On March 30th the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) partnered with thrdPlace to build ten community gardens in Inglewood & South LA as part of “100 SEEDS OF CHANGE” program. The campaign witnessed a tremendous outpouring of community support as each project on thrdPlace was fully subscribed by Angelenos eager to help out and get involved. With the help of over 60 volunteers, SJLI built 10 community gardens in only 4 hours on a single Saturday afternoon. The campaign even captured the attention of a local garden supply company interested in materially supporting SJLI’s larger mission to build 100 community gardens through “100 SEEDS OF CHANGE” by the end of the year. We sat down with SJLI Executive Director D’Artagnan Scorza to learn more about his mission and his experience using thrdPlace.
3P: D’Artagnan, share a little bit about the Social Justice Learning Institute and the mission behind it.
D’Artagnan: At the Social Justice Learning Institute, we are dedicated to improving the education, health, and well being of youth and communities of color by empowering them to enact social change through research, training, and community mobilization. To meet these goals, we work with youth, residents, local schools, districts, and city officials to increase educational opportunities through innovative programs and sustainable practices.
3P: Urban Agriculture has become a real focal point of SJLI’s work, why is it so crucial to your mission?
D’Artagnan: Traditionally in low-income communities, we are inundated with fast food restaurants and liquor stores. In Inglewood alone there are over 200 combined. At the same time, there are only about 6 grocery stores that sell either very expensive, high quality produce or really inexpensive produce that is rotting on the shelf. There are food options in our community, they’re just bad food options. High quality produce is inaccessible to the majority of community members. So community gardens provide an access point for good, affordable food that our community members can grow themselves.
3P: Tell us about “100 SEEDS OF CHANGE”.
“100 SEEDS OF CHANGE” is a comprehensive, citywide plan to end food insecurity by creating systems of urban gardens at homes, schools, & on city owned land. We are gathering the produce grown and partnering with cities to create suitable distribution channels that create local jobs in the process.
We took our first step forward on March 30th with “10 Homes – 10 Seeds” rallying the community to build 10 backyard gardens at Inglewood and South LA homes. The event was really successful. Community members were satisfied. Volunteers did what they came to do. Everyone felt great about what they did.
I was so happy and proud, and I want to highlight the hard work we all did collectively. We didn’t have much time to plan and yet everyone came together to pull it off beautifully. We got our community gardens built, and everyone felt good about contributing to the mission.
It was so great to see the homeowners’ interactions with people they’d just met. There was volleyball, pizza, music — one homeowner even cooked dinner for garden builders. It was exactly what we had envisioned. I talked with one volunteer who didn’t have any experience with urban gardening and had never been to Inglewood. They really enjoyed just parachuting in and getting their hands dirty.
3P: Why did you decide to use thrdPlace to drive your first 10 garden builds for “100 SEEDS OF CHANGE”?
D’Artagnan: thrdPlace really helps us involve and engage our residents in the process. It allows us to generate the type of resources needed by helping find volunteers, funds, and supplies. Not everyone in our community can always give dollars, but they can come out and till the land; they can bring out a shovel or two. This allows us to get the projects done without necessarily having the financial resources to do it. We are able to plug our citizens into thrdPlace and expand our capacity to reach more people.
So now when community members come to us and say, “we need help building a community garden”, we can help them find support directly from the community. Fellow community members help shoulder the burden. They contribute: they buy seeds, they till the land, they volunteer – they drive the builds.
What this ultimately does for us as an organization is to facilitate resident empowerment. Residents are enabled through thrdPlace to connect to each other. They can find where other project are and can help each other on garden builds. They can go out and raise the resources needed to achieve their goals and pull together as a community to build what they need. As a result we’re able to reach for projects that are larger in scope like pulling off 10 community garden builds in one day.
3P: How does this new approach affect your mission?
D’Artagnan: The “aha” moment for us came when we realized that thrdPlace could help us maximize the existing community capital in our neighborhoods; the different forms of capital: the cultural capital, the social capital, the political capital, and the economic capital. All these things matter. So thrdPlace is really a platform for developing community capital (and not just in the traditional sense of the word).
In our community, culturally, people of color really believe in building with each other. So that’s fundamentally what the value proposition is. It allows community based organizations and residents to tap into all the capital that exist. So the Latino neighbor who loves sharing fruit can engage with the African American neighbor who loves growing grains. Now they can share with each other. It’s not money they share…. it’s food, it’s supplies. So we can build community by tapping into the capital that already exists. More importantly, by engaging our residents in the process of physical community building, we are also rebuilding the relationships that make up the social community. That’s really what makes the difference.