It’s a challenge creating access to healthy, affordable food in many urban neighborhoods. The following inspiring story was published on Eco Etsy last week, and it features the efforts of Juanita Rivas-Raymer, who has been able to do just that. She has succeeded in combining  the concept of a community garden with a food-swapping co-operative.

The Guerilla Garden Ninjas City Co-Op is located in Los Angeles. Rivas-Raymer started this food co-op as a way to share and exchange different foods, as well as ideas about how to prepare healthy food, among her local community members. It’s a way to expand the concepts of freeganism directly to the source and freely share with each other. Rivas-Raymer explained:

“The land is privately owned by the railroad company, but not used for anything. This, I guess is what you call ‘guerilla gardening’ No one uses this space and no one has ever asked them to stop, so now I manage the space. We have mature fruit trees, boysenberry and blackberry bushes, grapes and many edible weeds growing here.

My vision is to make this a community garden where it can be an outdoor classroom for workshops on gardening and wild foraging. There are already people wanting to have a plot here and help me out. Anyway, so the food co-op just seemed to be a good way to let people know about this garden and fill a need here, which is to have access to fresh organic local food.“

I contacted Rivas-Raymer and asked for her lessons-learned from forming and organizing this group effort, and what advice she would offer to others trying to improve access to healthy food in their region.

Here are a few of the points she made:
1) Keep the pressure low, you don’t have to do everything yourself.

2) Learn to delegate work  and don’t worry about how fast the project comes together; there is no rush.

3) Keep plugging along and putting the word out to people that may be interested in joining and getting involved.

4) There has to be a fun side in addition to the goals of connecting with people and growing local healthy food.

5) Sharing photos through flickr and organizing a yahoo group has helped improve communication in her group.

In addition to building community through sharing food, Juanita Rivas-Raymer is also an artist who utilizes recycled materials to create her unique sculptural work.

photo is courtesy of Juanita Rivas-Raymer