23 January 2009

Monthly Guild Meeting - El Puente

On September 14, 2008, the Knoxville Permaculture Guild held it's third monthly meeting at Crosswalk Farm. Crosswalk Farm is a community gardening effort started by Robert Hodge's nonprofit El Puente. The gardens are on the French Broad River in South Knoxville just across the bridge on Governor John Sevier highway. El Puente is a newly formed nonprofit that works with Latino immigrants, many of which are here illegally. El Punte's goal is to equip people with skills that can be taken back home to help them create a more sustainable lifestyle in their native country. One area that El Puente focuses on teaching is sustainable gardening practices that will both feed a family and develop the local economy. The Crosswalk Church permits El Puente to use their land as a teaching ground. Crosswalk Farm sold at a local Farmer's Market this year and was able to put some money in the bank to help further their gardening education.

The problem? Robert, who presides over El Puente, claims not to be a gardener/farmer or versed in the realms of permaculture. He wanted to know how he could make his program more sustainable; where he could find assistance in answering gardening questions; are there people who are able to teach sustainable techniques and will participate in a work day; and if all this exists, how to get plugged in. Crosswalk Farm has other challenges, too. For example, water is an issue. There's no water for the crops and they rely predominately on rain. Location is another concern. Due to the garden's distance from town and where El Puente's clients live, many of his clients are unable to get to their plots to work as needed to create a successful bountiful garden. To put it simply, gardening success is directly proportional to the distance the garden is from one's home. Not to say that a person can't have a successful garden that isn't at their home, but it is difficult. It takes extreme motivation and diligence to show up everyday. Due to the distance of Crosswalk Farm from El Puente's clients in town coupled with souring gas prices, the task becomes daunting and almost impossible. What does El Puente need to ensure success for it's clients? Community gardens in their neighborhoods. Robert is currently working with local churches and non-profits like Knoxville Habitat for Humanity who have lots and land to see if some of this excess can benefit his clientele and others who may be interested in learning sustainable gardening technique.

Sitting in lawn chairs and on the ground under a rare cloudy, gusty and drizzly sky on a cool afternoon, the guild gave feedback and brainstormed. One idea that came from the group was a need to further broadcast Knoxville's permaculture guild that stretched beyond this social network due to the fact that not everyone is computer savvy or even has access to a computer. One idea was to work with a local newspaper and have one of us write monthly updates similar to this one and to write vegetable and permaculture based articles to further educate Knoxvillians.

There is something amazing that happens when a group of committed individuals from many backgrounds but with a common theme come together. It seems that an uninterrupted flow of creativity ensues. So many thoughtful conversations and ideas burst forth (of course, I wasn't taking notes) that remembering all of them would be short of a miracle. Please use the comment section to continue the momentum of these conversations or to note something that you found significantly interesting or important.

Thanks for, yet another, great meeting.

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