Martin Luther King Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway Wrap Up

It’s been just over two weeks since we came together on the Richmond Greenway for a Day of National Service to celebrate the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our public lands can be a canvas communities use to articulate and communicate the values we hold most dear. By braving the rain, cold, and mud on MLK Day, we made a very powerful statement of our values as a community. Together we enacted the value of diverse individuals and organizations working together to tend to the commons for the well-being of our community. We enacted the value of taking direct action to improve our food system and our ecosystem. Our work together helps to create new, healthier, relationships between individuals, community, land, food, and nature here in West Contra Costa County. I think Dr. King would have loved our local celebration of his legacy.
Here’s a review of who we were, what we did, and what impact our efforts had.
Close to 150 people participated in the event.
The majority of the volunteers were Richmond residents. Roughly 1/3 of the volunteers came from within walking/biking distance of the Greenway.
The following organizations played major roles in organizing the event:
-Urban Tilth
-Urban Creeks Council
-The Watershed Project
-Bay Area Service for Peace
-Opportunity West
-Friends of the Richmond Greenway
-City of Richmond, Parks and Landscaping Division
We received significant support from the following organizations and individuals:
-Lincoln Elementary School
-5% Local Coalition
-Verde Partnership Garden
-Doria Robinson
-Paula Kristovich
-Diane Bloom
-Dick and Cynthia Guthrie
-Brian Kelley of East Bay Biofuels
-Westbrae Nursery
-Kristan Guthrie
-Adachi Nursery
-Emerisa Nursery
-Catahoula Coffee Company
-Sabina Feinberg and Clell Hoffman
-The Bridgebuilder’s Foundation
-The Harvey and Lillian Silbert Foundation
-Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program
Individuals with the following agencies or organizations attended the event:
-US Forest Service
-National Park Service
-Pullman Point Neighborhood Council
-North and East Neighborhood Council
-Richmond City Council
-Richmond City Manager’s Office
-City of Richmond, Redevelopment Agency
-City of Richmond, Parks and Landscaping Division
-Opportunity West
-Kmhmu Catholic Association
-5% Local Coalition
-Friends of the Richmond Greenway
-East Bay Bicylce Coalition
-Independent Baptist Church
-Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center
-Lincoln Elementary School
-Bay Area Service for Peace
-The Watershed Project
-Earth Team
-Urban Creeks Council
-Urban Tilth
-Verde Partnership Garden
-Richmond High School
-Richmond High School YME Club
-Gompers High School and the Gompers Greenway Brigade
-Leadership High School
-Kensington Cub Scouts
-Richmond Garden Club
-Dover Elementary School
-Crestmont Parent Co-op
-Transition Program
-Parks and Rec Commision, City of Richmond
-Ecovillage Farm Learning Center
West County Food was produced and prepared by:
-Tom Butt (honey)
-Martha Berthelsen (lemons, eggs)
-Kristan and Park Guthrie (greens, lemons, eggs, leeks, turnips, chard, herbs, beets)
-Verde Partnership Garden (turnips, beets, chard, onions)
-Tara Hills Elementary School garden (chard)
-Karla Coop (lemons, sorrel)
-EcoVillage Farm Learning Center (honey, greens)
-Doria Robinson and Barry Jansen (greens)
-Adrienne Rich (lemons)
-Nancy Baer (lemons)
-Elinor Blake (greens, herbs, lemons)
-Pamela Barnes (Jerusalem artichokes)
-Soups were prepared by: Sabina Feinberg, John Lee, Park Guthrie, Kristan Guthrie, Josh Bradt, Doria Robinson, Barry Jansen, Sharif Taha, and Anna Saporita
-Biscuits were prepared by: Rick Topinka
-Frittata was prepared by: Park Guthrie and Cheryl Maier
-Lemonade was prepared by Nancy Baer
-Greens were prepared by Shyaam Shabaka
What We Did:
Lincoln School Farm

-Moved approximately 18 yards of soil to fill 15.5 vegetable beds
-Moved approximately 15 yards of mulch covering more than 2,500 square feet of garden area 6″ deep.
-Planted 30 strawberry plants, 2 apple trees, 1 lemon tree, one sour cherry tree, 4 sage plants, 2 oregano plants, 2 thyme plants, and 3 rosemary plants.
Greenway Swales
-Planted more than 60 native riparian shrubs and trees such as buckeye, coffeeberry, gooseberry, and toyon
-Planted 15 willow trees
-Planted 15 raspberry bushes, 5 pineapple guavas, and one fig tree
-Moved 15 big logs to create 3 large planters
-Moved about 8 yards of soil
-The Away Team walked the length of the Greenway and picked up approximately 10 bags of garbage.
