Potential Partners for our Inclusive Urban Farm Pilot

December 4, 2018 was a banner day for our “yet to be named” inclusive urban farm pilot. A few weeks back, I met with Nic Batterton at Mosaic. We were talking about my nephew Gabe and the possibilities that Mosaic may present for him. After this, we chatted my current role at No More Empty Pots piloting an inclusive urban farm for specially-abled adults. Nic lit up, seriously, like a Christmas tree. He explained, as Daryn Richardson had a couple months back, about specially-abled adults needing opportunities to integrate into the community. Nic explained that many of the Mosaic people would love to do something somewhere that had meaning. As I explained more about our Collaborative Community centered food hub, Nic started to see the possibilities and knew we needed to meet at No More Empty Pots.

Last week, Nic and Aaron, met Nancy and myself at No More Empty Pots. As we toured our food hub and the ongoing construction on the ground and roof levels, we brainstormed how our two organizations could partner together. Nic and Aaron told personal stories of the folks that would love to be involved in food rescue efforts to learn about nutrition and create meals. Another passion of mine is recycling, Aaron shared that their recycling team has taken bottles out of people’s hands for fear it would end up in the wrong bin.

When I told Nic and Aaron that I haven’t developed curriculum for specially-abled people, they were quick to console me and explain that the lessons we teach aren’t as important as the care and kindness we can show the Mosaic people. Sure, we’ll learn how to cook carrots but we will also become friends who work together. This is where the magic lies. People who grow, prepare and eat food together.

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Enter Gabe.

Gabe has always loved farming. Years ago, my sister started the practice of making sure Gabe got back to the farm every planting and harvest season. This was a feat, given that they live in Santa Monica.

It’s one of Gabe’s favorite things to do in life, riding with Dad in whatever implement he’s driving.

Creating a space where Gabriel could contribute in a meaningful way is one of my goals for our Inclusive Urban Farm. Knowing that Gabe is the impetus behind the collaboration of No More Empty Pots, Mosiac and VODEC makes this pursuit all the more important.


Back on the path to Farming!

I believed my tenure at No More Empty Pots would expire at the end of the August when the CISCO grant was completed.  I approached my boss, and our CEO, Nancy Williams, to talk about my exit strategy but she had other ideas.  Instead of taking a sabbatical to explore creating my urban farm on my own, she invited me to do just that under the umbrella of No More Empty Pots.  Nurturing my current relationships with The Nature Conservancy, Fontenelle Forest, and other agencies, No More Empty Pots will allow me to broaden my reach and see who’s interested in joining us.  

Merica Whitehall, from Fontenelle Forest had spoken to Nancy and me about the possibility of using land at the Forest for the farm pilot.  We met and viewed the land...it looks spectacular and has a great name already: Camp Brewster! Now, I’m settling into research to explore inclusive urban farms.

 Camp Brewster - with the Missouri river on the top right.

Camp Brewster - with the Missouri river on the top right.

Effects of invading someone else’s domain

Earlier in August, I spent a Saturday working outside in the yard and garden.  The weather was sunny and warm, since Dasher was spending the weekend with us, I had company.  I planted a new cover crop in Zamarian’s garden and then began to weed in the far corner of the yard. This is my resource spot where I keep items that could be used in the future. I have stump mulch, stones, bricks and all sorts of abandoned items.  

In the midst of weeding, I noticed was Dashing jumping around and yelping and then I started to feel the stings myself. I brushed off a few bugs from his back and we both started running for the house and I hailed Glen to help. We ran into the garage and  I felt stinging everywhere and was crazed trying to get the bugs off of me. Dash still had one on his back. Glen brushed it off and it stung him.

We were googling how to take care of bee stings and heard a buzzing sound. We cornered and killed the insect, then looked him up online and it was a yellow jacket wasp. We figured out that soap/water followed by hydrogen peroxide was the best way to treat the stings.  We took care of Dasher and then each other.

At this point, I felt the worst was over.  That afternoon, Dasher looked lethargic so I googled how to care for beagles with stings, it wasn’t really anything more than we’d already done. The next morning, each of my sting spots (7 in all) were red/inflamed, hard and itchy. It was very painful.  

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I’m not mad at the yellow jackets, they were just doing what came naturally to them - protecting their home.  

