Three Stars Shine on A Living Library and Illuminate Student Discussion on our Responsibility to our World

In May, OMI/Excelsior and Bernal Heights Branch Living Library & Think Parks were illuminated by three brightly shining stars in San Francisco. The largest one in our solar system, the sun, finally made a long lasting appearance in all it’s glory. It warmed our bones, and our new greenhouses’ occupants from last month’s seed planting course.

This month our students focused on community and environmental stewardship conversations spurred from the brightly shining Hayes Valley Farm, the Free Farm Stand, and REACH The Future. These stars made a lasting impression on our students and posed the rhetorical question of whose responsibility is the future of our earth and its communities?

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As a person caught in limbo between rural mountains and urban architecture, I often question: Do green spaces support strong communities, or do strong communities support green spaces ?  

Two well known San Francisco Urban Agriculture programs, the Hayes Valley Farm and Free Food Stand, lead me and A.L.L. students to question and answer, Well, maybe both ?

Students were brought into the world of community supported green spaces and community building through giving and the generosity of certain community groups. The Hayes Valley Farm was a three year interim land use project, dedicated to educating people that dirt and plants can grow bountiful food and community. The Free Farm Stand was spurred by the idea that bounty should be shared. This project started as neighbors giving away excess from their own backyards, and rapidly transformed to become a city-wide, supported endeavor where we learned first hand that food, health, and community can, and should be equitable and accessible to all people.

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This year, both of these community supported projects came head to head with adversity, as they were asked to leave their areas of green occupation. After multiple years in their respective locations, these projects had to be temporarily dismantled and relocated to make way for new city development.

And how did the groups respond ? By giving !

Our students were introduced to dozens of plants given to A Living Library by these two organizations. Our students were gleeful about the opportunity to plant and care for food plants, such as tomatoes, basil, peppers, tree collards, and chayote. They learned the benefits of beautiful native and ornamental geraniums, yarrows, strawberries, comfrey, and clover. And, through all this, our students were mesmerized by the generosity of communities, and green space. It seems that green spaces supporting strong communities is a closed-loop system, that should be everywhere. They are equitable, integrated and help elevate each other.

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With grace, inquiry, and camaraderie, another group, REACH The Future, engaged students in a discussion about natural resources and our abhorrent consumption of energy as Americans. Although the U.S. only houses less than 5% of the world’s population, Americans use 25% of the world’s energy. Some students were shocked to learn of our unfair consumption, while some retorted that we deserve more than other people. This reaction, and the unanswered questions, as to whose responsibility is our future, was a spark that provided an eye-opening introduction to students into powerful, real-world issues happening today in San Francisco, and across the world.

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REACH The Future founder, Michael Gutman, continued with the lesson to discuss cleaner, renewable energy sources such as wind, water, and solar power. And to the students’ surprise, he showcased a simple, do-it-yourself solar oven with a warm, delicious apple cobbler. This treat would have convinced any critic of the impressive power of the sun.

After our classes learned how to build their own solar ovens using just cardboard, aluminum foil, glue, and string, a finished oven was auctioned off to a lucky student in every class ! 

This month at A Living Library, our partners planted seeds of green space, food, health, responsibility, nature and nurture, and we hope to produce the most abundant, beautiful bounty of all, community.

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Blog written by A Living Library Garden Teacher, Courtney Calkins.

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