Transcript: A Conversation About Indigenous Leadership on Nature-Based Solutions (CA Climate Policy Summit 2024)

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Baani Behniwal (02:21:52):
Alright, we’re going to start on time today. Thank you all so much for being here. I know it’s been a long day. You all have been talking in a lot of information and appreciate all the thoughtful questions that you’ve brought to these conversations. My name is Baani Behniwal. I’m the natural sequestration initiative manager at the Climate Center and I’m so happy to have put on all of the panels that we’ve been listening to in this room today and we’re saving one of the best for last. This is the Indigenous Leadership on Nature-based solutions panel. And as anyone who has organized these types of events, knows that last minute things can happen. So a couple of our panelists had to unfortunately cancel yesterday. So we are shifting this from a panel discussion to more of a conversation. And I want to thank Sydney and Alfred here for rolling with the punches with us and excited to hear the wonderful things that they have to share with you. So with that, I’m going to pass it off to Sydney Mills faring the executive director of Running Strong for American Youth.

Sydney Mills Faring (02:23:08):
Hello, my name is Sydney Mills Faring. I am a member of the Ogalala Sioux Tribe. I’m from Sacramento, even though my family’s from South Dakota. And I’m the executive director of a national nonprofit called Running Strong for American Indian Youth. For almost 40 years, we have been working in the areas of clean water access, food sovereignty, insecurity, youth programming, the arts culture and language revitalization. And in the last five or so years, environmental justice indigenous people have been stewarding and protecting the land for centuries. And actually today’s lands that are managed by indigenous people contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Traditional ecological knowledge is at the center of solutions, including restorative agriculture, forestry practices, ocean-based practices, and some of the work that Running Strong has done has included. As far as environmental justice is concerned, we support youth-led initiatives. And so for example, sustainably powering rural communities because manufacturing and disposing of solar panels contributes to the carbon footprint and those processes rely on fossil fuels through the mining of metals.

Additionally, the lack of solar panel recycling only creates more waste. So we support a young man in South Dakota who is using indigenous science to create a sustainable, functional, and scalable solar panel made out of 80 to 100% of all natural materials. It’s patented technology that is proving to be more effective and energy efficient than what’s on the market today. Another example of some of the environmental work that we’ve done is in Hawaii restoring the coastline, working with native Hawaiian communities to plant traditional plants, native plants along the coastline to prevent soil erosion and restoring what our partners call feeding the fish houses. So kind of creating a little inlet of water where the fish can come and reproduce and they let out the grown fish and they keep reproducing fish that way. It’s a traditional method that has, we have seen a 25% increase in the fish population in that part of Hawaii, as well as a 15% decrease in erosion by supporting that program for the last eight years now. And then another example is we’re working with native youth to offer drone education to tribal officials, teaching them to leverage the technology for the purposes of monitoring climate change impacts, expediting disaster relief and improving land surveillance. And those are just youth-led initiatives. Those were ideas from teenagers using their traditional knowledge that they learned from their ancestors.

I would love to introduce Alfred Melbourne. He is the founder and director of the Three Sisters Gardens and a longtime resident of West Sacramento. The Three Sisters Gardens is a nonprofit organization bringing community members together to grow food and lives. Their mission is to teach at potential youth how to grow, harvest, and distribute organic vegetables and engage the community to get involved in grassroots food sovereignty movement. I’ll turn it over to Alfred.

Alfred Melbourne (02:27:38):
Thank you.

Thank you guys. Thank you Sydney. And I want to thank the Climate Center for having me here. As Sydney said, my name is Alfred Melbourne. I’m Fort Peck Sioux, born and raised here in Sacramento. And the program that we have is to inspire and empower the app potential high promise youth in West Sacramento. So personally, having spent over 18 years of my life incarcerated, once I came home in 2016, I knew that there’s something that we had to do to be able to connect with our youth, to be able to give them an outlet, and of course, what better than to reconnect them with the Earth mother. So it’s been my pleasure to be able to use my lived experience to connect with these youngsters and to make something good out of a bad situation. So we have a presentation here today that I’m going to show you guys some of the pictures and the things that we’re doing. So I want to thank you guys too for being here. I know it’s been a really long day, but we’re at the end of it. So thank you guys for being here. Just big round of applause for yourselves.

I’m always about positive energy and uplifting things. So yeah. Thank you guys.

Alfred Melbourne (02:29:20):
Great. So Native American tradition three Sisters teaches us that in order to thrive must work as one A three Sisters Gardens. We believe that in order for our community to be healthy, the youth, the adults and the elders all have to be working as one. So we have this huge divide out there where our youth are just kind of running around aimlessly. There’s been that disconnect because folks having to be able to work in so much to be able to make ends meet, and we want to bring families back together and especially our elders. Next slide. So we are a 5 0 1 C3 nonprofit organization and we founded it in 2018. Our goal is to bring, of course, community members together to grow food in lives in West Sacramento. Our first stone urban farm. I’m going to stand up, if you guys don’t mind. Keep bending my neck here. Yeah, so Urban Farm Youth Leadership Development Program where we connect with the youth and we show them how to farm. Next slide. So second stone, reforming the criminal injustice system and dismantling mass incarceration. So as I mentioned, having that lived experience, I didn’t see anything good about that. After all the time that I did, I helped myself and others like me and others like me, helped me. The system wasn’t much for rehabilitating. So our job is to use our lived experience and to help stakeholders, leaders, and our youth to understand that locking kids up is not going to be the answer. Next, please.