I know now where my domain ends and their's starts! 

Experiencing the Pressure of Food Waste

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One of the topics of our Building IoT + Food Systems program was to show learners the truth about food waste.  Not many people are aware that we throw away up to 40 % of all of the food grown in the US today.

One article states that we throw away one per person per day which totals 150,000 tons of food a day.  Rotting food clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.  I know this, I teach this and yet I found myself throwing away strawberries, cucumbers and an old orange today.  While tossing this into my compost pile doesn’t feel as bad as putting it in the garbage to go landfill, what about folks who don’t have compost options?  Last week, while shopping in my grocery store, I saw store employees checking dates and piling food on carts to be removed. While some may be rescued, most of it will end up in a landfill.  This saddens me, but what can be done?

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My first hug and other learnings

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In my last week of teaching at NorthStar, I shook each learner’s hand and asked them their names as they entered.  It was remarkable the difference it made in our class dynamics. Just meeting each person at the door, shaking their hand and looking into their eyes allowed me to connect with them.  

One of the learners would not shake my hand and tried to walk around me.  I would not allow it so Jayden finally gave in and shook my hand but wouldn’t look me in the eye. I figured that we were starting to connect.  Later in our time together, he shouted at me that I wasn’t his teacher and he didn’t have to listen to me, he didn’t have to follow my rules.

After class one day, the Director stopped by to chat. She was wondering why so many of my students are asked to leave the classroom.  It was a method I adopted after the advisors were not helping with disruptions, I asked the learners to leave until they were ready to engage.  Hana explained that their leaving the class is seen as a huge move towards being expelled from the program. I was not interested in this strong of a message.  

Hana also said that she’s had to break apart fights at high schools where the teacher is just standing by, uninterested in getting involved.  For some of these kids, NorthStar is the safest environment they experience in their entire day. Safer than home, than school, than the streets.  She encouraged me to teach to these disruptive behaviors. This is more new learning for me. I told her about Jayden expressing himself and she said he should be asked to leave but there was something I needed to know about Jayden.  He has a special qualifier because he can’t read above the 1st grade level.

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So, the next day, I tried a new tact.  Bribery with fruit snacks. It worked. Jayden worked hard to get 5 fruit snacks, more than anyone in the class.  It was wonderful to watch him shine.

He hugged me before he left.

On Friday, Jayden was expelled from the program.

Today, I am finished with the program and am left feeling empty.

STEP UP helped me step out

So the first two weeks of July our team hosted the 39 STEP UP participants in our Food Hub, Garden and Admin Office.  STEP UP Omaha! provides jobs and paid internship opportunities to youth and young adults during the summer. One of our gals taught culinary arts in the kitchen, another agricultural education in the garden and me, the Internet of Things in the Admin Office.  These learners are 14-15 years old and come from all schools, mostly in North Omaha. Our Director of Operations, Susan, opened each session with a level setting time and also finished our time together every day.  Each of us had each group twice for 3 hours or so. It was a HOT week which played into the Admin Office meeting space, which usually holds 8-10 adults and we had 13 large bodies who were busy trying to make impressions in addition to engaging with me and the content I wanted to share.  The afternoons wore on and were tedious, I left each day exhausted. They sucked the life out of me, that is for sure.

The last day of our 2 weeks together, we hosted a graduation ceremony at the local Community College.  It was a sweet celebration and Susan asked each teacher to give a three minute speech to summarize the class.  I had selected 3 or so learners from each group that had been engaged and interested, and showed leadership. I’d planned to lead with the Vince Lombardi quote, “Leaders are not born, they are made.”

When my name was announced for me to speak, the kids started cheering.  Seriously, cheering and yelling out “sister”, which is what I called all the girls because I couldn’t recall each of their names.  I was overcome. Tears welled up in my eyes and I lost my direction on what I’d prepared to share. After a few moments, I did regain composure and delivered my speech on leadership.

I walked away from the experience in shock.  Days later the shock remains.

