A love letter to my Buy Nothing Club

Several months into 2020, the boxes, plastic wrap, and product cases began to pile up, and so did my guilt. What’s the point of advocating for climate action when I’m part of the problem? Our online shopping habits contribute to greenhouse gas emissions by increasing airplane emissions as well as the need for gas burning, massive container ships (which STALLED at the ports for weeks on end, emitting even more wasteful emissions in 2021).

That’s when I stumbled upon a 400+ comment thread on Nextdoor that asked neighbors if they need anything, and if anyone was willing to volunteer or give something away. Folks were asking and giving away produce, canned goods, diapers, vacuums, gardening tools, you name it. But it also seemed inefficient- you had to be reading the thread at the right time to find the right item you’re looking for (and some items triggered bidding wars).

THEN I saw a comment about joining the Buy Nothing Club. It turns out these BNCs exist in most neighborhoods throughout the country, and are facilitated by volunteer admins who monitor the FB group or app. There is no trading, negotiating, or bidding allowed. I chose to join my neighborhood BNC on Facebook, and over the last year I’ve received (FOR FREE):

3 cans of spam
A new, full size container of eczema cream
Lemons and limes
Brand new ASUS monitor

And I’ve GIVEN AWAY:

Old curling irons
Makeup/skincare samples
Nail polish
Dresses

Honorable Mentions (items I saw posted but did not need) include:

Vintage working typewriter
Amazingly decorated sugar cookies (from a local baker who is practicing)
Entire boxes of packing peanuts
Baby clothes
Wheelchair

These are all items that would be sadly thrown away without BNCs. So I’m here to share the love- it’s FREE, you’re reducing WASTE, you get stuff you needed OR you can get ride of stuff you don’t want, and did I mention it is LITERALLY FREE?

Join your local BNC here, and brag to your friends about all the free stuff you got, no shipping, no extra packaging, no taxes or fees. Win win win.

If you live in California, you’re going to compost this year

Tldr: Look, just stfu, pay for the green bin if you don’t already have one, and start throwing your food away in the green bin. If you don’t, you’ll be fined and I’ll come find you and mock you for being an asshole.

As of January 1, 2022, California residents are required to separate food waste and throw it away in organic waste green bins, which will be composted or turned into bio-fuel due to a new law signed last year. Restaurants, hospitals and supermarkets are also required to reduce 20% of their food waste by donating un-spoiled food to food banks.

Personally, I think this is long overdue, since 20%-40% of waste sitting in landfills comes from our leftovers, expired food, takeout remains, and produce scraps. But then I started reading online comments and Next Door conversations from folks who are extremely upset and inconvenienced by this, so I wanted to clear up this shit for y’all, and to emphasize that this is GREAT NEWS, it’s still NOT ENOUGH to combat global warming, and we should have done this SOONER (in South Korea, they’ve been separating food waste when they throw trash away for years already). So here’s my FAQ about this food waste law:

Q: Ugh. So now I have to dig through my own trash and pull out gross, rotten food to dump it in ANOTHER bin that I have to pay for?! Why don’t the sanitation guys just sort it FOR ME?
A: So you know that moment when you open your trash can to dump trash in there? Pause at that moment, look at your hands, and if there is anything organic in them, throw them away in separate, biodegradable bag. When the bag is full, put it in the new green bin. Yes, you pay for the bin (unless you’re a tenant and your landlord is already paying for trash), just like you pay for the other bins. No, the sanitation guys aren’t going to come to your house and sort your fucking garbage just like how you already (HOPEFULLY) sort out your recyclables. Every city is going to start doing this differently, so contact your sanitation department (they should have sent you info in the mail by now).

Q: Okay, well, this shit’s going to smell AWFUL in my yard, and how do I even know what’s organic or not? Why are they doing this?
A: Every city waste hauler will have a different rule about this, but most should allow you to bag up your food waste in compostable/biodegradable bags. If it’s edible and non-plastic, then it should go in the green bin. You can also throw away your yard waste in the same bin! Some cities can send you a free compost bin if you ask. It’s basically a small box with a lid, and you can hide it under your sink- or you can use a biodegradable bag to collect and freeze your scraps to throw in the green bin the night before garbage collection.

