El Sol Brillante - LES Garden


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El Sol Brillante - LES Garden

  1. 1. Reporters’ book A guide for design- based ethnographic research El Sol Brillante
  2. 2. 1.1 Description What do they do? (Description of service idea, e.g. a community garden, a food coop, etc). What are the demands/ problems this initiative responds to? What is the aim of the initiative? What happens and how does it happens? What benefits does it bring to the neighborhood? Individuals in this garden primarily focus on growing plants, flowers, and, to a lesser extent, fruits and vegetables. In order to create more fertile soil for the garden, several members have taken the initiative to focus their efforts on composting. Now, the garden has biweekly workshops to focus on teaching not only garden members but also individuals from neighboring gardens the art of composting. The methodology that is taught at the garden is based on effective micro-organism (EF) technology. Moreover, the initiative aims to beautify the community itself while continuing to utilize a sustainable model. This type of collaborative work brings a strong sense of community and positive energy to the neighborhood. 1.2 Context What is this neighborhood like? How was it before this new solution took place? In a sense, the neighborhood is very residential – primarily comprised of apartment buildings, a few sustainable restaurants, and the green space that is El Sol Brillante, El Sol Brillante Junior, and Sour Park. As a result, the block could be described as a very “green” zone. Prior to the garden’s establishment in the 1970s, the neighborhood had a heavy Puerto Rican population. The vacant lot where El Sol Brillante now sits was utilized by junkies as a shooting gallery. Many of the bodegas on the street were merely fronts for drug operations.
  3. 3. 1.3 History of the initiative How did the project/initiative start? Who took the initiative? Why? Can you describe a timeline of events, highlighting success and failure aspects, major milestones? How far can you go back? How did this initiative mature? How did it turn to be a real enterprise? (registered, formalized etc.) Did it receive public or private support of any kind? Did it help change the public or policy structure? There was a push by leaders within the community to remove the pervasive drug scene from 12th street in the early-mid 1970s to little avail; however, once an activist collected a bucket full of hypodermic needles and took them as evidence to the government, the vacant lot on 12th Street was moved to the top of the list. Later on, the garden’s land was purchased from the city for a relatively inexpensive price. Officially, the garden was established in 1978. 1.4 Main actors Who are the users of this initiative? Who are the promoters of this initiative? Is there a difference between users and promoters or are they basically the same? Describe users and promoters lifestyles? Do the users work as a group or groups? Is there a network of related organizations and/or individuals? Do they have any form of connection or exchange with other similar initiatives? Was the group inspired by other examples? Do you know counter examples, (of service ideas that did not take-off), cases that went wrong? Garden users vary greatly in occupation and hobbies, although they basically all come from the immediate vicinity. The individuals are employed outside of the garden and largely use this as a retreat on weekends or on evenings during the week. The gardeners feel that maintaining a garden is similar to a second, part-time job. The users have many diverse careers - musicians, school teachers, travel agents, film makers, therapists, lawyers, and IV soccer leaguers are all present.
  4. 4. 1.5. Technologies What are the technologies that the group uses? How are they used in system? A significant composting system is in place in the garden which is fueled by an effective micro-organism (EF) process, the first of its kind in New York City. This process requires use of trash cans to store food scraps, a worm bin to ferment the soil, and trenches throughout the garden for planting. The key difference between traditional composting and EF is the use of bran in the fermentation process. The whole process takes about two weeks and, provided the rats don’t raid the soil, is ready for planting in just a months time. All correspondence by the garden is handled by an email listserv. Additionally, the garden has a website, http://evpcnyc.org/elsolsr/index.html that contains limited information about the garden. The garden members are considering purchasing a projector for movie nights. 1.6. Communication What communication materials do the group have? (e.g. website, brochures, postcards, etc). What is the main purpose of these materials? e.g. to keep participants updated about activities (internal communication) or to get more participants (external communication)? Does the group want to have more participants? The garden has a website and utilizes email as well. The purpose of the website is two fold, both to keep participants informed and to attract potential new members. The email however is aimed solely for communication between members. The group definitely seems to be interested in gaining new membership and bolstering increased participation within the community.
  5. 5. 1.7. Perspective for the future What are the perspective/objectives of the group for the next 3-5 years? What are some of the success factors and possible risks in the short medium and long term? The group would like to implement more year round activities in the near future with possible festivities including movie nights and barbecues. Also, the group is heavily invested in co-developing and adapting to emerging composting methods and hope to eventually grow the garden completely from a compost base. In the next three to five years the garden plans to continue hosting workshops on composting, and encourage sustainability in the community by working with nearby educational institutions. 1.8. Problems and opportunities Are there any specific issues/problems/barriers that pose threats to the initiative? Are there any main areas of concern among the participants (leaders and users alike)? Are there any opportunities that could be explored (that are currently not explored)? The garden functions on a very simple democratic system; therefore, there is little evidence of structure or hierarchy. This system seems to be the most fair way to manage garden operations; however, such a free system also affords lots of dissention within the garden as members have various aesthetic and functional goals for the space. In terms of composting dilemmas, rats pose a major threat to the initiative.
  6. 6. 1.9. Indications of other social innovation Do the users participate in other entrepreneurial endeavors? Do they form small initiatives on their own? Are members involved in other “sustainable” services within the community? (Ex. Food Co-op, carpooling, community gardens, etc)? Do you see evidence of wider networks that these users contribute to? While a few users do sell the food they’ve grown in the garden for a profit, the garden membership only nets a 10% commission on total sales. Across the board, garden users exhibit an interest in sustainability and other initiatives focused on local food and green energy in particular. Interpersonal relations between gardeners throughout the lower east side also contributes to connections to wider networks. 1.10. References Website of the initiative Interviewee name and contact information (email, address, phone number) Other references (websites, articles, other people we should talk to) Susan Greenfield: Garden Contact (poopini@yahoo.com) Also Interviewed: “Barbara” “Arnoldo” “Nick”
  7. 7. Quantitative Data Exercise How many members does the initiative have? How many are very active in the initiative? How does individual spaces compare with shared/group spaces? How many members are involved in other community-based services? (Food Co-op, activist orgs, clothes swapping, bike sharing, etc.) What is the size of the initiative in square footage? The are approximately forty members in total, all of whom are more or less active within the garden. In terms of property division, individual plots comprise the garden’s central area while communal space expands our, around the boarder. Members pay an annual fee of $30.00 a piece for membership dues.