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!
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:
*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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂
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 ❤
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.
It’s been a while since the last PP- the bulk of my time has been spent in meetings, researching, and conducting site visits for my Urban Farmer’s Almanac project. So I’m excited to introduce you all to Isabel Qi, a coastal planner in Los Angeles who is making ~waves~
Name: Isabel Qi Age: 25 Location: Los Angeles Current employer/planning program: Coastal Planner at the California Coastal Commission
How did you decide to pursue urban planning professionally? I’ve always been interested in sustainability issues and climate change, so I studied climate sciences in college. In my second year, I went to an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography called Sink or Swim. At the exhibit, I saw photographs of the impact of sea level rise on coastal cities around the world, from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to monsoon flooding in Bangladesh. That made me feel the urgency of the issues brought by climate change, especially in coastal communities. I was inspired to learn about urban planning and design solutions to climate change. As I learned more about the field, I realized that I could use the tools of urban planning to work on intersections of sustainability with my other passions, such as transportation and public spaces.
Who inspires you to build better cities? My sister has traveled to many cities in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. What’s really insightful is talking to her about how some neighborhoods and cities make her feel safer than others as a young Asian woman walking alone. I want to build safer urban spaces where everybody, including women, feel safe exploring the city and having fun without feeling like they’re limited to going out at certain times of the day or with certain people to avoid fearing for their safety.
How can we build safer, more inclusive urban spaces for communities big and small? In the context of the current pandemic and racial justice movements, safety in urban spaces is a public health issue and a racial equity issue. We need to believe in scientific expertise and develop policies rooted in science to solve public health issues. As we have seen in the past six months, people don’t feel safe going to stores or gathering outside of their households when there’s a pandemic out of control. This makes urban spaces seem even more unsafe, as urban streets become deserted and we lose the eyes on the street. On the social equity side, instead of listening to the expertise of the few, we have to incorporate the perspectives and experiences of a broad and diverse group to ensure that we are addressing the needs of everyone, especially the marginalized communities who have historically been left out of decision-making processes. We have to help these groups feel like they truly belong to these spaces whether it’s through supporting their businesses, providing space for events of all cultures, or fostering diverse representation in various activities and organizations.
Where is your favorite urban space? Little Tokyo in downtown LA. It’s walkable, connected to transit, and it’s just a great place to hang out! The non-profits and community organizations in Little Tokyo have created such a vibrant cultural scene there, and they’ve done such a great job of preserving the history of the neighborhood. I learn something new every time I visit!
How are you spending your summer quarantined in LA? It’s been a very unusual summer both because of the pandemic and because I graduated from my Master’s program, which means lots of changes while being stuck at home! Lately, I’ve been settling into my new job from home. Outside of that, I’ve spent the new free time working out, discovering trails and outdoor spaces in the LA region, and trying new recipes.
During one of the hottest weekends of the summer, I found myself driving up the 5 freeway to Arleta with my mask and thermos filled with ice water ready to go. I found myself in a residential community just a half mile away from the freeway exit. Nestled in the corner of the neighborhood, SOW Collective’s community garden welcomed me with valley heat, flowering basil, and summer’s last batch of glorious tomatoes.
It was my first time finally meeting the badass SOW team in person after I interviewed them several months ago before we knew how long COVID-19 would impact our lives and our work. Despite the sweltering heat (it was a ripe 90 degrees at 10 AM), there was a small army of female volunteers ready to help shovel dirt, weed out intruders, and harvest the last peppers, tomatoes, and squash. I was instantly jealous of this community- how lucky they are to have a garden smack dab in the middle of their neighborhood! How wonderful would it be to spend a Saturday morning walking down the street to pick some fresh fruits and veggies, volunteer some time to learn about gardening, and also get to know my neighbors?
Does anyone else suffer from this type of community garden envy? Have you wondered what it would take to have a community garden in your neighborhood? And most importantly- have you considered what the obstacles are to having one? If you’d like to admire/envy SOW Collective’s garden in person, go here for hours and directions, and you may also want to check out what other projects they have going on. It turns out the garden is just the beginning for SOW!
As hills burn in California, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the individual sacrifices we’ve all had to make this year. I think about my nail artist, my hair unnie, my favorite local restaurants, and of course, all my friends who were looking forward to finishing school, moving on from a toxic work place, or travel.
And then, doing my field research for the sustainability almanac brings me even more perspective. Farm stands serving their communities with masks on, community produce bins encouraging anyone who depends on food stamps to help themselves, and volunteers dripping sweat in valley heat to rotate crops as summer winds down. I start thinking about the migrant workers who are literally bending over backwards to feed all of us while getting paid just a few dollars a day with no benefits and no workers’ rights.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some qualitative thoughts on site visits I made to three urban farms and gardens: SOW‘s community garden, The Ecology Center, and Ave 33 Urban Farm. My biggest takeaway so far is every community deserves access to fresh produce, but we still have a ways to go to make this accessible to low-income families. It’s easy for me to drive up to LA to pick up my $30 produce box and enjoy the fresh herbs and tomatoes within a week- but how is that a viable option for a mom trying to feed a family?
I want to wrap up this season’s recap with a brief story. Recently, I observed an online thread about using cloth diapers. The OP was urging all moms to abandon disposable diapers for cloth diapers because they are better for the environment- and then OP broke down how many diapers you would need for one baby, how many you would need to wash on an average week, and so on. While I think people should definitely consider incorporating sustainable lifestyle changes, I do not think it’s realistic or fair to expect people to try to live zero-waste. This cloth diaper conversation made me realize that people who are unaware of sustainability may also be turned off by this type of attitude. Many people out there assume that sustainable lifestyle= expensive, unrealistic changes that demand zero-waste results.
I want to write my almanac for anyone who wants to learn about sustainability- what the word means, how it applies to individuals, and what one can do to make long term, affordable, and healthy changes to do their part in fighting climate change. And you don’t need to figure these things out alone- I’m finding out already that there is a huge community out here in LA ready to help.