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Shop Black Friday through AmazonSmile to Donate to GrowGood

GrowGood is a recognized charitable organization by Amazon! For those of you who don’t know, AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon that lets customers enjoy the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organizations selected by customers.

This Black Friday, score deals through GrowGood’s AmazonSmile Profile smile.amazon.com/ch/45-5472840 and AmazonSmile donates to GrowGood.

Thank you,

The GrowGood Team

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UCLA Anderson School of Management -- GrowGood Profile

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On Thursday, November 15, 2018 at the UCLA Covel Commons, Andrew Hunt, GrowGood co-founder and UCLA Anderson alumni, represented the organization as part of the Profit Meets Purpose: How LA Businesses are Making Money and Making a Difference seminar. Check out the the great profile of Andrew here.

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#STOPCEMEX

Source: NBC4 Los Angeles

We Need Your Help!

 

Our Farm Is Threatened

The City Council in Bell, where GrowGood is located, will consider a plan by the Cemex Corp. that would lead to 500 open trucks traveling 24 hours a day, seven days a week filled with gravel along the small street that runs between the farm and the Bell Shelter. The trucks would be filled from a train that would run at the back of the farm.
 
Imagine the fumes and the dust and the noise such an endeavor would create. We think it would risk the very existence of the farm and the community we have spent years building, often with the help of many of you. 
 
During the course of the planning for this, GrowGood never received any notice of the plans, nor do we find that an environmental impact study was conducted. 

Make your voices heard on behalf of GrowGood
If you can come to the City Council meeting, it will be held at 7 pm on Wednesday at 6250 Pine Avenue. Bell, California 90201. When you arrive, if you fill out a blue card, you can have up to three minutes to speak. Please speak. Let the council know how important the farm is. If you cannot come in person, please email all five council members.  See an email template below. Please feel free to make changes to it as you see fit. 

The council members:

Mayor Fidencio Gallardo
fjgallardo@cityofbell.org

Vice Mayor Ana Maria Quintana
amquintana@cityofbell.org

Ali Saleh
asaleh@cityofbell.org

Nestor Enrique Valencia
nvalencia@cityofbell.org

Alicia Romero
aromero@cityofbell.org


We are so very grateful for your support as a donor or a volunteer. We hope you will take this step to help GrowGood continue to thrive.

Thank you so very much,
The GrowGood board of directors and Team


Title: Save GrowGood and The Bell Shelter 

Dear Bell City Counsel, 

My name is __________________________ and I am the _________________ of the ___(organization/business)_______that does _________________.  

I am writing you today as a supporter of GrowGood.  We strongly oppose the City of Bell's approval of the CEMEX project for many reasons.  As you know, GrowGood  has received wide recognition for creating an urban farm adjacent to one of the largest homeless shelters west of the Mississippi.  This recognition includes awards from UCLA, USC and grants from many large and small foundations.  GrowGood's support goes way beyond funding.  GrowGood is a place where your children, family members and friends come to learn and work.  Thousands of volunteers from church, school and community organizations visit the farm.  GrowGood means to be a model, and hires and trains residents of the shelter in skills they carry on into jobs in any field.

The Cemex mining distribution project will effectively destroy GrowGood for many reasons.  First, it will create unsafe working conditions for GrowGood's farm employees because 350-500 trucks a day will pass about 100 feet from GrowGood on K Street.  These trucks will greatly increase the air pollution from diesel exhaust and dust from the truck beds.  Second, GrowGood's mission is to support the shelter with hyper-local food.  This means constant trips across K street. As well, many shelter residents cross the street to visit, volunteer or work on the farm -- and many of those residents are working with mental and physical issues, including PTSD. The safety of our staff, the shelter clients and our volunteers will be at risk. Third, GrowGood provides thousands of pounds of food for the shelter, worth about $20,000 a year. Who will make up that value?  

There are few real urban farms in Los Angeles County. There are even fewer like GrowGood, which demonstrates a commitment to addressing the grave challenges that homeless individuals face by assisting them along the path to stability and self-sufficiency.  There is a homeless crisis in Los Angeles County.  We need organizations like GrowGood and The Salvation Army to continue the fight.  We urge you not to approve the CEMEX's project unless CEMEX takes significant measures to protect the interests of the Bell Shelter and GrowGood's farm. Please don't jeopardize the decades of work that have gone into the wonderful projects that are the Bell Shelter and GrowGood. 

Respectfully, 

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Family Meal Day at GrowGood's Culinary Program

Just as millions of families treasure sitting down to dinner in the evenings – unruly toddlers and obstreperous teenagers notwithstanding – restaurant families also value the chance to eat together before the onrush of customers.

So too in GrowGood’s Culinary Training Program, which began in January to prepare students for food service jobs. Every Thursday, the class and the teachers stop working to gather around a table to talk about their work and about themselves as they eat the food they have made.

Many restaurants have family meals. Often, someone who works in the kitchen makes food for the employees. Family meal can be a simple pasta, or a dish that a worker misses from childhood. Or, it can be something a chef is trying out. 

At the GrowGood, family dinner is the work of the students on Thursdays. “We make large batches of things all week. On Thursday we can make smaller batches and concentrate on plating and garnish,” says the instructor, April Ventura.

The meal is also a chance to talk through the week. “At the end of the week, they have accomplished so much. It’s time to sit and celebrate what they’ve done,” Ventura says.

