Partner Profile: Uncommon Good
Perhaps it’s the cooler weather coming to the east coast, or maybe it’s the shorter days making us long for more sunshine, but we’re heading back to California for October’s Partner Profile! This month, we asked Nancy Mintie, Executive Director of Uncommon Good out of Claremont, CA (http://uncommongood.org) to tell us a bit about themselves. Well, as the name suggests, they opted not to use our turnkey question & answer format, and instead answered us quite “uncommonly.” And we’re so glad they did! In this narrative-inspired Partner Profile, you’ll learn more about how Uncommon Good, an organization that works to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and to work for the restoration of our planet, is going about achieving its impressive goals. Please note that this Partner Profile may be challenging to read and may trigger emotional responses: To use a farming metaphor, out of dung and soil, beautiful things can grow. That’s a good description of Uncommon Good’s food justice program, which grew directly out of the suffering of the Great Recession of 2008. At that time, Uncommon Good had an education program that worked with the poorest families in the great Inland Valley of Southern California. These folks were recently arrived immigrant parents and children. However, when the recession struck, the suffering of the families we served increased even beyond the usual hardships of their poverty. I remember in the summer of 2009 fires were raging in the hills bordering our communities. The air was hot and choking with ash. Yet as people lost their jobs, families were moving into unventilated metal storage containers for housing. They might as well have been ovens. We began to see reverse migration, in which families who had come to this country because they were starving, started to migrate back to their homelands. They felt that if they were going to starve, they might as well die at home. The last straw for us was when a local dad lost his employment and the mother was ill and needed kidney dialysis but the family had no money for medical treatment. Their daughter concluded that she was a burden on her family and tried to commit suicide. In response, we called a meeting of all of the families in our program, to see what more could be done to bring help to our community. Naively, I asked if a community garden would help the parents put food on the table. They laughed at me and explained that they were exhausted from doing manual labor all day and the last thing they wanted was to do more manual labor when they came home. They said, “We just want to use what energy we have left to make dinner for our kids and try to make sure they do their homework. Community gardens are for rich people.” That made sense. So I responded, “A lot of you worked on farms in your home countries. What if you could farm here, under good working conditions, making a living wage to support your family? What do you think of that idea?” At that, the room erupted into excited conversation, for many of the mothers and fathers in our program have a true passion for working with the earth and growing food. And so our farm program was born. At first we partnered with a local farmer who had gone bankrupt and helped to bring his farm back to life. Then we created a farm therapy program for low-income families that was adopted by our local mental health agency. Now the program farms urban infill at schools, places of worship, nonprofit organizations, and private homes. Uncommon Good hires the parents of students in its program to be the farmers and sales persons for the program. It gives half of what is grown away to the families in our program who otherwise could not afford fresh organic fruits and vegetables. The other half of the produce is sold to create an income stream to help support the program. The program is called CAUSA (which means “the cause” in Spanish) and stands for Community Alliance for Urban Sustainable Agriculture. CAUSA has been the inspiration for more than just farming at Uncommon Good. It has spawned a parent- led diabetes education and control program. We have had “Iron Chef”-type cooking contests for students and parents using the produce from the farms. Uncommon Good mothers have created healthy cooking classes to demonstrate how they adapt traditional recipes to be more healthful. Our Teen Green environmental youth organization has started its own rooftop garden on a dormitory at Pomona College. Uncommon Good moms also have started a wildly successful annual “Celebrando a la Mujer” (Celebration of Women) health and wellness conference for their peers. Families have reported the elimination of hunger, weight loss, improved health, and even the reversal of diabetes and other serious health problems. About 5,000 parents and children are fed each year from the program which produces over 25 tons of food annually. We like to say that instead of having just a traditional “bottom line” of making money, we have a quadruple bottom line. CAUSA does earn money, but it also takes care of its workers, takes care of the environment by farming organically, and takes care of the community by feeding the hungry. Now THAT is a just and sustainable local food system! ---- Thank you, Uncommon Good, for sharing your story with us.