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 :)  

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