nature for ages.
When it enters the garden, the hoe clears it at once, digging up all the grass – with no light touch.
Put it into the weeding, and you’ll see I’m not guessing.
The hoe doesn’t fear grass; that’s been its nature for ages.
It relishes cutting down the bushes and the toughest reeds.
It has no fear or inhibitions: it chops and slashes the grass and asks no questions.
It’s not pushed around in its tasks, no matter where it goes.
The hoe doesn’t fear grass; that’s been its nature for ages.
And when the hoe doesn’t work, you can be sure someone has erred.
Maybe the problem is malice, or confusion about method.
It’s thrown away in a grassy field, and there’s no one to raise objection.
The hoe doesn’t fear grass; that’s been its nature for ages.

(Mwinyihatibu, 1977)

Mwinyihatibu Mohamed (born 1920), a resident of Tanga on the Tanzanian coast, is a Swahili poet who composes traditional free verse poetry that elaborates with metaphors that advise and contrast meanings that encourage an audience to think about simple things such as a spider, a needle, a puddle or a hoe, but also making a point about relations in the human world.

In 1899 an American schoolteacher, Charles Edward Anson Markham (1852-1940), who used the penname Edwin Markham, was inspired by an 1863 painting to write a poem. The painting was "L'homme à la houe" by the French artist, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875); the poem was "The Man with a Hoe."



"L'homme à la houe" by the French artist Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)

The Man with a Hoe
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this--
More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--
More filled with signs and portents for the soul--
More packed with danger to the universe.
What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

The poem became as famous as the painting. Both of these creative works serve as testimonies to the burdens that humans heap upon the human race or the burdens we place upon ourselves. What I see in the visual and poetic metaphors presented here is the opportunity to see the hoe as something that can hold us up and be a tool for recapturing our dignity, even in the face of the worst insults we can manage to hurl upon ourselves or upon our fellow human beings.

There's an old children's saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." This is a fable that needs closer examination. Words can hurt more than sticks and stones…they can break hearts, devastate lives, wound the soul, ruin reputations, destroy relationships, even kill. Words can hurt with blunt, cruel force. Cruel and hateful words such as “ho” are verbal abuse that can cause long lasting emotional damage. When someone hurts us, the memories return to us over and over and can live with us forever. There may be words from your childhood that you still haven’t escaped. Weirdo. Stupid. Fatso. Ugly. Lazy. Crybaby. Dummy. Loser. Moron. Sissy. Chicken. And now “Ho.” These painful words can be hurled when we are young as short and shallow barbs, but as we grow, these hurtful words can hook deeper and deeper into us and grow into phrases, paragraphs, and even narratives that we can internalize and propagate. If we don't find a way to heal from them, they can cause lasting, permanent damage. Of course, many grown-ups use these words. But one must question whether “adults” who choose such words have really matured. These ugly words are can be like cancers in the soul and in the culture. As I chop away with my hoe, I stare into the earth and the rhythm gives way to healing, I turn toward the land for meaning, the hoe meets the earth, I swing and chop and pull, and I halt the corruption in my soul, the words give way to sweat, the sweat mixes with the soil, the soil mixes with my soul, I cultivate my own healing, the hoe is my implement, I am a man with a hoe.

Thirty years ago, after leading efforts to organize the first certified farmers' markets in the inner-city communities of Los Angeles, I began the second phase of food system change work with the Hunger Organizing Team. I developed an urban agriculture program that was about growing food in the inner city. To my good fortune, I became the student of an amazing urban farmer in South Central Los Angeles named Earl Ambeau. He taught me some real farming skills, including how to hoe a row, and some of the specialized knowledge that urban farmers need to know in order to survive in the inner-city. Here is photo of me with Earl back in 1980:



Earl was in heaven when he was in the garden and he planted that seed in me too. When I'm in the garden, I feel like I'm in heaven.



Here is another image of Earl with heaven in his face:




Earl grew a huge variety of butter beans, collard and mustard greens, melons and squash, and he taught me how to use a hoe, among many more other skills. His wife also made the best bean pie I have ever eaten.





Earl welcomed me into his garden and home in South Central Los Angeles, and he helped shape my gardening soul, as well as my urban farming skills. It is hard to put into words the impact he had on me, but his love for urban farming was so deep that it inspired you. When he would hold up one of his home grown beans or squash, there was such incredible pride and joy that you felt like you were in the presence of something magic. I can't help but think of Earl whenever I have a hoe in my hand. When you pick up a tool, you don’t usually just fall in love with it. Look at Earl in the picture…do you see the love he has for tilling the soil. He imbued that love into the meaning I hold for the hoe.

I want to reclaim this sense of love and respect and meaning with regard to the hoe. I believe that for man and woman alike, we can regain our dignity and bury the erosion of spirit that comes along with linguistic degradations of the word hoe. I see that dignity of the hoe is not merely found in the amazing breadth of functionality that it provides as a tool, nor is it solely contained in an ancient history of noble purpose, but in our common sense of being agents of fertility and creation, of being producers of food, of tilling the earth, of respecting the sacred, of becoming and serving as common implements designed for loving the earth and all of its inhabitants who happen to rely on a very thin layer of dirt called topsoil that feeds and sustains all life on the planet.

