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How Community Gardens Can Go Beyond Just Bringing Humans Outside (Rafael Woldeab)

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Humans Outside Rafael Woldeab

Among the lifestyle challenges of living in a city are finding ways to create nature spaces near your home. While many city community green spaces are in the form of parks, everything from their upkeep to ease of access varies widely. And those spaces often aren’t designed with a focus on what the community needs or who lives and plays there, creating a block for use by all.

In Washington, D.C. the organization City Blossoms is working to change that by creating garden spaces focused on youth involvement across the city. With two of their core values focused on diversity and equity, the organization partners with communities to create gardens that don’t just live in the neighborhood, but are centered around its needs.

In this episode, Rafael Woldeab, City Blossom’s executive director, shares his organization’s mission, why it matters and how outdoor-lovers anywhere can use what City Blossoms has learned to connect them with nature right where they are.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:54] How Rafael Woldeab became someone who likes to go outside
[5:05] Why the National Arboretum is a good example of nature inequity
[10:19] What is City Blossoms?
[18:31] Should we focus our resources on community gardens or curated garden spaces?
[20:32] Why diversity and inclusion are central to gardening
[26:23] Why do gardens matter?
[33:51] What gardening can teach you about life
[36:52] How anyone can experience the power of gardens
[44:01] Rafael’s favorite outdoor gear
[45:44] Rafael’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outsid

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years.

But life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out. So we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on nature was just the shift we needed. Since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

As we’ve spent season five of Humans Outside focused strongly on nearby nature. We’ve brushed a few times on finding or creating nature experiences in the city. If you live in an apartment building or surrounded by concrete and an area without many or large parks in a walkable space, or if you don’t have a vehicle and public transportation doesn’t have ready access to green space, how do you find an experienced.

Since low-income areas of cities tend to have less manicured green space individuals who live in those neighborhoods could have an even more difficult time accessing greenspace areas. In Washington, DC, the nonprofit organizations, City Blossoms is working to create and maintain green spaces in the form of gardens, flower and vegetable, across the city with a focus on youth invovlement

While DC, like many cities does have city parks with green areas and also has several large park areas maintained by the national park system or the U S Capitol or Smithsonian. They aren’t necessarily near neighborhoods. And for spots like Kenilworth, Aquatic Gardens and the National Arboretum, they aren’t near a Metro stop.

And just walking through a grease space may not have the same experience as it creating and maintaining a garden as we’ll hear. Rafael Waldeab is the executive director for City Blossoms and a Washington DC native. He carries a passion for helping the city’s kids build a connection to nature through gardening. And today he’s going to talk about nearby nature through city gardens, why it matters and how we can leverage the lessons he’s learned there to help her communities wherever we live. Rafael, welcome to Humans Outside.

Rafael Woldeab: Thank you, Amy. So great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So I’m excited to talk to you today, not just about nearby nature in cities, but because I also, once upon a time lived in Washington DC. And so I have either lived near I lived in a lot of places in Washington, DC. It was, It was the days of my youth, you know? And so I’ve either lived in conjunction to noticing this issue or in this issue, or at least covered as a reporter parts of the city that did experience this issue constantly. So, this is sort of a close to home feeling topic for me.

Rafael Woldeab: Wonderful. Well, I can definitely relate even though I am from DC have definitely lived in many neighborhoods around DC. Also likewise to your experience of, I’ve noticed this being an issue in our city as well, so

Amy Bushatz: Yeah which is why you work in it today.

Rafael Woldeab: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a direct personal connection to that work and the mission of City Blossoms, which I’m excited to talk about.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So we start our episodes just sort of imagining ourselves in our guest favorite after space, like we’re hanging out, having a conversation somewhere, you know and love and treasure.

So we’re that the case? Where are we with you today?

Rafael Woldeab: I love that question. I would say, well, of course, any City Blossoms garden in Washington, DC, but I would say that my story with nature begins in Massachusetts, actually in central Massachusetts at a farm that I lived and worked on the year after I graduated from college. And that was sort of the first time that I felt a true, genuine relationship with the land I was on with the nature around me. And so that’s where I see ourselves starting our conversation here today.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. So let’s hang out there. And tell us more about that, because of course we want to know how you became someone who likes to go outside and spend time in nature and why that’s important to you. So what is your nature background in story perhaps with that farm or beyond that?