On this particular Thursday, the subject was eggs. Dinner would be a variation on eggs Benedict.

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Early on in class, Ventura has the students look at the dough for English muffins. The students had made the dough on Tuesday, dusted it with cornmeal and stored it in the refrigerator on two large metal pans.

The dough was still a little cold so hadn’t yet risen as far as everyone wanted it to. “It will start to proof a little as it warms up,” Ventura says.

Meantime, they would work on eggs. On the classroom white board the temperatures at which eggs behave in different ways were written; at 155 degrees, for example, the whites are opaque but soft.

First, Ventura had them observe the difference in appearance between a supermarket egg cracked into a dish and a fresh egg from GrowGood farm, just across the street. The latter had a much richer colored yolk and a less runny white.

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Then they scrambled eggs – softly and gently. Add salt, or other seasonings, as the eggs are being whisked and those flavors will be incorporated, not just on the surface. Don’t whisk enough and you’ll see bits of white once the eggs are cooked. Stir too little and the curds will be large.

They learn that everything matters – the eggs, the temperature of the pan, additional ingredients, the whisking, the stirring.

When student Gregg Fattori turns his eggs out onto a plate, Ventura says, “That’s really nice. You got those smaller curds.”

Then poached eggs – a style student Sadier Hernandez had never tasted – and omelets and clarified butter for making Hollandaise sauce to top the eggs. And braised greens.

Using a big white bin of chard from GrowGood farm, the students prepared greens for braising. Hernandez, handsome and smiling in a way that suggested humility, chops carefully, rocking his chef’s knife back and forth on the leaves apparently hunching his shoulders less than he once did, and Ventura jokes, “It’s getting better, my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore when you cut.”

“I cut with my full body,” he says, laughing.

The students are surprised when Ventura tells them that English muffins are cooked stovetop, not in the oven. They are cut like biscuits, in circles, working to keep the sides as puffed as possible and to waste as little dough as possible.

Hernandez has this down: He was a biscuit cutter for a while at a Carl’s Jr. 

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Fattori, a former food and beverage supervisor at the Bicycle Casino, plans to find a similar job after the culinary course. Hernandez, who has worked at a commercial bakery in Texas, is open to any job, he says. Both men are veterans of the U.S. Army.

By late afternoon, all the parts are in place: The greens are spooned onto English muffin halves, topped with poached eggs, Hollandaise and fresh GrowGood herbs for garnish. Plates go outside to a picnic table, and everyone tastes, relaxes and considers their work before the start of cleanup.

GrowGood’s Culinary Program began in January, with support from The Salvation Army, and can enroll up to eight students in each 12-week session.

by Mary MacVean

 

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Keith Burston is a Dapper Man

He’s handsome, with a smattering of moles that dance across his nose. His hair is always perfectly slicked back, and his smile spreads fast and wide. He often can be seen working at the Bell Shelter, or chatting with friends outside under a jacaranda tree.

Keith Burston is a dapper man. If appearances are any guide, the surprise about Burston isn’t that he grew up in the world of Motown in his Detroit neighborhood, a nephew of the great Smokey Robinson. The aching surprise is that he ended up an addict who lived for years on the street.

Things, he says, are changing for him. “I’m ready to stay clean, move ahead with my life,” Burston says. 

Burston, 58, is always articulate about his feelings. When he worked at GrowGood farm in the Transitional Employment Program, he often compared his work to his life, talking about the miracle of growth or the value of being outside.

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“I didn’t know what I was getting ready to take part in,” he says. “I am blown away out here.”

“Keith has incredible sincerity and a sly sense of humor, as well as deep thoughtfulness.  He would always surprise me with inspiring and heartfelt insights at our weekly meetings, connecting his journey through life with the rest of the natural world he saw on the farm,” says Katie Lewis, the farm manager.  

“At one point I said I would buy a ticket for his speaking tour, and I mean it!  I also enjoy Keith's songs, which he would sing while he worked--lots of Motown, obviously,” she says.

When Burston got (“crawled,” as he put it) to the Bell Shelter, he was in bad shape. Someone on downtown L.A.’s skid row told him he was about to die. But he says life began to turn “the moment I got here.”

“I was at my lowest point, but my highest point in terms of surrender,” Burston says.

He’s also become attached to God. “I always kept the Lord in mind, but I was afraid to praise God. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t feel worthy of anything,” he says.

Working at GrowGood, Burston says, helped his recovery.  “I really like to be on time, do what’s asked of me. It’s good for my self-esteem.”

He also spends time working on his music, often with his brother Darrell Littlejohn, a father of 11 and a four-time cancer survivor who lives in Pasadena. In 1973 they came together to Los Angeles, with a music dream. The pair still perform sometimes for a Sunday brunch. And Burston is working to make a documentary film of his life.

Burston’s mother died when he was just 10, and the youngest of 10 children. His sister, Gerry, moved in with her family to help raise the boy. It was his mother’s brother who became famous as Smokey Robinson, and they – along with Aretha Franklin – all lived in a music-soaked neighborhood of Detroit.

“People on this side of the street did music. Cats on that side of the street did murder,” is how Burston describes it.

It was after he came to Los Angeles that he began taking drugs, particularly cocaine. He found himself at parties with famous people from the music world. People warned him against coke, he says. “But I got caught in it.”