Thank you. Thank you. So our third stone, if you will, is to support that unhoused, and we do that more recently by unhoused Feeding program where we grow the food and we work with local chefs to cook and prepare the food and then we distribute to them. So we know that the food is going to be the answer you guys. So we want to be able to give them this nutritious, good nutrient dense, organic food. So we know that with our youth, you feed them better, they’re going to perform better, test scores go up, behavior problems go down, and we’re only as strong as our weakest link you guys. So all of our unhoused neighbors that are out there on the streets, it could be any one of us, we’re just one catastrophe, one slip, one mistake away from being on the streets ourselves. So I just can’t stand seeing all these folks living outside of open vacant buildings. So we have to connect with our stakeholders and leaders and let them know that we would rather have our money spent on taking care of people rather than locking them up and chasing them off the streets, giving ’em nowhere to go. Slide.

So we have myself, director and a board member. We had one of our elders passed away that was with us. And so I’m just going to read the, down here at the bottom it says, let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. And that’s by Sitting Bull. So these are some of the things and the folks that we look to for inspiration, but we know that we are leaders too. So trying to take this stand and really provide for the people in growing food. But next slide. So we have a team, again myself, and we have Kat, Sam, Simran, Chris and Carl. I’ll point out Carl as an example. Carl, he’s a foster youth. He’s been with us for over five years now. He’s like 22 now, and we hired him as a farm hand. We pay him $17 an hour right now to continue.

He grows harvest and distribute organic vegetables. And our team is an amazing team that’s come together to really inspire the community. So I’m really proud of this group right here. Any of the pictures and the stuff that you guys are going to see, it’s thanks to them. Next slide please. So inspiring and empowering the youth to reach their fullest potential is our top priority if they succeed the community. So we offer them a safe place to work side by side with caring adults and mentors. So we offer paid work experience and job skills, mentoring, strong, supportive relationships, leadership opportunities, and the ability to learn and grow with us and the entire three sisters, gardens family. So as I said, if our youth fail, it’s not. I’ve said before, if our youth fail, it’s because we failed them. You guys, these are our future leaders, so we need to provide every opportunity possible and be there for them as support and mentors. Next slide please.

One more. Cool. A lot of the tools that we have, we learned on the streets, that hustle mentality really being a go-getter and just making stuff happen. We’re transforming these unused, vacant lots you guys. And so this happens to be city property. Prior to us being there, it was a flower garden. There was a lady that operated it and she sold this beautiful flowers to the community. It was great, but it’s more of a luxury item. And we live in a food desert. So as soon as I seen an opportunity when this site opened up, I jumped on it. And so you guys can see it was nothing like this prior to us being here. If you guys go on our social media and go back a little further, you guys will see that. But this is the corner of fifth and C, right in a neighborhood where I grew up.

And so a gang injunction for over 10 years over criminalizing our youth. And we need a safe place for them to go give them a workforce development training and reconnect them with the land. And so as we do that, we transform these lots, right? Beautify them, but we also transform ourselves. So we take a lot of pride in what you guys see right here, and it’s very similar to this day because we take really good care of our land. So next slide. That’s in West Sac, west Sacramento. Yes, sir. So as soon as you go over the I Street Bridge right here, you’re going to be on Third and Sea. We have one farm on fourth and sea. The bridge is right over there. So yeah, right back that way. So you can see when we started in 2018, right? It was just a vacant unused lot.

There’s a bunch of garbage bags and stuff here that I ended up piling up. This whole thing came about by, I got out in 2016 and I thought the more that I knew, the more that I would be worth. So I worked for a company 15, 16, 17 hours. I worked weekends and it was very unfulfilling. I was dying inside. I wasn’t appreciated. And so I contacted my elder who he lived in this house then, and I just started talking to him and I was like, man, I’m burnt out. And he’s like, well, why don’t you do something right here? And it was like, what? Well, we didn’t know what then. So I just got to work cleaning the farm and taking care of it, connecting with the land and using my energy in a good way. And then lo and behold, we transformed it into our first urban farm. And so this space here particularly, I actually live in the house next door now, but this is a gorilla garden. Is anyone familiar with that term? Yes. Great. And I had a good conversation with the two tax assessors today, Yolo County and Napa County to try to figure out how we can make it ours, but transforming this unused lot that just kind of took a life on of its own and begun a growing revolution. So next slide.

This was a site here in our community also that there’s actually three farms here, one on this side, us here in the middle and one to the right here. And I was just walking the neighborhood and I happened to see a farmer out there cultivating the field working. And I was like, wow, this is interesting. I didn’t even know this was here. And so we took initiative and we connected with the folks, and fortunately we were able to work out with the West Sacramento Housing Development Corporation, and we have an MOU with them. And so you guys can see what it looked like when we started and then what we transformed it into. So we have a total of 30 beds here, 26 foot on this side, 24 on this side, and we grow food for the people, but it’s just transforming these unused lots and really making something out of them. Next slide.