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, absolutely. So, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, I am from Washington DC, born and raised in the Northeast part of the city in Ward 5 and the neighborhood that I grew up in and that I’ve lived in most of my life is right near the National Arboretum, which is a national park based in DC. And if you’ve been to DC either as a native yourself or as a visitor, I’m sure the National Arboretum is one of the top places that you’ve been told to visit. I, fortunately grew up near the Arboretum, but I, upon reflection can honestly say as a young person did not necessarily feel a true connection to the national Arboretum.

And that’s no shade to the Arboretum. I absolutely love the place now. I go there very often, but growing up for whatever reasons. I, I never, I never had a strong desire to go, the couple of blocks away from my house and enter this larger green space. And I must say it probably has a lot to do with the engagement piece.

I think something that I’ve learned throughout my time in around nature and the environment is stewardship and belonging especially are really important to developing healthy, genuine relationships with nature. And it wasn’t until the year after I graduated from college at 21, 22 years old, that I was looking for work and applied to several different positions in various parts of the country.

And one of the first positions to get back to me and essentially recruit me was a heifer farm in central Massachusetts. Sort of outside the suburbs of Wooster or “Woostah”, as they say, I was quickly corrected when I moved up there and, long story short this farm served both as an educational farm for the local community in that region. And also shared a lot of the work that the organization heifer international is doing around community development, sustainable development around the world. And, that was the first time that I really felt a sense of belonging, a sense of community in a green space. I engaged in a lot of farming. I engaged in a lot of livestock management. Also had some facilitation experience running educational programming. And really felt a a strong connection to the food I was growing, cooking that food, eating that food, seeing how that made me feel really feeling a sense of health and a sense of peace and ease in that space.

And that’s something that I never want to lose. So that’s sort of the first time that I really felt a genuine connection to nature and that sort of where my story starts with.

Amy Bushatz: Do you think that well, first of all, I want to talk about the National Arboretum for a little bit, because I think that this is sort of intersects with what we’re going to talk about here in a second.

I think maybe people haven’t been there because it’s sort of off the beaten path. A lot of Washington DC, visitors don’t necessarily make it past the national mall with the Smithsonian museums, which is fine. I mean, there’s more than enough to do there, right? Like so much. And then if you only have so many days and you’re on the Metro system, why would you make it off of there. But the national Arboretum is sort of far field from that. It’s also walled, there’s a wall around it. Do you think that is that visual literal visual wall is creating a visual barrier to use and then sort of the fact that it’s not overly popular and talked about and that kind of thing by people who are visiting Washington, DC?

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, I think you’re really speaking to a challenge that cities often face when it comes to equitable access to green space. So looking at a map, you see this very large green shaded area in the Northeast part of the city, but when you take a closer look and you see, what that green space looks like, how to access that green space. You oftentimes need a car or you need a bike. You need knowledge of that space. So someone in your community tells you to tech to check that space out. Oftentimes there’s disparities with who has knowledge of that space. There’s hours of operation, which are written, you know, which is challenging for the Arboretum.

And, they have their needs around hours of operations. You know, after 5:00 PM, the park closes, who has time to access that park during the week before 5:00 PM. Oftentimes that’s not young folks, oftentimes that’s not working class folks. And so, there’s many different barriers to access to green space. Yes. There’s a large amount of green space in, in Ward 5 Northeast DC, but we’re thinking about who’s accessing that green space oftentimes there’s that disparity. And so, that’s actually some of the challenges that City Blossoms is trying to address. So I appreciate you highlighting that.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Okay. So speaking of City Blossoms,, tell us about that. What is City Blossoms? What does it do? Give us a little bit of background.

Rafael Woldeab: Absolutely. So City Blossoms is all about cultivating the wellbeing of our community. We do that through creative programming in kid driven gardens. So, that’s essentially our mission statement.

