There’s a lot of interesting, exciting, creative projects being founded and developed now. Be it hard times that encourage innovation or unique challenge that we face as a society, people are binding together and collaborating to make positive and creative changes in our world. I want to showcase some of these projects in a series of posts to help get the word out about them in order to support their work and glean insights for community organizers, social innovators and ecological stewards. I’m specifically focusing on projects that combine social and ecological innovation and creatively cultivate a culture of health in our communities.
I’m using these entries to start a permanent page on this blog for highlight similar projects that contribute to a culture of social and ecological health. I’ll be adding to this list periodically. So if you know of any initiatives, projects or organizations that you think should be included, let me know.
R&DIY stands for Research and Develop it Yourself. Officially, it’s an online platform for mass collaboration. Using the problem of creating effective urban window farms, a global community collaborated on its research, development and implementation. It’s basically crowdsourced R&D. See more about the our.WindowFarms project here, and a TED talk about the project and its process here. This approach can be applied for many things, and the mass collaboration process is one to keep an eye on.
Traditional Plants and Foods Program (Northwest Indian College) and the Native Plants Nutrition Program (Northwest Indian Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center): Bellingham, WA and Elma, WA
Here in Salish country, a cultural renaissance has been growing over the last decade. With tribal and longhouse communities ravaged by American colonization over the last 3 centuries, there’s a lot of work to be done to heal the generational and cultural trauma. With the leadership of notable tribal elders, education programs on plants, culture and health have been developed and implemented in schools, tribal clinics, community organizations and gardens to do just that. One that’s particularly carrying the effort is the Traditional Plants and Foods Program of the Northwest Indian College (Cooperative Extension). The Traditional Plants and Foods Program develops curricula and leads workshops and classes in Salish traditions of food and medicine, nutrition, chronic disease prevention and herbal medicine. Through the use of cultural storytelling and narrative, plants and their connections to culture and ancestry have been rejuvenating participating communities and empowering people to reclaim their traditional knowledge, cultural property. With strengthening cultural identity, the social fabric of communities becomes stronger.
Plants connect people to their stories, culture and ancestry. They connect us to our habitat and ecological communities. The work of this group helps us understand that by situating people in their historical and ecological context, deep healing can happen.
Another notable feature of this program is their focus on capacity-building. They regularly host a ‘Train the Trainers’ intensive, giving tribal educators all the tools they need to go out and teach medicine and food traditions, health maintenance and disease prevention. This way, the impact of their work has risen exponentially.
They also direct the Native Plants Nutrition Program, which provides weekly classes on traditional foods, medicines and nutrition at the Northwest Indian Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center. They also host the Lummi Traditional Food Project and the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project. This innovative program has taken plants into many venues, potentiated their impact through storytelling, and has led a cultural renaissance in Indian Country. I’m honored to be working with them and learning from them, and I fully support and promote their work. See more here, and I highly recommend the documentary Teaching of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller to learn more about the vision and foundations of this program.
Beacon Food Forest: Seattle, WA
The simplicity of this project is what’s grabbed me. A neighborhood got together and transformed a portion of a park (Jefferson Park) into a public access food forest. The project has attracted hundreds of cynical comments of the ‘What about the Tragedy of the Commons?!’ variety. However, I’d like to point out to the naysayers that the Tragedy of the Commons is a potential pattern, and one that can be skillfully averted. Don’t let the ‘what ifs’ stand in the way of positive, creative change. See more about the project here.
Olympia Free Herbal Clinic/Dandelion Community Health Collective: Olympia, WA
The Olympia Free Herbal Clinic was founded in 2008 by herbalists who wanted to provide safe, accessible herbal medicine to their community. We’ve operated a free walk-in herbal clinic in downtown Olympia, community education, and a medicinal garden. Four years later, we are a collective of 7 and are expanding our project and activities to better achieve our mission: To empower people to take charge of their own health. We look to collaborate with others and promote a culture of health in Olympia, promote social and ecological partnership and awareness, and to help the people reclaim their medicine. This year we’re expanding to create the Dandelion Community Health Collective that coordinates the community clinic, community education program and resource center, internship program, medicine garden, organizing tools & trainings and an apprenticeship programs. We’re very busy and enormously excited for this new phase.
GRuB: Olympia, WA
GRuB stands for A Garden Raised Bounty and operates in Washington State. Their mission states:
- We inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture.
- We partner with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual & community food solutions.
- We offer tools & trainings to help build a just & sustainable food system.
They have 2 main programs, both of which are creative and awesome. Their GRuB in the Schools Initiative allows low-income students to earn school credits while learning about strengthening their local food system. Their Kitchen Garden Project,
…partners with organizations and low-income people to create backyard and neighborhood food solutions. We connect people with the sustainable food movement by providing access to the knowledge and resources needed to grow fresh, healthy and culturally appropriate foods. The KGP builds raised bed, double dug and container gardens with individuals, families and communities. We then provide new gardeners with seeds, starts and cover crops, free access to our extensive gardening workshop series and a connection to the greater gardening community.
What makes GRuB stand out is their innovative programs and initiatives that fill many needs at once. This is elegant design: developing an approach, program or system that can address multiple adaptive challenges. A lot of the social and ecological challenges we face are interconnected. How can your programs address adaptive challenges?
Again, if you know of any initiatives, projects or organizations that you think should be included, drop a line and let me know.