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Where the grocery stores aren't.

Tomorrow I'm leading a round-table discussion on urban permaculture. It will take place at Hatch Workshop here in Stockton Why am I doing this? What's in it for me?

Main Stree USA

Coincidentally, I just relocated to Main Street near the railroad tracks. I'm carless, living in an upstairs apartment in a nearly century-old building. My view is of rooftops of ancient warehouses and I liken this experience to living in a cabin in the wilderness, except in this wilderness there are no trees, or nearly so (a nearby 1-block-square neighborhood park is the saving grace). Mostly there's concrete and asphalt, old brick buildings, many abandoned, windows boarded up. Some enterprises run low-profile businesses inside old warehouses. Some old buildings shelter low-income residents. Rather than birdsong or tree frogs, there's the frequent sound of train whistles at the nearby crossing. There's the sound on Sundays and Wednesdays of Gospel music and Latin Christian music emanating from within the church across the street -- a church in a low-slung building painted black that has no open windows, though its façade is emblazoned with silver crucifixes flying on the wings of angels. There's the sound on workdays of mariachi music coming from the industrial site next door that's used by a taco-truck operation. There's nary even a convenience store within easy walking distance, much less a grocery store. I can get an excellent meat-based deli sandwich if that suits me, but the main option for getting vegetables is the Saturday morning farmers market set up under the freeway that bisects this part of the city. To get groceries, one hops on a bus at the central bus station, which is a few blocks from my habitat, or one bikes to the nearest commercial hub about 12 blocks away. That commercial hub is in the opposite direction from Stockton's downtown Main Street, which must have been splendid in its glory days. I so admire all the old archetecture, the brickwork, the look of faded post-World War II glory.

Around my block, away from downtown, which has some bustle in its step, there is very little bustle. Hardly any people to watch except on church days. Otherwise it's just cars passing through, and even that is light. It's quiet at night, except for the train whistles. It's got a different kind of peace. There's so little life, and it hides at night.

It could be brought back to life. I see the vacant lots on either side of my block, where only weeds grow. I think, couldn't those be urban gardens? Coluldn't we make it a project to bring people together here in the heart of Stockton? The city needs its blood flowing again. Elsewhere in the nation, city leaders have discovered that creating community gardens in blighted neighborhoods works wonders at regenerating livelihoods and economies. I don't think it's a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream. I believe it's a real possibility.

And that's why I want to talk about urban permaculture.

Stockton Permaculture Meetup, Sunday, March 13, 1:30-3pm at HATCH Workshop, 40 South Union St., Stockton: "Regenerating Livelihoods in Cities," a round-table discussion about urban permaculture facilitated by Mark Mardon, with Eric Firpo, Clifton Maxwell, Patricia Miller, Jacqueline Bahnsen, Elazar Abraham, and other seasoned permaculture practitioners.

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