And drugs took him down. “All the opportunities I was given,” he says with a sigh, including an appearance with Robinson on “American Bandstand.”

Over the years, Burston worked at various jobs, from Direct TV to a printing shop.

“I went from the streets to the program. Jail to the program and work,” Burston says, 10 programs in all before he came to the Bell Shelter. Throughout, he says, his family has been supportive, giving him the message: “We know you can work and stay clean.”

Burston has found some keys to getting through each day clean, including exercising his spiritual and physical muscles. “I have to get up and pray and get centered. My day starts with prayer and meditation.”

Another thing he needs? “I need to stay around people who know me. Because isolation is one of the things. There’s nothing like being a room with a lot of people and feeling alone,” he says.

Burston spent three years on the streets. “I began to turn to bad behavior,” he says, and his thoughts turned dark: “I’m never going to be clean again. I’m going to die, so let me be here and get it over with,” he says. “But I learned I wasn’t a street person. I didn’t want to die.”

Now he marvels at how bad things got: On 9-11 he was out getting high; he didn’t know the World Trade Center attack had  happened. And there are sadnesses: He has a daughter – “she was Daddy’s girl” -- he has not talked to in a decade. And he doesn’t know his teenage grandchildren.

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So how does GrowGood help?

“What does gardening have to do with recovery? I couldn’t figure that out for months,” Burston says. But over time, the mindfulness exercises in Jayne Torres’ Food for Life program, spending time in nature, working on growing food all began to make sense. He loved seeing seeds he planted grow.

And there’s this: “I’ve done something to help someone else. People eat our vegetables and they depend on it.” 

by Mary MacVean

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GrowGood's Amazing Americorps Volunteers

In his several weeks at GrowGood, 20-year-old Keenan Rohlf says, he was struck by the idea that “nothing is wasted. We waste so little, as little as possible.”

Rohlf, one of a dozen Americorps volunteers who spent time on the farm in the fall, says it was working to make compost that made that so apparent. 

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In the three months that GrowGood’s first group of Americorps volunteers worked, they spent a lot of time rescuing produce from the nearby agency Help the Children. The volunteers took fruit and vegetables that otherwise would go to landfills and used that to build compost piles on the farm.

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In January, GrowGood’s second Americorps cohort began work. Americorps can be likened to a domestic Peace Corps in which people ages 18 to 24 work for most of year at sites that need them. The young people at GrowGood also work at the Bell Shelter kitchen and warehouse; the first group also was deployed to Ventura to help firefighters and people evacuated from their homes because of wildfires.

The Bell Shelter applied to be an Americorps site in part to increase the Salvation Army’s emergency resources, which are based there, says Nick Nguyen, the emergency disaster services and service extension director.

Anyone walking through the gate at the farm can see the compost operation immediately on the left. Along with food scraps, compost piles are made with mulch donated by tree trimmers and leaves and plant scraps from the farm. Any scent from the piles generally is the pleasant smell of the tree mulch.

In addition to the compost, the volunteers got experience at various farm jobs.

“I liked pretty much everything,” says Rohlf, who is from Hays, KS, and was happy despite a few allergy eruptions during work. “I like being outdoors. I really dislike being indoors. I feel cramped.”

Moira Kisch, 23, who is from Clinton, NJ, is the team leader. She said she was impressed by GrowGood’s connections to the Bell Shelter. “The idea of growing food for yourself is great.”

“When you are working with nature, you can see what you are doing as metaphors for everything in life,” Rohlf says. Compost, for example. “That’s how the world works.”

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GrowGood's 1st Farm Stand Dec. 22

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We at GrowGood are often asked by friends and colleagues where our produce is for sale. We no longer have to offer a disappointing answer. The GrowGood farm stand debuts on Dec. 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., just inside the gate adjacent to the Shelter.

People who work at the Bell Shelter across the street from the farm and others nearby can get ingredients for their holiday dinners while on break from work. We’ll have lots of greens and winter squash of several varieties for sale. And if we have what you need in the ground, we’ll pick it for you – nothing fresher for sale anywhere!

The farm stand idea has been percolating for a while, and we’re thrilled that the Bell Shelter officials – Steve Lytle, the Bell Shetler's Director, in particular – have been enthusiastic. We hope it will become a regular event at the farm, so stay tuned.

See you at the farm. :)

The GrowGood team 

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Charlie Southward - an admired member of the Growgood team

At the back of GrowGood farm, there’s a fenced-in plot. The rows align perfectly, the smaller plants protected from hungry rabbits by empty beverage bottles settled over them. And there are fully grown plants, with chard leaves the size of a toddler. A plastic lei marks a gate. At one side, there’s a small table and a barrel-style meat smoker.

Anyone who knows Charlie Southward, an original member of the GrowGood family, could guess that that corner is his territory. Charlie and his plot are both neat as a pin full of plans.

A BBQ mastermind and former caterer, Southward, 61, has big plans these days. He hopes his sauce will get national distribution and a national reputation to go with it. He experiments with sauces using some of the many varieties of peppers grown on the farm. GrowGood founder Brad Pregerson is known to be a fan.

 Charlie with his kale plants. Charlie has provided hundreds of pounds of kale and collards to the Shelter's kitchen. 

Charlie with his kale plants. Charlie has provided hundreds of pounds of kale and collards to the Shelter's kitchen. 

