Listen to Produce for the People on The Response Podcast here (or on the app of your choice):
Unhoused populations are struggling to find enough to eat. Farmers are faced with both surplus produce and lower incomes as they are left without places to sell. Individuals have a renewed desire to plant gardens as they grapple with long grocery lines and rising food prices.
In short, the pandemic is surfacing many of the systemic issues in the global food system that we’ve been mostly ignoring for a long time.
But what can we do about this at the city, town or even community level?
One grassroots organization in the San Francisco Bay Area is attempting to answer that question.
This week on Shareable’s The Response podcast, we’re bringing you the audio from a live roundtable discussion we co-hosted with NorCal Resilience Network last week who is launching “Produce for the People”.
The new initiative will activate NorCal’s existing coalition of organizations and Resilience Hubs to address critical food security needs in a way that can be replicated on a larger scale in communities all over the world.
The event featured four food justice organizers from the East Bay who dove into difficult questions related to:
- The history of racial inequities within the food industry and how this intersection between food justice and racial justice could evolve moving forward
- How communities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic
- What an equitable hyper-local food web could look like in the future (based on the building blocks that currently exist), including resilience hubs as centers for food growing and distribution
- And how to “squash the beef” by physically working through conflict together while digging into common ground.
Keneda Gibson: artist, community organizer with the East Oakland Neighborhood Initiative, and recipient of a Resilience Hub grant to develop a garden rooted in community at her house
Wanda Stewart: Executive Director of Common Vision and garden educator at Hoover Elementary School
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge: co-founder of Essential Food and Medicine (EFAM) which reclaims surplus and locally grown produce to make juice, soups, smoothies, and natural medicines that directly serve the most vulnerable people in their communities for free.
Moderated by Ayano K. Jeffers-Fabro: independent consultant for community food initiatives (most recently acting as project manager for incubating a community-led grocery cooperative in East Oakland).
The Response from Shareable.net, is a documentary film, book, and podcast series exploring how communities are building collective resilience in the wake of disasters.
- Host and executive producer: Tom Llewellyn
- Series producer: Robert Raymond
- Theme Music: “Meet you on the other side” by Cultivate Beats
Watch the webinar version:
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure.
So we are located in Northern California. Specifically most of us are in the North excuse me, Oakland Berkeley area on Huchiun land, unseated Lisjan territory, which is the ancestral Homeland of the Chochenyo speaking Lisjan Ohlone, who once inhabited what is now known as Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville, and Albany California. And we would like to acknowledge that we are benefiting and profiting off of stolen land of the indigenous first peoples of this land and that our work is dedicated to making amends and healing the wounds that have been historically created through exploitation.
We’d also like to acknowledge our ancestors, the people whose forced labors have built America, enslaved African people who have moved through a system of exploitation and violence leading to the Jim Crow sharecropping era and to what we experienced in the contemporary days of continued violence and exploitation of bodies and labor and the land for our benefit, for our food system. So we acknowledge our ancestors and we also ask them for forgiveness and apologize for these historical actions that have taken place, and that are still taking place today.
We also would like to acknowledge the predecessors that have laid the groundwork for our resilience communities. Pictured here are the Black Panthers who started a free breakfast program for children that… when they first started for 11 children and by the end of their first week, expanded to 135. Also pictured here is queen mother Fannie Lou Hamer and queen mother Ella Jo Baker, who were both women that have paved the way for land and food sovereignty movements in America. So we would like to give thanks to those who have trail blazed for us to be here continuing this work. Let me say Ashe.
And to close our land and ancestral acknowledgement, I would like to share a prayer where you can… if you would like, it’s sort of a call and answer prayer. So if you would like to repeat each line after me, please do so either silently, you can silently affirm or speak out loud. This prayer is called In Lak’ech (I am you or you are me). “You are my other me. If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.” Take one collective breath together before opening up the space, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Thank you.
Well, now that we have grounded in this space and opened up with acknowledgement and prayer, I’d like to officially introduce myself.
My name is Ayano Jeffers-Fabro. I’m a community organizer, specifically in food justice and community food systems development here in East Oakland, California. I’m the founder and CEO of Kauhale Honua LLC, which is a consulting firm that’s just started. And I’m currently co-project managing with the black cultural zone for the liberation park project, which is bringing a black farmer’s market to East Oakland. My most recent work has been acting as the project manager to open a community-led cooperative grocery store in East Oakland, which is now known as the Deep Grocery Co-op and is currently being led by the residence leaders that we had recruited and trained up over the past 12 months and have officially passed leadership off to for the project.
So I’m really grateful to be here, moderating this panel. And with this brilliant panel of speakers, I’m very honored to be here. Very honored to be in this work. Just a little bit of background about myself. I was born and raised in Hawaii in a small rural plantation town called Wailua, where I grew up doing conservation work and environmental education with my family. And found my way to UC Berkeley for education about eight years ago and have been rooted up here in the Bay area, giving back and doing food system and land sovereignty work ever since then.
And next I’ll share a little bit about the Northern California Resilience Network. So the NorCal Resilience Network is creating a network of sites and grassroots organizations to seed, amplify, and scale community justice and nature based solutions to transform our homes and communities into resilience, self-Sufficient, equitable and regenerative places that are ready for anything. So the work of the network is rooted in racial and social justice. Our partners at the urban sustainability directors network pioneer the work of Resilience Hubs and their official definition of Hubs is, our chested community centers from rec centers to libraries and schools that serve as a gathering place to distribute resources during disasters, demonstrations for climate solutions year round.
And here on this slide, you see that we’ve expanded past just the community centers and libraries, and have expanded to having resilient regenerative spaces. So they don’t have to be official buildings but spaces to gather and meet and co-create and then resilience neighborhoods. So actual homes owned by community members that are being transformed into hubs and spaces. So the three main programs of the network, the first is the circle of collaborators, which are grassroots organizations, local healers, indigenous activists, artists, permaculture designers, local businesses like solar panel installers, and community members like us who are dedicated to seeing our neighborhoods thrive. Resilience hubs are like we just mentioned, spaces to do the on the ground work starting in our neighborhood to transform sites and places into demonstrations for resilience.
