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Meet Israel Dawson, the 2011 recipient of our annual Simply Organic® Scholarship.
Israel Dawson, the 2011 recipient of Simply Organic's apprentice scholarship, is already planning how he'll incorporate his experience at UCSC into his dream of making organic foods accessible and affordable to low-income populations. He believes locating an organic farm and/or farmers' market near low-income neighborhoods will encourage positive neighborhood interactions and provide healthy food alternatives to processed fast foods that contribute to poor nutrition.
His focus at UCSC is on developing the skills to create Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects that get locally grown organic food into the hands of more people through co-ops, farmers' markets, and urban farming efforts. He would like to develop a local CSA business model that could be readily adapted in a variety of settings. "This local model would help establish jobs and provide affordable means for people to have a healthy diet from their local communities," he says.
Israel believes that when a neighborhood works cooperatively in a CSA, a greater sense of community emerges as it connects people with the food they're eating. "To eat healthy, locally grown, organic food that you and/or your neighbors produce is an ideal way to eat consciously and affordably," he says. He believes this framework can be successful for low-income neighborhoods in Southern California.
An interesting aspect of Dawson's local, urban, CSA model is a bicycle service that keeps the delivery system sustainable and carbon-free from harvest to final consumption point. Already a partner in Pedalers Express, a local Santa Cruz bike courier co-op, Dawson has seen first-hand the hard work and communication skills necessary to make a fledgling business stay afloat. "One of the best things about a co-op is that we all must work together as equals, while recognizing that individuals bring unique skills to the process, which makes it successful in the end," he says.
Israel came to UC Santa Cruz's CASFS Apprenticeship program with a lot of self-taught knowledge of food production but little formal training. "I was mostly learning from the reading I was doing and from trial and error," he says. "This program is giving me the grounding I need."
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Israel told us he plans to visit a number of working farms, especially in the Southern California region, to further explore the possibilities of agriculture, possibly doing a documentary video of his travels.
One of his goals is to serve an area with a need for an organic outreach community program — an area similar to the one in Orange County where he grew up would be ideal. He envisions a fruit orchard as part of a CSA that would make organic food more affordable. He also wants to explore the possibility of having a bicycle delivery service like he has previously worked with.
Israel wants to help put food production back into the communities where it's consumed and provide fresh, organic food in these communities. He and a friend are in the process of scouting for some undeveloped land on which to start a garden.
The CASFS Apprenticeship program taught him a lot of practical skills, he says — how to set up an organic farm, put together a proposal and a farm plan, hands-on agricultural experience, and how to get good overall production from multiple small areas with different crops.
The program also demonstrated to him that cities in the U.S. can have city gardens and farms within the city limits, using small amounts of space to produce large quantities of produce.
Israel plans to compile a farm resource guidebook with things he learned from the program to help guide him and others in developing city gardens.
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