This project précis is currently in draft form. Its statements of what the envisioned project “will do” may undergo significant revisions as it is discussed by prospective partner organizations and other interested persons.
The Valley Gardening Cooperative (hereafter “VGC”) is an envisioned program that will train youth in colonias and other low-income neighborhoods in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas in gardening, the raising of chickens and other small livestock, food preservation, and all aspects of practical local food production and family nutrition. The VGC will be a project directed and administered by a larger nonprofit. The nonprofit will hire a project director who is an expert organic agriculturist with the ability and motivation to train youth.
The youth, with the help of the project director and volunteers, will lead their communities in planting and maintaining gardens, harvesting and preserving produce, and preparing tasty and nutritious meals. They will lead a weekly community harvest, in which produce is picked and sorted into boxes which the member families will take home after the weekly community potluck which will immediately follow the harvest and which will be supplemented by the produce just picked. The community meals will also be occasions for informative talks, networking, community problem-solving, tutoring for schoolchildren, games, music, or other activities of interest to the community.
Each “hub” of the regional cooperative will consist of the following elements:
- One or more gardening sites – park spaces, school grounds, unused church lawn spaces, members’ yards and windowsills, or any other spaces for which permission is obtained to garden.
- A nearby venue for community meals – a church, school, or even the gardening site itself, possibly under a thatched roof covering earth-built picnic tables that the youth build themselves.
- The families who live within walking distance or a short drive from the gardening site and community meals venue.
Member families will pay dues in the form of money and/or hours of labor, according to the policies and bylaws of their hub.
Members of the general public from other communities and socioeconomic levels will be invited to purchase guest memberships in the community meals and/or buy shares of the weekly harvest. The memberships may be for one meal only, weekly meals, or a specified number of weekly meals during a year, according to the capacity of the cooperative and its hubs. It is hoped that this will bring together people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels into positive, mutually caring relationships.
Each hub will be an independent, self-governing project. The VGC project director will work to assist the formation of the hubs, and offer training and guidance. However, neither the VGC project director nor the nonprofit will directly control the affairs and decisions of the hubs. The hubs may opt to sell surplus produce at farmers markets. The nonprofit will not engage in such market activity, but will only provide educational services. Hubs will be affiliated with the VGC on condition of adopting a covenant and certain bylaws ensuring that the hubs will promote the goals of the VGC in regard to ecological, social, and other objectives.
Some hubs may be formed in more affluent neighborhoods, which will share resources with the lower-income hubs. These hubs will attract more guest memberships that will generate further revenues to be shared with other hubs according to need. Youth and family members from other hubs in lower income communities may regularly visit these hubs in the affluent neighborhoods, just as members of the hubs in the affluent neighborhoods will be encouraged to frequently visit the community meals in the other hubs.
The VGC director and volunteers, and the affiliated cooperative hubs, will endeavor to especially invite families with members who are diabetic and/or obese and/or at risk for these diseases. The youth of these families will be trained in the nutritional care of themselves and of their family members, with special consideration for the needs of diabetic and obese family members.
In addition to training and guidance in food production, the project director and volunteers will also take youth on trips to nature centers and wildlife reserves in the region, to cultivate awareness and love for the bioregion.
The mission of the Valley Gardening Cooperative will be defined by the following objectives:
- Eliminate hunger and food insecurity among the member families, and combat obesity and diabetes, by providing nutrition, exercise, education, and community collaboration.
- Educate families and youth about nutrition, food production, and ecology.
- Promote and develop cooperative values and cooperative economic management skills in the community.
- Reconnect youth to the outdoors, through gardening, visits to nature centers and wildlife reserves, etc.
- Equip youth with the vision and practical skills to build a sustainable and just society.
- Bring together persons and families of various backgrounds and income levels into shared circles of deep and mutual caring, and thus tear down the walls of division which impede the acceptance and practice of egalitarian values in our society.
- Educate people, and identify and nurture prospective future participants, in a larger future project aimed at establishing a large, productively-diversified, income-sharing ecovillage / network of production cooperatives / research and education center, that will have members across the income spectrum and demonstrate to the general public an alternative model of sustainable, egalitarian, and cooperative society. See the The Federation of Egalitarian Communities for information on existing income-sharing communities, at http://thefec.org, and the paper “A Project to Demonstrate Economic Democracy and Sustainable Living” for a description of this particular envisioned community.
Integration with a Larger Vision and Agenda
This project is part of a larger multi-faceted agenda of “radical sustainability” aimed at effecting an ultimately planet-wide transition to significantly localized, cooperatively-managed economies. The new economies would feature human settlements and living systems that would require less than one Planet Earth to sustain if everybody in the world lived a comparable lifestyle, and would help restore, rather than damage, ecosystems and endangered wildlife. This larger agenda and vision is articulated in the Ecological Commonwealth web site. By bringing a significant part of life – family nutrition – into the sphere of community cooperation, by using community meals as a venue for fostering discussions regarding the transition to a sustainable and just society, and by teaching practical skills that would be essential in such a society, the VGC would be one small project building momentum toward achieving the larger agenda, even as it also addresses the immediate felt needs of people (e.g., health, nutrition, community connection, etc.) within the current society.
The envisioned minimum budget for the first year of operation is $40,000. This will cover the salary and benefits of a full-time project director and initial subsidies to an initial 2 or 3 hubs to help them develop their garden spaces (seed, soil tests, soil amendments, tools, irrigation, publicity, etc.). After the first year, the independent hubs will themselves generate the revenues from dues and other sources needed to cover the costs of maintaining their garden sites and activities.
Other resources used in this program include the project director, the nonprofit that oversees the project and administers project funds, the volunteers, and the members of the cooperatives themselves.
Here are highly provisional dates for achieving the key initial milestones of the project:
- Approval of the project by a nonprofit’s board by April or May 201?.
- Receipt of initial donations and grants by April or May 201?.
- Hiring of a full-time director in May 201?. Or, a part-time interim director may be hired to handle site selection and preparation, and a full-time director hired when planting begins in the fall. Some investigation into prospective candidates is already underway by volunteers and will be completed and finally decided upon by the nonprofit, pending approval of this project by its board.
- The director or interim director finalizes arrangements for the use of two or three strategically located sites, in collaboration with organizations that do community organizing in colonias and other low-income communities, by May or June 201?. Some scouting out of prospective gardening sites is already being done by volunteers. As soon as arrangements are finalized, the director leads volunteers in steps to prepare the site for planting in the fall. These steps may include planting a summer cover crop (e.g., lablab, which tolerates heat and drought, fixes nitrogen in the soil, and adds organic matter to the soil), building a tool shed, installing irrigation, etc.
- Planting of the first garden sites beginning in late August or early September 201?.
- Formation of the first independent hubs by December 201?, when the VGC and its governing nonprofit will turn management and control of the gardening sites over to the formally constituted independent hubs. The VGC will continue to advise and train the youth and families in those hubs.
The nonprofit that leads this project will operate in collaboration with other organizations with relevant skills and expertise. This coalition, it is hoped, may include such organizations as La Unión del Pueblo Unido, ARISE, The Rio Grande Valley Food Bank, the World Birding Center, the Valley Nature Center, Frontera Audubon, the Sierra Club, churches, civic clubs, and others. The VGC may recommend that project staff and hub youth trainees and others attend classes offered by the Texas Agrilife Extension Service, the Master Gardeners, permaculture training organizations, natural building training organizations, and others, in addition to the training directly given by the VGC project director. Scholarships may be offered to help people take such trainings.