PWI Learning Exchanges - Fall 2017

In early March 2018, members of the PWI team traveled to Alaska to participate in a Learning Exchange to share ideas that could expand the PWI vision. That visit was not the first such Learning Exchange. In the Fall of 2017, members of the JHFS COI visited a number of sites in the Pacific Northwest to learn how each contributed to ideas of sustainability and community. Here is what they learned and the questions they were trying to address in the first of, hopefully, many Learning Exchanges.

As many PWI supporters know, it is the fifth year since the Puyallup Watershed Initiative officially launched its activities with a grant from the Russell Family Foundation. That means the PWI is as far from the beginning as the end of its original 10-year scope. The PWI’s mission focuses much of its energy on enhancing the Watershed’s long-term sustainability through community-led decision-making and collaborations. It is fair, then, to ask if the PWI itself operates on a sustainable model.

That question was on the minds of several Just and Healthy Food System (JHFS) COI members last Fall. From that question about sustainability, Cinnamon Rosa zoomed out onto a larger theme: the PWI umbrella – its resources, its structures, its activities, and yes, its funding – they were all going to wind down in five years. How would the PWI community best use the current setup? “We had to capitalize on the privilege of having access to resources,” she said. There was a bigger picture that needed to be imagined – but what would that look like?

To start to answer that question, Cinnamon met with other JHFS COI members and with PWI Community Relations Manager April Nishimura to seek out projects that resembled the PWI’s model of community-led change. The JHFS COI team included JHFS COI Coordinator Brandi Yanez-Riddle and April Henson. 

April N. suggested the group visit Goosefoot on Whidbey Island to kick off the learning. The group didn’t limit itself to the South Sound, however. Soon they organized plans to visit three more sites in a series of Learning Exchange visits, in addition to Goosefoot. The group also visited Living Cully in Portland, Oregon, Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB) in Olympia, and Urban Grace Church in Tacoma. At each learning site, the group sought parallels to the PWI and how they could distill out lessons that could bolster the PWI as we look toward the journey beyond the initial 10-year scope. Here is some info about each site:

Goosefoot

Goosefoot, like the PWI, aims to build a sense of “place and community.” They place particular emphasis on preserving rural traditions and local commerce in support of a “healthy sustainable future on South Whidbey Island.” To boost economic vitality, Goosefoot operates a self-sustaining grocery store and a large commercial kitchen while also hosting workshops that enhance the businesses and the local food system. Like the PWI, Goosefoot launched with a multi-million-dollar startup grant. Several team members pointed this feature out and expressed concern the high initial cost was a barrier to equitable development and replicability.

Living Cully

Living Cully is a fascinating glimpse into how community-based partnerships can tackle a tough neighborhood challenge. Four organizations, each focusing on a specific aspect of urban development, collaborated to create a neighborhood called Cully Neighborhood, a 3-square mile area that is one of the most diverse low-income areas in Portland, Oregon. The four partners are Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, Hacienda Community Development Corporation (CDC), The Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and Verde. They worked together to rehabilitate unwanted property and to ensure that the new development reflected original Tribal ownership of the land and provided access to housing for low-income residents. The project provides a viable template for other cities that aim to tackle their housing challenges in fair and just ways. Living Cully impressed everyone with its mission, ambition, and inclusive multi-stakeholder model. 

Urban Grace Church

Watershed residents may be more familiar with Urban Grace Church give its location near downtown Tacoma. Beyond being a place of worship, Urban Grace Church puts its 40,000 square feet facility in service of community. They host a number of events, including meetings, dance recitals, music performances, workshops, and of course, weddings. Funds from these rents go toward sustaining the church and subsidizing other services, like the large communal kitchen on premises. Additionally, the building rents out office space to local organizations and businesses at lower cost to help promote economic development.

GRuB

GRuB aims to promote personal and community-change through food and agriculture, promoting self-reliance and access to healthy food. In particular, they partner with youth and low-income individuals to work on community food projects. They offer tools and trainings to help make these projects happen and to build a “just and sustainable food system.”

The team learned a lot in a short period of time and are hoping that more learning will take place in 2018. Cinnamon Rosa sees these exchanges as necessary urgent steps if the PWI aims to truly evolve and live up to its mission of enhancing equity and justice in the Watershed (and beyond). In fact, Cinnamon believes the PWI vision can and needs to be more than its parts, the COIs. She believes the PWI can grow into a central hub of knowledge where community members retain ownership of their ideas and skills. If successful, she feels the PWI can avoid becoming a large institution that loses its community-led identity.

Cinnamon and the JHFS team acknowledge this learning is just the start, and not every new idea will match the PWI’s vision. For the sites described above that are now healthy and self-sustaining, a large financial investment made that trajectory possible, but not every project will have that support – or would desire it. Importantly, as Cinnamon points out, each site needed at least 4-5 years before becoming stable. With the PWI at its midway point and exactly five years left to run on its original plan, Cinnamon says the time is now to learn and reflect and ultimately shape the PWI’s ongoing vision. The members of the JHFS COI have started an important discussion. We can’t wait to hear from more Learning Exchanges in the coming months to see how that evolution will continue to progress.

For now, here are some more photos from the Fall visits.

Learning about the Goosefoot map of services and activities:

Living Cully:

Visiting GRuB:

 

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