Tag Archives: community

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In “Right Livelihood – How Can We All $upport One Another?”, author Carolyn Payne-Gemmell brought up some limitations of a traditional “veggie swap” that excluded the ability to purchase products with currency.  And while I understand that one of the main ideas behind swaps is to build community, like Carolyn, I actually believe that swaps can severely limit community-building and right livelihood, even if unintentionally so.  So the question becomes, is there a better way?

Surplus citrus bounty gleaned by volunteers.
Surplus citrus bounty gleaned by volunteers.

Several years ago, backyard vegetable gardening experienced a renaissance where I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  Part of this was brought on by the housing market crash of 2008 where many people lost not only their jobs but their homes as well.  As people began growing food, some ended up with an overabundance of certain items.

Many of these folks could also benefit from a little cash, so they went to the local farmer’s market to find out if they could sell their surplus there.  The problem was, for the small backyard grower, the surplus only lasted for a small window of time and then they were back to having only enough to meet their own needs.  The stream of surplus was not guaranteed over time and didn’t warrant investing in a weekly market booth and setting up a business entity with the required insurance.

Edible flowers.  Photo courtesy of the Hadley Farmship
Edible flowers. Photo courtesy of the Hadley Farmship

After watching many small growers become frustrated with the system, market manager, Cindy, approached a small local permaculture group to see if they could help out.  From that contact, the Community Exchange market booth was born.

Marketing for small growers to help start the Community Exchange booth.
Marketing for small growers to help start the Community Exchange booth.

The idea behind the Community Exchange booth was simple; anyone with small surpluses of products could join the Community Exchange booth instead of paying for a booth of their own.  Prior to the start of the market, these small scale growers could barter with each other if they so desired.  Prices were clearly marked on the produce so equitable exchanges could be made.  After the start of the market, the remaining produce would be sold to the public.

A bounty of Thompson seedless grapes.
A bounty of Thompson seedless grapes.

From the sales, 80% of the profits go back to the individual sellers.  These sellers can elect to help out at the booth, or not.  At the end of the day, vendors can pick up any unsold produce.  Or, if they choose not to return to pick up any unsold items, they are donated to local charities.

Cherry plums and white donut peaches.
Cherry plums and white donut peaches.

The other 20% of the proceeds go toward: paying for yearly booth rental and insurance; a reserve account for expenses, and to provide a modest “appreciation gift” for the table manager and the business director.

The table manager is responsible for checking the vendors in at the beginning of the day, and checking them out at the end of the day and noting the produce that was sold and returned to each vendor.  He is also responsible for setting up the booth, making attractive displays and keeping the produce iced in extremely hot weather.  The business director handles scheduling, back-end management of the booth, setting up the business entity and making sure all paperwork is filed correctly.  He also fills in at the booth as necessary and trains new people to be table managers.

The Community Exchange model seeks to provide both a swapping opportunity to the participants at the beginning of the day, and a way for people to earn a small income from anything that was not swapped.  No one becomes unintentionally excluded – it is microbusiness at its best!  And because there is a diversity of people participating, the booth always has ample and varied products to offer.

Crafts made by women from a local battered women’s shelter.
Crafts made by women from a local battered women’s shelter.

One of the best things about the Community Exchange booth is that it is inclusive.  Several participating vendors are on fixed incomes or have limiting impairments.  Others come from underrepresented community segments such as shelters or immigrant populations.  The Community Exchange booth provides a wonderful way for products from these individuals to be included and valued.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQBb6JCw6Uo

As word of the Community Exchange booth spread, many market-goers became intrigued with the idea that this food was produced in the surrounding neighborhoods by these micro growers and as a consequence the booth has become a fan favorite; building community and understanding between buyers and sellers.  This popularity and support has enabled some growers to expand their endeavors to the point where they earn a modest living and can provide for themselves in financial difficult times.

The Community Exchange concept was designed to be a repeatable, standalone model that could be replicated around the city or around the globe.  To that end, we’ve provided our “working documents” here so that interested groups can start their own Community Exchange booth.  Conventions vary by location but many of the items contained in these documents can be modified for local use.

 

The Downtown Phoenix Market.  Tucked in the surrounding neighborhoods, industrious growers and crafters are hard at work!
The Downtown Phoenix Market. Tucked in the surrounding neighborhoods, industrious growers and crafters are hard at work!
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This past November (2013), Watershed Management Group's Green Living Co-op installed a "Laundry to Landscape" system at my house.

The Green Living Co-op runs on a barn raising principle - basically you earn "hours" by participating in other members' projects.  After you've earned a set amount of hours, you qualify to host a workshop at your house.  A co-op project manager works with you to design the system and oversees the project work.  They also provide educational information along the way.

The end result is that the homeowner gets a well-designed project installed with free labor and the participants get hands-on practice building out these projects.  Having an experienced designer lead you through the steps to build out one of these projects really builds confidence that you can do this!

Here's a short video showing the progression through pre-planning, the day of the installation, and the subsequent test run of my new "Laundry to Landscape" system.  I love it!

