The Summer is Coming to a Close

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The summer is winding down and Portland Enrichment recently went out for their last canvass on Saturday August 11th. On Sunday the 12th, the group volunteered at the farmers market for the last time of the summer as well. In one-way or another, I’m sure everyone in our group learned a lot from their experience with Portland Enrichment. Everyone had a chance to communicate with literally hundreds of people during the summer. I believe an important skill is learning about how others interact, and we interacted with a variety of great people and received some in-depth feedback about Lents.

During the summer we knocked on about 1000 doors and collected around 200 surveys. At the conclusion of the program, Portland Enrichment will release its End of Program analysis and final statistics. We will be able to fully assess data from the residents of Lents. Many people in Lents will be receiving emails from our partner organizations, which explain how they can get involved in the community. Our team encountered many people who were enthusiastic about getting involved.

At the beginning of the program I didn’t expect that we would have as many people as we did commit to participating in community actions. Out of the people we had a chance to talk to, I would estimate more than half of them took the survey and challenge. Unfortunately, we knocked on a lot of houses where no one was home. Something our group will address at our next meeting is the best times to canvass. This summer we usually canvassed on Saturdays in the early afternoon. This seems like a logical time to catch people in their homes because typically most people have weekends off from work. However, many days this summer were very nice and I’m sure a lot of families were out enjoying the weather Portland has to offer this time of year.

We will try our best to reach as many people as possible next summer. Nowadays, it seems people are so busy and some people don’t spend much time at home like they used to. But it does seem like many people are still eager to get involved. While canvassing, I heard a few people say how they wish they could communicate more with their neighbors and have more community events or block parties. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems people don’t talk with their neighbors like they used to 10-15 years ago.

I remember talking to a man who had four kids, had a job, went to school and was also involved with the community. I thought that this man must not have time to do anything. It was great getting to hear stories from the residents of Lents. It has been a pleasure getting to know people in the community and I plan to see some of the people I met again in the future.Image

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A Peace & Justice Garden

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For the past three weeks, squished on the couch in what might be the hippie-est living room in all of Minneapolis (maybe even the whole Midwest), my world has been rocked. I haven’t DONE anything too significant… pulled weeds here and there, trimmed some trees, harvested garlic… But little by little, I’ve started getting my head around something I’ve come to believe is the absolute most important thing we can do in order to close the gap between how the world is and how it should be. And that is, empowering communities to transition to a fundamentally different way of living. It’s a lifestyle in which environmental impacts, both negative and positive, are experienced rather than displaced. It’s a lifestyle you would diagram as circles, one cycle feeding into the next. It’s a lifestyle to which you would apply words like “enduring,” “self-sufficient,” and “conscientious.” It’s a lifestyle where social capital is what makes you rich, organizing neighbors is what gives you power, and love is the most potent drug around.

There’s an awful lot of talk out there about the evils of capitalism, inequalities plaguing our education and healthcare systems, epidemics of obesity, peak oil, and a whole slue of other injustices I can’t pretend to fully understand. But over in Phillips on 17th avenue and 24th street, my world has been rocked because Lynne Mayo, a fiery woman with a plan, is doing something about it.

Lynne has taken what has become a quite devoted posse of Summer of Solutions participants under her wing. She’s made it her business to get to know us, insisting we take mug shots next to our names so that she can work on memorizing them. She’s taken time to sit with us, offering up homemade raspberry pie and asking us questions trying to get at what makes each of us tick. She’s shown us documentaries exposing the dangers of genetically engineered foods. She’s brought in neighbors to teach us about herbs. She taught us methods of bio-intensive gardening and let us have a go at it as we began preparing plots for fall planting. She introduced us to permaculture, helping us to understand the importance of caring for the earth, caring for people, and sharing the wealth. She adds a new book to her recommended reading list every day: James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, Richard Heinberg’s Peak Everything, Atina Diffley’s Turn Here Sweet Corn, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States….If only I could read as quickly as Lynne can spew off titles.