Southward began cooking and gardening at 5, learning from his Aunt Angie, known for her beautiful garden. Then he turned his mom’s yard into a garden. 

He spent 1975-79 in the Air Force in Arizona. Afterward, he wasn’t sure what he would do. “I asked God for something I could do with my hands, a job I could enjoy and make a living,” he says. “What I really liked to do was fish and cook.”

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Though he grew up in Riverside, his “people were from Texas by way of Oklahoma,” and he had a clear sense of what the best barbecue tasted like. His uncle was a BBQ master, and everyone in his family knew how to cook.

After tasting all the barbecue spots in his part of Arizona, Southward decided the only way to get what he was longing for was to make it himself. He gave a sample to his 1st sergeant and found himself hired to cater the 82nd student Squadron picnic two years running.

From there, Southward started marketing his barbecue sauce, naturally called Charlie’s Original BBQ Sauce. A DJ friend helped him find a fan in the Star System disco, and Southward had a new career: catering BBQ wings and beef and Italian sausage for musicians – food, he says, like they got at home not the usual food of the road.

“People started coming to the club just to get the food. I went from nothing to almost $1,000 a week,” Southward says.

Over time, he catered for such musicians as Leon Russell, Della Reese, Manhattan Transfer, Julio Iglesias and the Pretenders. And his sauce was sold in stores all over Arizona, as well as in California and Nevada.

“It was a real fast life. If I had stayed in it, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now,” Southward says. He didn’t stay in it, and returned eventually returned to California, where his mother was living. And while he was at the Bell Shelter with his beloved dog Gracie, he connected with GrowGood.

And these days, while he’s growing collards and kale, he’s planning his future in BBQ and hot sauces. “So I am kind of glad it happened that way, because I am fully matured and ready,” he says.

“All of the hard work is done,” he says. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to get the word out about his products and how to get them where there’s demand.

Southward describes the sauce as tangy, full of flavor and spicy but not overly hot. It works, he says, on vegetables, beef, shrimp or chicken.

When Southward first saw GrowGood farm, he says, it was a “disaster” except for the area now called the “garden” and planted by Jayne Torres, GrowGood’s first employee. He and a friend, David Mason, had an idea for growing food on more of the property and got the go ahead from Pregerson beginning in 2014.

Pregerson says that when he met Southward, he was feeling none too optimistic about the soil. “He says this is sandy loam riverbed soil. This is the best soil in the world. … He was right all along.”

Many people at GrowGood have benefited from Southward’s experience, and his kindness.

“I know I can go to Charlie for his straightforward opinion, which is based in years of growing and paying close attention to plants,” says Katie Lewis, the farm manager at GrowGood. “He always produces an abundance and shares it with people. I admire the way he enjoys gardening and has committed so much of himself to this place.”

And his corner of the farm? Pregerson says, “He made it into a little sanctuary.”

“My enlightenment level is elevated spiritually when I am there,” Southward says, sitting at the GrowGood picnic table, leaning on a carved cane made by a friend. “It’s almost like going to the ocean, and you got a ton of problems, and you look out at the ocean and they all melt away.”

By Mary MAcVean

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albert viera - From Shelter to New Career

When I came to the Salvation Army's Bell Shelter in December, it seemed like a nightmare had brought me there. I was out of a job with no home, very little money and no support from my family.

For the first few months I concentrated on my skills in computer graphics.Then in April, I applied for a three-month employment program at GrowGood, a sustainable farm that provides healthful food for the shelter and is just a stone’s throw away. I thought this would be a good opportunity to earn some money while I continued my computer graphics studies.

                                                       Albert at GrowGood's farm on Aug. 5, 2017

                                                      Albert at GrowGood's farm on Aug. 5, 2017

I soon learned that working at GrowGood was going to be much more than just a job. The work was harder than I imagined, and at the end of every day I felt it. But each day it also left me with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that my labor was helping to put chemical-free, nutritious food on the plates of the homeless.

The GrowGood employment program also includes sessions conducted by Jayne Torres, the GrowGood program cultivator. Once a week we explored conflict resolution, personal strengths and weakness, keys to gainful employment and meditation. We talked about how we saw our futures and our ideal jobs. And it made me think of how I saw the world as a child. I thought that if I got involved in helping the environment, maybe I could help stop all the polluting and that could help bring people together. As with most of us, as we grow older we forget about the things that seemed so important as children. As I grew I became more concerned about what others thought of me and less concerned about what was in my heart.

Thinking about your past inevitably makes you think of your present. My address was nothing to brag about, but it was warm (sometimes too warm) and dry, and I had a part-time job that, while it didn't pay much, I didn't have many expenses either, and it sure was rewarding. And looking closer at my job, it was directly contributing to helping the environment. Sure, going out and sweating in the little GrowGood farm might be a small step, but it was a positive one. And I have to thank Corrine McAndrews, the farm manager, who in her words and deeds, reminds me every day of something we all know deep in our heart, that if everyone contributes just a little, the sum will be huge. 

With all that in mind, I began to see my situation for what it was, a chance to do what I had wanted to do for so long. I stopped looking at my job as a temporary way to earn some spending money and began looking at it as a stepping stone to a career. I believe with this attitude my work improved and was noticed, because soon after Corrine told me that I was going to kept on after my three-month program. I was ecstatic. And shortly after that, Jayne told me that an organization called Community Healing Gardens was looking for someone to work at the garden at Markham Middle School in Watts. With Jayne's recommendation and all that I had learned at GrowGood, I headed to the job interview with confidence, and nailed it.