I’ve been composting non-dairy and non-animal food scraps for a year now, and there hasn’t really been a pest issue because I bury the food waste in a layer of dirt and I also use a lid to cover it up. Also, it smells kinda nice (citrus-y?), but it does look ugly. Black gold, baby!

uwu


As for WHY we’re doing this? The food waste you send to landfills sits in non-biodegradable plastic bags under the sun until the food rots and emits methane. So basically, we’ve been creating disgusting, big ass mountains of methane bombs because it’s easier to just throw out gross food and not think about it, and also because no one was forcing us to think about it.

Q: What are they going to do with MY waste? If they’re turning it into biofuel or compost, shouldn’t they be paying me?!
A: You could just compost on your own to create amazing, nutrient dense food for your garden, or if you live in LA, check out LA Compost to find a community compost hub where you can drop off your food scraps in exchange for ready-made compost! As for bio-fuel, not sure what you’d do with that for your car, but there are plans to use the bio-fuel for the waste collection trucks that pick up our trash. Full circle, people!!

Q: This is classic incompetent government. At the end of the day, this is another way for them to make me pay a fee for something I didn’t ask for.
A: Uh, yeah. Sometimes, government has to force people to change their behaviors if it means preventing total collapse of our society. Up to this point, California didn’t have an organic waste law. WOULD YOU COMPOST ON YOUR OWN IF SOMEONE WASN’T MAKE YOU DO IT BY THREATENING A FEE? I didn’t think so. This is the price we pay for the convenience we enjoyed for decades- odds are, if you’re reading this, some of the waste you threw out when you were a kid is still sitting somewhere out there, contributing to global warming.

Q: Well, I hate this and I don’t want to do it because I think it’s gross.
A: By law, you are required to sort your trash, and beginning in 2024, you’re going to be fined for cross-contamination. So here are some non-compost options:
– Reduce food waste by only buying/preparing what you need so you throw away less
– You can gather and freeze food waste and then drop it off at a community garden or compost hub, far, far away from the raccoons and coyotes that apparently live with you
– Use your garbage disposal in the kitchen sink for most smaller, soft food scraps. I use mine for seafood, moldy fruit, and expired dairy products. Btw, this food waste is sent to wastewater treatment plants to be turned into biofuel if you live in LA. So, basically, you can’t avoid being sustainable AND THAT IS THE POINT

There was a lot of shouting in this post. I hope you were shouting, too. And I hope you were shouting because, like me, you are tired of people choosing to ignore climate change and refusing to make lifestyle changes to make sure our children and grandchildren don’t, uh, melt.

Oh and Happy New Year! 🙂

Almanac II

2021 was an insane year to create, publish, and distribute a book about urban farming to a niche audience. But then again, is there a “normal” year to choose to create an almanac in this day and age? It turned out to be an insanely gratifying project that created new friendships, raised hundreds of dollars for two local food justice causes in LA, and was just a lot of fun to put together.

We sold out of the print version, but the FREE digital book is still on this website!

This blog was pretty quiet after the release of the almanac because:

  • I was unexpectedly offered my DREAM JOB and ended up transitioning into my new role just a few weeks ago
  • The almanac team and I were spending most of our time promoting the almanac and figuring out how to ship them to get them into your hands (THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THE LOVE AND SUPPORT!)
  • I was fortunate to travel to Quebec (again) right before Thanksgiving so I wanted to unplug and just enjoy the trip (maybe I’ll write a separate entry about why I love the province so much; it has to do with their amazing food culture and urban planning, ofc)
  • Honest to God? I was just feeling burned out
  • It’s funny how when you start composting/gardening so you can write about the experience, you spend more time outside rather than inside with your laptop
A poor quality photo with the highest quality team who made the almanac happen!!

So this year, my plan is to actually bring my phone with me to my little wild garden so I can share the growth with you and provide realistic compost updates (it wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be and my garden LOVED the first layer I laid down before the rain storm).

