Saginaw Michigan Day the Second

I gave two presentations today to different groups here in Saginaw.

This morning I spoke at the Houghton-Jones Neighborhood Community Center to a packed crowd.  This is a seriously economically depressed neighborhood.  Lots of empty lots.  Many of those lots are owned by a city land bank, as they have gone back to city ownership due to non-payment of property taxes.

The Community Center is a hive of activity.  They had a market garden this year, and sold everything they could grow at the local farmers market.  It was a student project, so most of the workers were elementary school children who learned about both gardening and business.  SVSU is working with the center to set up a hydroponics operation in their basement.  Joining me as a speaker was Bryan Thomas, an assistant professor of sociology at SVSU who is active with the Green Cardinals organization.

Folks attending that presentation included people from the neighborhood, folks from Saginaw Valley State University, and some producers who had heard about the event from various sources.  Folks seemed to think that the city would be willing to make empty lots available for market gardening, and I told them if they didn’t, they should vote them out of office and find some new politicians.

Afterwards Dr. Schilling and I, together with the director of the Houghton-Jones center (whose name escapes me at the moment), stopped by the Jeanine Collier Catholic Worker House, where we had a delicious lunch and spent a couple of hours talking about issues in the area and ideas on jump-starting a local food system.

This evening I spoke at SVSU to an audience of faculty, students, producers, and others interested in local food systems.  There was a lot of energy in both groups today, and many good questions were asked.  I advised Dr. Schilling to capitalize on the interest by holding a follow-up meeting to get an organizing committee together.  They are going to look for some grant money to come down to Oklahoma City for one of our delivery day adventures.

One of the interesting things about this visit is their work with “vermiponics”, which I mentioned yesterday.  This is the use of worm tea as the solution for hydroponics.  One of the issues with conventional hydroponics is the cost of the inputs, but worm tea is, as they say, “dirt cheap”.  Ooops, I mean “dirt value priced”.  They are continuing to experiment with this, especially in terms of the concentration of the worm tea at the different stages of the plants’ growth (flowering, fruit development, etc.)  He has already compiled a pretty serious curriculum guide in order to teach hydro/aqua/vermi ponics (a very thick 3 ring binder full of detailed info) and have produced a DVD.  When they are ready for distribution, I told them to be sure and send me the info and I will tell everyone on the internet about it.  Well, I don’t suppose everyone, but I do subscribe to the big alternative ag/community food security discussion groups and info posted there percolates out through cyberspace.

This has been one of the most interesting travel adventures  as a missionary for local food systems.  There is a lot going on here in the tri-city area of Michigan, and with the way the auto industry is going, they will need to work hard to strengthen their local economy in the face of the likely job losses in coming years.

The news of the new coop Bountiful Sprout Coop starting up in Wimberley, Texas was a further treat for the week.  I told Dr. Schilling, “This is starting to get out of hand!”  And not a moment to soon, if you ask me.

One of the interesting things about the SVSU involvement is that professors from several different academic disciplines are involved.  Often, university departments tend to be focused on their own academic turf, and don’t work well with other departments.  At SVSU, a very competent inter-disciplinary team has come together to work with the neighborhood in creating sustainability initiatives that I think will be of great importance there in the future.  We in Oklahoma can learn something from them about their grassroots, low-tech approach to the practical use of biodiesel and ethanol.  Fuel prices are only in a temporary retreat, the day of five dollar gasoline will return just as sure as gun is iron.  I predict the day will come when the Oklahoma Food Coop will run on alternative fuels — we’ve already made a start in that, in the form of Matt Burch’s veggie oil van that does a lot of delivery day logistics work for us.

Tomorrow it is up up and away on a definitely non-alternative fueled airplane to get me back to OKC. (Oh well, what’s another few months added to my Purgatory bill, especially when invested in such a good cause.) I have four funerals, two weddings, and my usual weekend schedule at my job as director of music at Epiphany Church Thursday through Sunday.  (Why funerals always come in clusters is something that has always mystified me, but that is my experience over the last 14 years of my service as a pastoral musician.)

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