City Blossoms was founded in 2008 by two amazing Washingtonian women Rebecca Lemos and and Lola Bloom. Rebecca and Lola we’re living in Columbia Heights around that time period. And Columbia Heights is a majority black majority Latino neighborhood in Northwest DC. And an issue that they noticed in their neighborhood was this exact issues that we’re discussing now, Amy this lack of access to safe free green space that speaks to children, that speaks to youth that speaks to the community in which the green space is based in.

And so they started sort of an incubator project. They started a garden attached to a school in that area and saw a lot of children and youth come into that space and notice that, there was something happening there. There was artistic expression. There was self-expression, there was a nature play.

There was a curiosity for what was growing in the space, for taking care of what was growing in the space or taking some of that home and sharing it with with community members. And so, this model of creating green accessible space that is kid driven, that is community driven that is engaging to the folks that are living in and around the neighborhoods and communities in which the green space is located, is a super successful model in a seen a lot of positive growth here in Washington, DC. So City Blossoms has grown from one site in 2008 to now we have over 30 partners across the city here in 2022, we have partnered with over 100 different projects locally and nationally. And in an average year, we reach about 10,000 children and youth through our programming. So we’ve seen a lot of success and a lot of sustainable growth, and we’re super excited to share our story and share our approach to the community wellbeing.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So you’re using both, you mentioned a garden adjacent to a school yard, right? Talk to me about the kinds of spaces that you’re turning into these gardens, vegetable and, and flower gardens. Where are they empty? Lots. Are they previously unused garden spaces? What do those look like? Visualize or give us a visual of that. If you don’t mind.

Rafael Woldeab: And I appreciate the question because I would say it’s all the above. As far as how the spaces are first generated, we, we partner with early childhood centers, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community centers.

Our target audience at City Blossoms are children and youth ages two to 19. So we’re thinking about, where all of the spaces in which we find children, youth ages, two to 19, it’s typically all of these different spaces. So we partner with schools and we partner with education centers and our green spaces can look like anything from you know, a handful of garden pots with beautiful flowers and crops and vegetables growing out of that space with art expression around in and around those garden pots. It can look anything from sort of that end of the spectrum to a large green, vast open green space. Thinking about our partnership with another awesome organization in DC, dreaming out loud, and we have a couple of partnership spaces with them.

They’re doing a lot of food production and it’s sort of a fully functioning farm. And then also in that space, we have a youth garden and that youth garden is where a lot of our children and youth can come see both the production farm, and also see a space and sort of engage in a space where there’s nature play and there’s art and there’s flowers and vegetables growing and there’s education happening in that space and community celebrations.

Sort of all the above, it really depends on what the needs are in the particular community or neighborhood that we’re partnering in. And oftentimes are oftentimes always our approach to developing these green spaces is engaging with community, making sure that our approach is community led, is kid led is youth driven. So that’s everything from, what the garden space physically looks like, so that design process, all the way to what is actually being planted. In those garden spaces. So it’s all sort of informed by the partners that, that we team up with rather than by City Blossoms staff ourselves.

Amy Bushatz: Right. Because that’s, I’m not ragging on the, on the national Arboretum. It’s just a different model, but let’s go back to that example because we’ve already touched on it. So that’s the difference between something like that and something like what you were doing, which is that the national Arboretum is created for a different goal, right. Like the national park system created that to be a place that has a display of trees that grow in this environment. It’s got, other sort of, the original capital building columns are there, right? Like just sort of art in that way. That’s a different reason to have green space that is not, it’s almost a musuem — it is a museum sort of green space in that context. And in that context, it has walls, literal walls around it, as opposed to what you’re doing, which is supposed to be a space where people are instantly connected to, because they were a part of creating it. It’s not somewhere they go and experience so much as it’s something they have been a part of it’s Genesis and becoming and the garden and the people in it become at the same time.

Rafael Woldeab: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s spot on. And that is sort of what our longterm sustainable growth towards our ultimate goal of creating cities, where there is abundant accessible green space. That, that’s how we’re going to meet our goal, right? It needs to start from the early childhood level. We need to have touch points with our children and youth all the way throughout their their development their leadership development, their educational development. And by the time, our young folks are the leaders within their communities, they’re these values of green space, these values of community led green space exists. Right. And that’s sort of what our sustainable growth model looks like and is all about. So I appreciate you highlighting that.