Lastly, you probably noticed this entry is titled “Almanac II”. I haven’t been online, but offline, our team has been going to working group meetings and having internal talks about how we want to continue collaborating and growing the almanac in a way that is sustainable for ourselves, too.

I’m excited to share that, yes, there WILL be an Almanac II this year! It won’t look exactly like the first almanac, and we will be printing way more copies this time because…..(drumroll in my head) we are going to offer the print copies at local farmers markets and independent bookstores! We do plan to update the existing 2021 digital almanac sometime this year, too- we want to add some urban farms and farmers markets we missed the first time, and update the community directly as well.

Thank you to everyone who has been following along with this crazy, hyper-local project. I can’t wait to share more about what Almanac II will be! If you haven’t seen the first almanac yet, you can download a free copy at shegrowscities.com/almanac.

Thanks for making it this far. If you’re interested in more shegrowscities updates, I update @shegrowscities on IG regularly. And thanks for reading this blog about a girl who hates dirt and worms but tries to garden and compost anyway.

Almanac Update: We raised $500!

Hi! A quick check in during a summer of reunions, record heat/wildfires, dining outdoors, and watering my dry af compost:

  • WE RAISED $500 for Community Cookouts and Shift Our Ways Collective with the almanac pre-sale!!! Thank you so much to everyone who participated. More updates to come on how your donation is being used to fight for food justice in LA.
  • WE HAVE SOME LEFTOVERS SO WE’RE HAVING A SALE! If you’d like a copy of the almanac, you can order one now for $15 (includes shipping). Order here: https://forms.gle/uEiCskiNM5zm3bRY6
  • MY COMPOST IS TOO DRY: I’m now about 4 months in to my new compost pile, and I’m turning it every week to minimize fruit flies and aerate the compost, but also watering it 1-2 times a week because it is H-O-T out here in LA County. My little backyard garden desperately needs some better soil, so fingers crossed I can use this compost by the end of the year…..

That’s all for now….stay tuned for more updates about the almanac fundraiser impact, my withering garden, and just general good vibes =) Bye for now!

The 2021 Urban Farmers’ Almanac is HERE!

** MAY UPDATE: The print edition is now available for pre-order here until May 31: https://forms.gle/rNXQ2ibSqdBTr4HE6

First, I want to thank all my friends and colleagues who have already read the book and reached out to offer support! Sharing this project with the world has been overwhelming, exciting, and very fun. This is a community effort that was only made possible thanks to many talented, intelligent, passionate volunteers. Many folks have asked me if there are plans to print this book – there will be an exciting announcement regarding print sales on EARTH DAY, which is this Thursday, April 22! The announcement will be made on Instagram, so stay tuned if you want to make sure you get a print copy**.

I’m going back into my internet bunker for the rest of the week to promote the digital almanac release, but just wanted to check in and express my gratitude for everyone who has taken an interest in growing and living better in Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy the book and learn something new! The digital almanac is under the My Projects tab on the homepage, or just download it from here:

PRINT EDITION PRE-ORDER LINK HERE: https://forms.gle/rNXQ2ibSqdBTr4HE6

from the suburbs

*This is a personal post unrelated to urban farms/sustainability that shares my thoughts on the wave of anti-Asian hate that has finally caught this country’s attention.

I’ve been thinking about why I feel so frustrated about the news coverage, rallies, and social media conversations about the violent attacks and murders of AAPI human beings in America. I took some time to mourn, have important conversations with my community, and reflect on the source of my skepticism and reluctance to paint a protest sign and join the amazing advocates and allies who are outside demonstrating solidarity and calling for peace. For me, it comes down to intersectionality.

What does intersectional feminism actually mean? | IWDA

Intersectionality is the framework shown above that helps us understand that our society’s wicked problems – poverty, homelessness, racism- are not only rooted deeply in our history, but also stem from a cocktail of conflicts and prejudices. Intersectionality is missing from the conversation we are finally having about AAPI discrimination. And the core issue is that we, the AAPI community, isn’t having this conversation for ourselves.