And then the third program of the network is funding. So funding small scale grassroots projects, organizations, and activists that will bring resources to underserved projects and communities. And we also have a partnership with local governments that work and the work and power is shifted to the community sites and organizations rather than staying within government entities, like we seen in other models. So this is just a slide of some of the collaborative organizations in the North Cal resilience network.
And as mentioned before, the resilience hubs are dedicated to transforming existing spaces into demonstration projects for community resilience. There are three pillars that resilience hubs are grounded in, and those three pillars are sustainability/prima culture/growing food, reducing our waste impact. The second is community building which can include neighborhood mapping, disaster preparedness, energy banks, workshops, crop swaps, et cetera. And the last one is disaster preparedness, so forming community response teams, having surplus food and supplies in case of a dasher disaster and off the grid energy in the cases of rolling blackouts like we’ll be seeing during the upcoming fire season.
The Resilience Hub program focuses on leadership training and collaboration with local governments, as mentioned before, they also provide many grants for the hubs and collaboration and resource sharing between the Hubs and community partners. So produce to the people is currently envisioned of the Resilience Hubs, focused to adjust food insecurities and support on the ground grassroots organizations to provide food resources and immunity boosting plants, provide means for distribution and share our stories and exchange knowledge along the way.
So now I’ll be passing the mic over to our lovely speakers for a brief introduction, starting with AshEl from Essential Food and Medicine. AshEl, would you like to go ahead and introduce yourself?
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
Hi. Yeah, thank you. Thank you so much for having us on this call. Yeah. Again, AshEl Seasunz with Xochitl Moreno, we co founded Essential Food and Medicine. Essentially what we do, we take food from waste streams, ecosystem season as a system. Starting back at the beginning of the COVID breakout, which is on February, March, April, that range linked up with Xochitl, who was doing food distribution for OUSD, sort of encampments in West Oakland. And I was making juice and things like that, combine the efforts and realize that we wanted to provide something that was more substantial than what we were getting from the food bank. Although it was great, we wanted… let’s up the ante on the immunity piece and also tell more of a story about the medicines and the plants in general and give them some space in a time when we were getting a lot of top down solutions through the media and from government, et cetera.
So it’s a grassroots mutual aid organization serving West Oakland. This weekend we actually, on Saturday, we have a healing clinic and a celebration from 3:00 to 8:00 PM. Reach out with us about that, where we will be having everybody from acupuncturist, live art, Liberate Lens is doing a film. Essentially just continuing as efforts to deepen these connections that we made at these different communities and allowing the rest Oakland residents to have a taste of some of the holistic healing practices that we have benefited from ourselves. So we’re going to have food there and the juices and the smoothies as well as for herbalism apothocary as well, wound care, things like that. So just listening to the residents and providing what they asked for. So it was essentially what Central Food and Medicine is. You can check us out essential food, essential fam, and we’ve got essentialfam.org. And we’re allowed to tap in more and get more people on board.
Beautiful. Thank you so much.
Yes. My name is Keneda Gibson. I’ve done some work over the past couple years with the NLC neighborhood leadership cohort and the Oakland coalition for climate change. And coming into this pandemic, I had to reformat everything that I had been doing. I also taught with OUSD for the past six years, liberated myself from my job in November and my daughter from school and decided that I wanted to focus in on community work. And when things changed in March due to the pandemic, I had to totally reformat my entire plan for my life. And one of the things that I noticed that my community needed was some sort of plan for resilience because there was nothing in place and I figure, okay, I think that what I need to do is make sure that my community is set, my family is set.
So what I did was I turned my home into a resilience hub, and I didn’t really know what that looked like, but as time progressed, I’m learning as I go. And one of the main things that I did, what seems to be the best thing that’s been connecting my community is deciding to create a Sankofa garden. So I connected Brandy Mack of Cycle for Gardens and totally transformed my yard which looked like a mini jungle at the time into this beautiful space to grow food for the community. So everything that I grow and I harvest I share. And also, I have my neighbors on Fridays to come out and help with growing food because not everybody has the means to start their own garden. And in sharing this space, I noticed that it’s transmuting some of the negative energy that’s been going on in my community.
I’ve also created a space outside of my yard where I’m able to share things, it’s a community altar. And so people will come by and leave things or take things all the time, which is great. And also it’s created a lot of communication between people where there was none before. And yeah, I’ve also been connecting with other community groups and hubs and artists who are also trying to create some sort of change to towards the world that we would like to see.
Beautiful. Thank you Keneda. Thank you for being here. All right, Miss Wanda, it is on you, passing the mic over.
Greetings everyone, I’m Wanda Stewart. And I’d say first, that I live in Berkeley and own a home there that I love to call obsidian farm. And I’ve been growing my farm complete with chickens in the backyard in South Berkeley for approaching 15 years. More recently after a stint, as an educational consultant and as executive director of people’s grocery, I was able to bring together my love of growing food and cultivating land and my understanding of how schools run. For many years, I worked in private schools doing admissions and enrollment in community development. So I took those skills and decided to apply gardening in schools. So I’m most proud right now of being the garden steward at Hoover elementary in West Oakland.
The garden sits on the corner of West and 33rd street. And we’ve got about a hundred square feet of cultivated lands that has now taken on full food forest status. After getting the Hoover garden going, I also agreed to serve as the executive director of Common Vision. And for more than 15 years, Common Vision is planting fruit tree orchards in school yards. And now we’re combining both the fruit trees as well as gardens to help all schools develop outdoor and environmental curriculums that serve individual children, that build community and improve our planet.