Amy Bushatz: I wonder if there’s a case for both, like, okay. So limited resources and limited time, right? So let’s say we’re starting from scratch here and you have to choose, am I going to create a curated. Garden space. So not unlike the national Arboretum, something that you go to and experience and has been made for you. Or am I going to spend my community limited resources on creating a space that we’re all involved in producing and designing and actively reconfiguring over time because of course that’s how, especially a small garden goes, right. It’s something that is done annually and almost And in a lot of ways, if you’re planting annuals, for example, it’s in the title. But you can constantly be changing it. Which of those is a better spend of resources or is it, are they just two different things and you can’t compare them in the way that I’m trying to?

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say my, my initial reaction is :what’s the end goal? What’s the purpose of the green space? Is it a green space that is achieving a specific goal of existing? Is it a green space that’s trying to achieve a goal of access and inclusion for all? I think the approach to the construction of the space is critical In what your end goal wants to be. So for City Blossoms, we’re thinking about green spaces that speak to the neighborhoods in which they’re based in the communities, in which they’re based in. Rafael who grew up in ward five Northeast DC may not exactly know or specifically know what Dimitri in Lincoln Heights, ward seven or ward eight DC might need or might want, right?

So for me to come into someone else’s neighborhood and curate a green space may not be speaking to what the community or the neighborhood in that green space might need. And so for City Blossoms it’s really important that when we’re creating these green spaces we’re doing so with community engagement with youth engagement. Right. I think that that’s sort of what, what comes to mind when I hear that question.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. That makes, that makes sense and interesting pondering.

You mentioned, you’ve mentioned equity and diversity a couple of times. So let’s talk about that. And your website lists those as core values of the organization. So in addition to you mentioning today, I know they’re important to the organization. Give us a view though, as to why those two things are important specifically for when we’re talking about creating and maintaining garden space. You’ve already touched on it, but let’s dial in.

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, absolutely. So, equity, diversity are two very important values for City Blossoms. I think because those values exist that because they’ve been baked into the very fabric of the organization is why I, a, first had touchpoint with organization and, b, am now serving as executive director. So thinking about equity specifically, you know, we’ve talked about what equity means to City Blossoms. We think about equity in the sense of access. So, equitable access to green space- when someone hears that and they know the DC landscape, there might be a question mark, because DC typically has a reputation for being a very green city. But as we said when we’re looking a little bit more closely at who has access equitable access to that green space, oftentimes there’s that disparity, right? Like a green space plopped into the middle of the city might be more accessible for some folks than for others. So what are we doing with that space to make it speak to as many people as possible to make it as inclusive as possible. These are always the questions that we’re asking here at City Blossoms.

Regarding diversity, I think just shifting a focus a little bit to a different component of City Blossoms. I’ve really appreciated this concept of super powers at City Blossoms. When I, finished my internship, I, in 2015 at City Blossoms I was asked to join the board the board of directors, I’m 23 years. Never thought I could be on a board period, let alone at that age. But the

Amy Bushatz: That’s the age where he was asked things like, what do boards actually do? Right?

Rafael Woldeab: Like they don’t look like me. They don’t sound like me is, was what my initial interpretation or. Is right. But the executive director at the time, Rebecca really leaned in and met with me, we grabbed lunch and she explained the reasoning why she wanted me to join the.

Right. She knows that I don’t have, or maybe I don’t easily, I’m not easily able to pull in that $10,000 donation or what have you. But maybe there are other, other skills or other superpowers that I can bring to the table that are also going to benefit the organization. That’s something that I’ve really appreciated about City Blossoms. It’s truly allowed me to tap into my own leadership style and really manifest my own leadership development because we value diversity in this much larger sense than just simply race and ethnicity. Right. It’s also about the unique piece that make us a full human being and bringing those unique pieces to the table so we can be a larger, greater No, I think you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I think more brilliant community as a whole. So that’s, that’s City Blossoms approach there and through and something I really appreciate about the community.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. It’s almost as if not understanding your connection or your potential connection to green. Was the keys to understanding your connection to green space and the importance of that, because you had that missing piece it’s you don’t know the pieces missing until the puzzle is complete. Is that a stretch? I don’t know.