I was born and raised in the suburbs. I grew up playing in gated communities and going to pool parties in friends’ backyards. I went to a high school in an upper-middle class area where most classmates were also Korean and we all went to the same hakwons (after school tutoring classes) and Korean language school on Saturdays. In college, I hung out with mostly other AAPI students, and also learned quickly that non-AAPI students assumed all Asian cultures are about the same. When I studied abroad in South Korea, I was heartbroken to find out what I expected to be a “homecoming” turned out to be a wake up call- too white-washed to be considered a true Korean, I felt more alone than I ever have in Southern California.

Back in LA, I have been on countless rides on public transit and Lyft where strangers will approach me and ask where I am REALLY from. I don’t like to admit I’m Korean-American because that opens the floodgates to “I LOVE KBBQ!” “Annyonghasaeyooooo” and, for some reason, long rants about tae kwon do. If someone asks me if I’m from North or South Korea one more time, I may consider never speaking in an Uber ever again.

So, now it seems like CNN and new allies (welcome!) are learning about these experiences I just described to you. I know I should be happy about progress, but to be totally honest, I am exhausted. I don’t want to explain the Korean War anymore. I don’t want to explain North Korea. I don’t want to explain the difference between Japan and Korea. And I don’t want to listen to how much folks love our food, music, fashion, makeup, and fetishize our aesthetic.

I’m also tired of having the same conversation with other Suburban East Asians over and over again. I’m tired of encountering light-skinned Asian Americans who refuse to acknowledge their privilege and deny BIPOC’s struggles by choosing to stay mute and look the other way.

Basically, I’m tired of East Asian Americans (primarily of Chinese/Korean/Japanese descent) pretending like we’re not the white people equivalent of the AAPI community. So now, I am patiently waiting for our conversations to become more diverse by including the struggle of Southeast/South Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, and I will pour tea and make a seat at the table for our LGBTQIA family members when other folks at the table are ready to have difficult, heavy conversations about immigrants’ generational trauma, generational wealth gaps, affirmative action, toxic masculinity, orientalism, homophobia, transphobia, women’s rights, abortion, and skin bleaching.

Thanks so much for acknowledging AAPIs exist. But could you please excuse us while we step into the other room and have an important conversation amongst ourselves?

Planner Profile #007

In this PP, I’m honored to introduce the she grows cities community to Beatris Megerdichian, who is an all-around, bona-fide badass urban planner. See below for our full conversation about transportation planning in Southern California.

Follow Beatris @bmegerdi!

Name: Beatris Megerdichian
Age: 29
Career: Transit Planner at Gold Coast Transit District 
Location: Los Angeles, CA
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bmegerdi

How did you decide to pursue a dual degree program in grad school?

My passion for environmental protection, my educational background in environmental economics, coupled with my work experience as a transit planner paved the way for a dual master’s degree in Public Administration and Planning. Working as a transit planner for the past three years, I witnessed the inequities of access and mobility for public transportation users. Infrequent service taking up to three times longer than driving hinders equitable access and socioeconomic growth for disadvantaged communities. For me, it’s about creating transportation options and communities that serve people from all walks of life.

Describe your dream job if you could work anywhere, anytime!

My dream job (this is when I approach retiring age) would be a Transportation Planning consultant in Armenia, my motherland, to plan, manage and build large-scale infrastructure projects. As the country continues to recover from the recent war and deals with significant political challenges, diasporas’ need to help in building for future generations is dire. I would love to shape the transportation infrastructure from pedestrian networks to land uses surrounding major transit hubs and rail networks traveling through the entire country. 

What is your favorite urban space, and why?

My favorite urban space is Olvera Street in historic downtown Los Angeles. The 0.3-mile stretch takes you back to historic California with the buildings’ architecture, a narrow pedestrian mall with dozens of restaurants and vendors, and cultural performances. The culturally rich street takes you back in time to a different country and lets you escape the city life for a moment. It’s one of many gems in Los Angeles.

How does your personal background inform your career path today?

At the age of ten, I had the privilege, along with my family, to move to the United States. I witnessed my parents take public transportation to work to support our family in a country we knew little about. Transportation liberates people from every walk of life. For me, it’s about the people and being able to help our community improve their lives through transportation. A career in transportation has and continues to allow me to do just that. 