So this here is actually going to be a parking lot eventually. This is the future site of the Native Heritage Museum where we, again, cruising through the neighborhood and trying to find land and seeing what was all out there. We ran into the International Rescue Committee, which is kind of, I think ironic that the main person who runs this is actually a refugee. And so as a full-blooded native, I go to a refugee to get land in my own country. But nevertheless, yeah, nevertheless, what we did is we transformed this once vacant lot into another farm. And this actually happened as the pandemic hit. We didn’t start in 18, that’s just a picture that I had took previously, kind of scoping it out. And then the pandemic hit and we kind of really slow. We got slowed down. Everyone was scared. We didn’t know what was happening, but we stuck with it.

And we have a thriving farm here. The purpose of this space was to create a system that would be totally could work as its own. So we have our compost bins over here where we can recycle all of our vegetation, rotten vegetables and that stuff. And then we have our small hoop house that you guys can see that was basically just to this side so that we can start all of our plants there. And if I showed you a picture right now or you guys could go on social media and see, I just posted it. It’s just thriving right now. So we have corn, beans, squash, many, many, many peppers.

Oh man, cilantro, Asian delight, eggplant, and just so many more different range of seasonal vegetables. So next slide. Cool. So this here is a collaboration with the city of Sacramento and planting justice. If you guys haven’t heard of planting justice, they’re based out of Oakland. And so they operate, I think it’s like three tree nurseries in the Bay Area. And my whole thing connecting with them was we didn’t even know about this site when I connected with them. So I says, let me find an organization out there that’s doing work similar to us so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So Gavin Raders, the co-director, co-founder, he took my call and said, sure, come out to Oakland. And we got to visit his site. And an amazing, amazing fellow man, he just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the nonprofit world and doing this work.

So I told him, Hey, yeah, we’re from Sacramento and this is what we’re doing. And he’s like, that’s funny. City of Sacramento just put out a, I think it was RFA for this five acre site. The city of Sacramento used to actually grow their own trees. And so they stopped that. And now that they want to reactivate this site, we submitted our application and we were voted unanimously to take over the site. Yeah, it’s been a long time in going, we’re on our fourth year now and we hope to break ground this year. We’re waiting on some architects to some incomplete notices from the permit department. I’m learning so much with this stuff, I promise you guys, man. Yeah, I hope to be a general contractor by the time all this is done. But so it’s a total of five acres. It comes down further and it stretches way over here, but we’re going to be operating one acres out of this, one acre out of this site.

And so keeping in line with what you guys seen with our fifth and C street site, just trying to integrate native designs. There’s actually a butterfly design that’ll be going through this as a living hedge. It might look kind of like a swastika, but it’s not. But it’s always reclaiming these images and making sure that we’re telling a true story of our people. And so this is the design that I put together. We’re going to have a total of five small market gardens where we can bring our youth out and we can have them take over each of these sites and then they can offer ’em to different folks or organizations that we can support that many different people with this one site. And we’ll have a nice greenhouse and then an arbor where we’re, same thing that planting justice did in Oakland. They opened up their doors to another organization called sgo TE Land Trust.

If you guys haven’t heard of them, please look into them. Rema in the Land Women led organization that’s just doing amazing work. But following that pattern, we’re opening up this number eight for any organizations that don’t have land so that they come and partner with us and share that space because it’s not about us. We want to be able to constantly be creating space for others as well. There’ll be shipping containers with a walk-in cooler. There’ll be stations for our seeding and then our transplants to be taken care of and then moved over out into the field. But you guys can’t really see this, but I’d be happy to share this with some of you guys if you guys went online and asked. But this is going to be an awesome site where we can create workforce development training and if we build our cooler big enough, we can help store food as we’re being able to redistribute it to the community. Next slide.

One more. And so as I mentioned, working with the app, potential High Promise Youth, this young man here, amazing young fellow named Tony that he’s no longer with us, but we had the pleasure to get to know him and connect with them whenever he drives by our sights. Now he’s always honking and knows that he’s part of the family. And so you guys can see, what do you guys see there? You guys know what this is? Corn. Corn. Are there any farmers in here co. Awesome. So you guys, corn and Tony here, I’m taking care of the field and you guys see it. There’s the house right there. So it’s the same field and we do crop rotation, so we won’t always grow the same thing. This was a rare occasion that we had this much corn in one spot. I think it was because we were shorthanded and we didn’t want to have to do a whole bunch of more work.

