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Plans are under way to start the first of five farms at Los Angeles high schools. Filmmaker Mark MacInnis, whose feature length documentary Urban Roots chronicles the thriving urban agricultural scene in Detroit, is spearheading the project. MacInnis says the first school farm will be located at James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Garfield is best known as the high school where math teacher Jaime Escalante inspired the largely Latino working class students. The story was dramatized in the motion picture Stand and Deliver. It wasn’t a Hollywood fiction: the high school is 99% Hispanic and counts among its notable alumni members of the Chicano rock band Los Lobos and boxer Oscar De La Hoya, who was a student of the drafting teacher who will oversee the farm.

MacInnis describes the space reserved for the project as half the size of a soccer field and says that if all goes well the first crops will be planted in the spring. The Garfield High farm will have chickens and some sort of outdoor classroom as well as a greenhouse. But first students and their faculty advisor will have to clear the land and bring in compost.

“There’s trash, broken computers and desks on that field,” reports MacInnis. “But we’re going to turn this piece of land into something beautiful and productive. Kids will be eating food from this land. That will be part of the curriculum: taking this land from nothing and turning it into a farm.”

The filmmaker says he needs to raise $50,000 to get the farm started. A benefit for his new Farms In Schools program will be held at 7pm on December 3rd at the Museum of Music and Instruments in Venice, California. Five works of art donated by British sculptor Anthony James will be on sale. The sculptures are made from lengths of birch tree suspended in an aquarium-like structure with two-way mirrors. Usually sold for $80,000 or more, the sculptures will be offered to supporters of the school farm project for $40,000 and purchases will be tax deductible. The benefit will also include a performance by William Close and his Earth Harp, which is a huge site-specific instrument that produces tones that are a cross between cello and the sound made when you run your finger around the edge of a wine glass.

Filmmaker Mark MacInnis. Credit: Urban Roots Film.

MacInnis says that when his Urban Roots documentary has its formal debut in the spring, an announcement will be made about the creation of a school farm in Detroit. He originally planned to donate funds to the working farm at Catherine Ferguson Academy, an already existing high school in Detroit for students that are either pregnant or mothers of newborns. But after the academy became a charter school, the administration dismissed Paul Weertz, a teacher who had spent 20 years creating the farm. As a result, MacInnis decided to scrap his plan to contribute funds to the school.

Aerial shot of the Detroit farm. Credit: Urban Roots Film.

The other high schools in LA slated to get farms are Alexander Hamilton High School, Van Nuys High School, Phineas Banning High School, and Roosevelt High School. Garfield High School used to have a Green Architecture and Design Academy but it was dissolved as a result of budget cuts. The school still has a drafting course, which focuses on architecture and sustainability, according to teacher Luis Lainez, who will supervise the farm at Garfield.

Lainez reports that seven of his students have been working on designs for the farm and are a week or two away from presenting them to architect Sarah Didvar-Saadi of The Green Schoolhouse, a Los Angeles-based school garden design company.

“They’re really excited,” Lainez says of his drafting students. “This will help them to tune in to nature and to take better care of the planet.”

Lainez’s students are veteran makers. They made a dome that is five feet in diameter and about six feet tall out of super adobe, a mix of 90% earth and 10% cement stuffed inside a long fabric tube and arranged in long coils. One idea for the greenhouse the drafting students are bandying about is making walls out of clear plastic bottles. Assisting in the farm construction will be Lainez’s 22 year-old son Alvaro, who is his teaching assistant at the high school and an avid gardener at home.

Architect Sarah Didvar-Saadi and her business partner Gina Powell have put about 17 gardens in Southern California elementary and middle schools in the last three years with the aid of state grants. They selected the five LA schools, which either have an environmental program or something similar for the Farms In Schools program.

“We don’t want to put just a cookie-cutter greenhouse in [at Garfield],” says Didvar-Saadi. “We’d love for it to be something that is innovative and uses recycled materials.”

As for the plan to include a chicken coop on the school farm, the architect says “it’s pushing the boundaries for the Los Angeles Unified School District a little but I don’t think it’s out of the question.”

The farm will be enclosed by some sort of fence, Didvar-Saadi says, so it will be protected when people are not around.

“The hope is that when Garfield gets built and gets some recognition out there that we’ll be able to get the other ones [school farms] going much quicker because it’ll be a great example of what’s possible,” she says.

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Jon Kalish

Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter, podcast producer and newspaper writer. He’s reported for NPR for more than 30 years.