What is it like to be a female planning professional in 2021?

It’s definitely challenging being a woman in planning, particularly in the male-dominated transportation industry. It means that to be a change agent and represent other women, my advocacy voice has to be louder in every project I’m involved in. I also make myself available and offer individualized support to other women, and strive to be a role model to influence younger generations positively. 

Why I’m writing an almanac

Photo taken at The Ecology Center.

Traditionally, a farmer’s almanac contained data and resources for agricultural purposes. The book contained weather pattern predictions, tips on what to grow when, as well as timely information about improvements in agricultural technology. Growing up, I would run to the Scholastic book fair in my elementary school’s library to order the books I had circled in the catalog they sent to students. One of the books I looked forward to the most was the annual Time For Kids almanac, which covered everything from dinosaurs, current events, and future gadgets. (I remember in the 2004 edition, there was a feature on the possibility of electric or hydrogen powered cars. It was an innocent time.)

I decided to create the digital farmer’s almanac because I want to highlight all the good work our communities are already doing to combat climate change and to improve our urban lifestyle. Instead of offering my opinion on issues, I want to put a spotlight on as many grassroots causes and existing community gardens and urban farms as possible because I truly believe these efforts are what make LA my favorite place in the world.

Despite our systemic problems, no one can dispute that immigrants, people of color, strong women, and innovative creators make up the backbone of LA. So I figured, why work harder when we can work smarter?

I’m delighted to announce the 2021 Urban Farmers Almanac for Angelenos will be released online in March. The almanac is completely free, downloadable as a PDF, or will be available on this website. Later in the year, I will be announcing an exciting collaboration project with a local sustainable business related to the almanac. Pre-order details for this project will be announced after the digital almanac release.

This January, I make no resolutions or promises (or plans haha) for myself- instead, I am committed to grow and build on the foundations I built in 2020, and hope to contribute to the greater path of progress we are all walking on together. No matter where you’re reading this from, I wish you health and joy in 2021. And thank you in advance for supporting this Angeleno’s humble project!

Say my name

A lot of my friends and colleagues don’t know that I have two names. Everyone knows me as Jamie, because that is my legal first name given to me by my father. But my Korean name is Heesoo, written in Chinese characters as “extraordinary woman”, and was given to me by my grandfather, who lived through the Korean War and Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

I don’t introduce myself as Heesoo to anyone unless they are from Korea or my family elders. After I began my career, however, I started to wish my legal name was Heesoo because no one seems to be able to spell Jamie correctly- sometimes, people pronounce it incorrectly as well. As for my last name, Hwang, I’ve heard it mis-pronounced in every way possible.

Wang – wong – hang -wang -I’m-Not-Even-Going-To-Try*

Both of my names are androgynous, and while working remotely I began to really notice how people assume I am a male because of my first name and because there is an assumption that political staffers are males.

My names represent the duality that has followed me my entire life. It’s something that sets immigrant families apart from multi-generational American families who have fully assimilated. Having two names signals someone has had to give up one home to find a new one. One night after dinner, my parents talked about how American immigrants all suffer an unspoken trauma from assimilation and isolation. They talked about how hard it is to live in a foreign place without any friends or speaking the language. Then they asked me if I ever struggled to live in America because of my Asian background.

I was surprised and initially frustrated- the question brought forth a rush of childhood experiences of being the only Asian student in classrooms, being told to eat my smelly lunches alone, and spending my early adult years patiently enduring being the token Asian person in organizations, work spaces, and social situations.

And then I was embarrassed and humbled as I realized that I do not fully understand my parents’ trauma because I have been so burdened by my own experiences. Then I felt waves of gratitude and pride because this conversation means our family has made it to a place where we can talk about, recognize, and share our narratives.

Does it make it easier to understand our parents if we share a common tongue? Or do we set up barriers, like re-naming ourselves so we appear more American, to make it easier for others to accept us, and end up losing what we had in common at all?

