What do an Oakland-based block tree planting party, Santa Clara County “Super Jardineros” program and an Oakland teen managing her depression through the medicine of the garden have in common? Each of these happened as a part of the a national Community Resilience Challenge initiative to grow healthier more connected, and more resilient communities. Started in Sonoma County in 2010, the Community Resilience Challenge has grown into a national affair, including 800+ actions in Asheville, NC, among other ripples.
The “Challenge” was brought to the East Bay by representatives of Sustainable Contra Costa and garden advocate Victory V Lee, whose legacy of garden advocacy in the East Bay (through the Victory Garden Foundation) will never be forgotten. The NorCal Community Resilience Network, founded by grassroots organizer Susan Silber, and Rooted in Resilience continued to expand the Challenge in 2016, partnering with dozens of organizations across Alameda County to help support underserved communities doing work to build resilience in their communities. Silber recognized that resilience for her community meant, among other things, a focus on partnership-building between grassroots organizers and funding resources.
“Grassroots community projects are so important yet so underfunded!” said Susan. “We are constantly searching for local businesses and foundations to support the important work of bringing community members together to work on saving water, growing food, saving energy and reducing waste.”
Enter Bija, a non-profit with a mission to “empower communities to enact sustainable change” and The Threshold Foundation, both organizations which provided essential funding for the Community Resilience Challenge which then channeled the money in the form of micro-grants to grassroots organizations.
The beneficiary organizations define “resilience” in a myriad of ways, this polyculture of viewpoints itself a resilience strategy. The first of 3 grant recipients, an organization called Rooted in Resilience (formerly Bay Localize) utilized the grant money to bolster their work with Street Academy spearheaded by Co-Director Colin Miller. For Miller, resilience means dismantling systems of racism & oppression that prevent the youth he works with from having access to safe and creative spaces to thrive.
Defining resilience, Miller explains, “My community is encompassed by many different communities, united by its diversity. The possibility of rainbow coalition is very necessary. Resilience means: cultural diversity and biological diversity, because diversity is life.”
The funds were helpful in supporting Street Academy’s mission: Arranging safe rides for students, funding tools & materials for working in the garden, a “Growing Justice” class discussing larger socio-economic dynamics and teaching individual solutions for coping and building inner resilience. Out of these discussions of social inequality and solutions, Street Academy goes out and builds. Soccer fields. Garden expansions from 6 beds to 24 beds. Planting 14 fruit trees & 6 street trees. Building resilience.
The student body at Street Academy is made up of students who have been impacted by mass incarceration. Some have been kicked out of other schools or have transferred there to graduate. Miller reiterates, “they are awesome teachers and diverse leaders. They are growing their resilience.”
Grants also funded resilience at Oakland’s multi-stakeholder Cooperative called A PLACE for Sustainable Living (People Linking Art, Community and Ecology). According to Molly Hoffman, events coordinator for PLACE, “the funding allowed us to make sure we had something really tangible for folks to plug into.”
What that amounted to was a one-day “Creating the Commons Festival” that was attended by more than 500 festival-goers. Kind of like a big resilience block party, attendees participated in planting two avocado trees, 2 persimmon trees, and 1 lemon tree (all very explicitly chosen for the characteristic of having fruits which ripen on the tree, instead of falling to the ground, eliminating a potential to be decried as a nuisance by city maintenance crews). The trees were planted in front of PLACE’s neighbor, a local church. Hoffman also reiterate that the funding allowed her and her team to cultivate unlikely partnerships that wouldn’t have happened without the grant. The grant paid for the myriad costs involved in the block party including permits, insurance and promotion. PLACE relied heavily on fliers and posters to make sure that the block party was primarily attended by local neighbors, and without the funding for printing, which Bija covered, this grassroots aspect of the festival could not have happened.
The last of the grants went to an incredible cause: Valley Verde’s “Super Jardineros” Program which teaches motivated families to become micro-business owners. In the program, Super Jardineros grow seedlings and become vendors of seedlings to the nonprofit, earning $$ for themselves while building skills in food production.
Valley Verde is a non-profit with deep roots in the community working with hundreds of family over years to build their home gardening skills for resilience. Over the years Valle Verde has observed that access to indigenous crops is limited even though Santa Clara County residents have extensive knowledge of indigenous and heirloom varietals. “People of color are basically being given the opportunity to buy only mainstream vegetables, rather than the indigenous varieties they know so well,” says Raul Lozano, Valley Verde Executive Director.
Valley Verde used the grant money to buy seedlings for 25 families from Super Jardineros earning them $700 from sales of seedlings. With their Super Jardineros at the helm, taking the lead to grow plants that are more culturally appropriate to their communities, reclaiming cultural traditions that are at risk of being lost.
Lozano continues, “Every time we talk to people, the focus is around home gardens but the ultimate goal for Valley Verde is to impart enough knowledge so that the families will be able to use this knowledge to actually have organic vegetables for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter where they move, they will always have enough knowledge. And if they have that, then everything else follows- feed families, save money, model home gardening for their children, eat healthier, share vegetables, teach people in their community how to grow…”
Lozano sums it up, “Knowledge is power.”
One might add, “knowledge is resilience.”
There are countless amazing instances of resilience stirring across the nation, and like most grassroots efforts, we would do well as communities to find ways to better support and connect these initiatives. Through efforts like the Community Resilience Challenge, we can better daylight, support and connect these initiatives to build a stronger, more aligned and connected grassroots resilience movement.
All photos courtesy of The PLACE for Sustainable Living