Archive for February, 2014

Good food for the good people of El Monte

Historically, settlers found El Monte’s land to be very fruitful and shortly after, it became a rich agricultural community. Surprisingly, it may now be considered a food desert, with most of the community leaving the city to find fresh, quality produce. What are available to the residents are low quality, budget and bulk grocery items.  In the effort to bring good food back to the people of El Monte, the city was awarded funding from the State of California’s Strategic Growth Council to develop and establish an Urban Agriculture Initiative Program! Patricia and the team at BASE have been strategically working with residents to learn what they’d like to see in building a healthier community. This is a very exciting project because it gives the residents of El Monte the opportunity to engage in what they want: good food.

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We hosted a pop-up workshop with PMC at the Childrens’ Day Festival to meet the community.

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Visitors were given three poker chips and asked to identify citywide urban greening priorities that they found most important by placing poker chips in the corresponding buckets.

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We found that an overwhelming (but not surprising) number want to see farmers’ markets and vegetable stands. Other priorities were edible schoolyards, residential & community gardens, using underutilized land for farming, animal husbandry/beekeeping, rooftop gardens, & composting/mulching programs.

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Our first community workshop was set to engage directly with the residents and gain insight on where they shopped; their thoughts on the city’s top assets, needs, and barriers; and, what they saw for the future of El Monte.

Patricia speaking at the Community Workshop.

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We provided an opportunity map so that residents could express where they’d like to see various urban agricultural projects.

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Opportunity Map

Being a former agricultural hub – still rich in fertile soil, perhaps the land craves what it deserves: providing good food for its people. It’s great to see the community demand it; they want to see farmers’ markets, less junk/fast food, community workshops, and a healthier and safer city. Stay tuned!

What is your vision for the future of urban agriculture in El Monte?”

“Recognizing El Monte as a ‘garden city’.”

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I took advantage of my recent visit to WSU in Pullman and decided to spend the weekend in Seattle. I had wanted to visit the Pollinator Pathway, the Beacon Edible Forest and the Bee Garden. I was warned that Seattle is not the best place to visit in the winter but I was happy surprised when I landed on a partly-sunny-with-no-rain-Seattle. It was gorgeous and I took advantage of the day by walking the city from side to side. First stop was the pollinator pathway. A gorgeous hummingbird welcomed me and showed me the path to an urban farm along the way.

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hummingbird at pollinator pathway

 It was the Aley Cat Acres urban farm and it amazed me; it was totally open to the public and there was a hive and chicken coop!  The coop had pictures of each hen with their name and a description of their personality. There was also a sign that described the do’s and don’ts with the chickens. Wow Seattle!

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Chicken coop at Alley Cat Farm in Seattle

I continued along to the pathway, and although it was the middle of winter it was clear the difference in sidewalks that had transformed their lawn into a garden. There were some spots that had veggie boxes and others that had lavender and other pollinator attractive native species. I’m sure it is gorgeous in the summer.

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Food and herbs planted on the pollinator pathway

On Saturday, the weather was not as friendly and it showed me a truer, grayer, colder and rainy Seattle. I still went to the work party at Beacon Food Forest. I was surprized to find about 50 people working hard under the rain.

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Beacon Food Forest to do list on the door of one of the structures

There was live drumming and they had just finished serving lunch, which was donated along with coffee and tea. I had previously arranged an interview and tour with their community outreach coordinator; she welcomed me, introduced me to people and showed me around. It is really phenomenal what they are doing there.

Beacon Food Forest

Beacon Food Forest

The food forest is a collaborative effort that has become a reality thanks to a core group who created the vision, the P-Patch who serves as he umbrella non-profit, the Seattle Department of Public Works who has made public land available, a group of students from UofW who has designed/build a few temporary structures and a lot of volunteers who come out and help out at every work party.

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Temporary structures

 

Tool shed

Tool shed

I was particularly interested in the political process to make such a project a reality. I was told it took about 3 years of visioning, planning and outreach before they broke ground which was about 1 year ago.

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Temporary installations design and built by architecture students

The project also has amazing signage that has been translated into 5 different languages. One of the issues is educating people about what is going o and getting them excited and on board. They want to have harvesting workshops to teach people how and when to harvest and to do it ethically, only take what you need and share with others etc. I’m really looking forward to see this project grow and succeed.  It is a model to replicate in other cities.

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Signage translated into 5 languages

Last but not least, my dear friend Kate recommended that we go visit the bee garden. She knows me well…

Bee garden

Bee garden

The bee garden is located at the commons park of High Point community, which is is a 120-acre, ecologically-conscious, planned community in West Seattle. We were amazed to see all the curb cuts and rain gardens as we drove around.

 

Signage at the Bee Garden

Signage at the Bee Garden

The bee garden is part of the P-patch and it has a fantastic structure with lots of bee information in 5 different languages, the hives are located within the structure and there was a side room with equipment and lots of bee-keeping suits so I assume that they teach classes and do educational tours to the hives.

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Close up of the signage at the bee garden

The planting in the garden is all pollinator friendly and there is also lots of signage. Adjacent to the garden is a community garden where residents can grow food.