Now I work at both places, and I feel my new career is well underway. GrowGood has several projects in the works such as a community composting project and a new greenhouse, and Markham is working on a partnership with an organization called L.A. Kitchen to offer cooking classes to the parents at the school.

So the rocky road of a nightmare that landed me at the Bell Shelter has evolved into a wonderful journey. Even though it is still in its nascent stages, I have a new career. 

By: Albert Viera

Bell Shelter resident and participant in GrowGood's Temporary Employment Program ("TEP")

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Greenhouse is Up!

We are proud to announce that GrowGood's greenhouse is UP! While she still needs to be connected to water and power, we expect it to be up and running by the end of 2017. 

Andrew & Brad

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Creating community: Our friend Joe

Joe Cobarrubio didn’t work at GrowGood farm, but GrowGood worked on him when he lived at the Salvation Army Bell shelter.

“Oh my God, the garden is what helped maintain my sanity,” Cobarrubio says. “If it wasn’t for the garden, I would have left the shelter.”

Cobarrubio says that shortly after he arrived at the shelter from UCLA Harbor Hospital, in August 2016, he happened upon GrowGood – which, although it’s just across the parking lot from the shelter can be a little hidden. He noticed trees and people and came through the fence.

Cobarrubio , now 63, came with his hand in a bandage, and left “with a big smile” after farmer Corinne McAndrews told him he was welcome anytime.

McAndrews remembers the encounter, too.

“I saw a man coming towards me, from out of the field and the drainage basin, carrying a bushel of wildflowers.  He was bandaged up pretty well, as he had recently been admitted to the healthcare part of the shelter with a rare flesh-eating bacteria,” she recalls.

“When I asked about the flowers, he told me that taking long walks to pick wildflowers has been a hobby of his since he was young. I was a little surprised he was making the trek in his current health condition, but he assured me that he knew what he was doing. I instantly knew that we would be good friends.  It must have been his warmth, his sweet smile, and his generosity as he handed me some Mexican sunflowers.”  

Cobarrubio, courteous and kind and smart, became well-known at the farm for his artistry with found branches that he turned into elegant walking sticks that plenty of people who show up at GrowGood now use.

“I’m an artist at heart,” says Cobarrubio, who has a smattering of freckles and a Fu Manchu-style moustache.

Already retired from a career in construction, he started making the canes to keep busy and to restore the strength to hands and arms. And the tools he needed were not allowed in the shelter. So the picnic tables at GrowGood became his workshop.

And for everyone else, Cobarrubio’s presence became a source of joy and interesting conversation. That includes Daryl, McAndrew’s dog who happily joined Cobarrubio on walks and sat at his feet.

He often brought his lunch to the garden and stayed the afternoon. 

He vowed that he “was not going back to where I was living and what made me homeless.” Before the hospital, he had a rough run. He lost his right index finger in an accident working on his mother’s house and then his hand was smashed in another mishap. He had no feeling in the hand and finally ended up in am ambulance.

But it turned out that his real health scare turned out to be a flesh-eating disease on his side; it put him into a coma, prompted the loss of 80 pounds and left a dramatic scar.

“The doctor told me, ‘You are the luckiest man I’ve seen. The person who called 911 saved your life,” Cobarubio says. That person was a friend’s girlfriend.

A high school wrestler and football player, and a drummer, Cobarrubio gave up college and music to help support his family when his father got cancer. 

He had started playing music at 7 and “practiced all the time.” His parents supported his music, even when he wasn’t very good. “I don’t know how my parents put up with it,” Cobarrubio says.

Perhaps they knew how much practice it takes to develop proficiency. “They danced swing like you wouldn’t believe,” and often would bring the band home with them when the clubs closed. Everyone would jam till dawn.

In that atmosphere, Cobarrubio became good enough that he started getting fill-in work while still a schoolboy.

But that’s also how he began getting high – in cars during band breaks.  Cobarrubio says he came close three times to making it as a musician, but drugs got in his way.

Work did, too. By 28 he had a wife, two kids, a dog and house with a picket fence. Their marriage eventually broke up, and after 14 years clean, Cobarrubio returned to drugs. “Like every drug addict, you go back to where you left off.”

But by the time he was taken away in that ambulance, Cobarrubio had been clean for a week and was determined to stay that way. 

On the gurney outside the ambulance, he says, “I knew I was right at death’s door. I said, ‘Lord I don’t want to go like this.’”

And he did not.

Early this year, Cobarrubio moved to his own apartment, in Long Beach. He cooks for himself, and often for his neighbors. He has become close to his younger sister and her daughter.

On a visit to GrowGood recently, he says, “It’s like I’m coming home.”

Tacos

Joe Cobarrubio says tacos were his favorite meal as a child, and here' s how his mother made them. With rice and bean to accompany them.