-Wolfram Alderson

Heigh-hoe, heigh-hoe,
It's off to garden we go.
With a bop in our step
And a rhythmic chop,
Heigh-hoe, heigh-hoe, heigh-hoe!
-Anonymous

Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.
-Jerrold, Douglas William

The cure for this ill is not to sit still, Or frowst with a book by the fire; But to take a large hoe and a shovel also, And dig till you gently perspire.
-Kipling, (Joseph) Rudyard

References and Related Links:
Men Growing Up To Be Boys by Lakshmi Chaudhry

Sources of Hoes


Burgon & Ball – Sheffield England
Tramontina
Clarington Forge – great video on how tools are made
Rittenhouse Garden Tools
Wilkinson Sword Garden Tools
Wolf Garten
Red Pig Tools
Sneeboer Gardening Tools
Spear and Jackson
Rogue Hoe
Chillington Tools – Traditional Tools
EasyDigging.com 
Bellotto Agricultural Tools

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Earl Ambeau - My South Central Urban Agriculture Teacher

I spent some my earlier years growing up in semi-rural Michigan, and was exposed from an early age to the “joys of home gardening.” I say this with a mild degree of sardonic irony, because my earliest experiences of working in the garden included performing countless hours of menial, grueling, and relatively un-rewarding labor in the performance of tasks that included raking acres of leaves and burning them, mowing vast, wild, and weed infested lawn areas with primitive gas powered “push” mowers, clearing brush, fallen trees and limbs, pruning massive mid-western specimens of overgrown Lilac and Honeysuckle shrubs, and other less glamorous horticultural tasks such as raking and burning piles of leaves.

My dear departed mother, God rest her gardening soul, was a nature lover and an avid gardener who couldn’t wait to get seeds in the ground as soon as it thawed. She would refer to the garden in her poetry as one of her “places of refuge.” Unfortunately, she was a single working parent of three children, and her passion for gardening was not matched by the availability of the countless “leisure time” hours the avocation requires to sustain garden productivity and to cultivate the sense of gardening as a “healing experience.” This fact is painfully imbedded in the memories I have, when at the behest of my mother’s plea for help, my siblings and I would gloomily march out to the garden to assist my mother in pulling out the overgrown weeds that often frequented and quickly overcame my mother’s gardens. For us, the garden was not a place of refuge, but a mini-garden-gulag, where we suffered as under-aged slave laborers. Only my mother’s profound and infectious love of nature transcended the painfulness of this experience.

Generally not one to allow my experience of misfortune to dictate my future success, I took the entrepreneurial approach, putting my hard earned horticultural skills to work, and began earning an income at a very young age, employed in the exciting and “profitable” field of horticulture. Horticulture, like any other disciplines in the arts and sciences, requires the serious devotee to “pay one’s dues.” Suffice it to say that I paid mine, engaged in countless hours of mowing lawns and performing back-breaking yard work for hire. Later in life, while in my early teens, my family moved “out west,” eventually finding a home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, where I continued to seek and find work as a neighborhood “gardener for hire.” The Hollywood Hills, like some of the other urban / rural interface zones of my childhood, provided another set of experiences that juxtaposed and contrasted the natural as well as not so natural upon the landscape of my life experience. Gardening in the Hollywood hills requires interpersonal skills (dealing with some of the most bizarre “Hollywood characters”) as well as mountain climbing skills. People in the Hollywood hills seem to prefer what is euphemistically referred to as the “jungle look,” until their beloved jungle overtakes their house, and then they call you up for help to beat back the English Ivy, Sumac, Poison Oak, and Lantana. A gardener in the Hollywood hills is more than happy to mow a lawn on the rare occasion that one appears.

Years passed and I was attending college while still living in the midst of urban Los Angeles. An opportunity presented itself and I entered into my first full time job in the social service field. Life can be wonderfully strange and twisting, much like the roots of a Wisteria tree (I call it “Hysteria,” in reference to certain specimens I have had to wrestle with). This very first professional experience had the effect of leading me (literally and figuratively) back to my horticultural roots. I was hired by an interfaith organization to develop strategies for responding to and mitigating inner-city hunger and malnutrition in the Los Angeles region. I had the extremely good fortune of being involved at the beginning phase of developing the “Hunger Organizing Team” (HOT), a federally funded project of the Southern California Council of Churches and the Interfaith Hunger Coalition. Jimmy Carter was President and his administration was funding innovative responses to hunger and malnutrition in the inner cities of America. The HOT received a large, multi-year demonstration grant, via the Community Services Administration, and the newly formed program provided me with a job that lasted several years and provided me with an introduction to social service that was so powerful and inspiring, I decided that this work was to be my lifetime calling. I was hooked!