I am really proud to say that all of the things that we’re learning and practicing now in this pandemic, Common Vision in particular has been doing all along. So it was turned over to black and female leadership three years ago by design and by desire. We were already talking to schools about taking learning outdoor and the value of eating fresh vegetables and teaching children how to grow them. And now we all know that these things are vital. And Common Vision was one of the first groups to start addressing cross-cultural relationships in the work that we do.
Back in the day, it was a big bus full of white hippies who would go into the hood to save the world and save the people there with fruit trees and Michael Flynn, the founder, made sure that those hippies were well trained and talked to about how to interact with others. And yet still it wasn’t enough. So we’re interested now in teaching and modeling folks how to do it for themselves. And most particularly the children so that they can do it for the world to come. My whole agenda right now in this pandemic is to aim my intentions and my actions at the world that’s coming after all that we’re going through right now. And I am most certainly sure that that involves the children in that we’re all going to need to eat. So we’re growing gardens and communities by doing that.
Lovely. Thank you so much. Thank you all of you for sharing about your work, each of you brings such a unique piece of this resilience work into this space. So I’m really excited to have this discussion with you. So now we’re going to move into the facilitated Q&A portion of the gathering today. I’ll try to keep it as conversation free flowing as possible. So speakers feel free to engage with each other as we go through the questions and even ask each other questions, as you all see fit. You all gave really great background on your current work, current activations and where you are currently in this world of uncertainty, this world of it’s a new day every day. But going a little deeper into the rootedness of why you’re here, can you share a little bit more about what brought you into this work and how you would describe your relationship to land, food, medicine and each other?
My relationship with food has been really interesting when I was younger I was always sick. I was sick up until I was about 20 years old and couldn’t even breathe out of my nose. I didn’t know why, I had allergies like crazy. And I was filled with… I don’t know, my head was like in a fog. And at a point I had decided to become vegetarian and start eating more fresh foods. And I realized how my health cleared up and how everything seemed to be linked to diet. At the moment I’m eating an alkaline electric diet mostly and have totally transformed my entire health. Mind you, I’m also in remission for cancer and cancer is nothing but like mucus that forms in the body in some way or another. And through changing my diet, I told you I’ve changed my entire history. I feel like I’m starting to deviate a little bit from the question. Could you remind me where…
Yeah, no worries. Just what brought you into this work and your relationship to food, land medicine and each other?
Okay. So what brought me into this work was my health and the love for my community. I feel like since I am born and raised in Oakland and I’m rooted here, that I have obligation to my community. And so began doing a bunch of community work, community service and volunteering maybe about six years ago, five years ago, and have only gotten deeper and deeper. And everything that I’ve been doing with the neighborhood leadership cohort and the coalition for climate change has led me where I am today, because it brought me even closer to realizing what the needs of my community are.
So I love this question because my basic answer has continued to give for 30 years. Two of those schools that I worked at when I was in private school were boarding schools, where you live on campuses often in rural locations, and you live with your students. At the first one, I was lucky to meet a family, the fishers who live up in Cazadero California, and this is going back 30 years, but they were what we now call homesteading on 40 acres. And their daughter was one of my students, but they became like family for me and became a model for me to follow in terms of healthy eating, growing my own food and living with values that align well with the planet.
And in the very beginning, they were my very cool hippie friends. 30 years later, they are the people that really activated me and their son, Jeremy Fisher, is now somebody that I work with professionally. He was nine years old back then. And he runs Green Valley farms up in Sebastopol. I then moved to another boarding school in Los Olivos, California, where a guy named Michael Ableman was growing on 12 acres of the 3,500 acres that that school owned. And Michael had started the first urban organic farm outside of Santa Barbara and his son, Aaron Ableman is known to many people, probably on this call. I didn’t have to work with [inaudible 00:24:31] I got to reap the benefits of it, whether it was fresh eggs or fresh vegetables, and just the knowledge that I took. But when I moved to Berkeley and found out how much those things cost in the city when you’re not growing and living next to a farm, I got busy.
And so when I bought a little piece of land in Berkeley, it’s more a house with a little space. I started growing and it was just my personal passion. And then after a long time came to realize I could take my understanding of school administration, cross it over with my passion for growing food, and really be an example for others. If I hadn’t learned anything else, especially about the connections, that we were all connected, right? When Jeremy was nine, who knew that I’d be working with him now, right. When Aaron Ableman was a little freshmen soccer player who knew that I’d be calling him up to do concerts in my garden. So I understand the impact that an individual can have on other people’s lives in this regard. So I aim to be that model. And I think if we all do that, we grow community by doing that and grow the planet.
How about you AshEl?
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
Yeah. So it was good to hear your story, Wanda, because I am remembering my aunt [Jewel 00:26:02] at a Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, I’m from Chicago originally. I call it the PPPs in my family, the preachers, the panthers and the pimps because I’ve got my family, you’ve got it all. And then luckily like she was a panther and I remember she came in one Thanksgiving, I’ll never forget it. And she was just going off about the turkey and colonization. Whereas I didn’t even know what she was saying. I don’t know how old it was. I had to be… I don’t know, nine, 10. And she was talking about Thanksgiving and holidays. And my pops is more like the preacher. My grandfather was a preacher, type.
So he was sort of just rolling his eyes and like, here we go again with this. But I remember her, she’s in Atlanta now. She does like the black… the African inspired Montessori school for babies, for little toddlers. And I remember she used to drink juice all the time and she was all big on drinking juice and she would do this thing where she would drink and she would squat when she was drinking. And I’m like, why are you squatting just to drink some water? She’s like, “Yeah, it’s better for your digestion.” So she was really big into Pan Africa and the movement in the back, the land movement that was happening in Philadelphia, which I later found out. That’s what she was really deeper in. And we talked about it some more, but that sort of sparked me off.