So we just went heavy on corn and it was really good white corn. So teaching them, of course, respect for Mother Earth and all living things. Next slide please. And so Three Sisters Gardens has donated thousands of pounds of nutrient dense organic vegetables to food insecure homes locally. This is done through direct distribution, weekly donations to Meals on Wheels and community connections and events. We also, a couple of years ago, was working with Magpie to sell some of our stuff to become sustainable. Some of the school districts were purchasing Washington and Natoma Unified school districts. More recently, we really tried, our goal is to give away 40 to 60% of what we grow. And so this past year we gave away 14,000 pounds and that’s just giving straight to the community. I think this year, this past year was more like 80, 85% of what we gave away and very little is what we sold. But you guys, I know it’s not too clear, but you guys can see we have CIAs and cherry tomatoes, new grilled tomatoes, jalapenos, purple basil. I think that was a lemon cucumber, right? There might be some butternut squash garlic. And so we just like to grow everything to have lots to offer our community and then like to show them how to prepare these things as well. Next slide.

It’s not all about just growing food though, either. I tell folks that it’s more than just lettuce. So what you guys are seeing here, this is September, 2019. That’s actually our first youth, Miguel, who’s sitting there next to me. He still comes to the farm. I’ve seen him today. He’s no longer in the program, but this is part of our comedy show fundraiser and bringing people together and who doesn’t like to laugh and have good food? And this is just during the pandemic when it was first hitting. There’s Carl, he’s still with us. There’s Tony Rainey, Miguel over here. But this was a really good, this was actually not a really good day today. I was actually having to talk to the group and kind of reset and get people together, but they took a picture and I really liked it. And this is what I get to do you guys on a daily basis.

I get to connect with these youth for a large part. I get the benefit to be able to go back in time, really go back in time and talk to my younger self and hopefully they get to learn from my experience. So yeah, I can remember this day really well. Next slide please. So rebuilding the soil, transforming unused urban lots. Three sisters gardens aim to improve the quality of the soil organic matter on all our locations, increasing plant health and nutritional value and vegetables. So these are, I think striped German or heirloom tomatoes. And man, that’s heavy right there, you guys. That’s a lot. And so that just gives you guys an idea of what it is that we’re growing. And this might’ve been just one quick harvest that we went out and boom, put ’em on the table for display. So next slide. Some of our partners partnerships that we work with, you guys can kind of glance at that.

I won’t read ’em all, but a lot of these folks have been really helpful and integral to helping us get to where we are today. So we’re really thankful for these folks and want to make sure that they get some recognition. Next slide, please. Yo Dehi Wintu Nation. We have to mention them. They’re our main supporter, so definitely love what they do for us. Next slide. So training the next generation of agriculture in West Sacramento. And this is a day where we had some of our harder youngsters out there in the field. These little tough guys that want to be flexing, but it’s my pleasure to be able to connect with them and then get them out there and show them what it is that we’re doing and be surprised how quick these young folks take this up. And when you can see taking a small seed and planting it in a tray or in the ground and watching it grow, you guys can see all the trays right here at the bottom. We were transplanting that day. I would love to have them all back if we had permanent space and everything was going great just to come out and continue doing what we do. But next slide.

So these are part of our methods, low till, no-till deep carbon sequestration. We have these small lots that we’re working on, but we like to use these methods. So no-till farming increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, organic matter, retention and cycling of nutrients. It can reduce or eliminate soil erosion. No-till planting into a cover crop encourages earthworms, which feed on residue and help with the aggregation process. So really it’s just disturbing the soil as little as possible, allowing it to increase the soil organic matter, and just connecting with the earth mother. So next slide.

So we do compost training at workshops at our farm. And compost is a mixture of ingredients used to fertilize and improve the soil. It’s commonly prepared by decomposing plant and food waste and recycling organic materials. The resulting mixture is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms such as worms and fungal mycelium. So what it is, is that everything that comes out goes right back into the farm. So it’s zero waste, right? We don’t have enough. Our system isn’t big enough to generate all the compost that we need, but at least we can tell the story about how folks at home can keep these things back into the system rather than going into the landfill, into the garbage. So worst case scenario. So we host these trainings on a monthly basis and continuing to educate our community. Next slide.

Plant carriers, Tony again. And so we had some pests that were taking over aphids, taking over our melons, and it kind of just started hitting it real bad. And so identifying pests, look for misshape and crawling stented or yellowing leaves. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves for aphids. That’s where they left to hide. If the leaves or stems are covered with a sticky substance, that sign is that aphids may have been sipping sap. So what he’s spraying it with is just soapy water and trying to slow them down. But we are not organically certified, but we like to practice all organic methods, but training our youth in how to identify these things and to take care of the plants. Next slide, please Drip irrigation. We seem to have a lot of water now, but we’re experiencing I think one of the worst droughts for California.

And why do we want to be spraying a whole bunch of water in the air and kind of letting it just burn up? And I mean evaporate. So we use drip irrigation is the method of delivering the water slowly at low pressure at or near the root zone of the landscape plant material. It’s often referred to as targeted precise watering because drip irrigation allows you to target the precise area that you want to irrigate. So there are some farmers in here, you guys are familiar with that, and it’s just putting the water right where we need it at the right times. So I’m not trying to waste any. And then of course, being able to show our youth how we do this also. And so we give them, it’s not, like I said, just growing lettuce. We have to deal with the plumbing water pressure.

