Planting Justice one $5.00 Donation at a Time
Permaculture landscape techniques—which seek to mimic the beneficial relationships between plants and animals in natural ecosystems—arguably offer the best means of producing large amounts of food in small urban spaces while using few outside inputs. Yet where this still-emerging design principle can be found practiced in the United States, it is more likely to be in the yards of middle-income-and-above homeowners rather than in the gritty lots of nutritionally and economically impoverished urban neighborhoods. Connecting the promise and bounty of permaculture with neighborhoods in need is the mission of Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi, co-founders of Planting Justice, an Oakland, California-based non-profit. “Our goal was to develop a way to make permaculture more affordable and accessible to low-income people who can’t afford the cost and time of a two-to-three-week-long permaculture course,” says Raders. “We wanted a means to transfer this very important information and hands-on knowledge to the East Bay community where we live.”
To fund the installation of permaculture gardens in low-income neighborhoods, Raders and Zandi developed a two-prong business strategy that combines the use of fee-based work to pay for pro bono garden installations with door-to-door canvassing.
Raders, Zandi, and four additional permaculture landscapers—one of whom is a former inmate who received permaculture training through Planting Justice’s work with the San Quentin Prison’s Insight Garden Program—are available for hire by Bay Area residents interested in permaculture installations. Commissions range from complete gardens to gray water systems and chicken coops. By design, Planting Justice’s pricing schedule enables the fee-based work to subsidize permaculture projects in low-income communities. “We work for people who can pay full cost for our services in order to fund our work for people who can’t pay,” says Raders.
Raders and Zandi compliment this straightforward subsidization strategy with a more philosophically nuanced one of neighborhood canvassing. Planting Justice’s canvasser knocks on doors five days a week to raise community awareness of nearby permaculture projects and to encourage participation in their installation, to explain Planting Justice’s philosophy, and, ultimately, to solicit small donations. “Our goal is to get as many people as possible to be giving $5.00 a month,” says Raders. “A lot of people assume that their supporter base should be upper and middle class. We want to demonstrate that low-income communities can also fund a social movement. We ask people to become monthly donors, and we explain to people that the model of community supported organizations, of lots and lots of people giving a few dollars a month, is extraordinarily powerful and enables organizations to have financial sovereignty and sustainability.”
Residents of the East Bay’s low-income neighborhoods understand the significance of Planting Justice’s work and are asking for more installations. “We’re getting approached all the time,” says Raders, “if not every day, then multiple times a week. One of the persistent stereotypes is that low-income people and people of color either don’t want or don’t understand the critical need for healthy and affordable foods. But this is such a misperception. We get approached by low-income people of color because they have health problems and have already realized that they need to access and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.”
To learn more about Planting Justice’s work and to see a list of current projects, please visit Planting Justice’s website at: www.plantingjustice.orgPlanting Justice 5252 Claremont Ave Oakland, CA 94618 (510) 290-4049