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  1. What you are doing is wonderful. We definitely need to localize our sources of food. Below is an idea I developed to create a starting point for bringing back the smaller family farms. I presented the idea to a elderly wealthy uncle (age 101) but he said it was too late for him. I pass this on thinking you might have some connections that could pick up the gauntlet and carry on. I want nothing out of it, position or money. I believe it is an idea whose time has come and would be most helpful to people needing a place to call home and start rebuilding their lives.
    Best,
    J. Glenn Evans

    ON ESTABLISHING A FAMILY FARM FOUNDATION

    According to the 2008 UN report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World, an estimated 14% or 963 million people are unable to get enough food to eat to sustain life. Needless to say, most of these people are the poorest, the landless. We are told to fear the terrorists, but the real terrors we face are global in scope and of our own making. Food costs are rising. Rice jumped from $460 a metric ton to $1000 a metric ton. Thousands of farmers in India commit suicide after fifteen years of so-called economic reforms that favor global capitalism. Land is being converted to raising biofuels instead of food. More people are starving. Bees are disappearing. More wars arising over precious resources like land and water are forcing more and more people into refugee camps.
    Food, shelter, health care, and the education of its citizens must be the first priority of all civilized nations. Indigenous societies living in primitive conditions have kept in mind the welfare of their people as well as their environment but civilized societies in their lust for power and wealth have drifted away from this basic principle of life on earth. In recent history agribusiness has pursued the misguided goal that industrializing the growth of food would feed the growing world population. Though mega-agribusiness may increase total food output, it has contributed to the devastation of the environment. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are poisoning our earth and waters. The creation of cash crops for cheap exports has displaced millions of rural people in third world countries that had been self-sustaining for centuries.
    The United States Department of Agriculture was set up to support small farms through education and training to encourage and improve better methods of farming. Through the influence of mega-agribusiness and perhaps some of the Department’s own policies to encourage cash crops and to dispose of agricultural surplus and stimulate export crops to enhance the balance of trade, we have witnessed a remarkable decline in family farms. Even our agricultural colleges have been corrupted into favoring agribusiness with their career opportunities rather than family farms that feed people and that are environmentally friendly.
    We’ve got to figure out how to feed people, counter balance droughts with distribution of food from productive areas and keep the cost of food cheap. With food and shelter, most of us can make do without a lot of the frills we associate with a consumer society. Those useless products make a few people a lot of bucks and they end up in the landfills. Our consumer throwaway society is no longer sustainable, so we must use our talents to help each other and help build a better society. We need to use our brains and imaginations and stop wasting precious resources on wars. We must develop a new mindset, to remember that life is sacred and that the earth is here for us all to share.
    Primitive agriculture and family farms have been the mainstay of feeding the world for centuries. Family farms are also a wonderful place to raise children and build communities. With this in mind, I first conceived the idea of forming the Family Farm Foundation to acquire land and set up self-sustaining farms to train and re-educate people for starting their own small family farms. Organic farm practices are to be encouraged as well the farming philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka as conveyed in his book, The One-Straw Revolution that allows small acreages to support a family without being worked to death. Times are right for such a program. Times are right for a return to family farms. They employ people, are earth friendly and provide real food to feed the world.
    I propose a foundation with the mission of acquiring land suitable for small farms after setting up a pilot program in Performa training for the essential basics of local farming. A pilot program allows the place and time to work out the kinks and demonstrate how such a program could be replicated and expanded to other communities in the U.S. and perhaps to other nations that have been corrupted by agribusiness.
    The argument will be made that we must have agribusiness in order to feed the growing population of the world. Agribusiness has proven unfriendly to the earth and has helped to destroy many rural farming communities. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the world will need to come to terms on the issue of world population. Our earth has its limits on how many people it can support without crowding out and destroying other forms of life. Agribusiness that poisons the earth is not the answer. Unless we alter our thinking and life styles and put some limitation on the growth of human population, we will end up fighting more wars for scarce resources and maybe even eating each other in order to survive.
    My proposal for a family farm foundation is a modest one. Such a program is vitally needed and I believe that it can be launched and carried forward by those who believe in its mission as stated below in the Mission Statement. I have also included sample articles of incorporation and a sample set of bylaws for a nonprofit corporation or foundation that can be used as a guide for such a program. I am not seeking personal wealth or self-aggrandizement with this program. If anyone is so inclined and has the means of making this happen, they are free to make use of any ideas or plans so disclosed, with or without any help from me. This is something that is vitally needed and I do not think we can count on our government’s help because mega-corporations that are agribusiness-friendly have usurped too much control of our government.
    We spend billions to subsidize the agribusiness and large farms in the developed world and we spend trillions to subsidize financial institutions. The subsidies of the Western nations’ to their own farm enterprises have also helped to drive down the price of food products from developing world farmers. This trend along with the high cost of transportation must be reversed. We must get back to feeding ourselves locally. We need to reconnect with the land and to nurture the family farm. We are already seeing the resurgence of farmer’s markets. The times are right for a return to family farms. The principles of the small family farm can be adapted to back yards, empty fields and pea patches, both large and small. These enterprises can employ people, are earth friendly and provide real food to feed ourselves and others. Henry J. Kaiser once said problems are opportunities with work clothes. With the present state of the world’s problem in food and starving, we best put on our work clothes and get busy.

