Self-Sustaining Communities:  Background

Self-Sustaining Communities (SSC) is a Richmond, CA, organization working with low-income residents and community members to create wide-scale, environmentally sustainable local food production in distressed and needy neighborhoods.   An entirely volunteer organization, SSC has helped launch three urban farms in low income, high crime areas of Richmond since 2010—Parchester Village, North Richmond, and the S.W. Richmond Annex.   These projects have engaged a wide spectrum of the community, from the mayor to recently released offenders, in a “from-the-ground-up process” to reclaim and rejuvenate abandoned and blighted parcels and make them hubs of productivity.

The ‘seeds’ of the current SSC projects began with the idea to distribute fruit trees in low-income areas of the East Bay, mostly in West Contra Costa County, as a way to establish a simple but long-lasting means of food cultivation, and introduce a much-needed natural systems element into the environment.  Since 2009, over 9,400 fruit, nut and olive trees have been donated and distributed in Richmond and elsewhere, as well as several thousand packets of vegetable and herb seeds.  Drawing upon donations from individuals and businesses, Self-Sustaining Communities has distributed chickens to interested residents, and has provided an incubator and fertile eggs to numerous kindergarten classes. Donated materials and labor have been organized to support an urban farm in the Iron Triangle and more recently for a similar initiative in Atchison Village.  Enabling mutual endeavors to proceed, through sharing of resources and information, is a core value of the organization.  

Chickens, rabbits, beehives, worm bins, aquaponics, rainwater harvesting set-ups, fruit trees and vegetable beds are either all up and running or are in various stages of completion at all of SSC’s projects. Solar energy provided by portable panels drives pumping and other systems needing power. The majority of these projects use recycled or reused materials whenever possible, obtained at no cost, to demonstrate both affordability and resource efficiency to other low income neighborhoods.  As they are established, farms become the venue for free workshops offered to the community, for example on beehive building and swarm catching.  Each urban farm also is available for viewing or participation by schools, community members, community service workers and other volunteers.

Our Vision for the Sustainable Neighborhood

The vision of Self-Sustaining Communities is more than just the creation of urban farms. Our goal is to help neighborhoods recover and heal, by creating a common hub designed with purpose and opportunity in mind.   In a city with many challenges such as those found throughout Richmond, we envision using urban farms as focal point to address food, housing, mental health, and other needed survival skills.

At the SW Richmond Annex urban farm location in particular, neighbors, the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, and those with addiction issues have come to participate in the building of this lovely environment.  It has transformed an empty lot formerly used for dealing and dumping into a source of pride for a challenged neighborhood.  This 10,000 sq. ft. lot is set up with rainwater harvesting and aquaponics systems powered by a solar pump, and includes free-ranging chickens and rabbits, beehives, worms, raised-bed for vegetables, and fruit trees.  The neighbors and co-creators all participate in the on-going maintenance and care.

Adjacent to and immediately surrounding the lot are three 4-plexes, one 10-unit complex, and another empty 1-acre lot.  This environment sits between two freeways, to the east of the San Francisco Bay.  It is perfectly situated to create an entirely sustainable neighborhood where the buildings can be purchased and the units can provide housing to the homeless, formerly incarcerated, or other challenged individuals, while also housing “normalized” individuals as role models, service providers, and helpful influences.  All tenants together could be engaged in co-creating the sustainable neighborhood, growing and producing their own local food and upgrading and greening the residential buildings with their own labor.  These residents could use the experience they have gained to help establish other similar projects as such opportunities surface.  A truly self-sustaining community provides housing, energy, and food to its members, outside of the traditional economy that has often left them hungry, homeless, and socially isolated.  One successful project such as this could pioneer this movement into other challenged areas of the Richmond and broader West Contra County community.

Bioswale Project See

Natural Building Materials greenhouse project See


The overall plan is to assist in creating a systemic change which meets environmental, social, and sustainability needs by addressing those areas on which survival is dependent. Given the current (2010-2011) economic uncertainties, unemployment, environmental issues, and crime, creating wide-scale change is an opportunity we have at hand.


Promote, encourage and freely provide backyard chickens; approached the City of El Cerrito to request an upgraded animal ordinance, which is in process, and to which the city staff has added beehives, pigs, miniature goats and more. All provide a food source, and a reduction in carbon dioxide as a result of a reduction in food transportation. In my video Chickens Create Community on Elm Street, you will note chickens also substantively meet the need of creating community, with emotional and social support attending.

In those neighborhoods where a rooster is well received, this too reduces carbon emissions by the reduction of traveling to procure new laying hens every few years. Also, it provides for a local source of new chicks. Chickens can be pets as well as a food source, and are trainable, for those who are committed to vegetarianism. (See Video).

Insofar as backyard chickens and city farms encourage the creation of community, it is well worth noting that in the Country of Bhutan, the success of the country is measured by Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross National Product. Community building and sustainability through these processes add to increased Gross National Happiness.


Procuring and providing fruit trees on a wide-scale over an extended length of time to continue the process of creating local food, sustainability and greening. Offering these locally, and into poorer neighboring environments, reduces crime and includes the overall larger community collectively in community-building.


Encourage and promote alternative forms of transportation, i.e., bicycles, zero-emission vehicles and public transportation.


Encourage and promote alternative energy materials, particularly solar energy panels and shingles. This can also become the charging source for zero-emission vehicles, ultimately reducing all carbon dioxide in certain locations through this process.


Aim to move housing or some housing out of an economic realm which can result into homelessness or other crises situations as a result of an economic collapse.

This Plan assists the reduced income of seniors, of low income residents, aids children in the care and respect of life and the environment, teaches people the importance of creating community and honoring the emotional and social needs of many, including those who are isolated or disenfranchised.

As the participating cities and residents therein participate, this becomes an example for other areas of the nation and world to show that significant and important changes CAN be made that ensure the survival of the planet and which also add to the Gross National Happiness.