I’m involved with a local food justice organization called Planting Justice and have had the privilege of serving on the board of directors since its inception last year. I have seen it grow from a seed idea to a full-fledged force for food justice and urban agriculture over the past year and half. While my role has often been along the lines of communications, board decisions, and supporting in whatever ways I can, I have often been involved with the on-the-ground work that characterizes the daily work of Planting Justice (PJ).

For me, Planting Justice exemplifies one type of on-the-ground transformation of our physical and social spaces that I believe is critical for really transitioning to more sustainable world.

I have enjoyed the garden work-parties transferring plant starts on the rooftop garden in Temescal and at Explore College Prep Middle School where Planting Justice planted and cultivated a food forest and facilitated a school garden program with the help of the students;

I visited San Quentin prison H-unit, where men are learning gardening skills in a collaboration between PJ and the Insight Garden Program.  PJ has just recently hired its first participant from that program, a San Quentin parolee, who without the opportunity of the program to have gained these skills and knowledge and care, may have more likely become another statistic in California’s deplorable recidivism rate. I helped build raised beds at an affordable housing senior center just up the road. I have gone door-to-door in Oakland to connect neighbors with PJ’s work. I learned how to install a greywater system with the low-cost laundry-to-landscape workshop that PJ’s Gavin Raders and Andrew Chahrour teach. On the Global Work Party day 10/10/10, I was one of over 50 Bay Area folks who joined a food justice bike tour of West and North Oakland that PJ organized along with Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and Peoples Grocery. We ended the day helping transform a plain Bermuda grass-choked yard into a beautiful edible garden.

In addition to the amazing projects that PJ facilitates, I wanted to mention two aspects of PJ’s model that is very unique among urban ag organizations and I think contribute to its rootedness in community and to its long-term sustainability.  First, with the Tranform Your Lawn service PJ transforms lawns into edible landscapes for those who able to pay market-rate price for PJ’s extensive permaculture skills, labor, and supplies.

Front Yard Farm in Richmond, formerly barren

This allows PJ to do the same for lower-income households and institutions for free or low-cost and helps provide revenue for our other programs, such as the school nutrition/culinary arts curriculum.

Another unique part of Planting Justice’s model is its canvass program.  Many of us involved at PJ were community organizers and canvassers at one point or another. We see it as a way to both have direct community involvement in PJ projects and sustain a diversified revenue.  We see the importance of calling on neighbors and people in the community who can directly see the impact of PJ’s projects in their neighborhoods rather than relying on foundation grants.

I can tell you personally that you will rarely find a more dedicated, passionate, smart, and skilled couple of people than my friends and co-founders Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi. They and the rest of the PJ crew have their eyes simultaneously on food access and social justice and on both ecological and financial sustainability.

Digging Swales for Food Forest at Middle School in Oakland

I encourage you to explore Planting Justice website to find our more. Plus pictures are perhaps better able to capture the work that PJ does!  That PJ has come this far and accomplished so much with little resources is a testimony to its enthusiasm and commitment. Imagine what PJ can do in 2011 with additional resources from friends who understand the importance of this type of work for transitioning to a more sustainable world!

A key lesson is, whatever your ideas, don’t wait until you have the resources, just get started! With dedicated vision and hard work you can see real on-the-ground changes.

Of course additional resources make it easier. If you are able to and you think that the work of PJ is exciting and important, please consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly sustainer at $5 (Seed Saver), $10 (Soil Builder), $20 (Pollinator), or $50 (Garden Propagator) per month.  It’s community support that allows PJ to scale up its successes and can make it possible to offer more ongoing educational and community organizing programs.

If you live in the Bay Area, you can hire Planting Justice to Transform Your Yard.  By transforming your property into a permaculture oasis, you not only reduce your carbon footprint and have delicious sustainable produce from your backyard, you are also supporting Planting Justice’s work in low-income communities, prisons, schools and more.

In the meantime I encourage you to continue learning more about food justice and how we can change our food system to better reflect care for our health, for our land, and for people.

Here are some of PJ’s major accomplishments over the past year:

  • Designed and built more than 50 urban permaculture gardens in frontyards, backyards, schoolyards, prisonyards, affordable housing complexes, senior centers, and rooftops for both people who could afford to contribute financially as well as families and communities who could not. These gardens produced thousands of pounds of veggies, fruits, herbs, edible mushrooms, honey, eggs, and berries while serving as hands-on educational opportunities for more than 500 people.
  • Led free weekly programs in food justice and culinary arts at Explore College Preparatory Middle School and Mandela Academy High School in East Oakland that empower students to grow, cook, and think about food and its relationship to us: our bodies, community, culture, histories, and futures.
  • Hosted dozens of low-cost courses and free hands-on workshops for hundreds of participants in urban permaculture design, greywater design and installation, composting, plant propagation, food production and more.
  • Hired our first parolee from our Insight Garden Program inside San Quentin program to our edible landscaping team.  We hope he is the first of many who have the opportunity to give back to their community, build beautiful and abundant gardens, and obtain dignified living-wage work with Planting Justice upon their release!
  • Created 8 part time jobs starting at $15/hour for community organizers and $17.50/hour for edible landscapers
  • Built an inspiring and innovative organizational model that shows how a social change organization can largely fund itself! Our budget grew from approximately $15k in 9 months of 2009 to $120k in 2010, an 800% increase, with only 20% of this funding from grants! The other 80% we generated ourselves by doing the work: by building gardens and by organizing our community block by block to support food justice.