Based out of Oakland, Calif., Planting Justice is a remarkable organization headed up by a former student of Geoff Lawton, Gavin Raders. With a five-acre food forest, an orchard and nursery, educational center, sliding scale organic shop and more, the non-profit is battling food deserts and assisting the community through their prison permaculture program, as well as high school permaculture education.
Gavin Raders’ story begins at UC Berkeley, where he developed a passion for human rights issues as he studied cultural anthropology. This social justice mindset led him to permaculture, through recognition of not only its environmental impacts, but its social impacts as well. With the strong belief that Americans need to work with, rather than against, nature to create our own food, water and energy, he feels permaculture can allow all citizens (present and future) equal access to their basic necessities,, while simultaneously reducing crime. After all, those living in a society where they can readily access these necessities are less likely to take them by force.
So, Planting Justice was born in 2009 and in its seven-year stint has managed to create a revolution in the Bay Area. The organization has built more than 400 permaculture edible gardens, developed permaculture education programs at five local high schools and created permaculture jobs for prisoners. All their efforts address one pressing issue — the inequality found within America’s food systems, from the exploitation of food workers to food deserts to the abundance of harmful, readily-available processed food items.
Holistic Re-Entry Program
This goal is most evidently seen in Planting Justice’s holistic re-entry program. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals in the area is about 70 percent, and the recidivism rate is about the same partially in thanks to the few job opportunities available for former inmates. Through their permaculture projects, Planting Justice, whos re-entry program has maintained a 0% recidivism rate over the past 6 years, has been able to create thousands of eco-friendly jobs for these individuals, that additionally provide a living wage, at $17.50 per hour or more ($5.25 more than the local minimum wage), plus health insurance and the opportunity to move up within the organization.
However, the re-entry program doesn’t start there. A partnership with San Quentin State Prison allows Planting Justice to train current prisoners in permaculture work. Then, when the parolee leaves, they have a job waiting for them with individuals they’re already comfortable with, creating an easier re-entry transition. More than 50 percent of the staff is made up of former prisoners, so that those just transitioning have a support group within the work environment.
Nursery and Aquaponics Farm
So what kind of permaculture projects are Planting Justice and their incredible team working on? One of the largest is the nursery and aquaponics farm incubation center. More than 900 investors assisted in the purchase of two acres of abandoned land in eastern Oakland, an area where the unemployment and crime rates are both incredibly high. The area is also a food desert, and individuals in the nearby neighborhoods are reliant on pre-packaged, unhealthful foods, as they have no access to fresh and organic produce. The new land provides residents with a nursery, aquaponics farm, education center and an urban food production hub.
The on-site nursery is actually being transplanted to the plot of land from Humboldt Country. A highly successful permaculture plant nursery with an extensive client list, it offers 1,100 varieties of organic, edible trees. In addition to providing income and jobs, the nursery also provides the neighborhood residents on government assistance with either free or highly discounted fruit trees. The nursery’s aquaponics system will create enough energy to produce more than 100,000 pounds of organic produce per year, all while using only 10 percent of the water a traditional farm would use to produce the same.
To combat the community’s status as a food desert, a salvaged shipping container on the property becomes a sliding scale organic produce shop. Families can purchase fresh and organic vegetables, fruits, nuts and other natural and healthful products such as holistic medicines, honey and more. Residents can make purchases via EBT and SNAP, or on a sliding scale. They’ll also have access to the organization’s educational opportunities, including free courses for young people, on everything from nutrition and cooking to social justice and herbal medicine.
The end game for this project includes a three-year goal to create a complete model for other organizations to follow, whether located nearby or across the country. Planting Justice will help new organizations take the same crucial steps to create permaculture projects also combatting food system inequality, whether through sharing technology and connections, or providing administrative support.
Five-Acre Food Forest
Want more? A short ways outside of Oakland, Planting Justice has created a five-acre food forest and orchard. There are more than 400 trees planted on the plot of land, with a goal of reaching more than one thousand planted in swales, with fruit shrubs between. The food forest is largely possible in part due to the extensive help of local volunteers, who assist every Thursday and one Saturday per month. Tasks on the roster for this month include the continuation of planting understory shrubs, the planning and design of a solar system and the planning and design of future farm structures.
The food forest also relies on donations from the community, and the team’s wish list includes a trailer for hauling farming equipment and compost, a portable generator, composting materials, mulch, seeds and more.
Of course, Planting Justice is all about the community, so involvement from the permaculture community in the area and all around the world is greatly welcomed. If you live in the Bay Area, you can easily sign up for a volunteer day at the five-acre food forest; if you live anywhere else in the world, donations to the cause are appreciated as well. If you live within the contiguous United States, you can also order plants from the nursery and have them directly shipped to your home.
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