by Diana Lopez, School of Organizing and Justice , San Antonio, TX
How do you grow broader involvement in your community? Sometimes its as simple as planting some seeds. Especially when your community is like mine on the East Side of San Antonio, Texas and does not have enough grocery stores to provide the community with good access to fresh produce. In fact, no stores offer organic produce, and the cost and travel needed to shop for it keep organic foods out of reach for most East Side families, a third of which live in poverty. Our county is ranked 211 out of 221 Texas counties for accessibility to healthy food and green spaces.
The East Side is a predominantly African-American neighborhood and is disproportionally affected by the environmental injustice of pollution because it's the home of four coal-fired power plants, twenty-two fuel storage tanks, toxic landfills, and crisscrossing railroad tracks with a deadly legacy of toxic spills and one of the largest shallow groundwater plumes of chlorinated solvents in the country.
In 2006, Southwest Workers Union, helped defeat another proposed fuel storage tank from entering the community. This victory helped launch the Roots of Change Community Garden initiative on an acre of unused brownfield land that we acquired in the community. The garden addresses food inequities by providing a local space for residents to grow and harvest organic food and learn about hands-on alternatives to the current corporate-controlled food system. Also, we seek to model sustainable technologies such as composting and rainwater harvesting.
While the potential for a vibrant green economy in San Antonio is growing, the grassroots communities have little understanding and education about what 'green' means nor how it is beneficial and accessible for low-income families. So the garden is a great way to get folks from the community involved and introduce them to a framework of broader issues affecting their lives.
The Roots of Change Garden isn't just about growing food but also about growing leaders. While modeling these green alternatives we simultaneously build training, jobs and leadership of grassroots youth and families by focusing on four program goals:
- Expansion of the garden into a functioning urban farm and development of the physical and social infrastructure necessary for making this space the hub of a city-wide gardening cooperative;
- Creation of space for the first locally-grown food market in San Antonio;
- Transformation of the complex to one of accessible sustainability (via water harvesting, greenhouses, passive solar, and weatherization);
- Development of a center to train local youth and members in such sustainable techniques through a green jobs training center where the community can learn gardening and weatherization skills to apply to their own homes.
On June 4th we had our First Annual People's Market and it was a huge success. Many people turned out to swap, barter and sell food at the market and learn more about how to create of urban gardens. We had such good participation from the community that we decided to host it monthly. Our next one will be July 16th and then every first Saturday till the end of the year.
Just last week we worked with another local youth program, Fuerza Unida Youth, and planted over 40 okra seeds and transplanted six watermelon plants. The garden grows more everyday as we continue to provide livable and healthy alternatives to the environmental injustices we face in our communities.