  • Brown a pound of ground beef with chopped onion, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fry a dozen corn tortillas, and place them on a tray. Top with the cooked beef and chopped tomatoes. Add shredded jack cheese and shredded lettuce.
  • Meanwhile, melt a chunk of bacon fat in a pan, add cooked pinto beans and cook well. Mash, add a little water and add cheese to taste.
  • For the Spanish rice, cook 1 cup of rice in two cups of water. When the rice is done, add tomato sauce and cook over low heat till the sauce is soaked into the rice.

by Mary MacVean 

 

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Sheila Kuehl's "Food for the Soul" awards hosted at Bell Shelter

At the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles, there’s work afoot by the Westside Food Bank to restore at least 15 acres to agriculture – a fraction of the 150 acres that were farmed after World War I, but a start.

Community Healing Gardens has put 80 garden beds around Venice, in an effort to bring together a community that seemed indifferent. After school programs, and a partnership with St. Joseph’s have followed.

Kiss the Ground also works in Venice, offering young people a 12-week program in growing, including soil, ecology and job placement. And Taking the Reins near Griiffith Park grows food with the girls who take part in its healing programs that use horses as part of their therapy.

Food is something they clearly have in common. But they, and several other projects, also were all awarded grants through the office of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. They gathered at the Salvation Army Bell shelter on June 3 to share their efforts and take a tour of GrowGood farm.

Molly Rysman had worked at Skid Row Housing Trust. When she joined Kuehl as a deputy, she proposed spending some of the supervisor’s discretionary funds for a program called Food for the Soul.

Its aims, Rysman says, are to increase food security, provide a therapeutic environment and break the social isolation that can come with homelessness. “When your hands are in the dirt,” many differences among people dissolve, she says.

The 2-year-old Food for the Soul project awards grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to nonprofit organizations in the Third District for programs that engage people who have experienced homelessness, in agriculture, nutrition and cooking to improve food security and community.

The Westside Food Bank put in a couple dozen raised beds at the VA as a test project. Since October, the food has gone to about 150 veterans, distributed from a tailgate each week. Often, the veterans who work the land eat the food, said Bruce Rankin, executive director of the Food Bank. The goal is to add more beds and to work with the teaching kitchen on the VA campus, Rankin says.

Other organizations receiving grants included Kiss the Ground, Safe Space for Youth, Step Up on Second, the Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood, The People’s Concern and the Teen Project.

“We don’t have the most efficient garden. But it’s the most efficient for creating relationships,” says Kelvin Martinez, program facilitator at the Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood

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After a meeting in the shelter building, participants walked around GrowGood, led in part by Sharon Pregerson, whose son is one of the farm’s founders.

“I just let all my problems go when I’m out here,” Velva told the group. He recently completed the GrowGood transitional employment program and has stayed on as an employee.

Taylor, a young woman who takes part in the gardening program at the Teen Project, understood that sentiment. “When the garden grows, I feel myself grow too. It’s a beautiful process.”

The meeting ended with lunch, including herbal tea and salad – both made from GrowGood produce.

By Mary MacVean 

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GrowGood Lettuce

Like the salads on millions of American dinner tables, the salad on mine growing up was iceberg lettuce. With cucumbers and tomatoes my dad grew in the yard. That’s it. When my mom went wild, there might be a sliced radish, also from the garden.

Seems like another world ago. But even now, there are very few bowls of salad greens, even in fancy-pants restaurants, that compare with the one usually on the salad bar at the Bell Shelter.

Credit Corinne McAndrews, the GrowGood farm manager and lettuce wizard. In late May, for example, there were 15 to 20 varieties of lettuce in the ground at GrowGood farm, with a broad range of tastes, appearances and names — Drunken Woman, Quan Yin, Okayama Salad, Outredgeous, crisp mint, Ear of the Devil, Frank Morton’s Secret Lettuce Mix, and my personal favorite: Grandpa Admires.

There’s a GrowGood mix, too, which changes with the seasons. But the specifics are secret.

Lettuce is generally a cool season crop. And in our Mediterranean climate, McAndrews says, there are some classic lettuce varieties that don't grow well here, including iceberg and Romaine.

“I can’t grow lettuce all year round, but we try” without using too much water and avoid too many pests, McAndrews says, noting that July to October is the toughest time for it. But Quan Yin, for example, grows well in summer. It’s crisp, with a good flavor and is disease-resistant, says McAndrews, who compares it with a sturdy workhorse like a Toyota Camry. By comparison, she calls Forellenschluss lettuce the 1969 Porsche 911 of lettuces. That one is truly beautiful, an heirloom from Austria with romaine-shaped green leaves splashed with red.

GrowGood has both head lettuces and leaf lettuces; the latter often are called “cut and come again,” because the leaves are cut for eating and the plants grow new leaves. Those lettuces can supply five to 10 cuts; head lettuces are thinned two or three times, making room for the remaining heads to grow.

The farm has been able to supply much of the lettuce for the shelter, which uses about 10 pounds a day, says Amie Carillo, the head of the shelter kitchen.

From all the possibilities — and there are dozens — McAndrews looks for lettuce varieties that “are abundant and grow quickly, and something that’s going to taste good.” She also considers the risk of disease and pest resistance. And the seeds planted at GrowGood are always open-pollinated, meaning they are pollinated by bees or birds rather than in labs. GrowGood also often grows heirloom varieties.

Once all of those criteria are met, McAndrews says, “then I start having fun” looking for lettuces that are beautiful and delicious, “lettuce that makes people want to eat it,” lettuce that bears no resemblance to the bits served next to many sandwiches or sold in supermarket produce aisles.