Rafael Woldeab: No, no, I think you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And this is actually, I appreciate you bringing this up because you know, my story and a story of, one of my colleagues who also is a staff member and City Blossoms are completely different. And yet we find ourselves appreciating the same values of equitable access to green space. I grew up maybe not feeling that, that connection at an early age, but she grew up being a I’m sorry, and she grew up close to a City Blossom garden and uh, was actually able to have that touch point at an early age, stuck with our program, went to college, came back and now is working at City Blossoms is running our high school program. So, 2, 2, peas in a pod and and it’s remained the same despite our various differences growing up, we still find ourselves in this same space. So I think that’s sort of an interesting anecdote.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans did you know, you can officially join the Humans Outside 365 challenge and score some really cool and exclusive challenge swag, including a finisher metal and decal on HumansOutside.com/challenge?. You’ll also get an outdoor challenge guide written by me for you, an exclusive challenge tracker and insider info all year long. You don’t want to be left out of this.

There is never a wrong time to join the Humans Outside 365 challenge. So get going, join it today. Go to HumansOutside.com/challenge to learn more now. Now back to the show.

So let’s talk about the importance of these gardens that we’ve talked about City Blossoms and what you guys are aiming at. Why do city gardens so just from like a, almost a theory standpoint, right? Why do city gardens matter and why does the act of gardening matter and why at this three-part question, I know. Why do they especially matter to children, which is what. What your organization focuses on is viewed. So why do gardens matter and why does the act of gardening matter?

Rafael Woldeab: Right. Absolutely critical question. There is a lot of research that points to the benefits of a relationship with nature. At City Blossoms, we believe that green spaces that include gardening that include garden education increase relationships with nature. Why are relationships with nature beneficial? There are many holistic benefits. So, everything from sort of, healthy living and healthy diets to self-expression and the expression of physical activity, sort of, cognitive development.

Thinking about nature in schools and making sure that we have gardens at schools so that our young people can have time outside can have connections to food that they’re then eating in the cafeteria. There’s many different holistic benefits to access to nature. And, an easy way to check that box and also check the many other boxes of healthy living, healthy diets a connection to a more local food system all comes from access to gardens, especially in a city that sort of functions in a way that separates us from nature. When we think about the way that, that our cities across America have been developed and are continuing to develop. So it’s critical that we have gardens in our cities and critical that we have kid and youth focused gardens as well, because we want to start these healthy relationships as early as possible.

That’s sort of the long-term vision. As as I’ve said earlier, starting them at an early age allow it allows our young people to grow up with these values and then become the change makers, that impact sort of long-term sustainable growth and sort of access the green space in our city’s overall.

Amy Bushatz: What lessons do creating, maintaining involving local communities in city, garden spaces teach about creating nearby nature in other ways. So like I’m thinking takeways, you see these kids, or perhaps even parents find from participating in City Blossoms, or I guess kids who have become parents since you’ve been around long enough for that to happen from participating in City Blossoms.

And then how do they manifest, back home, outside the garden gate, whether that’s down the block or a couple of blocks away, like, what are the take home takeaways if you will.

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, absolutely. I love that question. I think my, my, my own story and my own takeaways are actually worth highlighting. Funny enough as an intern in 2015 as City Blossoms, I was connected to a couple of our different programs. One is our high school program. And one that, that high school program is called the youth entrepreneurship cooperative. And I was connected to our community program sort of community focused program called community green spaces.

And through those two experiences in, in our high schools, I saw firsthand in participated in a youth run garden business. So, our youth, I do everything from map out how they’re going to grow food to what food they’re going to be growing and what crops they’re going to be growing.

They are stewards of those crops. So we’re doing everything from watering to maintaining, to weeding, to mulching, to compost, to adding that compost to the soil, harvesting those products or harvesting those crops, I should say. And then turning those crops into value added products that they then can sell through their own community supported agriculture program or through a farmer’s markets.

