I’m not a macro-economist. I took one econ class in college. The professor was a parrot-head (someone that goes to Jimmy Buffet concerts). Besides telling us the basics of how a free market economy works, the main take away from that course was that he lost his car at a Jimmy Buffet concert at Alpine Valley, hitched a ride home, and never went back to get. Seeing Phish play there a bunch of times I can understand how one could find yourself in that predicament.
Even though I couldn’t tell you much else about that class, since then, I have appreciated the way that math and economic theory can help simplify complicated systems like our overall economy.
This week was the first week Meg and I are spending time thinking about how to lead the next iteration of the We Got This Community Garden. When we simultaneously found out that Andre was stepping down and we were asked by him to be a part of a team to step in, the wheels started turning as to what were the pillars that held up the garden. I’ve talked before about housing, education, and concentrated poverty and how attacking systemic problems facing 53206 from those angles would be, and is, my approach to enacting social change in our zipcode. Having additional access to the resources the garden can provide has the potential to expedite anything I could do on my own and seems to be a “sign in the right direction” that making the switch from working full time to some other way of organizing my days was a good decision – frankly, I would not have had time or capacity to add anything else to my work days without other areas significantly suffering. With all of that being said, simply because I personally feel those would be the best three avenues doesn’t mean that they align with the history of what has been done already at We Got This, nor does it seem appropriate to morph current practices to mirror my own desires since it’s a community garden, not an Alex garden.
I like buckets, pillars, themes, or any other way of describing the 3 – 5 most important categories that work in an organization should fall under. I think it’s smart to align work within those constraints since it’ll yield a greater predictor of success because focus is held on few big rocks, rather than a bunch of small ones. So let’s talk about resources. One of the buckets that the work at We Got This falls into is the funnelling of resources into our community. 53206 is starved for resources. Simple macro economics would describe it as a money in/money out problem. 53206 is the poorest zipcode in the state. Half of the households operate on less than $2,000 a month. Other zipcodes within a few miles of mine operate on considerably more. That simple fact doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the lack of potential for funds to flow from those spaces into ours and vice versa. My suburban counterparts simply cannot spend money here. There are only a handful of legal things that can be bought in my neighborhood. I’ve lived here for 15 years and I struggle to find examples of destinations one would willingly drive to.
It’s a money in, money out problem. I can name you a dozen restaurants and a dozen stores in a dozen nearby towns/cities/neighborhoods but I would question the number of people that could name one similarly attractive place to spend money near 8th and Burleigh. I say that, because I, too, would struggle to do so. I live here and leave here to spend money. The We Got This Community Garden needs to be a place where resources are funnelled through, because resources are in short supply here because they tend to leave my block rather than flow toward it. Historically, We Got This has been a hub for the flow of resources by paying young men to clean up the neighborhood once a week on Saturday mornings. Dozens of boys were paid by donations from people across the area once a week during the summer months to improve the standard of living for my neighbors and I. While $20 a week doesn’t provide the influx of resources needed to put a dent in the income gaps found here, it does create a space where resources can flow out of, which circles back to the idea that one of the pillars of the garden needs to be that resources are passed through the garden to the people.
The exciting part for me is being one of the team members that figures out how that logistically plays out. Does it mean there is expanding programming on Saturday mornings during the summer? Does it mean that the Saturday morning work component for kids is duplicated on a smaller scale during the week? Does it mean that we create micro jobs for kids – think neighborhood chores? Does it mean that we make a targeted push to support local small businesses so that they can build a client base both inside and outside of the neighborhood? Does it mean the garden leans more into the production of goods, beyond the growing of food?
The form a bucket takes is the fun part. This has been a week of processing and a week of dreaming. The tagline for our podcast is: let’s rethink our inner cities together. I believe the We Got This Community Garden has helped many do just that and I look forward to helping steer the next iteration of the garden in a way that helps others rethink the flow of resources by continuing to provide access points for people to give and receive. When I worked in a school, we would remind ourselves that there is no reason why things have to continue to be how they are right now. The same is accurate when we speak of the flow of resources. The current narrative need not be the forever narrative. Simply because we have a money in, money out problem now does not mean we have to have one in perpetuity.
If you read this and would like to brainstorm ideas on how to support the garden, reach out and let us know. This is currently the “off season” for the garden and we are looking to thoughtfully begin the planning stages for the upcoming year and would love all the help we can get.