Increasing Local Sustainability
Between January 2020 and January 2021, Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light saw a 400% increase in the Network of Growers from 43 to a total of 182 participants – urban farmers and gardeners who share resources, share tools, and share fresh local food. We also experienced 9 garden workdays, 231 fruit trees & fruit bushes planted, 30 garden beds installed, 4 chicken coops installed, 3 bee hives installed, 1 greenhouse installed, 1 greenhouse repaired.
Because of the winter months, growing seasons, college semester virtual learning schedules, and the pandemic, almost all outdoor garden efforts occurred between August and November, 2021. Building bee hives, chicken coops, and greenhouses occurred in December and January “Building” consisted of conducting on-site construction demonstrations and leaving what was demonstrated on-site for the recipients. Others who attended learned skills to build their own. Stocking up on seeds and seedlings for greenhouses occurred in December and January.
Schools, veterans facilities, homeless shelters, and houses of worship were closed to us March through July, 2020 because of the pandemic. The Climate Reality grant provided personal protective supplies (masks, hand sanitizers), funds, and renewed spirits to determine how we could safely gather at distances in gardens and conduct awareness sessions over zoom conferences. By August, we were ready to renew our mission efforts.
Ark. IPL conducted 39 activities reaching 796 individuals with messages connecting energy efficiency / local fresh organic food to climate change / environmental justice. The activities and messages were intended to support self-sufficiency in the low-wealth communities. In addition to large community gardens, 30 new smaller garden plots were installed or expanded for individual entrepreneur urban farmers; all 182 people associated with the Network of Growers received assistance with garden beds, bees, chickens, seeds, plants, compost.
In addition to existing relationships with 6 community / school gardens and 2 food pantries plus approximately 30 individual urban farmers, in 2020, AIPL developed more than 20 NEW relationships with individuals and groups with whom we had not previously collaborated: New Africa Garden at Islamic Center for Human Excellence; Azalea Neighborhood Garden; Military Veteran Gabryel’s Urban Garden on Arch St.; No Closed Door Youth Group working at the Promise Garden on 12th St.; OK Program with Little Rock Police Department and local pastors – at-risk youth learning to build garden beds from scrap cedar; Lauren Anderson and Randy DeWitt, beekeepers; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Field Office in North Little Rock – Troyce Barnet in Mountain View has high tunnels for urban farmers who apply; Engine John from University of Arkansas at Little Rock – Small Engine Repair workshop leader; Arkansas Community Foundation – funding for 3-4 part-time garden interns for February to July 2021; Kurtis Priebe, lead mentor providing leadership for multiple mentors who work with entrepreneur urban gardeners in the 12th St. to 18th St. area with more than 20 urban plots; Woodruff Community Garden; College of Public Health at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Crump Garden; Dream Center Garden; Hope Rises Garden for women recovering from incarceration; The Village Place; Caterpillar / Waste Management – renewed relationship to take advantage of used pallets and crates to repurpose as garden beds and chicken coops; North Little Rock Housing Authority – collaborative demonstrations of garden bed construction at Porter Cove low-income housing project; Habitat for Humanity – partnering to repurpose lumber for garden beds and chicken coops; PATH (Physicians Against Trafficking Humans) – collaborative demonstrations and instructions on building garden beds and growing healthy food; Hillary Clinton Children’s Library garden and greenhouse; Seventh Day Adventists Food Pantry; Sam Kincannon’s Urban Garden on Jones St.; Bree and Caleb’s new garden under a power line on Pat Cullivan’s property in Rose City area of North Little Rock. All of these new partners were supported by AIPL efforts or contributed toward our efforts…. or both in some cases.
AIPL, working with students at the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas Diamond Girls Scouts distributed 482 gift bags with energy efficiency items to food pantries and community centers. The bags contained LED bulbs, power strips, faucet aerators, socket sealers, tip sheets, and “30 Simple Things You Can Do to Save Energy & Money” booklets from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Girl Scouts and UCA students enrolled in Environmental Health learned about natural resources and energy conservation before decorating, filling, and distributing the gift bags. 24 UCA students watched a Climate Reality presentation by zoom and provided AIPL with individual reflections, which can be shared with Climate Reality.
