I recently read the blog “Stand Up and Fight” by Paul Gutierrez. I recognize that not all are on board with his more vigilante style in further postings, but nonetheless, I was moved by his initial call to action. As a relatively new Watsonville resident, almost every time I’ve driven downtown I’ve thought, “there is so much beauty here!” The rich history, the classic buildings, it’s too bad there’s not more to do here. It’s too bad when most people hear Watsonville, they primarily think about the gang activity and not the rich history, quaint downtown or productive farm land.
Last year, I attended a conference focused on sustainable farming called “EcoFarm.” At the conference, I learned about a town called Hardwick, in Vermont. This small town went from vacant buildings and an empty main street after the local industry collapsed, to a thriving local community. They did this through a commitment to their town, and to each other, connecting around locally and sustainably grow food. In a New York Times article entitled “Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town” , a nearby resident was quoted as saying “I’ve never seen such a cooperative effort.” Granted, a grassroots local food movement would not necessary solve the gang problems in Watsonville, however, the overall idea of a citizen driven, cooperative effort to reinvigorate a problem town, hits home.
The more I thought about it, the more I started to believe that we could apply a similar concept to Watsonville, or at least borrow some of their ideas. Let’s start with a vision of how we would like things to be (I’m speaking for myself, but guessing most folks are interested in a similar vision). Watsonville... a culturally diverse town with a rich history. One that has a main street full of locally owned, mom and pop shops. In the evenings, you can find neighborhood gatherings, outdoor movies and tourists wandering the safe streets, investing in our diverse community. A town with a sense of place and purpose, actively securing it’s future.
What would we need to bring this vision to light? Here are a few ideas borrowed from the citizens of Hardwick...
Start a nonprofit. A nonprofit with a mission to invigorate the community and support it’s citizens. The individuals on the board (10 seems reasonable), would serve a set term, but not too long so many community members would have the opportunity to serve as board members. Board members are elected based on their commitment and skills they can offer—rather than by how much money they have and who they know. These board members would represent the community of Watsonville—diverse in ethnicity, gender, age, etc. Like the Patch, the nonprofit can serve as a means to connect community members. The nonprofit can elicit donations, and look for investors. Community members could then apply for funds to help them launch their small, local business.
In Hardwick, the residents personally helped to ensure the success of a new restaurant, who in return agreed to support the local farmers and artisan producers. A CSR was started, a spin off of the popular concept, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), in which members buy-in at the beginning of the season and are guaranteed a weekly delivery of fresh produce. In the case of Claire’s restaurant in Hardwick, community members purchased a $1000 CSR (Community Supported Restaurant) coupon in cash or contribution of a product worth the same amount. The coupon purchasers are entitled to $25 worth of food for 10 monthly visits per year for four years, totaling $1000. Community members share in the risk of the restaurant’s success, and in turn, the restaurant pledges to support the neighboring producers. Granted, it wouldn’t have to be a $1000 contribution, but the concept of a CSR seems like a good one to me, and has proven to be successful in Hardwick, and other communities around the country.
Could something like this happen in Watsonville? Why not?! Recently in the Patch, I saw an article about remembering old favorite restaurants. What if residents actively exercised the power of their dollar in order to help start up and sustain a restaurant that could be employed and enjoyed by local residents, with the guarantee that the restaurant would help support local agricultural and artisan producers?
If such a nonprofit existed, they could have a website, social media, etc. that would keep residents informed about the progress of such endeavors. Also, it would serve as a forum for community members to interact (much as the Patch has done). Perhaps there is a beach clean-up, or a potluck to educate folks about neighborhood watch. In Santa Cruz, progressive concepts like the “Time Bank” are allowing residents to trade their time rather than their dollars. Perhaps community members could pledge a certain number of volunteer hours, which could be matched in funds by a local donor. Whatever it may be, this community-focused information could be found in one place.
My hope is that this blog can launch a respectful conversation and result in actions that will better our community. No, these ideas may not speak to the depth of the gang problmes, however, building a strong community seems like a good place to start. I have no doubt that someone will find fault with something I said, however, if we do our best to stay focused on a solution, perhaps we can truly make a change.