Interview with Claudia Pearce
Claudia Pearce is an author, journalist, and activist based in Southern California. Pearce is involved with developing Huerta del Valle‘s gardens and founding Pando Hub projects there and at the Natural Ivy Foundation in Koreatown.
Claudia, I hear you’re going down in the Pando history books as the first “Pando Arborist,” or, project manager. You created the role at the Natural Ivy homeless shelter, the first Pando Hub, and now you’re on to your next Hub with the Huerta Del Valle community garden in Ontario. Tell me about that.
Huerta is really impressive! It’s a four-acre community garden and organic farm located in Ontario, California—a project of neighboring Pitzer College with land and water donated by the City of Ontario.
It’s grown into this incredible farming and gardening community in the middle of a food desert—a refuge and an oasis for the families who live in the area under very stressful conditions.
What are the stresses they’re dealing with in this area?
Huerta is located on the south side of Ontario—literally on the other side of the tracks. Of course, there’s pollution and a shortage of public parks.
In addition, families within the community are under stress because some members may not be documented, their English may not be that fluent, and they are often working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
During the summer the stress is even worse, since many work in the warehouse industry, and the lack of air conditioning means temperatures often soar well into the 100’s inside.
In spite of all this, they not only come to Huerta after hours to work on their own garden plots, several of them also volunteer their time on the organic farm that takes up about half of the space and aims to bring produce to market—and they do a beautiful job, a true labor of love.
The Huerta folks have no trouble producing high-quality organic produce to sell, but they need help finding buyers. They sell 400-500 pounds of produce per week now to restaurants, individuals, and to Pitzer College food service, but they grow about 1,000 pounds per week, so they want to sell more. They hope to eventually become a “Food Hub/Clearing House” to collaborate with other local community agriculture sites.
Right now they donate their extra produce to food banks and then compost what the food banks can’t take. But they could really use more income for their outreach and education programs, along with the overhead to run the farm. They would also like to be able to pay their most dedicated volunteer farmers for their time. They have an incredibly talented team.
It sounds like a remarkable place, but what can Pando Hubs do?
Pando Hubs focus on places already doing remarkable work with the big idea in mind of creating a more ecological civilization. These Hubs focus on places that need the help of Pando partners to do something more. The “more“ that we‘ve been talking about with them consists of helping them get more clients and more publicity.
We recently finished a new website. It’s now live at http://www.huertadelvalle.org/. Readers can click on the wonderful services they offer—not only all the incredible organic produce that’s available, but also opportunities like becoming a Huerta member for only $30/year in exchange for $1/pound produce.
People will also be able to purchase weekly Huerta produce boxes, attend their potlucks, and have a chance to go to their wonderful quarterly farm-to-table fundraising dinners under the stars with celebrity chefs, and more.
We’re also planning to have a half-day Pando workshop in September for networking and brainstorming, and to connect potential buyers with Huerta and other up-and-running organic farmers and gardeners in the area who are hoping to sell their produce as well.
This Pando Hub is different than the others, but the thing that all the Hubs have in common is the fact of partners coming together to do something together that’s difficult alone—in this case, create business and marketing solutions for selling quality produce.
What’s the connecting between a marketing and business plan and ecological civilization in Southern California?
In this case, the marketing and business plan will mean the wider distribution of healthier food. Lower carbon footprint because the food is locally produced. Community hubs for enjoyment and activism. More of a felt connection with the Earth. A safeguard in case things start to fall apart as global warming gets worse—all kinds of benefits! We need more Huertas!
What’s the key to getting more Huertas?
Partnerships are extremely important for a project like this, in terms of volunteers, support, and expertise. Pando Hubs are all about partnerships—in the same way that old-fashioned barn raisings are all about neighbors getting together.
When we give each other mutual help and encouragement, we can not only accomplish more, but also heighten the ecological awareness of our friends and neighbors, and encourage them to join us in making our communities more sustainable.
What sort of background do you have to pull these Hub projects off?
Probably the most relevant thing I’ve ever done to Pando Hubs is spending a year and a half in the Dominican Republic working with my husband in the social good space—him giving medical care to the destitute, and me assisting people who had begun micro-industries.
When we returned to California, I focused on journalism and media relations, which is also relevant to Pando Hubs. Every good Hub has at its heart a good story, and stories always have to be crafted.
I’ve also written extensively for general audiences via San Diego’s NPR and PBS stations. I’ve worked on media coverage for the Claremont School of Theology, and I’ve written a few books, including a small book titled “This We Believe: The Christian Case for Gay Civil Rights,” and a new one on science and religion with Philip Clayton, founder of a sister organization called “Toward Ecological Civilization.”
Pando Hubs brings all these threads of my life together at specific locations.
This spring you helped lead a Pando Hubs team at the Natural Ivy Foundation to turn the shelter’s back yard area into a community garden with raised beds. Gardens seem to be at the heart of a lot of your interest.
At Natural Ivy, it really began with water, though that quickly circles back around to gardening and food.
Natural Ivy is a homeless shelter in the Koreatown part of Los Angeles that’s doing great work. They provide shelter for up to twenty people at a time at their main house, and also allow homeless people in the community to shower and receive emergency clothing and food there.
When we began this Hub project, the home had an out-of-control water bill due to five leaky sinks, three leaky showers, and washing three to four loads of clothes a day. They also had a roughly paved back yard that was bad for water, bad for soil, and a harsh environment.
After meeting with the two young administrators, Paris and Pernetha Smith—biological sisters—we decided to “Pando Natural Ivy’s water” so that it would water a garden instead of going to waste, thus not only feeding the people at that site, but also providing organic food for people in the other homeless programs Natural Ivy runs.
Pando and Natural Ivy volunteers worked every Sunday in May to remove the concrete from their large back area and turn it into a community garden with raised beds. A local eco-gardener and landscaper, Brendan Wilson, designed the plans and oversaw the garden installation. The Claremont-based building energy retrofitter CHERP, one of the partners, worked on the leaks and electricity problems. I facilitated with communication, volunteer, and supply coordination—and made sure we stayed on schedule.
Natural Ivy now has a large, beautiful garden cared for mostly by their clients, and their next step is to install the gray water system to channel the water from their washer to the garden. Eventually, they hope to add a tilapia pond.
It’s the way ecological civilization is going to get built—one garden, one gray water system, one street address at a time.