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2 generations later = more bleakness

In teaching another group at NorthStar, I was again surprised, overwhelmed, encouraged, exhausted and perplexed. I spoke with our Director of Operations, Susan about this and she provided perspective.  In explaining to her that I was teaching in Watts 30 (again that large number) years ago, I thought I was prepared for an urban teaching setting. Susan explained that 2 generations makes a big difference. It hit hard.  Years of struggling and never seeing results or experiencing change, hardens everything. Especially hope. Those four-year-old students, may have spent years working several jobs, watching their children get shot, dreaming about success following their passions and contemplating a way to get out...all these things but nothing about their circumstances changes.  Responsibility for this aside, hardened hearts and weak spirits result. What I experience in the classroom is just a little taste of their tough reality. These kids are used to people not showing up, not keeping their word, and having to figure out things for themselves. The support I offer isn’t trustworthy, because they haven’t been able to trust many or much at all.

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2 years makes a big difference!

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This week I started another program delivery of Building IoT + Local Food Systems.  These learners were rising 9th graders, the difference between them and the rising 7th graders was notable.  They were taller, they were quieter and they look more intently at me. At first, it was off putting but then, it was refreshing.

Their questions, their input and their engagement was at such a different level than the others that I found myself more excited and engaged.  Perhaps, it’s because it was my third go round for delivering the content, or else it was my dear cousin’s encouragement to pray this:

ask God to give you a love for each student, to open your eyes to their incredible value to Him....kids know when their teacher loves them....and they respond with tenderness and vulnerability that they don't risk in most places or with most of the people in their lives.

What’s changed in 30 years of teaching!

Wow! I’ve forgotten so much about teaching, but the NorthStar rising 7th graders helped me to remember, painfully at times.  This, in addition to publicly admitting that 30 years ago I started teaching in the inner city of Los Angeles.  Another pain point!

I remember my first group of learners, 4 years old, as being curious and quiet.  Once they trusted me, the noise level rose but so did their level of engagement. I found myself going into school earlier each day so I could create new learning centers and activities for them.  I don’t remember their disrespect or annoyance, but that could have been their age, or mine!

The group of learners I just taught were 10 years older and much more hidden from me.  They didn’t seem to care about what I said, or what innovation I shared or what their neighbor told them about the internet of things, all that mattered was feigning apathy, or so it seemed to me. My colleagues at work encouraged me that this age of learner just wants to act cool, actually attending to the teacher makes you uncool. Nancy, my boss, explained that if I can gain their trust, let them know that I care about them, I should consider my time with them a success. This is new learning for me.

As I’m processing this to prepare for the next delivery, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate a faster pace and delivery of content, use music effectively and engage the learners who are interested, allowing the others to go sit on the sidelines.  To me, much of this goes against what I believe as a teacher. So, I’m changing my own paradigms, not an easy or desirable task!

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And I guess this is what hurts the most, I'm not sure this past group of learners know that I did care about them learning.  How do you share your heart when the disdain and disrespect is the strongest emotion in the room?

NorthStar is more than I expected!

This week was my first week teaching The Internet of Things +Local Food Systems at NorthStar Academy.  Here is their program description:

NorthStar programming is intended to provide additional academic, athletic and social opportunities for student success. NorthStar serves boys in grades 3 – 8 through an open enrollment process.  

I was nervous to get started.  Momma and I spent the better part of three days redesigning the curriculum when I was in tears over it late last week.  Her 33 years of teaching expertise provided the much needed bench strength for me to gain comfort in knowing and managing the content.  I was still apprehensive as I as my audience entered the classroom at 9 am on Monday morning. It was their first day of summer school, or “programming” and  I assumed my teaching experience in inner city LA would help relate to these learners. Little did I realize that the 30 years that has past (Yes, it has been 30 years!  That’s another blog entry.) had created an entirely different learner audience. These “rising 7th graders” are a tough audience, I left the first day disappointed, exhausted and forlorn.  After gaining counsel from our Head of Operations and CEO, Susan and Nancy, I felt more prepared to return to the class for Day 2. They encouraged me to work on trust in the learners, create experiences that help them see that I care.  Forget about the content of the Internet of Things or Local Food Systems, let them know I care. Today, I just completed Day 3 and have honed my expectations to be more realistic but am still learning the steps to this different tap dance I continue to modify from my days teaching PreK in Watts.