And then installing all this, there’s different things that just isn’t the drip irrigation. There’s other tubes and pipes that we used to get the water there. We also do fertilizer. We do have a Venturi fertilizer injector where we put liquid nutrients through our lines. So we’re offering nutrients to our fields so that we’re not overworking our soil. And that goes through the drip lines as well. Next slide. And if you guys have any burning questions you can ask now or yeah, please try to remember. I know that it could be a little bit long. So next slide. This is our 2023 kind of in wrap here. So as I mentioned, we was able to donate 14,000 pounds of food in a food desert across our four farms. So we distributed this through 56 households on a weekly basis. We fed at least 150 people each week and we’re getting better.

So this is just me give you guys an idea. Our team prepares these bags, we put everything out and we built a cooler onsite because we had to have a way to get that field heat off right away and preserve our food. And it gives us so much, it’s been so empowering. I couldn’t tell you guys. We used to have to go to a brewery way across town. The hours were not fun. And so there might be some other pictures where you can see we got a grant from Valley Vision and we converted a tough shed into a cooler put air conditioned unit on it with a cool bot that tells it that it’s still warming there and it just runs all day during the summer. And so all told it might’ve cost us around $8,000. And that’s not costing my time. I never charged for my time, but that was just all the equipment and tools it took for us to build the cooler. But it’s been invaluable for us to be able to have access to our cooler and get the food filled heat off and then food out as soon as possible. So next slide.

So this past year we was able to start our youth internship program. We had 12 youth that completed our internship program. We had 39 youth that applied and logged 895 farm hours. So we paid each one of these youth that applied and came out $15 an hour, right? And that was hustle. Hustle making it happen. And it’s not easy you guys. So as we continue to get in these areas, in these groups and we get our stakeholders around us and our leaders to talk to them, to get them to see that why it’s so important for us to get the tools, resources, and land to be able to do this work. And you guys can see amazing group of kids. Just again, I get the pleasure to be able to work with these youth on a daily basis, our future leaders, and to be able to show them how to grow food. What’s more empowering than that Next slide.

So I think it was more than this, but we brought over 1,100 people together on our farms. And so that’s all these unused vacant lots. That wouldn’t have been nothing that you would just be driving by and just, I mean not thinking twice of. So this was a bike tour that we had last year. We started at one farm and we just cruised around all the farms and we ended up at one and we broke bread, we had food, we have Grant High School came out for this trip and amazing group of kids. We had yoga and on the farm this year to bring folks out to get them to exercise, be healthy. And we also had a good meal every time we have an event. We actually have one this weekend too if you guys want to come out, but we’ll have a chef prepare food and what brings people together more than good food.

And this is one of our skill shares we had where Chris is showing folks how our composting system works. But 1,100 people, you guys, where there wouldn’t have been no one. We know that there’s a bunch of data out there now that says once you green these spaces, crime in the area drops from 10 to 25%. You guys and people are happier. You guys could see all the beautiful flowers right there. We tell folks if you guys want to come get some, we have no fences on any of our farms. I mentioned I did 18 years in prison, right? Believe me, I don’t like fences. But that’s saying more about how we’re inviting to our community. And yes, we’ve had people come on and take stuff. We’ve had people come and do a little bit of damage, but very, very, very little. And we’re not going to call the cops.

We’re going to go out there and we’re going to take care of our field. The news came out and did an interview one time because a car kind of drove through part of the field during when the sideshows, but it was an educational opportunity to let the folks know what we’re doing rather than be upset and try to find who did it or any of that. I’m sure that they feel sorry once they find out what it is that we’re doing and the damage that they did. So next slide one more time. So this is a drone picture that I took of West Sacramento. We can see how we’re surrounded by the water here. I think right here is where the Sacramento River comes in. You can see the two bridges over there. But just always want to respect the pot Twin land. The city of West Sacramento resides on given respect to the First Nations people of this place.

So we have the Wintu Nation, MI Madu people that were the original caretakers of this land. And I would be remiss not to mention them because everything that we’re experiencing, everything that surrounds it, when you see this beauty, it’s thanks to them taking care of it for giving back, for having that connection to the land. And as I’m sure all of us know here that this land was not discovered. There were already people here, but it’s telling that story now and creating that space like we are now for Sydney and I to be able to share this story with you. So next slide.

So I mentioned that it’s more than just lettuce. This year is the concert series that we have. We’re going to have our third annual, and I think it’s going to be June 23rd this year. And so at Three Sisters Gardens, we’re training the most unlikely of farmers, the app potential high promise youth in our community. We’re providing an opportunity for our youth to connect with their own community and give back and build for future generations. So this is just some of the information that we do, but we like to invite all positive spoken word lyricists, dare say rappers and folks to come out and share this stage with us to entertain and connect with the community. And of course we’ll have many educational and resource booth to provide resources to our community. So we live in a food desert. I mentioned a gang injunction. We give almost everything that we can away because there’s a lot of disparities and barriers in our community.

I think we’re at like 35% native Latino in our community. And so just wanting to make sure that we’re creating this space for folks to come out and really have a good time. And I see the faces and you can see Tony’s face behind me smiling real big Nico, he’s real shy right there. He clams up when he gets out to talk, but we bring them out. I mentioned it’s more than let us, we want to teach our youth how to write a resume. We want to teach them how to speak guest speaking and connecting with the folks too. So that’s why some of them probably didn’t want to come up there. And I was like, oh, you guys come on. So really giving them the stage. And next slide.

