Good to Grow

Guest post by Luke Taylor, who started a business called Good to Grow with his wife, Emily

Luke and Emily Taylor

Luke and Emily Taylor

Based out of Irvington, on the east side of Indianapolis, Good to Grow aims to harness the power of community to revolutionize the way we interact with overlooked natural resources.

What does it look like to “harness the power of community?” And what are these overlooked natural resources?

The power of community is a shared vision, and many hands. Our vision is one that makes it easy for neighbors to make choices that not only benefit their community, but also themselves. Choices like saving their food waste to create compost—and collecting rainwater to reduce water bills and strain on municipal utilities.

Good to Grow's custom-built water barrel towers enable urban gardeners to save large amounts of rainwater.

Good to Grow’s custom-built water barrel towers enable urban gardeners to save large amounts of rainwater.

Some might call this “being green,” or recycling. I am happy thinking of it as purely selfish.

If you have altruistic notions of saving the world one recycled cardboard box at a time, great! Continue seeking out ways to heal your part of the world through changes large and small. Your community needs more people like you.

Many in your community, however, need a layup. (Editor’s note: a layup, for the basketball-uninitiated, is the easiest of shots, more difficult to miss than make.) These folks will only choose to recycle if they are standing next to a bin or a forest ranger is looking in their direction.

Or if they receive something free as a reward. In short, they need incentive.

Developing an incentive framework to support behavior change is our goal at Irvington’s Good to Grow.

A bucket ready to receive a neighbor's vegetable scraps.

A bucket ready to receive a neighbor’s vegetable scraps.

One such framework is Irvington’s composting program. Already being championed by 16 households, this initiative’s ultimate goal is to collect compostable food waste and distribute finished compost (a valuable organic fertilizer) at the very same time. The idea is to connect beneficial behavior as seamlessly as possible with valuable incentive and convenience.

It is my hope that this idea encourages communities to create incentive frameworks of their own!

Luke Taylor moved to Irvington, Indianapolis with his wife Emily in early 2013. They chose this neighborhood mostly because of its strong sense of community. The Taylors wanted to be a part of it, and to encourage its growth. With Good to Grow as the vessel for delivery, they have a vision for Irvington that will amplify and enrich our local resources, bringing together an already blossoming Indianapolis community. One day, they dream to be able to enrich other Indianapolis communities in the same way by sharing the Good to Grow framework.

KI EcoCenter: Transforming Education

Second in a series on education
KI EcoCenter, or Kheprw Institute, has been making change for nearly a decade in my hometown. In recent years, educator Khalil MwaAfrika came on board the community empowerment center to start an independent school. He was tired of discussing school reform while watching the educational system destroy African-American children, particularly boys.

Khepri, by Jeff Dahl via Wikimedia Commons

Khepri, by Jeff Dahl (GFDL or Creative Commons) via Wikimedia Commons

Instead of reform, he is invested in nothing less than education’s complete transformation. As  mentioned in a previous post, “Kheprw” was an Egyptian god with a scarab beetle head. This beetle was a symbol of rebirth in Egypt—so the center is fittingly named.

KI’s school offers a rigorous program for African-American students. Classes are very small, allowing a high degree of mentorship. Community members interact with the students every day in this intergenerational model.

MwaAfrika emphasizes that igniting a passion for learning is key. Instead of promoting a particular ideology, faculty create space for discourse and dialogue. In that environment the children learn critical thinking skills. They are encouraged to puzzle things out themselves.

In contrast with the traditional school system, here there is no need for the youngsters to feel they must give up their own rich culture in order to succeed.

This issue came up repeatedly at the center’s recent Real Talk Summit on urban education. Because our dominant culture is white/upper middle class, racism is the water we all swim in—leading to schools that don’t believe in children from other races and classes.

A faculty member and student at KI EcoCenter Community School

A faculty member and student at KI EcoCenter Community School

But KI is different. “We’ve set up an environment where (black students) can be themselves, where they can learn exponentially, where they never have to compromise who they are,” MwaAfrika says.