362 pounds of excess fresh food were delivered to community food pantries from AIPL gardens as of 2/15/2021. Additionally, at several gardens, neighbors pick their own vegetables and collect their own eggs and take them home; therefore we are unable to weigh the amounts provided, but they were significantly higher in 2020 than excess food delivered to food pantries.
Outcomes included enhanced knowledge of decreased carbon footprints associated with industrial farming operations; increased awareness of reduced carbon emissions associated with energy conservation; increased self-sufficiency in low-wealth communities most impacted by climate change and marginalized fence-line communities most in need of environmental justice.
The most remarkable achievement was the quadrupling of the Network of Growers, which will provide a foundation for the sharing of knowledge and resources among entrepreneur urban farmers in future years. For example, one beginning farmer attended a workshop that demonstrated the building of a chicken coop from scrap wood; that chicken coop was donated to a community garden, but he was inspired to go home and build his own.
Unexpected factors throughout 2020 included the pandemic, which restricted our intentions to gather in community gardens, to collaborate with houses of worship, to work with military veterans, and to make presentations to college students. Starting in August 2020, we were able to monitor and adjust – using zoom & social distancing and distributing masks & hand sanitizers. Because of pandemic restrictions, we were unable to provide refreshments from local food sources at our events to the extent we planned; however we encouraged re-usable water bottles and provided local apples that could be washed.
The assessment of increased knowledge through a text instrument was impractical for garden gatherings. Too few completed the pre-test and post-test instruments at garden gatherings. Many volunteers arrived after pre-tests and after the sharing of introductory information. We were able to instead gauge increased awareness through interviews, testimonials, and reflections.
The 24 reflections from UCA students are the best indicator of our impact on increasing awareness of the connections between local food / energy efficiency and climate change / environmental justice. We can forward those reflections to Climate Reality separately.
We changed the method of gauging increased awareness of climate chaos from pre-test and post-test instruments to interviews, testimonials, and reflections. Because of the ages, interests, and reluctance of the population served, we allowed shared learning to occur more organically and less like a “test.” We discovered that we needed a tripod to record interviews, so we bought one.
Targeted recipients are eager to increase self-sufficiency but lack resources to begin. Energy efficiency items, garden tools, and demonstrations provide basics for self-starters to get started.
The FarmCorps member’s term ended in September. New FarmCorps terms did not begin until January2021. We did not spend the budgeted amount on FarmCorps. Instead, we worked with volunteer students at the College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. We also hired part-time interns, who continue to work with us.
The Boy Scout troop at Amboy United Methodist Church did not meet during the pandemic, although some of them planted berry bushes at the church while socially distancing.
Excess food was shared through food pantries but not schools. Schools were not open to us or to any visitors because of the pandemic.
We did not anticipate the pandemic lasting throughout the summer, fall and winter. We did not spend the allotted amount on printed invitations to garden events because facilities were closed. However, we were able to reach 796 individuals through community involvement. We adjusted our plans to reach our goals related to increasing community resilience to Covid 19 through energy efficiency, self-sufficiency, and local plant-based diets. We were able to serve the identified low-income communities of color that intersect racial disparities, health disparities, and climate crisis.
Because of our efforts in low-wealth communities, outcomes include:
1) Improved Diets, Reduced Carbon Emissions
2) Enhanced Knowledge of Decreased Carbon Footprints Associated with Local Organic Farms vs. Industrial Farming Operations
3) Increased Knowledge of Reduced Carbon Emissions Associated with Energy Conservation
4) Increased Self-Sufficiency
The outcomes also apply to the college students, the Girl Scouts, and their parents who learned as they assisted us in reaching out to low-income communities.