    MISSION STATEMENT

    Family Farm Foundation envision establishing the first community family farm in Wewoka Oklahoma as a Performa workshop that can be used as an example for others to follow in various parts of the USA as well as in other areas of the world. Organic farm methods that are environmentally friendly that enhance and rebuild the soil will be utilized. This will offer an opportunity to feed and employ many people in our nation and offer an alternative to the earth unfriendly mega agribusiness farms that use an excessive amount of pesticides and commercial fertilizers that damage our environment. Most important of all, people will be fed, trained and many will move out to their own family farms in time.

    The main purpose of the Foundation is to create educational opportunities for people in order to bring the family farm back to America, to learn how to grow food and preserve it for later use, to feed and house themselves and dispose of any surplus to help feed others.

    Participants will have the opportunity to learn what real food looks and tastes like, to experience community life, to learn something about the basic institution of the family farm that not only served the best interests of our country in growing food to feed people, but it was a place where people grew up learned about hard honest work and self reliance that launched many on careers that made them a credit to our nation.

    To create opportunities for people to share their talents and experience to help train and education others in useful skills that can be valuable to the community, such as carpentry and various other trades. Other members of the community can teach those deficient in basic education of reading, writing and arithmetic The farms will provide an array of opportunities for people to help themselves. Many people who

    MISSION STATEMENT – FAMILY FARM FOUNDATION – NON PROFIT – PAGE 2
    join such a project have experience, training and knowledge that could be put to practical use in such an atmosphere. The Foundation provides an opportunity for people to help others as well as helping
    themselves, like training experience for young people and especially school kids. Older people might want to return to the farm for its life-giving experience. There are people who have been chewed up by
    life and want to find a way to put their lives back in order. This shall be a community to help each other, to give a feeling of independence to train people to move back into society. Individual plots of ground shall be assigned for separate work in order to allow overall experience in operating an ongoing farm. People will grow food on for their own sustenance and to sell the excess to others. Like any small community, there are other services and crafts needed that could generate auxiliary businesses. A project like this will help to bring back growth and vitality to many of our rural towns and villages that have been in decline for several years. This first project would create a showcase to serve as a model or prototype to be imitated elsewhere. And it provides basic training in free enterprise. With the experience gained, folks could move on to their own small farms, shops or businesses to become sources of useful productive resources for the nation. Regardless of their past, the farm would provide an opportunity for those who are willing to work to better themselves. It shall be the policy of the Foundation to acquire land upon which to bring this about by purchase or donation. In time plots can be sold off to be operated as separately owned family farms, with the stipulation attached to the deed that such land must be kept for that purpose.
    Since the main cost of launching such a project will be land, at least initially title on land donated to the foundation could be held by the foundation with specifications that if or when the project is terminated in less than ten years the land reverts back donator or their estate, including any improvements added to the land. The Foundation shall be established as a nonprofit foundation (501-c-3) for tax purposes and to generate additional funding from other individuals and businesses. Generating funding, of course, is the lifeblood of an institution. Land would not be legally subdivided, but plots would be assigned for the use of individuals and families. Competent advisory help will be provided. There would be a community tool house and common pasturage. People would be free to come and move on as they wished and were able and their graduation would make room for others. Certain functions of a community nature like marketing of excess produce not needed for personal consumption could be handled by the Foundation on a co-op basis. If and when profits are generated after a reasonable reserve they would be available for donation to the local community or other needy causes.

    Copyleft 2011 J. Glenn Evans
    (Feel free to copy and distribute as broadly as possible)

    J. Glenn Evans
    Founder of PoetsWest and Activists for a Better World, hosts PoetsWest at KSER 90.7FM, a nationally syndicated weekly radio show, and is author of four books of poetry: Deadly Mistress, Window in the Sky, Seattle Poems and Buffalo Tracks, author of two novels, Broker Jim and Zeke’s Revenge, an essay book, Uncommon Common Sense, is a former stockbroker-investment banker. Part Cherokee, native of Oklahoma. Evans has lived in Seattle since 1960. Worked in a lumber mill, operated a mining company and co-produced a movie, Christmas Mountain, with Mark Miller, co-staring Slim Pickens. Evans, an award-wining poet and in addition to poetry books and novels has written numerous political essays and is the author several local community histories including a history of Seattle’s Pike Place Market and has been published many literary Journals. Listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.

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