Three College Students Use Real Estate Crowdfunding to Help Feed Their Community

February 17, 2016 Karen Perkins

“Our sustainable community-based agricultural hub demonstrates what happened when people have access to public land for public benefit.” ~Huerto del Valle Community Garden

The Community garden movement is bearing more than fruit. Huerta del Valle (HdV) in Ontario, CA, has used real estate crowdfunding to fundraise the entire cost of adding a physical infrastructure to broaden the scope of benefit to the human infrastructure. This community garden has transformed one of California’s most polluted areas, making the Inland Empire a source for healthy food options, promoting environmental justice and increasing self-reliance and social strength. The land was once a dump site for the unsavory and remained vacant for over 20 years. It now provides food and tangible financial benefit to a community. After 4 years, it is expanding to provide education so that this vault of sustaining knowledge can spread beyond boundary lines and create growing communities. A successful real estate crowdfunding campaign has provided the start, and additional campaigns are in sight.

The Garden of Equality

growing communities, sustainability, real estate crowdfundingHdV is proof that the community garden movement can stand the test of time and has surpassed expectation to provide quality produce to everyone. It sprouted from one person’s desire to address the urgent health concerns of her husband and son. Realizing that fresh produce wasn’t available in her community, Maria Teresa Alonzo,
decided to change this for her family and for her entire community. With a team of Pitzer College students, four acres of public land, 10 Ontario families, and a the desire to change, Maria’s vision for a community garden took form. It has brought high-quality produce to a community otherwise recognized for their toxic land, air pollution, and a thoroughfare for diesel trucks. In 2012, Huerto del Valle benefitted from a public health initiative between Kaiser Permanente and the City of Ontario. The city offered the vacant, once thought unusable land, to HdV under a land use permit. HdV operates under a 10-year conditional use permit with the city. For each year that they remain, add-on options are added to the permit. With the airport nearby, and warehouses and diesel truck traffic flanking the site, residential development would not have been successful. This land is now home to a community gathering space that is an educational hub and a source for healthy sustenance. HdV has become a model for renovating real estate through giving purpose to public vacant land. Plots of vegetables are currently farmed by and feed 63 families and saving them money. As Arthur Levine, one of the Lead Volunteers explained to me, “Huerta del Valle is now a model for rewriting toxic Inland Valley landscapes, where health challenged are the rule for families like Maria’s.” Powered by one wife and mother, who spoke very little english, just think of what a crowd can accomplish! Huerto del Valle community gardens is very resourceful in selling produce on portions of land not used by the 62 assigned families, but they also depend on donations to continue. Peer-to-peer funding has erased common limitations.

Related: Solar Farms-Germinating Power and Communities

Real Estate Crowdfunding The Mother Ship

This successful hub of sustenance is just the beginning. A vacant waste-land has morphed into a valuable piece of rehabbed real estate, serving as a place of sustenance, empowerment, and community. Arthur Levine explained their vision to me very well: This successful plot of sustenance will be somewhat of a mother-ship for what is yet to come. A vacant waste land has morphed into a valuable piece of rehabbed real estate, serving a once neglected community. Four out of 10 deaths to Ontario residents cane be attributed to poor nutrition. As HdV has made great strides to stop this downward spiral, the community is crying out for education to apply healthy sustaining farming for the entire community. Everyone should have, and now can have, access to healthy food. In years to come, we may see community gardens at each mile, and private gardens within most back yards. The Kickstarter campaign started this month, will help fund a portion of the overall plans. In years to come, we may see community gardens at each mile, and private gardens within most back yards. HdV is a small scale solve to a larger challenge: Making healthy food accessible to all, creating a sustainable empowered community, and creating strong leaders and meaningful work within the City of Ontario. The entirely volunteer-run nonprofit organization has produced over 2000 pounds of produce from just 1/6 of the projected growing space. Ready to expand the community garden to 124 plots, HdV will enlist additional crowdfunding campaigns to enable service to twice as many families. This is the first step on the path to the ultimate vision of a community garden every mile, and smart farming inside every back yard. Thanks to three college students, HdV is well on their way to enriching the community on a larger scale. To aid in stretching the resources and knowledge further, an educational and communal center has been designed by three architectural students. The goal of each structure is to provide a home for valuable services while utilizing sustainable building strategies. Their crowdfunding campaign exceeded their original goal by over $400, which propels them well on their way to building the sustainable multi-structure building. The real estate crowdfunding campaign that started this month has raised $17,405 from 152 contributors. That is a great deal of support from an underestimated community. This crowdsourced project, just like other real estate crowdfunding campaigns, has put financial power back into the hands of the people who need this vision to become a reality. This will be one of many campaigns to help HdV complete their ultimate development goals.

Related: Green Space, Wild, Simple & Empowering

The Vision:

  • Create garden members from everyday Ontario residents, working
    growing communities, real estate criwdfunding, sustainability, eco-friend;y click to enlarge

    actively to build the ideal community.

  • Nurture research by Ontario youth, adults about environmental detriments and their solutions.
  • Become a training center to "grow a crop of individuals" who will make the garden-every-mile vision a reality.
  • Shift the food system in this region toward a healthy and sustainable one that is readily available to all.

Learn how to make HdV Compost Tea to keep the soil healthy and protect the plants: Watch the video

From Farm to Fork, to Growing Communities

This community garden has become a community in itself. From providing food, gathering space, work training, and a collaborative education, HdV is also home to a literacy program. The education

growing communities, real estate crowdfunding, sustainable farming Farm to Fork Harvest Festival 2015

building will be home to many services, but we will even see crowdfunding campaigns to raise funds for an amphitheater and library, kitchen and playhouse. As HdV’s Founder continues to perfect her English and learn computers, HdV's life sustaining resources are personal to her. They are also personal to the rest of us as we watch the incredible accomplishment of a person, who spoke very little English and had no knowledge of modern convenience, surpass the personal success of many who do. As the volunteer team, and individual plot managers continue to harvest food and educate the entire community, the larger team is creating a self-sustaining and eco-friendly community within the greater Ontario community: Quite a fete for the Inland Empire long known for harboring toxic pollution, and a thoroughfare for transient diesel trucks barreling through town.

In my conversations with Lead Volunteer, Arthur Levine, I learned that the gifts of this educational resource are not limited to Ontario. They share their experience and brainstorms freely with other communities. HdV hosts student volunteers and acts as a hostel for international students who come to take community gardening knowledge back to their own communities. HdV's accomplishments already surpassed my expectations, yet they have just broken the surface of potential,\ for bettering the human condition worldwide. Watch for additional plans to include a residence for housing visiting scholars and farmers. They will benefit from the free education as they reciprocate elbow-grease and knowledge. I am continually in awe of the realization of one person’s vision brought to life by the empowerment of a crowd. You are welcome to take part by volunteering and donating from this page.

Remember that public interest encourages unlimited involvement, such as real estate crowdfunding. Using the example of one person creating the Huerto del Valle reality, how would you transform a vacant space into something that would benefit your entire community? Leave your thoughts and let us know some of your ideas.

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