*Hwang is typically pronounced “hw-ahng” and rhymes with song. This is a common Chinese last name as well, but should not be confused with Wong or Song. Also, if you don’t know how to pronounce someone’s name, just ask! Please don’t tell us you won’t bother trying. It signals you don’t want to bother trying to know who we are.

field trips #002

I first stumbled upon Transplant LA on Instagram earlier this year, and since then had the opportunity to interview Grace Olguin, who is a local gardener who launched a contactless plant delivery service in the LA area. Grace and I talked about how she came up with the idea for Transplant LA, plant fashion, and aloe vera. While this isn’t a traditional field trip, I’m excited to share Transplant LA with y’all- please support a local business this holiday season! And dress up your indoor plant friends 🙂

Name of Org/IG – Transplant LA ; IG @transplant.l.a

Full Name: Grace Olguin

What inspired Transplant LA? When did you start gardening and sharing with others?

Grace: I was inspired to garden at a really young age. I remember growing up in Mexico with family members who always had lots of plants and grew edible gardens. My grandmother nurtured my curiosity and would always compliment my hands, which was one of the most empowering compliments I received as a child. My mother has always said I have my grandmother’s green thumb, as if my thriving plants are loving gifts from my grandmother— gifts that are innate, inherent, and blessed. 

I have been sharing my love for plants for almost a decade now. In 2011, I started to make succulent terrariums in glass bowls. Because I couldn’t ship them, I would sell them at outdoor markets, as well as offer local pick up/delivery. “Transplant LA” is essentially a continuation of that, many years later. I named it “Transplant LA” because several of the plants are acquired through cuttings and transplants from my aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and I also have grown my plant collection through transplanting my own cuttings, then swapping plants with my neighbors and friends! 

What is the short term and long-term goal for Transplant LA?

Grace: A goal that Transplant LA successfully achieved earlier this year was to launch the “$25 Plant Box” contactless plant delivery service. This was my way of bringing joy to people’s spaces during quarantine, which forced us all to spend a lot more time in one space. The Plant Box includes 3 easy-to-care-for plants in four-inch pots, plant-care instructions, and a postcard (to send a loving note to your socially distanced friend, and to support the USPS).

It seems a lot more people gained interest this year in learning how to care for and grow plants, which is wonderful! At the same time, we couldn’t exactly leave our homes to shop for plants. Shopping online for plants became a go-to for some, but that can get expensive due to expedited shipping fees. My solution to this problem was to help people source plants locally, without needing to leave their homes. I limited this service to two Saturdays per month and serviced up to 10 clients monthly. I sourced plants the morning of and made deliveries in the afternoon. I provided free delivery within a 15-mile radius of Downtown Los Angeles. Every purchase directly supported vendors from the Downtown Los Angeles Flower District.  

My long-term goal for “Transplant LA” is to continue using it as a fun and resourceful platform where I can continue to share my plant care routine and knowledge, as well as bring awareness to learning resources such as the free gardening webinars for Los Angeles County residents via smartgardening.com. This free resource, provided by Los Angeles County Public Works, is how I learned to transform my household’s organic waste into compost! I hope that someday in the near future, Los Angeles County can provide a compost ordinance/service like San Francisco. Instead of creating more trash that goes into landfills and oceans, each household can learn how to compost and create nutrient-rich soil for local farmers.

Are there any big projects/events/giveaways coming up? 

Grace: I have a small business called @bygracreates – a lot of my time and energy will go into rebranding and scaling this business in the new year. Earlier this year, I launched my “Plant Romper” collection. The “Plant Romper” is a handmade fabric planter which can be used to dress up any of your pots. I will be working on making and releasing a new batch of these planters just in time for Valentine’s Day ❤ 

Four Inch Indoor Plant Fabric Pot / Plant Basket image 0

As for the “Plant Box,” it is currently on hiatus, but I hope to continue the service soon. For now, I offer a local pick-up option in Long Beach for individual plants. I am currently helping my wonderful stepmom sell her transplanted cuttings of aloe vera plants. She has 30 of them! They all grew from two aloe vera plants that her grandmother gifted her many years ago. They are very loved, and available for local pick up in Long Beach and Pomona.