And that was so inspiring and so brilliant to be a part of. And I, as a result, ended up making my own teas at home and bringing food home and trying out different recipes. And I honestly feel that, I’m a healthier human being as a result of participating in a program, even from this sort of educator perspective, rather than a participant perspective was able to sort of see the benefits of participating in programming that I felt like connection to, that I felt like I was a part of an absolutely brilliant approach to encouraging folks to incorporate these values in their lives.

Amy Bushatz: I’m thinking about times that I have gardened. Now I’m not a gardener. I think people have picked up on this. I kill things. It is a miracle from above that there is this Christmas Cactus in my basement that is not dead yet. And it was given to me quite a bit larger than it is right now. Okay. I’m doing my best, but it just doesn’t work out. I have, when we lived central Tennessee or I guess, close to the Kentucky Tennessee border, but up in that area, so more in the south than we do now in Alaska let’s put it that way, the weather was hotter and one grows a lot more vegetables earlier in the year. And there are vegetables you can grow there that just don’t do well here, like tomatoes and that kind of thing. So I successfully grew some and then they were destroyed by bugs and I gave up, let’s put it that way. So I just, maybe I just don’t have the long-term dedication that it requires.

But when I was doing that, I recall feeling a connection to not just what I was eating because I was growing it, but, and then flowers as well. Right. Cause I was, I felt connected to these because I had planted them and I’d grown them, but also an interest in sort of expanding that outside of that. Like what else, where else will this lead me? You know, a curiosity.

And what I hear you describing is something akin to that where you’re personally invested in the success of something, because you’ve quite literally had your hands in the dirt on it. And now the tentacles of that lead you to other experiments, the curiosity leads you to make that tea at home or to sell those things at a market. Or by virtue of the fact that you have way more zucchini than anyone could possibly need ever. You know? And now you feel bad about getting rid of it because you grew that like you can’t just throw it out, and so now you’re finding ways to leave zucchini on your friend’s doorstep. This is how that kind of thing happens, to offload in somebody’s car. But the connection that you’re talking about there is this idea that growing things. And like I said, having your hands in the little literal dirt extends your view of possibilities beyond that garden gate, because you feel a personal and emotional connection to that act.

Rafael Woldeab: Absolutely. Absolutely. Imagine taking a microeconomics course or a budget. Course in high school sitting in a classroom, sterile classroom, typical sort of layout structure.

Amy Bushatz: I’m envisioning,

Rafael Woldeab: Trying to, trying to understand how profits and losses work, how budgeting works. Now, compare that to running your own garden business with your peers. Where you have a specific role and responsibility, and you’re working with other folks that you’re going to school with, and you can see from start to finish from the spring to the fall planting, to harvesting, to selling, and then literally practicing those budgeting skills, those job readiness skills through the act of gardening, through the act of connections with nature, it’s a very holistic.

Approach that achieves the same goal. And, I think that’s sort of what City Blossoms sees as.

Amy Bushatz: I would say it doesn’t just achieve the same goal I would contain. And I’m sure you agree with this, that it does a better job.

Rafael Woldeab: I, I will agree with you there. I appreciate that.

Amy Bushatz: But this is the great I’m going to date myself now. This is the great lesson of Babysitter’s Club. Okay. The books, right? Those books were sort of about drama, but mostly about. They were there about a business plan and about these chicks who set up a business and successfully ran a business where they designed a business plan and they had schedules and they fielded shift work and all of these things.

Right. And they learned how to do that by having this babysiter club. Maybe now I’m stretching it beyond what its intent, what it’s able to do, but having not touched those books in God knows how long, that’s what I remember from that is that these checks had this successful. And that was remarkable from somebody who had no cash because I was 10. So it just seemed like a super good idea at the time. Right. But that’s what that is. That’s that hands-on experience and who among us has not struggled to understand budgeting in high school? Who I say. So if you’re fortunate enough to even know what budgeting is, right. Oh, what’s that meme that you I’m so glad it’s parallelogram season. And I took that class in high school. It’s really come in handy.