And then a little point after that. My grandmother was dealing with diabetes and I thought it was normal that everybody in my family was dealing with diabetes. And she had to get her leg cut off. And I remember all the barbecues and all of that. And I was looking around, I was just like, “Wow, there has to be some something, this is not normal,” right? Especially after I left the house, went to school and the school I stayed in New York and I didn’t have enough money to eat like that because I eat the chicken, et cetera. It was just more expensive. And that’s when I went vegetarian at that point, just out of necessity because it was just easier to get… just cheaper.
But then I felt the health benefits of that. And almost like a spiritual awakening with the food, started researching more and started working on my media campaign and all these things start to mesh for me like the social justice aspect, but also like the food aspects to health, to spirituality. Fast forward, I want to set up an Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and Palo Alto when I studied shamanism and work with coded data from Peru and really got deeper into plant medicines and plants in the world of plants itself and their role in the history of humanity for creating an awakening and also understanding how they have intentions in themselves and a lot of value that I didn’t really understand growing up in the hood of Chicago. It was more like it got stuck in a box and you kind of know certain things taste go to taste bad, but it was sort of disconnect.
And so the evolution that happened slowly, then I started learning that my grandmother was still alive in Chicago, was a sharecropper. And I started remembering a lot of the stories that she was telling about just working with the land and in that way and how a lot of things was fresh, we didn’t have to decide between organic and conventional. It wasn’t a conversation for her. So really it just came out of respect for that, knowing that she had to leave her… at sixth grade, she no longer could go to school. So I was just going to keep going. And I remember, wow, she actually worked that land and held that farm up. Those acres, if you got down in Arkansas, just her and a few other family members.
So fast forward, move to Oakland after leaving Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and started working on. So I met Dan, I was working at Alabama center for human rights scene work in a green frog, did a national events around the country. This was around 2008. And I noticed that the best organizing principle, because Van [Jones] called me a hired gun, hired assassins, I had to go. They just flew me out to different places. It’s like you kind of got whatever that is to need to organize whatever we need to organize. And he was saying like, “You know what? I’ll get these conglomerates together.” But the best thing that was amazing was like the food. I realized any event I had to do, you have to add a music and a food there, and the gardens was the place that was burgeoning…
I mean, people are into gardens and urban agriculture. But then what I noticed when I was in LA, Atlanta, New York, different places, it was the… those folks were like the brightest people and then less confused people about what we were doing to move forward as a movement. They were like, “Yeah, we started the garden.” And some other folks were kind of like, “Well, what is that going to do?” But when we actually got into that space everyone could meet there. People could circle up, there was something about the land. So that got me deeper into it, where I started SOS juice, a juicing company, nonprofit, for-profit where we hire youth from community. They knew the menu and they knew the ingredients. We did education on diabetes, obesity kept that going and also Alliance for Climate Education did a lot of leadership development. Food, climate, health, the relationship between those things.
And I’m excited now because with central food medicine, it seems like we can bring in those different pieces of ourselves. I think social media jumped on it too, but we can bring in that food element, that organizing element, that grassroots organizing piece. But also to bring in a medicine piece in that spirituality, knowing that if the land is sick, the people are sick as well. So excited to like really experiment with the organization, take some leadership in that space and bring people together who have that perspective around how we can renew the land and revisit that activism with the land itself, such that we can reconnect to it as a force. I mean, it’s getting a lot of energy every day from the sun, these elements are not to be overlooked in terms of allies for this movement and how we can actually work with that to actually heal the people that we’re working with. So that’s a little bit of my journey with the food, climate health and food, climate health equity, and spirituality and things like that. It really starts with my family. Yeah.
Definitely. I think that everybody’s touched on personal, interconnectedness, whether it be your own personal self and health or your family members, or even the land, which I look at as a relative of ours, right. As mentioned by AshEl, if the land is sick, the people are sick. And Miss Wanda, you also mentioned that we’re all interconnected where it’s a circle of life and there’s this divine alignment that I heard from each of you that sort of brought you into this work, right? And yeah, it’s this unspoken magic almost of finding yourself and healing, healing yourself and in that healing, your ancestors and creating a pathway for your descendants.
So in that vein I show you touched on a point that I thought was interesting about how when you get to the garden, there’s music playing, people are growing food, kicking it in the sun and it feels really great, but also at the same time, I’m sure that most of us have experienced kind of leaving that bubble to where it’s just like, “Oh man, what’s going on with the rest of the world? How are we going to move forward?” So my next question is, how do we fundamentally meet community where they are? Food accessibility, education around nutrition and land, infrastructure while still trying to enact the deep transformative resilience given that we’re living in this exploitive capitalist society where yes, there are certain survival necessities that our community members need right now, but also this deeper transformative change. So how do we find that balance in our work?
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
I’ll spark it off. It was interesting for us and I remember it’s funny because early on we were on a call, I think Wanda was on it. And then maybe it was a NorCal facilitated call. We were talking about grants and funding and how do we make things sustainable in that way. And I remember one day I was just like, “I got berries drawing so I got it.” I’m like, “I got my roof done or something like that.” And it was funny, but it was real. And I think as Essential Food and Medicine, obviously we started in other organizations, a lot of stuff that we were trying to figure out because of the funding. We couldn’t do a lot of things. So we were like at an urban pharmacy and nonprofit, we did hydroponics, working with youth at Castlemont to do culinary herbs for restaurants in San Francisco, for example.
So looking at these different models, like how do you get social entrepreneurship in there? And it’s interesting after six months of giving things away, I feel so rich. And it’s not to say, we’re not going to go out to grants and we’re not going to do that. But the reason why… the consistency and SOS was on, she was going to make the juice smoothies, boom, boom, making medicines over there every other day at the camps, at the senior homes. And there’s so many… I think right now a van is going to getting worked on right now by somebody from the unhoused community we work with. They just got here, we take care of them, like we know you, we see you every day, that type of thing.
