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Trish Clifford from Richmond Rivets

Planting seeds for North Richmond’s rebirth

on September 27, 2010

Shields-Reid Park came to life Saturday afternoon as more than 100 residents turned out for the 1st annual North Richmond Green Festival.

Organizers said they hoped the event would build environmental awareness and community solidarity in the historically impoverished and crime-plagued neighborhood.

“We plan to do this every year. We want people to learn about new stuff and to keep our environment clean,” said Eren Samano, one of the event’s organizers

The event was organized by the Neighborhood House of North Richmond, a longtime community nonprofit, and drew several other government and private organizations. County sheriff’s deputies and city firefighters were also on hand.

At the park, which sits on the city’s border with unincorporated county lands, hip-hop and reggae tunes blasted from a sound system rigged to a mobile stage. Vendors showcasing information on affordable housing and environmentally safe practices lined the park’s edges.

The Richmond Rivets, an environmental group, was one of several organizations that brought seeds and other agricultural products for display.

Trish Clifford, a Rivets representative, said she wanted to show residents the quality of the produce they could grow in their own gardens.

Trish Clifford from Richmond Rivets

Trish Clifford of Richmond Rivets, a transition initiative, explains how to plant lettuce seeds

“We’ve lost a lot of basic skills in society. We’ve outsourced them and the transition is about how do we get it all back,” Clifford said.

K. Iyalode Kinney of Communities United Restoring Mother Earth (CURME) echoed similar sentiments of health through natural products.

Keeping a garden goes beyond just saving the earth – it’s about self-sufficiency, Kinney said.

“It’s pure and we need that here,” she said, pointing to a display of colorful herbs. “We need it everywhere, but we especially need it here, so that people can take care of themselves.”

Earlier Saturday morning, Samano and more than a dozen youth volunteers planted native flowers along the front and side of Shields-Reid Community Center.

Saturday’s event was the perfect opportunity to showcase their efforts, Samano said.

“People come by and say ‘oh this place is going to be so nice,’” she said, smiling broadly.

The community center is also set to get a new paint job within the next few months.

The event, which included free food and entertainment, was paid for with mitigation funds through the West County Sanitation District, said Carla Orozco, community coordinator for the Neighborhood House of North Richmond.

The mitigation funds are the result of a 2004 agreement between the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County to compensate North Richmond residents for the impacts of nearby waste processing plants. More than $1.3 million flowed into community services last year, according to city records.

Shields- Reid Community Center

Entrance to the community garden at Shields-Reid Community Center

Orozco said mitigation funds and community volunteers have been indispensible to her community organizing efforts.

The event drew several local politicians and candidates to the park. City Councilman Nat Bates, council candidates Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, and a representative from Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s office were among those in attendance.

Bates, who also sits on the committee overseeing the mitigation funds, hailed the event during short remarks to residents gathered near the stage.

“This was one of the best expenditures we have made in terms of appropriating money to the community,” Bates said. “I’m very proud to have been part of this. North Richmond is a beautiful place to live and it deserves the kind of funding that we provided.”

Henry Clark, a longtime local leader and advocate for environmental justice, said North Richmond has historically been slighted by local government. Clark said the community’s improvement must be driven by grassroots efforts.

“We have been abandoned, until we began to organize for ourselves,” Clark said.

Orozco said she hopes the green festival is the start of a broader movement to beautify this small community.

“We can’t expect other people to do it for us,” she said.

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