Among the looks and textures, McAndrews says, she considers frilly greens and reds, speckled leaves, stronger leaves and more delicate ones. Also added to the lettuce bowl are purslane, mustards, arugula and flowers.

Some people complain that lettuce takes too much water to grow, but with right varieties, GrowGood’s no-till policy and shade cover, lettuce uses no more water than zucchini or tomatoes, McAndrews says.

On harvest days, we pick lettuces as early as possible, before they start feeling the heat of the sun. They go directly into a tub of cold water for a first washing, then onto a second tub, where they are carefully cleaned a second time. Then into a spinner and into the kitchen, perhaps for that day’s salad bar. 

Reviews from the diners have been positive. Come try a bite.

By Mary MacVean

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"Food for Life" classes

Like all farms, GrowGood is a busy place. There always is some chore that needs doing. So it might seem out of place to hear these words among the native plants: “Be still. Just be still a moment and listen to our breaths and the birds.”

The speaker was Millie Huer, a naturalist and mindfulness teacher. The moment was the mindfulness class held each week for Bell Shelter clients in a clearing. That and other classes are part of GrowGood’s Food for Life program. Think of it, perhaps, as a companion to growing food, this one growing people to live their best lives.

On this particular warm Thursday morning, 15 people gathered to hear Huer's calm insistent voiceHer session is a combination of quieting the mind, learning to sit still to pay attention to “what grounds us to the Earth,” and movements that stretch the body and prompt us to feel more flexible. She counts the breaths, a beat of three to inhale, a beat of four to exhale. She reminds the group to hear the sounds of nature, feel the heat of the sun. When someone’s phone goes off, Huer counters: “Disturbances come and go and try to get your attention, just like that.”

Esteban, a client at the Bell Shelter for the last six months, says the Food for Life sessions have broadened his mind. He had never heard of mindfulness, but it's had a deep impact on him. “It was so quiet, really serene. I couldn’t believe the peace there was,” he says. He’s now more attentive to his breathing and able to calm himself to focus better.

In the native garden, the only possible silence can be interior, not only because of phones or birds. GrowGood is surrounded by busy freeways, truck routes and plane paths. And not everyone feels inclined to move much; not everyone stretches their arms toward the pure light blue sky or the mulch-scattered ground when Huer directs them to.

But that’s OK. She seems to get everyone on board to repeat her words: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free of suffering and all the things that cause my suffering. May I have a feeling of well-being.”

Viviana Vallin, another teacher who comes to GrowGood from the Relational Center in Culver City, says her goal is to integrate movement with nature. On one rainy day, when class is held indoors, participants talk about the meaning of happiness; they mention serenity, being at peace, contentment. 

Vallin has brought some wet sages and bark in from the farm to pass among the participants to make a connection to the aromas and feel of the natural world even indoors. She says she thinks of the rain as nature taking care of itself. “We all need self care for survival,” she says.

Jayne Torres, an original GrowGood employee, runs the Food for Life program. Torres has organized speakers and discussions on a variety of topics, including resume writing, acupuncture and nutrition.

David Butler, a clinical therapist at the shelter, says he has learned a lot from Food for Life and uses the mindfulness ideas in his therapy sessions. “And I know it’s helpful being in the garden,” he says. Those classes, he says, can help prepare clients to be in the world.

The native garden was planted in 2014, with more than 300 plants. It’s become a playground for GrowGood’s chickens. The meeting spot was helped by a donation of benches from The Salvation Army. Now the “classroom” is an appealing spot even to sit alone and read.

by Mary MacVean

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Our 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a pivotal year for GrowGood.  We launched a host of new programs, created real jobs for people experiencing homelessness, and reached unprecedented levels for fundraising.  

 

Read the full story in our 2016 Annual Report.

Going forward, we need your support more than ever.  Help us expand our impact by making a one-time or recurring donation at the link below.

 

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Have You Ever Been To A "Salad Party?"

Have you ever been to a salad party? Not a party where you ate salad. But a party where the salad was the point?

GrowGood threw just such a party on Feb. 9 in the Pregerson Dining Hall at the Salvation Army Bell Shelter.

About three dozen Bell Shelter staff and residents joined in the festivities. Earlier that day, we harvested a variety of greens and brought them inside, labeled them and put them in separate baskets so everyone could taste the components of the mix we’ve been providing for the salad bar that’s part of every lunch and dinner.

Farm manager Corinne McAndrews, along with farmhands Eric Tomassini, Katie Lewis and James Washington, passed around the baskets of arugula, speckled romaine, green leaf, rapini, chard and other kinds of greens for tasting.

“They have a lot of flavor and different textures, so a simple vinaigrette is a nice way to dress the salad,” Tomassini, who also is a chef, told the group. Then he demonstrated just that dressing, with a three-to-one ratio of olive oil to lemon juice or vinegar.  The lemon juice was squeezed from GrowGood Meyer lemons.

People who wanted to make their own dressing did so by shaking the ingredients in Mason jars. Tomassini suggested adding herbs, such as cilantro and substituting lime juice for the lemon or vinegar. “That’s a good combination,” he said.

Many thanks to Amie Carrillo-Wolfe, food service manager at the shelter, for publicizing the salad party and providing space and equipment.

GrowGood hopes to have regular food demonstrations. Next up is likely to be beets.

by Mary MacVean 

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GrowGood's First Farm-to-Table Dinner!