So there is some power in just getting it and giving it. And I think the world is sort of undergoing a transformational education right now on who we are individually and who we are collectively and what is actual true currency, right? What is true currency? Because the land is generating such powerful things that we all sort of depend on. It’s a wealth of resource. I’m actually revisiting because I was really looking at a space where I’m like, “Okay, well, we need to figure out what our product is.” And like, are we having a product?
And I actually want to keep this as it is on a mutual aid aspect where we get it, we find out who needs it and give it away in that sense, just because the benefits are really powerful. I don’t want to think about at the moment, think about what my bottom line is or around that. For sure, if any grant writers out there, we definitely need you please holler at us. But I just wanted to say that it’s been actually really beautiful to develop relationships through just supplying people’s needs and being present with people and slowing down a little bit, as much as we can in order to facilitate people’s needs.
So I believe that you can solve everything going on in the world or answer any question you got about life by working in a garden and cultivating a garden. I’ve learned so much from growing this hoover garden with the bunch of elementary school kids. And I used to tell them if I can teach you how to grow plant, I’m also teaching you what you need to know to grow yourself. And if we can build this garden, we can grow our community. And it’s remarkable to me what has sprouted and grown in that community across the four years that I have been associated with it.
Gentrification is a big issue in West Oakland in and around our school. Those gentrifiers started coming to our garden to volunteer and they stayed and they and the kids got to know each other. And now the people who used to live here and the gentrifiers, but they were neighbors, right. And they’d work side by side. The little kids weren’t those kids that make too much noise out in the street in the early morning. And they weren’t just those white people that are moving in on us.
My relationships with the Muslim women who would come to our school to pick up their kids, shifted significantly when I could give them figs right, and fava beans. And when we had a rub at our school, because suddenly the population in our school was exactly half Latino and half African American in a place that had always been African-American. We cooked and we cut our collard greens and we cut down chayote and we put them all in the same pot and cook them together. And the sweet of the chayote and the bitter of the collard green was an amazing… I still put chayote in my collard greens. But when the black kids and the Latino kids are getting raised square off in the school yard, all you’ve got to say to them is, “You all need to get along like collard green and chayote,” right, and everybody chills right out.
My greatest day in the garden was, I was meeting with the kids and I was explaining to them that I would be absent from school because I had to go back to Philly. My dad was dying and I was going back to say goodbye to him. And one of the bad asses, not even one of the really perfect students up front, somebody in the back row, in the far corner said, “Ah, there goes that life cycle again,” right. And for my kids, I mean, I felt like that day, my job in that garden was done, right? Because when he could say that to me, I know that they know that life goes round and round. People are born, they go through, they die. And such horror happens in the lives of these kids that for them to hold that understanding helps them get through what we’re getting through right now, right.
And then how do you engage community? I will tell you that nothing like a pandemic man. We wouldn’t have asked for it or prayed for it, but everybody’s trying to eat healthy. Everybody’s trying to grow their food. All the schools got to go learn outside, right? I can pass my food from our garden to AshEl, who passes it to his people and we have this whole community cycle. I call it the food flow, but all of those things are happening because we need each other now.
That is a great explanation. Great answer. I can track down that chayote and collards recipe okay, we’re going to try that soon. We are approaching collards season so.
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
I agree that what she was saying about how food really connects the community. And I give thanks for this pandemic. There’s been tough points for people, but for the most part, it’s really been a blessing in disguise. And I’m seeing the way that food has connected my community. I’ve seen how this planting a garden has inspired some of my neighbors to plant and to get involved with one another and communicate and to trade recipes and to exchange different things that were growing and also to communicate. And in the communication, I’m seeing that there’s a lot of people who need really, really deep healing. And it made me reflect on how before all of this, I never really took the time to deeply get to know my neighbors, who they are, what they do, what they’re going through.
And I’ve noticed that through all of this, people will come over and they’ll work with me in the garden. And not only are they working, but they’re sharing some of the most intimate details of their lives. And they’re not only coming to have those conversations, they’re coming to have a healing. And as they communicate with one another, they’re helping to heal one another, which is helping to heal the community. And as we’re planting on the land, we’re also helping to heal the earth. And I like to look at it all as a type of meditation, a moving meditation to where there’s exchange that’s happening in the process. And as we breathe out all of these things, they go into the soil to be grown as something beautiful that will nourish our bodies and in turn, kind of change some of these circumstances.
I have one neighbor who came by and spoke to me today about a situation that she had been going through. And she goes, “You know, ever since I stopped by and I’ll come and spend time with you,” she’s like, “I get this type of strength that I didn’t know that I had. And that’s all because you’ve given it all to the soil and the earth in turn is helping you.” And so she’s telling me how her situation has been changing around her and how things are getting better. And how at first, this pandemic seemed like it was so dark, but now she’s starting to feel that 2020 is the best year of her life because she’s hitting all of these epiphanies that she didn’t before. I just give it all back to being healthy and growing and communicating because that is what it is.
Nice share Keneda. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. There’s something divine about when you put your hands to the soil and then adding in people, there’s just this organic flow of opening up to each other. Because we’re getting back to what once was, what was the right way of living in community with each other. It’s so interesting that this pandemic has unfolded so many layers within ourselves and our relationships with others because of the concentrated energy. Everybody’s in their house, under the same roof on the same block, going to the same grocery store, right. We have to deal with each other and with that comes that healing process. So that’s a beautiful beautiful share. Thank you.
So wanting to kind of bring in the resilience hubs and bring in the work that you all are doing with The NorCal Resilience Network, we’ve talked a little bit about challenges that we’ve seen that have created these pathways for the work that we’re doing currently. And so how do we continue practicing resilience and decolonization in this world of anti-blackness, of a pandemic of, social uprisings, of all of this horribly broken supply chain in our food systems. How do resilience hubs and these spaces allow us to continue practicing our work, allow us to space to restore, to continue? How has your relationship been with working within these resilience hubs?