So our philosophy is to create a stronger community through youth development, training, community, giving donations to Meals on Wheels, our skill shares, community trainings and friend raising events. So I say friend raising because it’s supposed to be fundraising. We hardly ever make any money, hardly ever. And if we do, I mean it’s all given back. So farm concert, fundraiser, farm tour, you guys can see a bunch of peppers there. The direct distribution, that’s our farm manager now. And Fatima, she volunteers almost every week, if not every other week if we had uc, Davis come out for a tour and just kind of opening up our space to help educate and give uc. Davis has sustainable ag and food system supply program. And so these folks, they’re learning these processes and methods and we like to bring them out so they can be in a real life situation to see what it is and what we’re doing.

And we actually hired two folks from there recently to work with us Part-time and they love it. So if you guys ever come out and connect with us, you guys will get a chance to meet them. And this was a skills share recently that I’m finally barely getting over the blister where we showed folks navigation, how to make fire, how to seed and transplant and plant vegetables. But those are some of the things that we do when we invite our community out. We’re talking about real life skills that’s going to help folks survive. As we know we’re in this climate catastrophe, global pandemic and witnessing genocide in front of our eyes. So we need to become more resilient. We need to become stronger. So teaching one another and having these spaces is vitally important. You guys were able to see one more side, please.

Yeah, this is some of the information. If you guys want to connect with us, follow us on Instagram. It’s not there, but some of the youth here, community giving free farm stand we had and amazing the Garcia family. These are all awesome folks that come out and volunteer with this on a regular basis. So you guys were able to see four of our farms, you guys, and we don’t own none of that land, but we’re working hard to connect with our stakeholders, our leaders, our community to get us in a position to where we can get this done permanently so that we can do our job and not have to worry. I say worry, but I don’t really worry too much. But having that ability to say, have a future on these spaces where we know our community can continue to come for as long as I’m here at least and for future generations as our communities continue to grow. And of course we need housing, but where are people going to go? What are they going to eat? So we have four farms, you guys, but we want 50 50 farms and we want to do that through folks like you support. We’re just creating a model for everybody else to follow. We want to share this model throughout all of California. We know that as California does, the nation does because we are leaders. That’s the end of my presentation you guys. Thank you so much for hearing me. Appreciate it.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:03:21):
Thank you Alfred. So we’ll go into a q and a session. I’ll kick it off with a couple of questions. So what is the importance of an indigenous worldview in combating climate change?

Speaker 27 (03:03:45):
That’s a good question. Yeah, just respecting mother earth and all living things. Teaching our youngsters how to reconnect. We know that the earth mother has natural antidepressants in it, so when you come into contact with it, it comes into your body and just really make that connection. As I mentioned earlier, native people have been on this land since time immemorial, practicing that their traditions and growing with the land. But really I think the most important thing I could say is respecting mother earth and all living things.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:04:23):
What nature based practices are indigenous people and tribal communities in engaging in? And you talked a little bit about the no-till low till methods you use, but what are they engaging in to reduce carbon emissions and increase ecosystem health?

Speaker 27 (03:04:45):
Yeah, it’s kind of tough right now as the land is not that accessible to us, but to be able to rebuild the native ecology and start replanting a lot of the native plants in these areas so that you’re providing that safe space for even the small things that little bugs and the birds and things that many of us here probably think of, but a lot of other people are not really considering. So it’s just rebuilding the native climate so that all these invasive plants can not be taken over so much. It’s not for pretty, you know what I mean? We want to be more for actual use in having safe space like that.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:05:32):
And I know that cultural burning has become more prominent in these spaces in recent years, but indigenous people have been doing it forever. It’s for those who aren’t familiar with it. Cultural burning is a prescribed fire performed by indigenous people that promotes ecological and cultural resources. It builds wildfire resilience and it is informed by traditional ecological knowledge that people have learned from their ancestors for centuries and centuries. Cultural burns are properly timed, low intensity fires that move slowly through a piece of land and it promotes abundance in the health of plants. It’s really neat to see that gaining more validity. I think a lot of tribal communities, their practices have been dismissed for so long since they were outlawed at the beginning of statehood and yeah, and I know the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin has really strong forestry practices. They do selective thinning. They’ll compare images like today’s images to hand-drawn maps from their elders and they’ll only cut down thick and old trees that are larger than eight inches in diameter. And the Menominee reservation’s like 93% forested and it’s got an incredibly strong and thriving forest that captures 30,000 tons of carbon every year.

I think that people need to be paying attention to what indigenous communities are doing.

Speaker 27 (03:07:38):
I would just like to add something to that right there, just that I think what she said was it was outlawed. It was illegal for us to practice these ways and now it’s likes new. It’s like if they just were able to be more open and see that the original people of this land we’re taking care of it, there’s still elders out there now that have knowledge that are just waiting for the people to come to get correctly. So we have the answers, but it’s just not being sought and looked to in the right way. But of course things are coming around finally.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:08:18):
So California has made progress on tribal engagement in recent years, including Governor Newsom appointing the state’s first tribal advisor in the governor’s office and who is centered on tribal solutions. But are there any other positive either policy reforms or programs that you have seen in your community or other parts of the world in recent years? Any positive changes?