KI founder Imhotep Adisa notes, “The primary purpose of education is indoctrination. It’s not liberation.”

Part of that indoctrination is the consumerism that is jeopardizing the earth. “We’re at a very ugly place in the history of the planet,” he says. “Regardless of gender, race, and class, the old paradigm has accelerated this…We have to develop new tools for a new paradigm. We have to have the courage to say, ‘That’s not the world we want for ourselves and our children.’”

KI’s adults model that courage every day. Teaching youth to interface with the culture of power while retaining their identity is a critical aspect of their work.

Social enterprises are part of this, as the students work with KI’s bootstrappers (young adults) to develop the skills needed to thrive in a resource-strapped world.

Barrel at left is via KI's Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise, with my chosen artwork

Barrel at left is via KI’s Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise, with my chosen artwork

Above (at left) is the rainbarrel made by bootstrappers and students for my urban homestead, via the Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise. My partner added it to our rain catchment setup, just in time for big rains.

(Indy-area readers, check it out: Save on your water bill, display your artwork, and support a great organization all at the same time.)

Read more about KI’s work in my Indiana Living Green story.

Next: Bloomington’s homeschooling cooperative, exploring the homestead as learning environment.

In Troubled Times

This morning when I looked out my front window, I saw that the juneberry we planted two years ago was budding. Through the rain I could see the sketch of pale green buds dotting each limb, all the way out to the tips–with the promise of sweet berries contained in each one.

Buds that will open into a white blossom, eventually fruiting into delicious berries

Buds that will open into a white blossom, eventually fruiting into delicious berries

The young tree has made it through two of the hottest summers on record, and those tender buds gave my heavy heart a lift.

We planted it because we wanted to grow fruit on our lot, and we nurtured it with weekly waterings through crippling drought and heat. When the rain barrel went dry, I carried buckets from indoors, saving shower water, cooking water, and the dehumidifier’s daily emptying–occasionally breaking down and stretching the hose across the lawn to let it run for a slow hour.

There’s a passage I like from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, called Interbeing. It begins:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper…”

My tree contains multitudes. It has the memory of picking juneberries with my dad a few years ago, before he got sick, before he died, in the forgotten pocket park wedged between two busy streets. There were three small trees just loaded with juicy wine-colored berries. Dad picked from the high branches and left me the low ones. When the low limbs were picked clean, he pulled the ends of the high branches down so I could reach.

Also part of my tree is Jason, the neighbor who helped dig the hole and position the root ball on planting day. And Jerome, the young man who brought it to us through his work with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. This year Jerome has parlayed his passion for trees into his own business as a certified arborist, Tree-Centric Solutions–pledging to not only plant, treat, and prune trees, but find uses for wood from trees that can’t be saved.

My juneberry even holds the “woman tree,” an old redbud whose upreaching shape I cherished. I called her that because she always looked so feminine to me. The woman tree was just beyond where the juneberry is now, and she had to come down because half the branches were dead. Taking her out meant we freed up room for a fruiting tree.

Irony: I learned that redbud flowers are edible just after we had ours cut down. I could have decorated so many salads with the woman tree’s bounty. Not only that, but Jerome’s service came too late for her: What I wouldn’t give to have something made from the wood of that beloved redbud!

So all that’s in this juneberry too: my regrets, my ignorance, my wishing things were otherwise. But mostly, these are outshone by pride and hope.

I share all this because in troubled times, sometimes things like this can help: a small tree in the rain, holding memories and care, covered in promise.

KI EcoCenter Leading in the Green Economy

A local community group near and dear to my heart will be represented at a national event next week. The executive director of Indy’s own KI EcoCenter, also known as Kheprw Institute, will be among the presenters at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs 2013 Conference in Washington, D.C.

About KI: When I first visited, I learned that “Kheprw” is a reference to an Egyptian god represented by a man with a scarab beetle head. The scarab beetle was a symbol of rebirth in ancient Egypt.