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Seeing the Food Hub through Others

This past week, my Aussie friend, Beth, joined us for lunch during Restaurant Week at our Culinary Workforce Training Program.  She was unaware of No More Empty Pots, our Food Hub nor our CWTP. As a PhD in Zoology, Beth travels the world frequently but also digs into her community in Omaha.  She is actively engaged with neighbors and friends who need rides, help figuring out aspects of life and just need someone to listen to them. Beth doesn’t shy away from hard stories or hard work and was eager to learn more about the Food Hub and No More Empty Pots’ work after entering our world.  She wanted to know how we found people for our programs, how our programs found our people, where the produce was sourced and what we did with the food we produced. Then she saw the shared use kitchens where one of our entrepreneurs was baking cookies and learned about our program for entrepreneurs.  She was intrigued and capped off her tour by cornering Nancy, our CEO and Founder, to ask about specific people she knew who could benefit from our program. Seeing Beth’s curiosity and kindness piqued by stepping into the Pots’ environment helped me to understand what a unique environment this truly is.

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Why should we collaborate together anyway?

A New Narrative

Michael Rozyne concluded his lecture by stating that we don’t need to convince someone of your values, you just need to share one pragmatic common goal.  

I want to pull apart the first part of that sentence.  I find it interesting that most conversations I experience (if they can be called conversations) are centered on convincing someone that they are wrong and more importantly, they are limited in their thinking.  Usually the person listening is assumed to disagree with the speaker’s position. Usually it is assumed that the reason the listener disagrees with the speaker is because they are lacking in some way: intelligence, sensitivity,  being informed, and a willingness to see the world from another’s viewpoint. These conversations are rife with sound bytes and authoritative speech which negates opening a discussion. The end goal for the speaker seems to be to make a point and win the argument, even though this is a conversation.   

When I’m the listener in this type of question, that is usually all I do.  I used to think it was because I didn’t have my facts correct, or know enough to participate fully.  On reflection, it is because I don’t feel safe. I don’t mind discussing things I don’t know, how do you learn?  I do mind assumptions that are made of me because of the way I look or how I assumed to have voted.

Michael’s lecture cheered me, it made me hopeful that conversations can be had when we have different values as long as we share a common goal.  He believes we are all capable of creating a New Narrative. I look forward to having conversations that aim to create a New Narrative on all sorts of topics.  Michael’s new narrative that he encouraged us to see is that sustainably, responsibly grown and economically available produce would allow for more people to have better food to eat.  This has opened me up to not being an “organic only” proponent but being open to this new type of thinking.  I’m excited to see how this works with our first visit to the farmer’s market under our belt.

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Purists and essentialists - what’s the difference?

I attended the National Good Food Network conference in New Mexico in late March.  One of my favorite lectures was by Michael Rozyne who stated that there is an important difference between being a purist and an essentialist about organic foods.  This was new territory for me because I believe (or did believe) so strongly in being an organic purist.

Michael wrote a book, “What are we Fighting/Collaborating For?  He had three main points in his lecture:  Survival, The Story First, Why Collaborate?  In Survival, Michael explained that he has a dear friend, John Lyman, a local apple and peach farmer who became allies in their stance on IPM (Integrated Pest Management).  In New England, it is almost impossible to grow organic fruit so both of these farmers use synthetic pesticides (IPM).  Because of their solidarity on this issue, Michael was unsettled when he learned that John believed in intelligent design and a young earth, because Michael believed in evolution.  They came to an agreement, and it wasn’t just to agree that they could disagree but it was to listen to the other person’s perspective.

In these days of polarization on everything from politics to potty rooms, I was elated to hear this.  I long for actual discussions of topics without opinions defying opposing viewpoints. Michael went on to explain how this transpired, by stories. I’ll discuss reframing through stories next week. Back to purists and essentialists. While it is great to have organic food only, 1% of all produce grown in the US is organic, so what’s everyone supposed to eat?  This attitude doesn’t take into account what it means to be a responsible grower. There are plenty of growers who maintain sustainable practices, they use cover crops to create more organic matter. They may not be able afford organic certification but they are still producing good produce. Customers that are more interested in prices are okay to look at conventionally grown produce if it responsibly grown.  

Michael ended this section of his lecture by saying that we live surrounded by synthetic products but people are against using synthetic pesticides. I read a book a few years back called Essentialism, I think it’s time to check it out from the library for a refresher. I’ve been an “organic only” gal for some time now, I want to learn more about the farmers who grow sustainably and responsibly. That I’ll need to learn more about as well.

 

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