What have I gotten out of my time with Lynne so far? Well, my “to read” list as multiplied 10 fold. My knowledge of weeds and plants has expanded. I can confidently tell you the difference between a pitchfork and a digging fork (don’t worry, Lynne, I wouldn’t dream of digging with a pitchfork). But the most important thing Lynne has given me in just our first few weeks is this feeling I can only possibly describe as exuberance. An exuberance that translates into insatiable energy because over on 17th Ave, things are moving… plants are growing, organics are composting, greenhouses are building, seeds are starting, and slowly but surely, peace and justice are coming.

-Hannah B. is a SOS Twin Cities 2012 participant

Hands in the Soil

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Daria and Paige with the Concrete Beet sign made from a salvaged piano.

This morning I tumbled out of bed and made my way to the Concrete Beet farm, where I have been learning hands-on urban farming. On Thursdays and Sundays, the Concrete Beet harvests vegetables for ten CSA shares. When I got there today, Emily and Emily were strategizing the order in which the produce would be picked, cut, dug, etc.

*Linda in front of some potato towers

Tall Emily got out her steel snips and started the process of un-furling the wire-fencing around a potato tower* while I picked the kale from the top of said tower. I was not expecting much from this particular potato patch, because of previous weeks’ harvesting of underwhelming spuds. This week was different. As soon as the tower was unbundled, we started pulling out huge round red taters.

When Anna, another S.O.S. participant, showed up, we were left to dig through the mound of soil and plants. I noticed how dark and rich the soil was as I ran my fingers through it, disturbing the tiny creatures that lived in it. They scattered as Anna and I chatted and pulled clumps of earth apart.

My hands and fingers are the same as my father’s mother’s. She died in 2008, and I wear her rings, which fit my fingers perfectly. As I was reaching my fingers into the earth, I thought about her, and about the hands of all of my ancestors who put their hands in the earth and brought food from their efforts. Some were German, some English, some Irish, but most were farmers.

I said something to Anna about my Irish ancestors, since we were digging potatoes. I associate potatoes with my being in this country; since my primary education about immigrant history is that the majority of Irish influx to the United States was due to “potato famine.”

Lost in my reverie, I thought about the recurring themes that have lead people to leave their homelands and seek out a new beginning thousands of miles away.

The Irish Potato Famine was exacerbated by (English) absentee landlords who charged a premium to poor tenants for small pieces of land on which only potatoes could be grown in enough abundance to be a staple food throughout the year. When the potatoes failed, everything toppled for the Irish. Millions starved as landlord’s evicted people from their land—their only source of living—and destroyed their homes.

For many people, this neighborhood, the Phillips neighborhood, is a haven. People have fled conditions ranging from simple suburban wage-slavery, to limited opportunities, to war, to certain death for themselves and their families. This haven, however, is not without its faults. Absentee landlords take advantage of those with little social clout, loan companies and banks have had their way with people who want a stable home (which has resulted in rampant foreclosures), and much of the land is an EPA superfund site (don’t let your kids eat the dirt without testing it first).

In the face of these challenges, Phillips is often defiant. Phillips plants gardens full of flowers and food. It holds Pow-wows, follows Ramadan, goes to Mass on Saturday night, has halal options, dollar tacos, Native foods.

It bikes, walks, buses, skateboards, and shares a car. It reads the neighborhood rag.

It speaks Spanish, English, Somali, Anishinaabeg, Dakota, Arabic, Hebrew, and many other languages.

It breaks down and sobs in despair with the loss of each and every one of its youth to violence and darkness.

It celebrates the coming of spring and light together, every year. It rises and grows.

When I think of myself as part of this community, I envision lines on a globe that concentrate here, but span out like a root system to the places people and their ancestors have come from. These roots draw nutrients from many sources, and like a plant, grow stronger because of the diversity and breadth of heritage that they are tapping into. We create the Tree of Life in our own image.

At the Concrete Beet, with my hands in the soil, I felt connected to this idea, this image of a connected community of corporal and spiritual entities of shifting and changing relations.

Anna, Small Emily, and I washed and weighed the CSA shares and put them into storage for pickup later that day. I started weeding the walkways and felt the sun beating hot on my arms and back. By the time I was done, my hands were green and my nail beds were black with dirt. My body ached with the slight contortions of kneeling and weeding. Physical work produces a satisfying effect on my body. To be happy and connected, I work the soil.