Rafael Woldeab: I don’t know that meme, but I know that feeling.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Like super glad that I learned about those and not taxes this parallelogram season.

Oh, relatable. All right. So most people listening to this don’t live in Washington, DC. Although I, you, and I think they’re missing out, I think it’s great there. I know your organization is approached fairly regularly by organizations who want to replicate what you do and do that elsewhere. You mentioned that earlier as well.

I’m hoping you can give us some takeaways for individuals who want to take what you’ve learned through the value of gardens and use it in their own lives, like in their own yards or in their own community space. No matter where they live. So Alaska, Virginia, DC, whatever. Can you maybe share three or four practical tips for doing that?

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, absolutely. I’d say first and foremost, be patient. I say this to you as well, Amy..

Amy Bushatz: Yes. Yes. Okay.

Rafael Woldeab: They’re not, we’re not going to snap our fingers and have a beautiful luscious uh,

Amy Bushatz: But why not. No.

Rafael Woldeab: Pest-free tomato row, right? This there’s definitely going to be nature doing its thing. And there’s a lot of lessons that we can learn from nature. So I’d say first and foremost, be patient. Approach your gardening or your community garden or your garden related nature related projects with patience because nature is patient. So that’s the first and foremost lesson that I’ve learned. That’s what sustainability is all about in a world where we’re always go, go, go. It can be very easy to adopt a similar approach to our interactions with nature and our existence in nature. And I say, try your best to work against that.

I would say that regarding sort of community related garden gardens or community-related garden development, buy-in is really important. And community engagement is really important. So, if you’re sort of a doer and I’ll just build it, go for it and try it. But if you’re wondering why other folks aren’t engaging in that process with you, or if other folks aren’t you know, if you have this amazing community garden with 20, 25 plots and you’re wondering why, folks in the neighborhood aren’t necessarily gardening with you, you know, ask yourself, whose voice is missing in the engagement process, whose voice is missing in the outreach process, in the development of the space. Because community engagement, engaging with the folks around you is really important when we’re trying to build this work and build this work with folks that typically may not have access to it.

I think don’t underestimate the brilliance of children and youth as well. Our young people are we might think that they might be naive. We might think that they might not have the experiences that they need in life at a very young age, but I promise you, they are not jaded. They are not clouded in their judgment.

They’re, that there’s beauty in that innocence, and there’s beauty in in the way that our young people have a connection to themselves, have a connection to one another and sort of exist in this very more human way. And so engaging our young folks, and trusting our young folks, and following our young folks is really important and something that city Boston suspend a lot of success in. So, make sure that young people aren’t in and around your decision-making processes, I would say.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, no, I love that. I love that point because it is easy to discredit youth. So when you were talking earlier about being 23 and on the board, I was thinking sort of in passing about the fact that it’s hard to know that you don’t know things at 23 until you’re not 23 anymore. But on the flip side of that is discrediting this idea that when you are 23, you bring to the table or, or younger, right in for what you’re talking about with youth and garden design, you bring to the table a fresh perspective and a lack of you used the word jaded I’m going to use the word, I don’t know, spoiled, like the world is spoiled to you as you’re older because you experienced disappointment or whatever has colored your perspective.

And so you don’t have that at 23, it’s infinite optimism. And so, and when you’re a kid, you bring that infinite optimism to the table of whatever you do, because you haven’t experienced whatever works against that. So sometimes that’s a negative and that’s easy to see as an adult, but oftentimes it’s a positive.

My son, who’s 13, just turned 13, brings to whatever project is he’s doing this belief that it is 100% going to work out however it is, he wants it to work out. And then he it’s a process of learning that’s not really how that works or me learning that, that it didn’t work the way I thought it was going to either. And we get to learn that together and meet maybe completely in his perspective or somewhere in the middle. And I love it. Yeah, it’s so, okay. And it’s one of these unexpected gifts of, for me parenting, but also I think working with youth that I get to leave behind my own preconceived you know, based off of exp like lived experience notions, which is not to say lived experience is wrong. It’s just to say that the world is not linear like that. And a gift to be able to learn that.