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Bee Garden

I felt really satisfied and complete with my Seattle experience, I learned so much, saw great friends and feel inspired. Seattle I will bee back soon!

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Signage at Bee Grden

Jolie Kaytes the Landscape Architecture Program Coordinator invited me to give a talk for the lecture series at the School of Design and Construction at Washington State University. I was honored by the invitation but I also wondered how she found me, and what did she wanted me to talk about. She said the theme for the series was diversity and she found me as she was searching for people doing alternative work in the Landscape Architecture profession and focusing on productive landscapes. She liked my community outreach and participatory approach and the work that BASE is doing around Urban Agriculture and wanted me to talk about that.

I thought about my presentation and the theme. Diversity is a wide-open subject and many things can be included under this category. I decided to focus on the diversity of users, a diversity that goes beyond age, race, gender or abilities, a diversity that is inclusive of all “bee-ings” in the landscape. So my talk was about two of my favorite subject, urban agriculture and bees. In more academic terms it was about the importance of creating healthy habitats for pollinators in the design of urban agriculture landscapes and expanding the notion beyond food production.

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Design and Urban Agriculture Lecture @ WSU

 The lecture was well attended and the students were engaged and asked lots of questions at the end. Especially on the policy and zoning issues that prevent urban agriculture in many urban areas. One faculty member from the Architecture department asked about esthetics, how can this urban agriculture projects be made to conform to the more traditional sense of what a beautiful traditional landscape looks like. How do I make them beautiful he asked me. My priority is making sure the project happens; in most cases the amount of red tape, bureaucracy and permitting is enough to want to give up, then there is the community outreach, building consensus and finding the site and funding. The most important thing is to create a functional and accessible site, making sure that it gets built, if it is beautiful then that is the cherry on the top. But “Form follows function” is not a new concept.

I think beauty can also be found in the process, building community and creating a healthy living habitat. There can still be beautiful design elements in the form, the layout and the hardscape elements. But it is true; most urban agriculture gardens can look scruffy at the end of the season. If we get past that and we allow the plants to go to seed, then we are sharing our veggie plants with pollinators and we can collect seeds to be reused next year. To me, that is beautiful, a landscape that supports life!  The typical manicured landscapes of lawn and squared shrubs do not allow for that. This stated a really interesting discussion. Is it time to redefine our perception of a beautiful landscape?

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Urban vineyard with pollinator hedgerow

This conversation continued during dinner with the faculty. They were all in agreement; we need to look at landscapes with the lens of function in all aspects, food production, soil building, water systems, energy, etc. Landscapes cannot be seen only as esthetic sites. I was both amazed and happy to be having this conversation. Amazed because being in the bay area bubble I sometimes forget we are not all in the same page and that permaculture and urban agriculture are not as widely spread; and happy to be having this conversation and to know that this is a focus of the education in the landscape architecture department at WSU. WSU is a big agricultural school surrounded by hundred’s of acres of wheat mono-crops, so permaculture and organic agriculture are really important topics to be included. There are many permaculture and different groups doing this kind of work around the world but it is time for landscape architects and planners to jump on this issue and make it easier and possible for cities to have urban agriculture.

Another highlight of my trip was visiting the bee lab at the entomology department. I had a meeting with Dr. Walter Sheppard and Brandon Hopkin who have been doing a lot of research on the impact of pesticides on bee colonies and fertilizing queens using cryopreserved semen.

Liquid nitrogen drone bank or “germplasm repository”

Liquid nitrogen drone bank or “germplasm repository”

I had read about them and had seen videos of queens artificial insemination to preserve the integrity of certain species. I still find the artificial insemination of queens bizarre but it was very exciting for to see their lab, equipment and to learn about why and how they do it.

Drone sperm preserved in liquid nitrogen

Drone sperm preserved in liquid nitrogen

Essentially it is a conservation and diversity effort. What I gathered is, that there is only one species of Italian bee being breed in the US. However, there are many other species of Italian honey bees and they are trying to increase the overall genetic diversity of honey bees because they believe it may lead to healthier and hardier bees that can better fight off parasites, pathogens and pests.

Queen artificial insemination station

Queen artificial insemination station

They also took me on a tour of their honey extraction area. They have large equipment to separate the honey from the frames and a walk in refrigerator to keep the frames cold during the winter and prevent wax moths.

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WSU honey extraction equipment

They shared some of their creamed honey and it was delightful. Basically creamed honey is crystallized honey, the honey gets seeded with very tiny crystals that spread and turn the viscous honey into a creamed consistence.

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WSU honey

You need one crystal to get more crystals. I have been thinking about this concept. Can we be like crystals? Seed our ideas, shine our light, and fractal-y spread it  to others and transform our environment.
I hope so – Lets be the change we wish to see in the world! Gandhi

Fractal crystalized honey

Fractal crystalized honey

Andreas @ AAU Career Panel

Several months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. The Academy had selected the panelist to each “represent a different facet of the profession”. Much to my pleasure, I am pretty sure that I represented the demographic of the young, hybrid, kinda funky, but still professional firm.

I was quite impressed by the production that went into the Career Panel. AAU did a super pro job of organizing, moderating, and producing a high quality recording of the evening’s speakers.