Alfred Melbourne (03:08:50):
I’m just going to go back to what we were talking about, realizing the native indigenous knowledge and wisdom that’s already been here, connecting with them and providing the resources and land has to be opened up. I’ll be honest, you guys, I have very little hope in government and Governor Newsom or whoever it might be, president’s X, Y, Z, it doesn’t really matter. I feel like they’re more of a roadblock towards anything else. I feel like I look about me right now and I see a strong group of people that we are the ones that are facilitating the change. We’re the ones that are moving things. We can’t look to these leaders to help us when they’re selling themselves out to APAC and different special interest groups in x, Y, Z. So I don’t know if that’s going to be a sufficient answer for that, but I hope that they opened up the land.

We have a saying where we’re at free the land and you free the people. It’s been gobbled all up for hundreds of years now and mismanaged used incorrectly. So again, I look to this group and other groups that I have spoken to and say that we have to continue to raise our voice, collective voice and make sure that they know that we realize that there’s a huge problem with the climate catastrophe and that those people like me that are at the bottom are going to fare worse as things happen. And so we’re only as strong as our weakest link and the pandemic has pointed that out. So continue to raise your guys’ voices and sound the alarm. Don’t let me be the crazy guy on the hill, just yelling.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:10:30):
And I know in recent, in the last, gosh, this year they started taking down the Klamath River Dam and tribal nations. Yeah,

Tribal nations up north have been spearheading that effort. So for dams will be removed and restoring salmon runs, improving water quality and better supporting tribal nations. And the state of California is taking on the liability and the cost of that. But the tribes are currently simultaneously planting as the dams are coming down, they’re trying to actively restore that land that’s exposed. But one of the tribes that’s affected was removed from the land a century ago to put the dam up and they’re still fighting to get their land back. Actually even today it’s still pending. The decision is pending whether or not the Shasta Indian Nation will get that land back. So we have a lot more work to do. But I know the state did start the tribal nature-based solutions grant program and the Youth Conservation Corps that will hopefully activate and mobilize some funding for some of these projects. But I think some of the challenges can be barriers to that funding.

Alfred Melbourne (03:12:04):
It always is. An example of that is like the USDA put out like seven or something billion for us and then a hundred million to another organization to help us get to it and ask me how much money I’ve received our organization

A big zero. So yeah, that barrier, it’s exactly that, a barrier. And of course if anyone’s familiar with the grant process, I consider it really gross and disrespectful that you’re pitying us up against each other to go for these funds when everybody’s doing amazing work. Anyone that’s doing work to restore the environment and reconnect people to the land and then providing food on top of all of that, why do we have to fight for it? So yeah, too many barriers. And the way I see it is they’re just paying themselves hand over hand over hand, over fist and we’re just sitting there watching. It’s the same story. So we need every tribe in California that is fighting for the recognition. If they can be supported and be able to get the resources their land back and be able to start practicing the original ways, then not only will that tribe heal and become stronger, but so will the land and so will all of us. I’m trembling, I get chills over here, you guys, but that’s what will happen. And I hope that by me saying these things out loud and putting ’em out there that these echoes, these vibrations are reaching you all and you guys can pass them along. Just keep this ripple going.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:13:42):
So what types of actions can leadership, whether it’s state leadership, local leadership, due to accelerate indigenous LED climate action work? For example, my first thought is tribal sovereignty. If you give the land back to the tribes, they will steward it well. But are there any other things that leaders can be doing right now?

Alfred Melbourne (03:14:12):
Yeah, humble themselves. Humble themselves and go talk to the elders. That’s what I was told. Go and seek the elders that have the information. They’re there for a reason, but they’re not just going to put it out there. So yeah, a lot of these commissions and these tribal liaisons and different folks, we need to really just get back to the elders and listen to what they have to say.

Sydney Mills Farhang (03:14:41):
And one last question I had for you because our native community center, the youth, because native people truly understand that the youth are the future. They’re inheriting this world. What do you want our youth, especially our native youth to know about getting involved in this kind of work or simply working to protect the environment?

Speaker 27 (03:15:12):
Yeah, John Del says, he says, people are working so hard to learn when all they really have to do is remember right. So just remember, believe in yourself, tap into that inner self and reconnecting with the land and getting access to that good healthy food that allows them to work at their highest potential. So just letting them know how vitally important they are, but not just in words you guys in actions and creating that space and letting them just be kids too. One of the things that I tell my youth, and I’m not a wishing, I am not a wishing person, I’m a doing type of person, but if I had one wish, I would wish for these kids just to be kids for as long as possible. Stop trying to grow up so fast. We got these cycles all messed up. When you’re a kid, you want to be older. When you’re older you want to be a kid. And so just really let them know that they’re vitally important and that they are the future.

Jamie Fanous (03:16:22):
Are there any questions from the audience out? I’m going to pass the mic.