If you went into the kitchen a couple of hours before GrowGood's first farm dinner, you'd see stacks of dozens of glass and plastic containers, many of them baffling little collections of fermented this or pickled that, dried this or fresh that.

Over the course of the evening, chef and GrowGood farm hand Eric Tomassini used all of them and more for a multi-course dinner that challenged and delighted the tastebuds of everyone lucky enough to be in the rustic room at Cottonwood Farm, a homestead in Panorama City that hosted our feast.

In dish after dish, GrowGood's produce shined. Onions, greens, herbs used to their best advantage. Guests were greeted on the farm's patio with a soda made from blood orange and bear lime juice, before heading into the dining room.

The meal began with “small bites” and beer donated from LA-based brewery Dry River Brewing and wine from Foot of the Bed Cellars. The “small bites” included a complex rice chip with fermented and charred Tohono O’ogham L’ltoi onion dip, a rye, citrus and radish tart as well as a farm crudite, featuring lettuce, carrot, nasturtium, rapini flowers, red-vein sorrel from GrowGood. 

Next, Eric served a “turnip both” from Golden Ball and Shogoin turnips, which were dried and smoked to create an intense broth. Sitting half-way submerged in the broth were orange slices and cooked turnip pieces as well as a green strawberry providing a sweet bitterness that wonderfully complement the richness of the dish. 

Eric’s “Farm Salad” followed.  The salad, dressed with a nasturtium vinaigrette and featuring a seven different greens from GrowGood’s farm was given a crunch and an additional kick of flavor with roasted romaine roots in a romaine root miso sauce and lettuce capers.

Following the salad, Eric served his “Carrot Curry.” The dish showcased GrowGood's carrots that were roasted, poached, and fermented and then placed on top of a beautiful bed of green fresh herbs with a curry made with citrus and almond milk. 

The final entree was a pork dish featuring pork from Peads and Barnetts, a farm that raises free-range heritage English Berkshire pigs in North San Diego County. Eric prepared the pork with braised red cabbage, a sauerkraut salad, and pine oil.  The dish was accompanied with shaved turnips and wilted cabbage from GrowGood’s farm.

Finally, dessert! A refreshing yogurt and citrus palate cleanser sweetened with wooly curls oil from GrowGood was served with a tea prepared by Farmer Corinne featuring dagga and blue lavender. A chamomile caramel cookie accompanied the tea providing a perfectly sweet end to a wonderful evening. 

Stay tuned for the next GrowGood dinner, which will likely be in early May. :) 

By Brad Pregerson and Mary MacVean 

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December 24, 2016 - Why We Are Here

As we come to the end of a tumultuous year and move toward a 2017 full of uncertainties, it seems a good time to consider GrowGood’s future. Though it may seem the cycles of seasons and harvests, pests and plantings are constant, we are part of a changing ideal: How can we create a viable urban farm that grows regionally relevant, open-pollinated crops and employs our neighbors from the Bell Shelter across the parking lot?

It is clear to me that our task is to find a way to bridge the world of one nonprofit farm off the beaten path with the world of gourmet cuisine in Los Angeles.  It may seem like a bizarre model, funding food for homeless people by selling specialty produce to those with the most to spend, but it might be our best chance at making urban food mean something lasting.  

Just how would that work? It's not hard to find people in Los Angeles who say they want to buy food that’s as local as possible from “responsible” purveyors.  What keeps that from happening might be about reaching the people with good intentions and helping them make better choices. But it might also be true that the ways we talk about responsible food culture – “sustainable,” “local,” “organic” and others – have lost their meaning. The consequence can be that projects like GrowGood get swept up in “locavore” culture.

How are we different, after all? Our intention is to be part of a transition to a LosAngeles where we can support one another through a more conscious commerce and purchase goods that truly make this place better. We are thrilled that we have sent more than 7,000 pounds to the shelter’s kitchen this year. Providing jobs is also part of that. Funding those jobs with the sale of high-end microgreens is one way to do it, but it might be better to look for more responsible high-end crops, such as regionally adapted herbs and flowers. 

But there’s larger goal, one that GrowGood is only a part of: growing crops that thrive here and that bring in a fair price.  A price fair enough to pay a living wage so people who want to farm can support themselves and their loved ones. It’s no surprise that farming is back-breaking work.  Hundreds of hours, joules of energy, even lives (adios, gophers) went into to that head of cabbage you might be chopping for kraut tonight. But you likely paid just a fraction of its true cost. And why? Because we are told that food should be as cheap as possible; as a percentage of our income, Americans pay less than nearly every other country for food. To us, that seems to contribute to our culture’s sense of separation – and in turn that separation inspires many people to look for connections with farmers and cooks and in sharing food.

So how do we sort all that out? The next step is to reimagine urban food as a real option. It may not be the most efficient, or the most cost-effective, but it provides a chance to heal ravaged parcels of land and the people who spend time there. We waste less fuel transporting produce, prioritize water conservation and responsibility, and look toward resilient seed-saving practices to grow crops that can stand up to the Los Angeles of tomorrow.  This is the new urban agriculture: a way to make cities truly livable.  A way to connect those of us living in lofts downtown to the soil -- what's beneath us no matter where we are.  Connecting to urban food is not just a financial commitment, but that does matter a great deal. It's also a process of reclaiming the conversation about food. We hope you’ll join that conversation.

By Corinne McAndrews and Mary MacVean

 

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