Benefits of reusing greywater

Here’s how this project fits into the overall plan for my front yard, which faces west, here in Phoenix, Arizona:

  • It provides water for tree canopy coverage on this western exposure – the hottest side of my house.
  • It provides water for vines growing up a trellis in front of my patio and my big, west-facing windows.  These vines will act as solar baffles for the low western setting sun that sneaks in under the tree canopy in the evening and which currently heats up the mass of my brick house and transfers that heat inside.  When you’re dealing with 100 days of 100° + temps (30 of those days between 110° - 120°), the very last thing you want is the setting sun taking one final opportunity to add more heat to your living space!
  • With only 7.5” of annual rainfall in Phoenix, we need to use water wisely.  Reusing greywater is a great way to grow desert-adapted trees, shrubs, vines and more – essentially slowing down and capturing more “energy” from this element instead of letting it flow into the municipal sewer system.  These native and xeric plants function to attract native pollinators, cover the ground to hold moisture, provide shade, provide food and act as a living air conditioner making the whole property cooler and more pleasant to be in.  It is regularly 10-20° F cooler on my property when compared with properties that have predominantly grass or rock landscaping.
  • The reclaimed water and the woody mulch in the infiltration basins, help build more fertile, biologically-active soils that will, over time, alter the texture of our highly compacted clay soil, allowing an ever greater range of plants to fill in various niches.
  • There is also a very important community aspect to this project.  Because I live in the urban core of the largest dryland city in the USA (and the 6th largest metro area overall), showcasing working projects that are viewable to passersby is a big goal of mine.  People like to see how something works – what it looks like, feels like.  A well maintained project with an informational sign or two, an invitation to tour the site and maybe a related “Introduction to Permaculture” class, will greatly increase the acceptance and implementation of similar projects throughout the neighborhood and beyond.

So basically, we desert dwellers need to get over the prevailing “squick factor” Western culture tends to have around greywater and embrace this valuable resource as one of the major forces in re-greening our deserts.

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A note from Rosé in the bag of cotton scraps brings up an opportunity to share (recycle) skills in the ‘hood.  She even wrote the note on a recycled envelope.
A note from Rosé in the bag of cotton scraps brings up an opportunity to share (recycle) skills in the ‘hood. She even wrote the note on a recycled envelope.

Applying permaculture to an urban setting often includes building community and getting the word out.  In an effort to keep useful waste products out of landfills, I’ve let certain neighbors know I’ll take things like leaves, woodchips, veggie waste, egg shells and cardboard off their hands.  They are only too happy to oblige and I often find “offerings” from neighbors left inside my gate.

It’s heartening to see these offerings because I know I can apply them directly to the third of the permaculture ethics, which is to “return the surplus” to the first two ethics; earth care (restoring living ecosystems) and people care (supplying our needs in a sustainable way).  In this way we cycle useful “waste” products back into the system and end up in a more abundant world.   Just today I received two such offerings.

A bag of “hen produce” and a small paper bag of crushed egg shells.  Also some scrap cotton fabric for composting or shredding for hen nests.
A bag of “hen produce” and a small paper bag of crushed egg shells. Also some scrap cotton fabric for composting or shredding for hen nests.

Janie, who lives across the street and works at Chow Locally – a local CSA, left me a box of “good produce” - still edible for humans and a bag of “hen produce” – leftovers that had spoiled spots, peelings, etc.

The hens look forward to these weekly deliveries of “hen produce” as it provides them with a change from their typical fare and whatever I happen to be giving them.  I also received a small paper bag of crushed eggshells from Rosé over on the next block.  These go back to the girls, too, to provide for their calcium needs.  I try to gift these neighbors back with surplus produce or eggs when I have some.

The cardboard box from the “good produce” is retained to line the bottom of the hens’ nest boxes (easier to clean out the “nutrient” the hens deposit).
The cardboard box from the “good produce” is retained to line the bottom of the hens’ nest boxes (easier to clean out the “nutrient” the hens deposit).
Recycled cardboard in the nest boxes.
Recycled cardboard in the nest boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes there’s surplus useful waste that’s a little larger than usual!  Donna, of the “Collaborative Urban Swale” fame, had the tree trimmers come to her house last week and they had a full load of chips to dump from previous jobs.  Donna took some to mulch the swale with and I took the rest – my infiltration basins and propagation area floor could use some refreshing.

Big pile of wood chips out in the alley behind my neighbor’s house.  We have an agreement that wood chips can be dumped there for communal use.  About half of them are gone already.  Note the lovely sign made out of a recycled pizza box lid.  Don’t want our bulk trash service to haul off this valuable resource!
Big pile of wood chips out in the alley behind my neighbor’s house. We have an agreement that wood chips can be dumped there for communal use. About half of them are gone already. Note the lovely sign made out of a recycled pizza box lid. Don’t want our bulk trash service to haul off this valuable resource!
The floor of the propagation area with fresh wood chips.  This area is designed to be an infiltration basin for water coming off the back of the house.  The floor here is actually dug down about 20 inches and backfilled with woodchips.  This slows and sinks rainwater runoff and helps rehydrate my soil.
The floor of the propagation area with fresh wood chips. This area is designed to be an infiltration basin for water coming off the back of the house. The floor here is actually dug down about 20 inches and backfilled with woodchips. This slows and sinks rainwater runoff and helps rehydrate my soil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m pretty pleased that I could not only keep these “waste” products out of the landfill, but use them to grow food, eggs and harvest water.  And I get to share my love of quilting!

And the cycle continues!  Down-the-street neighbor, Patrick, just stopped by to pick up some soup and quiche – a trade for giving me rides to doctors’ appointments.  Fairview Place is a WONDERFUL, community-minded neighborhood.  I’m so lucky to live here.
And the cycle continues! Down-the-street neighbor, Patrick, just stopped by to pick up some soup and quiche – a trade for giving me rides to doctors’ appointments. Fairview Place is a WONDERFUL, community-minded neighborhood. I’m so lucky to live here.

 

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