Friday, September 7, 2012

2o Coloquio Ambiental

Earlier this summer I was invited to speak at a conference in my home town San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The conference was organized by my cousin Marcos Algara and hosted by the Environmental Engineering Department of the Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi.

At the conference with my cousins, Dr. Paola Algara and the organizer Dr. Marcos Algara

Other special guest in the audience cheer-leading me, my beautiful aunt Laura and cousin Laurie, thanks for your support!

I gave two presentations, one was part of a round table where I spoke about Urban Agriculture. 

I wanted to talk about local examples because when I talk about the Algarden, people always say its only possible to do such thing in Berkeley. And the best part was, that I did had lots of real local examples. A year and a half ago, when I last visited San Luis I was invited to speak at Eaton. That talk was the opening of a company wide series on health and well being for their employees. My talk was on healthy eating habits. Most of the attendants to my talk were low income workers who complained about not being able to afford organic healthy veggies and of course we ended up talking about my passion: urban agriculture. They all got pretty excited when I instigated them to grow their own food, but told me that they did not had any space to grow food in their small houses and did not know where to do it. 

The room where I was speaking, at the Eaton campus, had huge windows opening to a very large expanse of lawn and so I pointed to that and said what about there. Everybody got really excited and wanted to know the details of how to do it. But I could also sense the uncomfortable looks coming from management. At the end of the talk I explained to management the social benefits of having a urban farm in their campus. Growing food, builds community! So we explored the options and they found a site on campus that was totally underutilized. They started a pilot garden project. They had a community day, families were invited to help out start the garden. Children came by to help and it was a really beautiful event.

Francisco Ybarra who is the main organizer of this project came to my talk. He shared this pictures and his experience in urban agriculture on a corporate campus. He told the audience that they just harvested tons of onions, everybody on the company got onions and they still had extras. I got a small taste of their garden while I was visiting, they send me zucchinis, tomatoes and delicious peaches!

 Here are some pictures of their garden after only a few months.

Another great example of local urban agriculture is the garden of Aventura Culinaria, the culinary academy of my good friend Alejandro "Birdman"  Medrano Puga. This is his garden in the front of the school where is growing chiles, culinary herbs and Papayas!!!

He also came to my talk and took great pictures and made sure I stayed real by texting me in the middle of my talk and constantly reminding me not take myself so seriously and laugh at myself...

Birdman introduced me to Ricardo Vélez from Ruta Ahimsa Colectivo from Querétaro who is doing great things and teaching amazing workshops on natural building, urban agriculture and green roofs. 

Ricardo had just taught a class on beer brewing at Alejandro's school so we hit it off talking about the importance of being sustainable and learning to make the things you really love, like beer. And by doing so, avoid giving your money to the giant corporations that make most of the beer, especially in Mexico. In the bay area we are lucky with all the choices we have. But thanks to that workshop, Alejandro has now started a new beer "nachomyson" if you are ever in San Luis don't miss it.

I also showed pictures of Doña Mary's "garden". Doña Mary has a taco stand outside of the hospital and so she spends most of her day there. She decided to take over the median strip and plant a garden there. She waters it with the left over water from her dish washing. She had planted basil, corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, an avocado and peach tree, she was so proud to show me her garden! She said sometimes people harvested her veggies when she was not there. I asked her if that bother her and she said, no, she was happy that her garden was feeding people who needed the food. THAT's the spirit!

 You can see the taco stand on the background

My main presentation was on corporate landscapes and how they need to evolve from their romantic garden lawns and car oriented settings to the new paradigms that we are confronted with. I talked about Bishop Ranch as an example. Bishop Ranch is one of the largest business parks in the west coast and we are working with them to turn it into a more sustainable environment and a place that supports community and not just a work space. I, of course, keep pushing for a farm with a full series of classes, workshops and programming, hopefully next year there will be one :)  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Urban Farm Tour

Last Saturday June 9th was the East Bay Urban Farm Tour. We were excited to be a part of the tour.

There were many other wonderful urban farms on the tour and the only down side was that I was not able to go visit the other farms, but here is the map of the other locations. If you missed it this year make sure to go next year

We had a surprising turn out, about 400 people came to visit our farm

It was a beautiful warm summer day, the Algarden was at it's best, full of flowers and the trees heavy with ripening fruit

My favorite garden helpers, Muluk "the bee smoker" and Aya "the garden fairy" made strawberry lemonade from the garden for the visitors

We had lots of kids visiting the farm, foraging was only allowed for those under 12

 And forage they did, I don't think there was a berry left by the end of the day

The other favorite kid attraction was the tree house

Adults had fun too, we told the history of the site, the importance of sharing as a model, talked to them about permaculture and how we implemented those principles in the garden

We showed them our crops

 The shiitake mushroom production on oak tree logs

The compost pile and how to make one at home

Giancarlo explained how to make compost tea and the multiple benefits of it for soil and plant health

Yes, he is a total compost show off

They got to see the chickens

And the bees, who were also on their best behavior and no one got stung. We talked about the importance of bee keeping in the city to establish a closer connection with them and to encourage, 6000 bee keepers caring for one hive rather then the current situation which is the other way around

The tour through the Da Terra food forest (next door) was also really exciting. People got to see how a garden can look like after 10 years of caring. The also saw the relationship of a high tree canopy a medium shrub and a low ground cover of edibles working together 

One of my favorite professors Clare Cooper Markus came to the tour, I was very happy to see her there

 The farm cat "Big brother" disappeared for most off the day but finally showed up to play for the last tour with a lot less people

Thank you so much to everybody who came out to visit the Algarden, it was wonderful to see you.
I also want to send a big thank you to Ruby "Sparky bee grirl" from the Institute of Urban Homesteading for organizing this farm tour and inviting us to participate

Huge thanks to Jane "the owner" who kindly allows us to use her property, do this work and who also did a fantastic job welcoming the visitors. Thanks for volunteering Jane!

 And my most sincere deep gratitude to my friend and mentor Giancarlo Muscardini "farmer in chief" for all that he has taught me and for being an amazing partner in this urban farming adventure.

Next Saturday we are celebrating 4 years at the Algarden and teaching a Permaculture crash course, don't miss it! You can sign up here