I am all about building community. Simple Green Smoothies was born out of the desire to create a community of people who blend green smoothies, talk about wellness, and inspire each other to live a healthy lifestyle. So, when I came across an urban farm on Instagram whose motto is “Reclaim Lives. Repurpose Land. Reimagine Community.”, I knew I had to interview them! I connected with Erika Cueller, one of the co-founders of Alma Backyard Farms, and had her share some of her story with us!
What inspired you to start your garden?
I found myself wishing that persons who leave prison or leave behind a destructive lifestyle have an opportunity to restore a sense of agency and fulfill their desire to “give back”. Part of one’s rehabilitation or transformation involves “giving back” or sharing one’s effort to help others. The problem I wanted to help solve was helping others in their challenging moments of life transitions by way of urban farming. Urban farming offers opportunities for healing while it remains a powerful way to fight rising food insecurity in disenfranchised communities. Urban farming offers opportunities for formerly incarcerated women and men to acquire new job- and life- skills.
Did you have prior gardening experience?
I grew up in a home where food was being grown out of every inch of soil, but my desire for growing food and community came much later as an adult. My experience was based on observation — today I read a lot to learn from other urban farmers. What drove me to garden was that pressing awareness that overcrowded prisons will inevitably release prisoners into our neighborhoods. And I live with a conviction that our neighborhoods and communities can only benefit if we proactively engage in the reintegration of the formerly incarcerated through urban farming.
What do you grow?
I grow food and community. More specifically seasonal vegetables for local restaurants and food banks while engaging the formerly incarcerated.
Why did you decide to grow what you grow?
In Los Angeles’ microclimates, you can grow a lot year round. We’ve chosen to focus on high-yield crops like greens because our urban farms are spread out throughout the city and this has been the best way to maximize production and time.
How did you design your garden to work with your “space” (backyard, windowsill, fire escape, etc.)?
We utilize raised bed growing methods in backyards. Raised beds allow us to maximize every square foot of growing space with ease. Our raised beds are also a beautiful addition to any space because of their craftsman style.
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in starting a community garden?
People need to roll up their sleeves because everyone’s efforts and choices count. We have to roll up our sleeves because every person’s contribution – large or small – counts and continues to make a difference. If you're interested in starting a community garden, or just want to start growing your own food, all I have to say is—just start, and never stop learning.
CONNECT WITH ALMA BACKYARD FARMS: To see more photos of Alma Backyard Farms, be sure to follow them on Instagram @almabackyardfarms.
INTERESTED IN BEING FEATURED ON THE RAWKSTAR GARDEN TOUR?
Please email us here and tell us all about your lovely garden. We’re looking for school gardens, tower gardens, big gardens, indoor gardens… you name it!