The Hoover kids that you showed was taken on Friday, March 13th, 2020. That’s the day that Oakland closed its schools. And when we knew that was going to happen, we went out and we harvested all of our collard greens and the children went home with bags of collard greens and herbs like mullein, mint, oregano, and plantain, all of which were already growing in our school yard. And they already knew how to grow those things. Even if they were home and needed more, they know how to take the top of a purple collard tree and cut it down and put it in the soil and get it to grow food again forever. And they knew that those herbs to seasoned food were medicines for their lungs. So I went into this pandemic feeling fully empowered by virtue of the mature gardens that I had in my life.
Ater we sent the kids home, I realized, “Oh my God, we’ve got all the medicine we need.” And everybody’s like, “What do you need? What do you need?” And I’m like, “Bring me vodka,” right. And we were making tinctures and fire cider and just doing the things to keep the food growing. None of us can be anything if we aren’t properly nourished, that’s step one, right. So I think that’s essential. My house is a food hub in part because I have a… my landscaping is fully edible, 360 degrees, right. I got a cherry tree that’s got 30 pounds of beautiful organic cherries this year, but my neighbors watch that. And it’s become so much a hub that other people will bring food and put it down in front of my house, not to give it to me, but to make sure that other people have access to it, right.
And that’s the kind of work that I think contributes to all of our resilience, that and acknowledging where we come from. That other picture of the black elders were ex slaves. And all of them were over a hundred years old in that picture. And my belief is they had healthy organic vegetables. They had significant relationships with the community around them that their survival depended on it. And they had a spiritual connection with the land. And we left all of that running for freedom. Understandably so, but there’s a lot of greatness in being able to feed your children, right. And to have loving relationships with the community around you. So I also believe that going back to the garden allows us to take a look at those traumas and reclaim the greatness that’s there as well.
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah. One thing EFAM was doing earlier on with the rallies and the protest and the, sort of, the sort of social unrest, if you call it, that was going on the streets. So essentially these are showing up. The main question we were asking at the beginning of everything was how we can serve. And in so, whatever was coming up, we were like, “Okay, well, let’s actually figure out our role in this situation and then see what we do best and show up.” And so I remember really powerful moments just being at some of the rallies and really just having really powerful moments where people were just bawling as we were smudging and drumming.
And having people be seen as human beings in a face of police terror, in a face of… of a lot of energy being shared that obviously due to the criminal justice system, that you don’t matter, your life doesn’t matter, things like this. And you want to show up for everyone like that. So it’s really beneficial for all of us actually show up and be in service in that way in those particular moments. But also look at, sure we’re black and Brown organization, let’s bring those elders that we are in communication with and actually a lot of platforms, sacred activism, education platform, as long as that… We go deeper into the medicines there.
And now we’re sort of bringing the healing clinics. So I feel like the answer to that question, we’re just sort of doing it and bringing that to the people direct in the context of what’s going on in social politically. Again, I guess more like, your question was sort of in that space, around these times. But the Western medicine and then for example… What I’m excited about is that I received lemons from Trump supporters. I think I’m excited about that. I’ve been in the kitchen next to people who have various different political views, but we all have a common goal of. Actually these people need something, we can help in that. And I think that the lemon is really powerful, the fruit is very powerful. The food is moving to energy and in such a way that we can actually listen to each other, we didn’t have to be buddy buddy with everybody, or agree with everything.
But I think it’s hard to argue with people and that’s what I realized earlier on. I’m really excited that… I’m looking at my post, I’m like, “Wow, if they only knew who’s responding and how these different people… they would be in factions separated in any other context. But you all can agree on yeah, sea moss is really good for essential vitamins and minerals. Because I’m looking at it like, “Wow, I know all these types of people.” So I mean, food for the win again, but in terms of… and I think it’s something that can lead us closer together and more harmonic, if you will. It’s not necessarily everybody has got to look like everybody or sound like everybody, have same platform or vote for the same person or whatever. I mean, that’s a whole deep conversation, of course.
But in the meanwhile while a lot of that’s going on, us on the ground, we can be that mycelium connectors. We can give nourishment to where it needs to go. And in the process, everybody can be healed. Because when people come down to the kitchen, it’s not, sure, we’re chopping apples. Folks have been in quarantine, folks have been whatever, in front of the TV screen and it’s always a process of really just like letting people heal. Just like, okay, you can’t… say you want to do distribution, that’s too intense for you. You’re going out to the camps. You’re visiting a lot of people, I get it. You don’t want to be in that space, but you can on indication because I know you want to contribute. And then I’m seeing people transform in that space too over time, really just letting go of a lot of different fears or misconceptions they have just by virtue of them not being a focal point and somebody else being a focal point, the work being a focal point.
So I think that’s the power of organization in this time point and mutual aid in this time is the capacity to get outside of ourselves and look at what can we contribute? How can it be a contribution? So I mean, those are some of the stories. There’s a lot of stories you want to share eventually, but those are the most powerful things I’ve witnessed is, not to say people are trying to change anybody’s mind or whatever. Just more like, “Yeah, we have these resources, it needs to go to these places. Can you help?” And then in the process, people get healed themselves. When I was going to work in San Quentin, what I remembered the most thing is, I came out clean every time. Every Friday I was working with Angela Sevin. She’s part of the NorCal Resilience Network.
It was looking like we’re coming to offer this thing or whatever in some presence but really you’re the one who gets the medicine in that situation and you’re getting the medicine, but just for showing up and hearing these stories and being in the presence of someone who actually got restorative justice principles down to a soul level by virtue of having to be in that space for 20 years. So when we go down to encampments, so we go to the community, the elders and we’re listening to sister [Waytree] who’s in the spot we go to. She’s 92. And we get the medicine from it. So I think in terms of the social political aspects, I think that’s an interesting question people can ask is, “How can you be in service? And I think that’s going to feed us all more at the end of the day than anything
My Resilience Hub is so new, it’s still a baby. And so I’m still really just watching to see how things have changed. And what I really have right now is just word of mouth and what people tell me when they come through and talk and share and garden. And what I’m getting from it is that people really need to heal. And people really need to connect throughout this pandemic, people spend so much time in their homes. The children have spent so much time in their homes. They haven’t been connecting with other people, some of the relationships that they have within their space is so toxic. And there’s been several people come to me and say, “You know, I can actually breathe. I don’t have space at home to even think my own thoughts, but when I come here, I can actually breathe.” And I thought that that was really interesting.
