Little Rock Summer of Solutions: Getting off the ground

This Winter and Spring, our team in Little Rock, Arkansas will be organizing Little Rock Summer of Solutions. We are really excited about putting together this 8-week summer program that will address environmental justice issues in a traditionally underserved area of town. Our focus area is ripe for social reform, we have a passionate team, and we believe that our initiatives will bring healthy food, homes, and community feeling to our neighborhood focus: the 12th Street Corridor of Little Rock Arkansas.

The Central Arkansas community:

There is already a huge movement in the central Arkansas community for urban development and community cooperation. Young people are breaking new ground in the local food movement, alternative energy sector, anti-oppression work, and entrepreneurial innovation as evidenced by a growing wave of youth-run urban farms, energy auditing businesses, feminist book clubs, non-profit organizations, cooperative start-ups and other initiatives.

For the last few years, members of the Little Rock community have worked towards the historic preservation of the downtown area, a traditionally low-income neighborhood. Assortments of sustainable, small businesses are opening here, and seasonal community festivals are bringing new energy downtown. While several of our potential Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants have been elbow deep in this work for years, the low-income inhabitants of the neighborhood have been excluded from the benefits that are accruing to already privileged individuals and groups. Our work will be focused on co-creating community programs that are designed to benefit the members of the community where we will be working.

Our neighborhood focus:

We are currently planning to center our efforts on the 12th Street Corridor of Little Rock, an area of town that we believe is a medically underserved food desert with high crime, unemployment, and poverty rates.  Many residents of the ares have limited access to adequate health care, healthy foods, fulfilling work, social connection, quality education, safe dwellings, reliable transportation, affordable consumer products, and more. Yet, this neighborhood is also home to a number of churches and has a growing non-profit presence. There is ample space for urban farming, and neighbors are fighting together against an eminent domain by the city for a Tech Park that will displace neighborhood homeowners. Therefore, while there are a number of environmental justice problems, we believe the neighborhood is ready for a strong, organizing force to provide a healthy space for the environmental justice initiatives that Little Rock Summer of Solutions will foster.

Our initiatives:

Healthy Foods: We will be focused on building a sustainable infrastructure that will facilitate the development of urban farming and market gardens. Our hope is to teach members of the area practical skills, which include building healthy soil by composting and adding natural nutrients to the soil such as fish emulsion, manure, and healthy bacteria. This will also be an opportunity for residents to learn about the “give, share, sell” model as well as about healthy, seasonal cooking and eating. Once the garden has produced goods, garden contributors can sell produce from the garden to community members and learn the business skills to run a market garden.

Healthy Homes: This initiative will be focused on increasing awareness of the presence of eco-toxins (primarily asbestos, lead, and mold) and the importance of energy saving behaviors and products. Furthermore, it will educate community members on the benefits of weatherization while hoping to provide affordable, practical weatherization services with the help of local initiative partners.

Healthy Communities: Our plan includes the development of a part-time educational camp for children between the ages of 6 and 12 and the stabilization of streams in the local watershed. We are also working on the development of an Environmental Justice Center, The Commons.

The work we’ve done so far:

One of the main gardens we’ll be working with for Summer of Solutions, the 12th and Oak Community Garden, received an extreme makeover this fall with the help of the Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society. We wanted to organize the garden more efficiently so that we could add an irrigation system on a timer and make the space lower maintenance.

A few weeks after constructing our new beds and receiving a dump truck of compost delivered by the City of Little Rock, we hosted the Sunday school kids from a church across the street (Theressa Hoover Methodist) for a lesson in the garden. The children weeded and planted radishes, greens, and onions.  One community member said that one of the purposes of the trip was to teach children “what qualities it would take to make a ‘good’ crop…in reference to the seeds that fell on ‘good ground’ in the scripture.”

The future development of this garden will be in direct association with Little Rock Summer of Solutions.

We are so excited about the developments we hope to see this program bring to the 12th Street Corridor of Little Rock. Last week we presented our ideas for the program to one of our local partners, Village Commons, and received our seed funding in full. In January members of our group will be attending the regional gathering in Atlanta, Georgia and Washington D.C. The wheels are turning. Stay tuned for more on Little Rock Summer of Solutions!

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