For those familiar with this series, you are used to seeing the title as "Vegetables of Mass Destruction." The title came about when my vegetarian cooking website got hits from the IAEA website. I was baffled as to how that could be, and a Kossack (I wish I could remember who!) suggested that perhaps they were searching for vegetables of mass destruction.
This week I felt that title was wrong. This diary is about two women, separated by about 2500 miles, each with a different background and a different dream, but sharing the same determination to help those around her connect with the land and with their food.
In North Carolina, Tanya has worked tirelessly for a year to establish an organic farm as a holistic transitional community for women leaving prison. In San Diego, Julie is dedicated to building a community garden in Balboa Park (San Diego's Central Park).
I spoke with each of them about their projects. Read more below the flip.
Neither Tanya nor Julie have a formal background in organic farming. Tanya was working as a social worker with addicted pregnant women in Atlanta before she began her project, which she's named Benevolence Farm. She enjoyed cooking with organics and found a vibrant organic farming community in North Carolina. After moving to North Carolina, she began looking for a way to blend social work and organics.
Julie, on the other hand, began looking back on her childhood in northern California, reflecting on her interactions with plants and animals on the farms near her childhood home. She told me of a dairy cow on a neighbor's farm who she named when it was a calf. As the farmers established the cow wouldn't be a great milk producer, they typically would have turned it into beef - but by this time the cow, with the name Julie gave it, was too much like a pet to eat. The cow lived to a ripe old age. Julie wanted to share experiences like these with others around her in urban San Diego.
From their initial thoughts of enriching lives via farming and gardening, both Tanya and Julie developed their ideas. Tanya's dream took form as a transitional community for women leaving prison to work on an organic farm. She saw metaphors of healing and nourishing ones' self and the earth at the same time and felt the idea was right.
Julie's idea struck her while she was jogging one day. Every day she jogged across a sealed off landfill that was entirely barren; native plants did not even grow there. Planting a community garden there would be a great way to use the space, right in the middle of the city.
When Julie investigated, she found that the landfill was capped in 1975, which was too recently for the land to be used for anything yet. Perhaps it was a small setback, but with her idea of a community garden, she was not about to give up. Instead she looked around and found a location in Balboa Park that would be a perfect setting for such a garden.
From these early days of brainstorming, both women worked to flesh out their ideas and look for support from others. Tanya told me she had a list of 25 potential sources of funding. Julie rattled off a LONG list of individuals and organizations with whom she formed relationships - she even joined a bridge club that meets near the ideal location for her garden to see if she could drum up support, but found the players focused more on cards than on socializing.
Tanya found an architect who specializes in building small eco-friendly houses. She told me that after living communally during the first phase of the 18 - 24month program, the women will help build these small eco houses on the land, thereby learning additional skills and increased self-sufficiency - to live in, more independently, during the final phase of the program.
Julie founded a website called Community Farms and Gardens that serves as a directory to San Diego's community farms and gardens. Additionally, she began doing PR and outreach work for farms like Tierra Miguel (the small, ultra-organic farm where I met her).
Neither woman has achieved her dream yet, but both are well on their way. I took an interest in each of them because I was curious how one person can change an entire community. As a sustainable food aficionado, I feel limited by the size of the organic food community around me. Where a thriving organic food community exists, I'm in luck. Where it doesn't, I'm lost. It's the Tanya's and Julie's in this world who see something lacking in their local food system and work tirelessly to create it.
I hope by reading their stories, others realize the power one person can have to change the world around them. If you like their ideas and you want to do something similar in your hometown, you can contact each of them through their websites. Also, if you'd like to help them out, contact them as well (specifically, Tanya told me she'd be extremely grateful if someone can help her with her website).