And I reflected on how I’ve felt at times where things are so cloudy. And I couldn’t even think my own thoughts and a lot of it has just been reflection and feeling and seeing that people really just want a place where they can feel free to be themselves or feel free to… I don’t really have the words for it right now, but just to exist. And being amongst plants and fruit and vegetables and the air and elements, it feels nice. And even if they’re not able to get away on a hike or up to a mountain, I noticed that most people in my community don’t even do those things, but just having the little bit of access to nature has been healing.
And so it’s opened up a whole world to where more people have come like, “I want to start a garden.” It’s getting people outside and I feel like that’s really important. I haven’t really reached out into many other ways just yet, but I’ve made so many plans to extend my Hub. I want to help with youth in the community. I’ve taught for six years, right, and I’m a artist. And I noticed that there’s so many kids around with nothing to do, and I would love to extend some space for them to actually get to really know themselves before they start causing trouble in the neighborhood as I did growing up and, yeah.
I agree with you Keneda, my gardens have kept me sane in all of this. I actually never really felt quarantine. Please pardon my dogs in the background. I never felt, especially quarantined because people who work in gardens are essential workers. So I never stayed in. I don’t really go anywhere else other than my home garden, Gil Track Farms farms and the dog beach along the San Francisco Bay. But that opportunity to breathe free and have my hands in soil has kept me both safe and alive. What was just me at the beginning is now 15-20 reliable people that come out to garden. And what they say is it’s their therapy, right? And so it’s really nice to be in service like AshEl said, and to be served by it, right. That’s some serious mutual aid.
And when everybody is giving and receiving in that way, then we’re taking care of everybody. I know that we’re trying to feed the houseless community and all those folks. I mean, sort of food giveaway where food is rescued from the waste stream. And the person who was dropping food off to me at my front house observed me giving people food as they went past my house. And one of them were folks that I knew, but they were white people. And the delivery person who was also white said, “Well, they obviously didn’t need that food.” And I went, “Well, we all need food, hello.”
And I’m not sure that you should look at them and see them as white and feel like you, based on that can talk about what they need. But I also know that we all need love and humans interpret food as love and care, right. So when we are giving it to each other and we’re sharing it with each other and we’re growing it with each other, we’re not just… we’re loving ourselves. We’re loving one another and we’re loving mother earth. And that’s called stack and functions in a permaculture world, saves a lot of time, get a lot of work done.
Yes, yes, yes to all of that. I was given all the snaps. So this has been a fantastic discussion. I wanted to open it up to some of the questions. We have a plethora of awesome questions in the chat box, but unfortunately we’ll probably have time for maybe one or two. So there’s one in here that’s asking, what could an equitable hyperlocal food web look like in the future? How could Resilience Hubs be used as centers for food growing and distribution?”
I want to offer that schools be Resilient Hubs, right? We don’t often call them community gardens because they come under the control of school districts, but that also makes them public lands. And so if we’re growing these food producing spaces on schools, we’re giving it to students, we’re giving it to the neighbors all around it. And again, taking care of the earth, right? And creating this place in and around our children where people come together to do this common task and activity. So that would be my quickie.
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
Yeah. I just want to add on, I remember talking to Susan earlier on and we’re really getting like, okay, we need kitchens. So it’s the combination, it’s the land, the kitchens. Right now I’m in an apothecary, but this is that social juice at our house social spot. But it’s like all these medicines and whatever, chamomile all that’s back here, but sort of processing spaces. So just logistical practical level, just having certain things checked out the box, boxes checked off that I needed refrigeration freezing, these things are definitely needed. And this mapping, right? Mapping, knowing in those relationships to know who’s going what, when. We can really build out something really efficient. And we are in these lot of networks spawned off of like for example, there’s a whole soup team that’s doing soup that we didn’t even know about that’s using one of our kitchen spaces that we help facilitate because work is getting done. But I would say, that not to take too much time, but just having that infrastructure set up is really important.
I’d also just say the working together, right? So that food that I just referenced as being rescued from the waste stream is high end organic product. Somebody calls me, I give it to the neighbors, but I also call us AshEl and Xochitl and go, “Yo, I’ve got all this food, do you need food for your event, right? So the willingness to be a conduit, right, versus, “I’m getting something for me and I’m giving it to somebody else,” but just a pass through so that we’re playing a cooperative game of sorts where we help each other because together we go a lot further.
Most definitely Miss Wanda. You also touched on the youth, it is so important that we instill this in our young people from as early as possible because they’re going to be carrying on the legacy. They’re going to be continuing this work at the end of the day. So I think that really trusting our youth with this responsibility, it can be hard for us to do, but it’s necessary. And that’s that intergenerational connection.
Right. Well, in the future, I mean, that day on Mars with the orange sky, I’ve been real cool and very brave and courageous and all this right on up until the sky turned orange and I was hurt to say, “Oh my God, we are all going to die,” right. Now we’re all going to die anyway so we might as well go ahead and be courageous. But if we’re going to assume that it’s the children who will inherit the earth, right? It’s the children that don’t get the virus, right, whatever. Then we need to invest in them.
One of my proudest moments was the day somebody’s grandmother was in the Hoover garden and the kid ran past her and he snapped the collard green off of the stem and started eating it raw. And as she realized he was putting it in her mouth, she said, “No, no baby, no, you can’t eat it like that.” And I looked at her, I said, “Why not?” And she went, “Huh?” I was like, “It’s not poisonous. It’s really good raw.” And the kid looked at her like she was crazy and went off and ate his collard green. And that’s the humans I want to put in the world. And if we teach them that now, then maybe the next world we’re building, because this really is transitioned to a new world in every way, then we have to invest in the kids.
