From “Dirt Cheap to Soil Rich:” Regenerative Land Use in the Inland Empire’s “New Storage Economy”

The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability (RRC) presented, From “Dirt Cheap to Soil Rich:” Regenerative Land Use in the Inland Empire’s “New Storage Economy” on May 5th, 2021. The conference title is a concept that seeks to re-imagine the land use and development narratives that exist in Southern California’s Inland Empire in which far too often communities are utilized as a sacrifice for convenience and progress elsewhere. COVID-19, the resulting economic crisis, and the looming climate crises have inspired a re-centering of essential and underserved communities and have challenged us to look holistically at solutions to unhealthy systems.

The convening, the first of the RRC’s Regenerative Agriculture department, brought together six local practitioners/organizations working in Inland Empire contexts who are articulating solutions to a fundamentally unsustainable system and who are working to imagine alternatives that center equity, community health, soil health, and viable economic relationships that do not come at the cost of human or environmental health. The convening asked participants to support the RRC and out co-presenters in beginning to define a paradigm shift for the Inland Empire toward a regenerative economy. In addition to the recording here a report will be published in late June, 2021 in order to share the findings of the event.

Conference Introduction

Opening of the conference which included a word on language justice and equity from our interpreters at Cooperativa Brujulas, a Land Acknowledgement from our guest Valerie Dobesh recognizing that we are on Indigenous land [https://native-land.ca]. We then heard welcoming remarks from RRC director Susan Phillips and RRC Fellow Arthur Levine.

Breakout session 1

Convenience Economy in the Shopping Cart of America

In this session guests heard from Andrea Vidaurre who is an organizer with Peoples Collective for Environmental Justice. Andrea discussed how the IE has become one of the centers of storage and distribution of consumer goods and the impact this economic system has on communities. In the session participants are asked to consider how economic systems can benefit communities instead of bringing EJ crises.

From Food Apartheid to Black Food Sovereignty

In this breakout session we heard from Ali Anderson the founder and director of Feed Black Futures. We learn about the work that is being done to support Black mothers and caregivers through weekly healthy food distribution from BIPOC food producers. The session asks participants to consider what Black Food Sovereignty would look like.

Living by the Seasons

(**partial recording): In this breakout session participants heard from Valerie Dobesh who is a nutrition and health educator with Indian Health Inc. She shared her experiences and strategies of using healing gardens at schools, clinics, and other locations to work to educate people about a holistic perspective on health connecting to the four seasons. The session challenges participants to reconnect with natural cycles as a basis for learning and healing. **Tech difficulties resulted in only recording the second half of this presentation.

Breakout Session 2

What can RCDs do?

In this sessions Susie Kircshner from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District discusses the work of local Resource Conservation District and how they can be a partner to other types of organizations from farmers, to community gardens, to schools. She also discusses the upcoming Sustainable Agriculture Land Conservation projects funded by CA DOC and asks the audience how RCDs can better serve the community.

Food systems as Economic Development

In this break out session Joyce Jong of the Riverside Food Systems Alliance and City of Riverside Economic Development department challenged participants to think of how food production can be a significant part of the economic future in the Inland Empire. Examples of how food systems can create jobs locally were shared. This session challenged participants to consider how agriculture can be a jobs creator and how investing in new farmers is crucial.

¿Como convertir basura en tierra fértil?

This breakout session lead by Maria Alonso of Huerta del Valle focused on the strategies that HDV community gardens and farms utilize to turn waste into healthy soil. Maria focused on the composting programs at HDV and other healthy soil practices including vermicomposting, composting, application of woodchips, and others.

Conference Conclusion

Report backs from the second breakout sessions with Joyce Jong (RFSA), Susie Kircshner (IERCD), and Maria Alonso (HDV). Final conversation with conference co-presenters and participants regarding what we learned and what can be done. Participants filled in a third JamBoard Exercise regarding goals and intentions for the IE in the next 10 years and looking at needs, assets, and projects that are already going on.

RRC is thrilled with the turnout and participation from the public in our first conference event related to regenerative land use. We are hopeful to continue working collaboratively with partners to develop the ideas behind “The New Storage Economy.” We are hoping to host a follow up event for this one early in 2022. Until then, please feel free to reach out to our staff with questions and comments and keep an eye out for our report on the convening coming late June 2021.

RRC staff can be contacted via: susan_phillips@pitzer.edu and arthur_levine@pitzer.edu