It seems a fitting title for this community empowerment center, which works at the intersection of social justice and environmental stewardship in the heart of an economically distressed neighborhood. Here it’s all about nurturing an ecologically sound way of life while creating economic opportunity through community engagement. The programming includes an eco-film series, job creation panels, open mic nights, youth empowerment events, and so much more.

Mat, Rasul, Asli, William, and Imhotep show off an Express Yourself Rainbarrel

Young people in the KI school and mentorship program gain critical thinking skills as they practice social entrepreneurship.

I’ve met many of KI’s children and young adults and they’re not just tomorrow’s leaders—they’re today’s. They know firsthand that with the help of your community, your creativity, and your drive, you can make something from nothing. They’ve built garden beds and aquaponics tanks. They’ve started a paint store, a web services/graphic design enterprise, and a fair trade coffee shop. KI’s work has inculcated in them the confidence and skills they need to navigate the relationship-based economy—whether the goal is a money-maker or a service project or, better yet, both at once.

About the Conference: The theme for the three-day conference is “Let’s Get to Work: Climate Change, Infrastructure and Innovation.” Over 80 workshops will illuminate the possibilities of job creation through green infrastructure. (How refreshing: You mean we don’t have to unleash holy hell in the form of Canadian tar sands in the name of “job creation”?)

KI’s director Imhotep Adisa is a panelist for a workshop highlighting successful sustainable water infrastructure projects. He’ll share KI’s experience in the green economy and its latest social enterprise, Express Yourself Rainbarrels. (I absolutely love this project: The KI crew will customize a rainbarrel with your logo, design, or photograph. I can’t wait to see mine!)

I’ve written a piece for Indiana Living Green about the center that will be out next month. In the meantime, check out this video featuring their work. (Start at minute 3:50 for the segment on KI).

Not Your Mother’s Flower Show

Update as of March 8: I’ve added a couple things to this post that I didn’t know about yesterday: additional times to hear about backyard chickens, plus a coupon!

Quick commercial break here for those who live in or near Indianapolis. This year’s Flower and Patio Show, running March 9-17 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, includes a phenomenal new exhibit called The Urban Homestead. Picture a 10,000 square-foot city lot set up right in the middle of the expo hall, complete with chickens, rain barrels, vegetable gardens, and occasionally even sheep.

Yep, sheep. “When the grass around the Eco-Cottage grows too tall during the show, sheep from Fruit Loop Acres will be brought in to ‘mow.'”

sheep grazing

Sheep from the Green Shepherd Project, a project of Fruit Loop Acres, graze a city lot. Photo by Sue Spicer.

Other highlights:

Fraudulent Farmgirl Amy Mullen from Spotts Garden Service will present three times:

  • Saturday, March 9: 12:30 p.m. “Food Gardening for Beginners
  • Friday, March 15, 1:00 p.m. “Organic Weed and Pest Control
  • Friday, March 15, 6:00 p.m. “Edible Landscapes

Herbs growing in a container

Andy Cochran with Circle City Rain Barrels will teach how to build a rain barrel in two sessions:

  • 11:30am Saturday, March 9
  • 11am Sunday, March 10

Nap Town Chickens will be there all week, and there will opportunities to learn how easy it is to keep backyard chickens in three sessions:

  • 1pm Tuesday, March 12 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens
  • 11am Thursday, March 14 with Maggie Goeglein of Fall Creek Gardens
  • 7pm Saturday, March 16 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens

All this plus beekeeping, mead making, container gardening, composting, and more. I’m so there!

Oh wait, I have to be there: I signed up to be a presenter. I’ll be talking about solar cooking at 1pm Wednesday, March 13, demonstrating how to harness the most plentiful source of energy on earth to do your summer cooking.

We may have snow on the ground now, but in a few short months, this little puppy will be my best friend again.

solar cooker

Solar cooker and rain barrel on my urban homestead

Here is a coupon for $3 off admission to the Flower and Patio Show. Get there, and then come see us at the Urban Homestead exhibit!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.