Actually, I think I do want to speak on that a little bit about one the children inherit and the planet. We can’t put it off and say that it’s because they’re going to inherit the planet. We have to take ownership for what’s going on now. You’re absolutely right. It’s right now that we definitely need to step up because we’ve always put it on the future and say, “Oh no, the kids are going to inherit the planet.” And then that gives us less accountability for what’s actually going on, which is the reason why we are where we are at this moment. If we would have thought about this years ago, generations ago, then we probably would be in a totally different place.
And what else was it? There was something else that had crossed my mind. It was speaking on mutual aid and connecting with other networks and Hubs for resources so that we have a wider spread. And if we were to basically connect the dots between all of our different Hubs and all of our different networks, because there’s so many people doing so many different things. And we could have so much more reach if we kind of just locked arms with each other. For instance, East Oakland collective today, they gave out meals every day, pretty much every week day, and today they had no volunteers. And so one of the workers there told me about how there’s no volunteers that showed up and he had to take out 250 meals. And so the first thing that I could think to do was to get on my network and tell people, “Okay, go and pick up some meals from East Oakland collective. They’ve prepared meals, take them out to your community.”
And if we were all to just lock arms in that way with each other, we all have a little bit of something to offer and all it takes is some communication. And I feel that… what did you call it? You said… hang on just a second, hyperlocal food web. That is what it is. It is a hyperlocal food web. If we just connect and hold each other up because the world that we’re coming out of is one of competition where everybody is bashing heads about who does what better. But the one that we’re coming into now, and the one that we are trying to build cannot look like the one that we just came out of, we can’t compete with each other. We can’t afford to anymore. And so the best way is to continue to uplift everyone because otherwise we’re going to fail. You keep repeating the same mistakes, that’s the definition of insanity.
Keneda, so now you tapped on one of my sore spots or one of my hurt spots, because the truth is in urban agriculture, in the East Bay, black women control all of the growing with the exception of one organization. And we have very capably siloed ourselves so that we are all thriving individually. But what hurts me is to think about what you just described, about what we could do if we locked arms and work together to feed the children in all of the East Bay. We really do control it all and it feels approaching a criminal for me that we don’t honestly get over individual ex with each other to team up and do something that makes a difference.
And I applaud all of us who are doing it because we are doing phenomenal work especially when you go into other places and other cities and you can appreciate what we here in the Bay have. But I really do believe that we should be ashamed of ourselves on that. I am actually working on getting us five acres of land that we can all farm collectively together for free. So stay tuned for that. We’re praying on it and working on it. It’s an arduous thing, but I really do. And if you got ideas about how we can come together and link arms, I’m down to support because we’ve got to fix that piece. It’s not…
I do some ideas around that.
Girl, let’s talk.
Yeah. Or tell us here, what are they?
Well, first off squash the beef. So if there’s anybody you have personal problems, with address it, don’t just sit on that and stew on it. It needs to be addressed. And then see what points, see what it is that you can offer that I don’t have. And I can tell you what I can offer that you don’t have, all differences aside. We’re looking at the progression of… I’m going to get post-apocalyptic with this, we’re looking at the progression of the human race right now. The world is burning, this is serious. It’s more serious than any of our problems. And if we could come face to face with that and just address it head on, that’s the first thing.
And then once that part is out of the way, everything else becomes a lot easier because then we’re able to see each other for who we are and work on those points and strengthen one another. It looks like AshEl wants to say something.
AshEL Seasunz Eldridge
Yeah. I think this is beautiful because I think one thing we leave out a lot of times when we’re trying to build something, is that resiliency is interpersonal aspect. And even in my own personal relationship, you realize when we don’t have that mediator, you don’t have that mediation, you don’t have that process to actually resolve the issue.
Because conflict will arise, harm will what happened with humans? It’s just the process, how do we actually get through that? What’s the communication? People have to be skilled in that in order to deliver on that. And I think that’s very important skill set to have a part of any Resilience Hub really. How do we actually get through conflict and how do we actually uphold each other and lift each other up and deal with our own traumas. We all come with baggage and we all come with perspectives and things that’s influenced by internal issues. So it looks like, well, how does that become an integral part of any of our movement building?
I think that maybe we should have a series of mediators from within. So if we have people who we could turn to and be like, “Oh, you know what, I know somebody who is a wonderful mediator, let’s get this person here.” Maybe that person could also not only work on mediating, but developing those skills within other people.
You know what…
I can say that the beef started in 2015 and isn’t it sad that we all came together, a bunch of us to put on a national conference for urban farmers. And it was the work in that that created the wound that is now a festering. It doesn’t bother to fester anymore, but it’s certainly empty dead soil in relationship. And what I’m hoping is rather than a facilitator to make us all come sit down in a circle and talk it out that we can get out on some soil and work it out by cultivating land. That if we’re all doing something that we all love and share, that the personal relationships will heal themselves in the effort of doing that. That is really what I hope and pray.
I love how your idea of mediation decolonized is the idea that we all have of what mediation is. It doesn’t have to always look like sitting down in a circle and talking it out, you’re right. You could get together and work it out, literally. That’s beautiful. That is beautiful. Decolonizing, conflict resolution, interpersonal accountability, regenerative conflict resolution. These are all really core pieces to this deep work, the deep transformative work that we’re trying to do. I’m sorry Miss Wanda, I cut off.
Yeah. I was just going to say my favorite garden line is, we’re hoe in the road, we’re walking. But it is what we’re doing. We don’t know what tomorrow is. We can’t even be sure. the sunrises now but we’re walking forward and we’re making it possible as we do it. And I think relationships can come from that.