-We ate 8 gallons of West County soup, 300 biscuits, 100 servings of West County frittata and drank 5 gallons Catahoula Coffee and 4 gallons of West County lemonade.
-We danced to the joyful tunes of DJ Goodbeer.
-We were inspired and moved by speakers Gayle McLaughlin, Wendy Gonzalez, Shyaam Shabaka and performers Kamiyah, Shameka, and Sharon.
-About a dozen kids had their faces painted and created thank-you cards for our sponsors
What Impact Did Our Efforts Have?
I. Foodshed Development: We improved the supply of organic produce in a neighborhood which has little access to it. Thanks to the work we did on MLK Day, the neighborhood immediately surrounding the Greenway will have easy access to 700 to 1200 pounds of organic produce annually. Here is the breakdown of the increase food production capacity…
-Lincoln School Farmers should be able to grow and take home 500 pounds of organic produce every year in the 15 beds we added to the Lincoln School Farm. 500 lbs annual yield
-Within 3 years, each of the 9 fruit trees should produce between 25 to 75 pounds of organic fruit per year. 225 to 675 lbs. annual yield
-Within a year, each of the raspberry bushes should produce 1-2 pounds per bush: 15 to 30 lbs. annual yield
Additionally, in the coming years, we will propogate and distribute new berry bushes from the plants we planted at Berryland this year. Consequently, the bushes we planted on MLK, Jr. day will over time create hundreds of new berry bushes which will improve the foodshed at schools, parks, and backyards all over West Contra Costa County.
II. Native Habitat and Increased Biodiversity: By planting so many native trees and shrubs, we helped increase the biodiveristy along the Greenway. Insects, birds, amphibians, and reptiles will find homes among these plants. Lincoln school children and other Greenway users will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of these new Greenway residents.
III. Reinforced Newly Emerging Patterns in Our Community:
Looking at demographic trends in American society over the past 40 years, a pattern of increasing alienation, isolation, and separation appear. This pattern is replicated here in West Contra Costa County and across the nation. Here are some examples which define this trend:
-we work farther from where we live
-our food is produced farther from where we eat it
-we eat more and more food which is highly-processed and “distant” from its original state
-we spend more time alone, in cars or in front of television or computer screens
-our lives intersect less and less with those of our neighbors and community members
-we spend more and more time indoors, apart from the commons
-we spend less and less time with others outside our age brackets
Separation, isolation, and alienation are common relationship patterns between elements in an industrialized socio-economic system. Our industrialized socio-economic system has achieved astounding levels of productivity, narrowly-defined efficiency, and unevenly-distributed wealth. However:
(a) the whole system relies on plentiful supplies of cheap fossil fuels;
(b) wholistic measures of health, well-being, sustainability, and justice are not valued in this system.
There are multiple crisis that can give us energy to rethink and reform the underlying patterns and relationships in our culture and communities. These crisis include:
-global warming,
-severe and persistent racial and ethnic disparities in life expectancy and health outcomes,
-an inherently unsustainable, unhealthy, and inequitable food system,
-youth who feel disempowered or disconnected from school and community and have few positive channels to experience their own power
What happened on the Greenway on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day can be see as part of a larger movement to reshape the patterns of relationships between individuals, communities, land, food, and nature in West Contra Costa County and beyond. This movement is addressing large-scale crises by reversing the trends towards alienation, isolation, and separation locally. For example, the City of Richmond has recently pioneered the practice of using health as a key element to determine land-use policy in the General Plan, acknowledging the fact that community health is inextricably linked with land-use patterns.
On MLK Day, individuals and agencies representing much of the rich diversity of our community came together to tend to the commons—to develop our public lands, not just as pristine preserves, but as resources for the common good. Events like MLK Day can help create new wholistically healthy, sustainable, and just patterns and relationships in our community to address large-scale crises.
Currently, access to healthy foods correlates strongly with a child’s skin color. If we, as a community, value something different (that all children should have easy access to healthy foods, for example) we can use our public lands and our collective efforts to make this value tangible. We did just this together on the Richmond Greenway on MLK Day.
Biodiversity is diminishing across the globe as a result of human land-use and pollution. If we, as a community in West Contra Costa County, value something different (rich, diverse, and stable ecosystems for example) we can create habitat which encourages biodiversity on our public lands. We did just this together on the Richmond Greenway on MLK Day.
Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities accelerate global climate change. If we value a more stable climate, we can use our public lands and collective efforts to create a pattern in urban communities of capturing some of our carbon using trees and improved soil ecosystems (organic gardening actually increases the amount of carbon stored in the soils as it cultivates a healthier, more diverse soil ecosystem). We did just this together on the Richmond Greenway on MLK Day.
Now, the increase in food production capacity on the Greenway, the increase in native habitat and biodiversity on the Greenway, and the amount of carbon captured in Greenway trees and garden soils, as a direct result or our efforts may seem tiny when compared with the total amount of food needed to keep our kids healthy, the amount of natural habitat lost daily across the globe, and the amount of carbon we give off daily in our own community.
But what should give us reason to hope, is that we are establishing new patterns. Patterns tend to get replicated at different scales throughout a complex system. The better entrenched our pattern of coming together to tend the commons for wholisitic community and ecological health, the more this pattern will be replicated in different institutions, groups, and locations throughout our community and beyond.
Thanks to the patterns we helped establish on MLK Day 2008, someday, edible landscaping tended by grassroots groups could become the norm in public lands in West Contra Costa County. Eventually, our school children may spend as much time tending their individual fruit trees and garden beds as they do engaged in standardized testing and test prep. Certainly this shift in the way we spend our time will contribute to a healthy community with healthier individuals. And, by transforming our schools, public open spaces, and community, our children may develop a different perceptual framework, wisdom, and intimacy with the natural cycles which sustain us. This may provide them with the tools they need to create a wholistically healthy, just, and durable culture and society.
IV. Empowerment: Here is just one example of why we should feel empowered our ability to act locally to address large-scale problems:
Lincoln school farmers, like all American children, are the target audience for $10-$12 billion of food advertising annually. Most of this money is spent on ad campaigns carefully crafted by people with PhD’s in psychology to get children to consume unhealthy foods. The low price and widespread availiability of these unhealthy food products is directly and indirectly subsidized by billions of dollars of federal spending in the Farm Bill, as well as, energy and transportation policies and spending.
It is easy to feel powerless to promote health given the energy and resources pushing our children towards unhealthy choices. However, what we did on MLK day was a resounding statement of our values as a community. We communicated to Lincoln school farmers and the entire Lincoln Elementary community that growing our own healthy food is very, very important to the broader West Contra Costa County community. Important enough for more than 100 adultd to brave the rain, cold, and mud. Our actions sent a rich and contextualized message, deeply connected to individual people and places Lincoln school farmers know well. Advertising executives can only dream of sending such deep powerful messages, but no amount of money can buy the kind of impact our efforts on MLK Day can have. We have tremendous power when we come together and take concrete action to improve our community.
OK, even I am now tiring of the systems theory rhetoric….
Looking ahead:
—We have a much scaled-down, no frills version (no soups, no DJ’s, no funny hats) Berryland/Lincoln School Farm workday on this Saturday, February 9th from 9:30 to 12:30. Please bring a snack to share, and (a shovel and wheelbarrow) if it’s easy. Please email me if you plan to attend so we can schedule work. Acapulco Soil just discounted us a bunch of compost and Raintree Nursery just donated gooseberries, raspberries, and white and black currants, so we need to build a few more beds.
—Berryland/Lincoln School Farm workdays are scheduled from 9:30 to 12:30 on the second Saturday of each month, ad infinitum.
—After a year of existance, have begun formalizing the 5% Local Coalition with our first meeting of a Steering Committee. Attached is an English version of the working draft of the membership agreement. I should be able to provide you a Spanish version tomorrow…email me if you want the Spansih version.
If you would like to become a member of the 5% Local Coalition please read the membership agreement, sign it, and mail the last page to: Urban Tilth, 5651 N. Arlington Blvd., San Pablo, CA 94806 or complete the final page electronically and email it to me. Our ability to reform the local food system will be directly related to our numbers. We are seeking both individual members and organizational members (non-profits, businesses, government agencies, churches, schools, etc.).
—By MLK Day 2009 the Greenway should be the site of at least 3 more community gardens (the Kmhmu Community Garden, the Gompers Greenway Brigade Orchard and Garden, and the Police Activities League/City Employees Pumpkin Patch) and the nearby the main library/LEAP community garden will be fully established—providing twice as many venues for volunteer effort to improve our community. We will start planning for MLK Day of Service 2009 this summer. Please email me if you want to get involved in the planning stages.