Rafael Woldeab: Absolutely, love that. I love that line. The world is not linear. I’m going to, I’m going to steal that.

Amy Bushatz: It’s true. I’m certain I didn’t come up with it myself. So, copyright free.

Rafael Woldeab: I’ll say one last quick piece on some of the ways that that folks can take some practical steps towards. I’ll say, there’s a lot of best practices that it already exists out there. Whether you are looking locally, or regionally, or nationally. There are folks that are doing this work that have been doing this work for a very long time. So, trust in your community and reach out for support. It is there. Keep trying. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel yourself. And then, City Blossoms also is your neighbor and we are your partner, whether you’re in DC or whether you’re in Alaska. So, folks can always reach out to our organization. We have free and affordable resources for folks on our web site.

You know, whether you’re trying to start something at the early childhood level or the high school level or the community level, and we have free resources for folks to take some practical steps and best practices towards achieving that goal. So that’s on our website under our free resources tab or folks can reach out via email the best email to reach out to, and we can sort of send your inquiry to the right person is our info account.

So that’s info@cityblossoms.org is and we are more than happy to support in any way that we possibly can. So, no strings attached we promise.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. And the website is CityBlossoms.org as well. And of course we’ll have that linked in the show notes, but if you’re just hanging out on your phone, want to type that in right now, go for it.

cityblossoms.org.. Rafael, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Do you have a piece of favorite outdoor gear or something you use for gardening or your projects or just yourself that you want to tell us about today before we close this out?

Rafael Woldeab: Yeah, sure. The first thing that comes to mind is it’s a sort of a no brainer, but my water bottle, I cannot go anywhere without my water bottle. I have a 32 ounce, beautiful. I don’t know if we can say brands on the show. Nalgene. Super easy, super simple.

Amy Bushatz: And stickers. Is it like a sticker collection? Do you sticker it up?

Rafael Woldeab: My, my old one is full of stickers and the stickers are definitely falling off. My new one is spic and span and fresh and sticker free. It’s something that I never leave behind and it has saved me time and time again in, in hot summer days in DC. So.

Amy Bushatz: My water bottle, I use a Hydroflask at this time, very dented. I have determined that I prefer a Nalgene cause it doesn’t dent. My water bottle is like my security blanket. Who am I without this thing attached in my hot little hand. So I completely, I completely feel that. But the reason we like to talk specific brands is for exactly what I just said. Right. My Hydroflask is very dented. If you are a dropper, I do not recommend. And you might discover you’re a dropper. If you have a metal water bottle, if that gets dented, that’s my experience.

There you go. Okay. Last but not least. Talk to us, walk us out if you will, with a favorite outdoor moment. I like to ask us if we could just close our eyes and imagine ourselves in a favorite outdoor moment with you, some where you love and like to imagine yourself being, I don’t know, call it your happy place. Call it something that just brings you joy, but where are you and what are you doing?

Rafael Woldeab: Love this question. So first you need to imagine yourself as a city boy, growing up in DC and then snap your fingers and transplant yourself to rural Massachusetts on a farm first time experiencing farm life. And it’s morning. And you’re told that you need to do some garden chores or sorry, some farm chores, including taking care of the livestock on the farm and you’re handed a bucket. That bucket is full of grain, livestock grain. And you’re told that you’re going to be leading the charge of about 50 different goats out towards pasture.

And that is truly my favorite moment that I always returned to because I had so much fear and joy at the same time. Very exhilarating experience. I’m trying to lead a a meandering path, I’m sorry, I’m reentering a herd of goats down the path towards pasture as quickly as possible so they don’t get distracted, truly the most fun experience in the world.

And I’ll always thank Heifer Farm for providing me that experience. So that’s my favorite outdoor moment and it remains to this day.

Amy Bushatz: Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Humans Outside. I hope people take the time, visit CityBlossoms.org. Learn more about that organization, your organization, and get inspired by it because it’s an inspiring thing. So thank you.

Rafael Woldeab: Thank you, Amy. Appreciate you. And we hope to hear from folks and everyone take care and enjoy your year.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast to what you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out there.

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