Planting Justice with Empathy

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Planting Justice with Empathy: Re-Entry Green Jobs and Food Soveriegnty for East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto, United StatesOakland, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Planting Justice with Empathy is scaling up to plant permaculture food forests in East Palo Alto, employing formerly-incarcerated individuals in living wage jobs. Growing food through permaculture food forests provides nutrition, empowerment, and fun for local residents of East Palo Alto.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if locally-grown, healthy food forests became the basis for empathetic community?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

9 out of 10 Hispanic and African-American residents of East Palo Alto live in poverty. But money is not the only form of wealth -- walkable neighborhoods, healthy, loving, empathic families and friends are also forms of wealth! East Palo Alto has historically struggled with the neo-colonial legacy of patronization and neglect by surrounding communities. Lack of funds and fractured, disenfranchised business communities provide add'l. challenges.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Planting Justice through Empathy will change East Palo Alto through organizing community residents to replace lawns with food forests and grow profitable food businesses on formerly vacant lots. Working closely with other local organizations, Planting Justice through Empathy employs formerly-incarcerated individuals in living wage jobs, creating employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to "compost the empire" through local self-reliance and locally-grown, healthy food. Our "Transform Your Yard" program converts lawns to food gardens, our Education Program provides outreach and education through local schools, and our Street Canvass raises local and regional funding and provides additional education and opportunities for engagement.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our education programs will work closely with community-based organizations such as East Palo Alto Police Department's David Lewis Reentry Center. Street canvassers approach local residents and institutions, offering educational information and opportunities to convert lawns and lots to permaculture food forests. When local residents express interest, Planting Justice invites them to convert their lawns and vacant lots into permaculture food forests. Planting Justice provides sliding scale fees from full-payment to fully-subsidized "free" gardens for low-income residents. For every three full-paying clients, Planting Justice can install one free garden in East Palo Alto. Ashoka/Packard's support will support dozens more free gardens.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Planting Justice has installed over 250 gardens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and has engaged more than 12,000 Bay Area community members in food justice education through our self-designed curriculum, in the last 5 years. Planting Justice maintains hundreds of raised beds at school gardens and community location, which have yielded 30,000 lbs of food harvested for residents at Keller Plaza; McClymonds and Fremont High School's communities in Oakland; 2 harvests donated by the incarcerated men at San Quentin State Prison's Garden; more than 51,750 conversations about food justice held by the Planting Justice canvassing team; more than 11,000 donors coming together to take back our food system! Our program has also served more than 1,260 community meals. Scaling up in East Palo Alto will yield similar results in San Mateo County.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

To scale up, Planting Justice has held preliminary conversations regarding starting a similar program in Santa Clara County, based on the Clean and Green landscape maintenance and gardening program at Santa Clara County's Elmwood Correctional Facility. These kinds of replication and scaling of Planting Justice's programs have already led to expansions in Alameda, Stanislaus, and Contra Costa County, and additional conversations in other states. The standardization and replication of our programs and curriculum will lead to national replication and emulation in other communities nationwide.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Transform Your Yard and the Street Canvass program are largely self-supporting. For every three full-paying clients, Planting Justice installs a garden for free for a low-income home or community center. The Street Canvass program educates thousands of people each month on the value of permaculture food forests, inviting them to become "sustainers" through monthly contributions of $7 or more. Add'l funding is from other fdns and govt. grants.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are no other organizations providing permaculture education or free/subsidized gardens to residents of East Palo Alto.

Founding Story

In June, 2008, Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders began the Backyard Food Project, the precursor to Planting Justice that built 40 permaculture gardens, 3 community gardens, 15 free workshops, and 5 community work parties. Inspired by these early successes, Gavin and Haleh aspired to employ formerly incarcerated people in living wage jobs planting gardens and educating at-risk youth and their families about the importance of healthy local food and the dangers of industrial and corporate domination of the urban food supply in under-served "food desert" neighborhoods. In March of 2009. Gavin and Haleh began working with the Insight Garden Program (IGP) at San Quentin State Prison, which led them to create living-wage jobs for graduates of IGP.


The Planting Justice team consists of 22 full- and part-time staff members working on five programs: "TRANSFORM YOUR YARD" THE EDUCATION PROGRAM STREET CANVASS THE URBAN RESILIENCE FARM -- 5 acres in El Sobrante, northeast of San Francisco AQUAPONICS GREENHOUSES provide a new model of urban farming. All Planting Justice programs employ formerly incarcerated individuals Planting Justice is led by a diverse board of 23 members.
About You
Planting Justice
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Planting Justice

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, Oakland

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, East Palo Alto

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, NGOs, Businesses, Regional government, Customers.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Mateo, Santa Clara.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

By empowering formerly incarcerated people, at-risk youth, and their families to transform unused space in their communities into beautiful, healing, edible gardens, Planting Justice is ensuring that those most effected by inequitable access to good food and good jobs are designing and implementing tangible solutions to socio-economic and health inequality in East Palo Alto. Planting Justice provides young people and their families with chances to grow their own food, engage their friends, families, and neighborhoods in being part of the solution, and pursue careers in emerging sectors of urban sustainability and permaculture design. Working together to grow nourishing food for a community in need is empathy in action!


Planting Justice with Empathy needs locations and volunteers to help plant and maintain food forests in East Palo Alto


Planting Justice with Empathy offers locally grown food for low-income residents of East Palo Alto beginning in spring of 2015.

Tell us about your partnerships

To scale up in San Mateo County, Planting Justice is partnering with East Palo Alto Police Dept.'s David Lewis Reentry Center to implement an effective, locally-controlled initiative to plant and maintain local permaculture food forests in East Palo Alto. With our shared commitment to employ formerly-incarcerated residents of East Palo Alto in local living-wage jobs, Planting Justice and the East Palo Alto Police Department are perfect partners.


Start-up funding, maintaining diverse community partnerships, and identifying proper sites with sufficient community support are the primary challenges Planting Justice with Empathy expects to encounter in East Palo Alto. Because our Transform Your Yard and Street Canvass programs are nearly self-sustaining financially from the start, we anticipate that funding will not be a long-term challenge. Maintaining diverse community partnerships will be accomplished through culturally-sensitive outreach and engagement. We will identify proper sites and engage community support through partnerships.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, group play, storytelling, immersion, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

13-17, 18-35, 36-64, 65+.