Speaker 23 (03:16:30):
Thank you. Okay there. I’m wondering kind of in the spirit of land back, if any of those plots of land that you have transformed and are working but don’t belong to you, if any one of those owners of that land decided to turn it into an easement and donate it to you, would you be able to accept it as an organization? Would you have to be a tribe? How would that work?

Speaker 27 (03:17:07):
Following what I think I seen in, I think they called it an easement in Oakland, but they gave back to Ste. So yeah, they’re a 5 0 1 C3 also. So I do believe that we would be able to accept it.

Jamie Fanous (03:17:20):
Let’s imagine that.

Speaker 27 (03:17:22):
Yeah, manifest it. We’re doing it.

Speaker 23 (03:17:26):
You live in a capitalist world and I’m wondering what your outlook is on that. Do you pay yourself? Do you have a plan for your retirement? Do these kids learning business skills because they’re giving all this food away?

Alfred Melbourne (03:17:45):
My first answer to that is money’s not even real. So yeah, money’s not real. But it took me a while. I volunteered for the nonprofit for a very long time, for four years, and then finally we were able to get the support from Yohi Win to Nation. So I am on salary now and I do pay myself very well, but most of what I do, I continue just to hustle and give back. And transforming the neighborhood has just been a passion so that we’re part of it and telling our story now. But yeah, money doesn’t move me like that though we are in a capitalist system, but I believe that we can create something better, a real systems of community care and taking care of one another.

Speaker 19 (03:18:40):
Thank you both so much for hope and inspiration, which are key to the work that we all do. It really is wonderful. My question for you is where does the name Three Sisters Gardens come from?

Alfred Melbourne (03:18:52):
That’s a very good question. So yeah, so Three Sisters Gardens are traditional Native American companion plants that have been grown together since time in Memorial. Not so much in California, but yeah, it’s just the corn beans and squash, the three sisters. Yeah,

Speaker 23 (03:19:14):
I was curious to know kind of in that vein if there’s anything that you’re doing or planning to do in terms of reviving and celebrating California indigenous food ways?

Alfred Melbourne (03:19:28):
Our goal is to grow up to 40% of California native plants and crops in our fields. And it’s just that as we kind of beginning this journey, some of the easier crops for us to grow in the more recognized like watermelons and Canales, the three sisters had just came easier to us. But as we’re getting more experience and learning more, yes, we want to start growing more native plants and herbs in medicine so that we know that food is medicine and we can grow and dry our own and heal ourselves. So yes, we’d really like to do that.

Speaker 23 (03:20:08):
Hi, thanks so much for all of the words and thoughts that you’re sharing today. Maybe this is something we can follow up on afterward, but our organization works on drinking water and we’re looking at land transition from a lot of the over extraction and polluting that’s been going on in agricultural lands in the San Joaquin Valley. So what would be a good way to connect with you guys to possibly elevate this as a model for what other communities can do?

Alfred Melbourne (03:20:37):
Yeah, I got some sticker business cards, lots of them. So yeah, just reach out. It’s really important for us to connect with the folks here so that building a network, we know that we cannot do this alone, but together we’re really stronger. So thank you for that.

Speaker 24 (03:21:02):
This is a quick one. I’m Brian and I live four blocks from the Mangan Park site that you highlighted and I’ve been so excited for this project to come to my neighborhood. So I’m wondering for myself, my neighbors, and maybe anyone else in the room who lives in Sacramento. Is there anything we can do to support that project in getting set up?

Alfred Melbourne (03:21:21):
Yes. Call Katie Maple. Katie Maple’s, the representative in that area. I won’t get into it all right now. It’s been really ugly. It’s been politicized beyond what I care to even talk about. Fortunately I’m very, very determined and we’re going to make it happen, but we could use your guys’ help. So when we took over the lease for that property, we actually took over the responsibility of dealing with all the unhoused folks out there too. And they expect us to go out there and call the police and deal with it all. And we don’t have no resources to do that. So we’re not able to access the resources that the CNRA provided for us until we get a permit. And man, that’s been a tough fight. Please connect with me. I did one Magnum Park Neighborhood Association meeting and it was cool. But yeah, we need you guys’ support.

If you guys want to see that Thriving Green and producing, we need to continue to elevate that voice and make sure that these stakeholders, that they’re not because they made me go take a picture with the former watch commander of the sheriff, the detention facility over here and I didn’t want to do it right, but that’s what they want to do. Pictures and these little kind of blips, but we still don’t have no action on it. So thank you for saying so Brian. And once you get one of these, you can reach out and connect and I’d love to get you guys’ help.

Jamie Fanous (03:22:52):
I think we’re going to wrap up now that it’s five, but I just want to thank Alfred so much for coming and thank you to the climate center for putting this on and thanks for coming and listening to some indigenous people.

Thank you so much. Before you all leave one more round for this panel. Thank you so much. I will say what got me into this field is really when we think of climate change, we think of doomsday and the worst that could happen. And this is a great insight into how climate is an opportunity to create a better world where we’re connected with the environment and each other. So thank you all for the work that you both are doing.

Baani Behniwal (03:24:03):
Thank you, Sydney.