I began my work with HOT by researching existing innovative strategies for combating inner city hunger and malnutrition. I had the opportunity to travel around the United States, visiting some of the model alternative food programs and production sites. I added this new knowledge to my earlier life experiences in gardening. The program I then developed and coordinated became one of the key efforts of the HOT’s anti-hunger and malnutrition programs in Los Angeles County. I served in the key role of working as a program developer and project coordinator, setting up the programs, hiring the staff, and following through to full implementation.

The first phase of my work involved creating a “food self-sufficiency” team that was responsible for developing Certified Farmers Markets in low-income communities throughout the Los Angeles area. I worked with more than 150 community groups, churches, and government entities in low-income neighborhoods throughout the Los Angeles area as I involved with organizing the first twelve successful Certified Farmer’s Markets in Southern California. After the process of organizing farmers markets was well underway, I was presented with the opportunity to develop additional strategies for creating food self-sufficiency with the development of an urban agriculture demonstration program.

I expanded the HOT program to include the development of an Urban Agriculture project that included directing land access, developing and managing four urban agriculture demonstration sites ranging from 1/6 to 11 acres (totaling 21 acres of land) in cultivation at locations in low-income neighborhoods throughout the Los Angeles region. I acquired technical assistance, zoning variances, permits, and licenses, contracts, etc., building cooperative relationships with city, and county, and state officials. One site was under the power lines, another on a section of the yet un-built 105 Freeway, and another on a vacant lot.

I developed resources, solicited donations, and participated in an economic viability research team. I organized the first major urban agriculture conference in Los Angeles involving the co-sponsorship of five government agencies and The Trust for Public Land. I personally trained and supervised four “urban agriculture” workers and helped to develop a volunteer corps. I developed a mobile urban agriculture operation using a pickup, a trailer, a high-powered Italian “walking tractor,” a sort of high-end rototiller, and other horticulture equipment that could be easily moved from site to site. I learned about what the ideal “vandal proof” urban crop list might look like; avoiding projectile-prone crops like tomatoes or watermelons, and selecting high value crops that require labor intensive harvesting, such as snow peas, sugar snap peas, and fresh herbs. All this happened during my first full-time social service job!

During the last 30 years, I have accumulated many similar experiences that have called upon me to dig into both my horticulture and leadership skill sets. It has been a rich career, but I do not want this to be a review of my life work experiences, as fascinating as they might be. Please allow me to shift the focus to how the experience has affected my philosophy of leadership. Along the way, I met some remarkable gardeners and leaders; mentors in other words. In addition to my mother, I had the good fortune to get to become acquainted with a few other great souls who inspired greatness in me through the garden, including:

  • Earl Ambeau, a community gardener in South Central Los Angeles, who taught me how to hoe a row, plant beans and peas, and how to be an urban farmer.
  • “Jolly” Batchellor, the famous and good humored horticulturist responsible for starting the renowned Ornamental Horticulture Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who taught me that academic horticulture has a wonderful history and tradition.
  • Ed Barnes, once professor of agriculture and founder of Land Lab, and now Vice President of Administrative Affairs and Chief Financial Officer for Cal Poly Pomona, who taught me that horticulture skills are transferable into the world of business as well as academia.
  • Amalia Vasquez, Indigenous Guatemalan (Mam) Midwife, Weaver, Herbalist and Gardener, who taught me that our relationship to the earth is fundamental to our life being. Each of these leaders demonstrates remarkable skills that cross-fertilize the domains of leadership and horticulture.

Horticultural leaders sometimes emerge in the mass culture, and one of my favorite “horticultural” films is “Being There,” from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski. Peter Sellers stars in the movie, masterfully and hysterically portraying a humble gardener, perhaps developmentally out of step (or is it the world’s development that is out of step?), who through a series of hilarious circumstances becomes an advisor to the power elite of the planet. At one point in the film, the President of the United States describes his admiration for “Chance Gardiner,” quoting what he believes to be metaphorical wisdom of profound global importance:

“I found Mr. Gardiner to have a feeling for this country that we need more of. He likened us to a garden. To quote Mr. Gardiner, a most intuitive man, ‘As long as the roots of industry remain firmly planted in the national soil, the economic prospects are un-doubtedly sunny. Gentlemen, let us not fear the inevitable chill and storms of autumn and winter, instead, let us anticipate the rapid growth of springtime, let us await the rewards of summer. As in a garden of the earth, let us learn to accept and appreciate the times when the trees are bare as well as the times when we pick the fruit.’”

I reference this passage with the hope that my philosophy toward life and leadership is not received without good humor and understanding, classifying me as some sort of mixed-up fringe horticultural / organization development character who takes gardening far too seriously. Deep down in my heart and soul, I believe that one of the human race’s most useful functions is to be good gardeners upon the planet earth. Horticulture is a framework of stewardship that, in its best light, is a practice of cultivating places of treasure, creating places of rescue, and fostering regeneration. I truly believe organizations can be also become places of cultivated treasure and transformation.