Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating Urban growing and Social Justice

Many of the Unity Gardens’ staff, leaders, volunteers, and Master Gardeners spent the weekend at the KAMII MLK Social Justice Conference in Chicago.  What a great way to reflect on our mission and count our blessings through the eyes of others!

From planning a garden for a homeless shelter to use to help their neighborhood have access to healthy food, to listening to the many classes on urban farming, the entire conference was one delight after another.  It was both educational and reinforcing.  We learned so much from others, but also saw how much we had to offer!
Academic discussions on what it meant to give and to receive, discussions on empowerment, social inequity, and dignity all helped reinforce the Unity Gardens model.  By day 2, when I was scheduled to speak about our framework and journey, I was eager to share!  Seeing Unity Gardens through the eyes of others helped me appreciate how far our community has come and what wonderful opportunities for “growth” we still have.

The Unity Gardens enthralled those who heard the story.  I could visibly see hope grow in the eyes of those listening.  In a full room, the questions started flying:  How do we make sure there is enough food, what about funding, and more.  Each group of questions led to more discussion as people there, just like in our community struggled with the concepts of free food and social inequity.  People who did not believe they could have an urban garden without fences took pause and inquired further.  Social justice leaders from across the country asked if we had grown throughout the United States, and others asked for our information so they could learn more.

One of the most common threads of inquiry, second to the overall framework was about funding.  How did Unity Gardens survive fiscally?  This line of questioning is why I am sharing.

Unity Gardens survives because this community, our community, believes we are sprouting something special.  We are growing a new way of living together and caring for one another.  While pursuing a grant, I was asked, “How does Unity Gardens hope to move beyond grant dependence?”  I replied that I could only wish to write so well as to be mostly grant supported!  Unity Gardens major source of revenue and in kind donations come from hundreds and thousands of people giving what they can. 

Every donation to Unity Gardens; $25.00, the purchase of a T-shirt, or the donation of a garden tool, weeding, even attending a fund raiser, EVERY donation, is what keeps us growing. I am so grateful for those who come and help us garden, the volunteers who help teach our classes, the interns who take on projects or even the other non-profits who share their expertise.  Every single person in our community makes the difference!  Through the eyes of Chicago I was able to see what a truly remarkable project we have grown. Our community may have more community gardens than any other in the nation.  We do this by growing each other. Please reflect on what you value and take the time to offer part of yourself to make our world better.  I would be honored if you choose to give back through Unity Gardens.

Thank you!  I hope we can count on your support!
Donations may be mailed to
                                              PO Box 10022
                                              South Bend, IN 46680
Or on-line at
Growing Together,
Sara Stewart RN MSN

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Touching Last Day of 2012

                 I love what I do for a living. I mean really I get to play in the dirt, meet all sorts of people, and do a Picturelittle good in the community. So I sometimes use this as an excuse to work really hard most of the time 7 days a weeks, and sometimes I get caught up in pushing to get my projects finished and do not always take time to see all the good going on around me.
So today like any other day I was trying to wrap up a project I had been working on Saturday and Sunday. I was cleaning out the last growing house at Potawatomi, and recycling some wood from the other greenhouses that were torn down last year. I am hoping we can take this greenhouse space that has been used as a storage space for years and make good use out of it. So first I found a penny amongst the junk and trash. I thought how nice a penny must be my lucky day. What I found next was so touching I have to tell the story. To back up a bit with this greenhouse just being used for mostly junk and trash, and the occasional homeless person sets up camp inside amongst the junk. That is where I found this peice of wood with some writing on it. It did not look to old maybe from last summer. Here is what it said " Dear whoever lives here, My name is Geo ( for short ) and I am here with my sister Mary. We are not going to tell anyone that you are here. In fact we think its really cool that you do live here. Its summer break for the both of us, and we are going to be here at this park alot. So we were wondering if you could write us back and we could come back and read it whenever we could. We could bring you food if you wanted. We don't want to bother you or ruin your stuff. We just want to help, and admire your courage. Just keep hope. You don't have to write back either we just hope this make you happy ( smiley face )
Mary & Geo ( smiley face )
PS If you decide to write back , put it in the same place I put this note. We're prayin' for you ( heart ) Keep Hope"
I feel lucky to have come across this note. I am not sure if it went any further then this first contact, but I suspect it did. I did see a leat 3 good pens on one of the growing tables.
It reminds me that it does take courage to be without a home, and all of us that are sitting here reading this in a safe, and warm place should be thankful. I am also touched by the caring of someone for a person they do not even know. It also strikes me that in this fast paced time of cell phones and internet that there still is " the hand written letter"
I think I will hang this is a place for everyone to see so that we can all be reminded of how important respect for others, kindness, and human interaction is. Everytime I see a homeless person or someone in need of a hand I will think of the courage they have to survive against all odds.

And as a footnote on my way home I made a stop as a coffee shop as I do many times to get my computor work finished, and the man in line in front of me bought my coffee and said " have a Happy New Year"

Through the kindness of strangers hope springs eteranal .

Peace , Love and Happy 2013
Mitch Yaciw