Cultivating a Waste-Free Community

(Karrie Newton)
On Tuesday, our Engineering classes got to visit a very special place called Community First, a branch of Mobile Loaves and Fishes ( headed by Allen Graham. Community First is not only aimed at providing homes (addresses) for the homeless, but also to settle them and restore their physical mental health and allowing them to re-discover their purpose in life. Mr Graham pointed out, “when you’re out on the streets, all you can think about is yourself, and you have to–when your next meal is going to be, where you’re going to sleep. “But once Community First is able to give chronically homeless the resources they need to get back on their feet, these people can reconnect to people and the earth and begin healing by helping and serving others.

For the past 14 years, Mr. Graham, working with MLF, has been involved in feeding the homeless and disadvantaged all over Austin (and still is; now some of the food being delivered daily is from the gardens at Community First). About 9 years ago, he got the idea to restore and make a home out of an old RV. Today, about 60 RVs have been purchased, and between 45-50 are occupied by people who were chronically homeless.  A big part of the project is about production–food from the gardens and animals, and taking advantage of the skills of people who are accepted into the program. Mr. Graham made an important point that “these people are not useless. They are actually very talented”– many have skills to build furniture and swings to use and sell, and help restore RVs and build the micro-homes also available for rent that are designed by the UT School of Architecture.  What I liked most about Community First is their mission–to take old and broken things (yes, this is also a metaphor) and create new things in a cycle of positive productivity–no waste! People who are accepted into the program no longer feel unwanted or like the waste product of society, just like discarded water from the City of Austin is used to water plants in the garden that bear fruits and vegetables to consume. Another part of the healing  process for these people is caring for the many animals that reside in Community First as well. Many chickens provide eggs, and soon there will be several rabbits, which are also an underrated source of protein. Tilapia fish are used to purify the wastewater from Austin. And, when we visited, their cat had recently given birth to three adorable kittens–by the way they behaved and responded to our squealing, it was perfectly clear how loved and cared for these cats are. I just love the sense of love and community I felt during our visit.

Community First is currently raising money ($6million is needed) towards a 27-acre property out by the Rodeo Grounds. This program is in desperate need of expansion–the waiting list is longer than the amount of RVs, tents, and microhomes that are available to rent out at the moment. But the money is predicted to be raised by the end of this year, and Mr Graham said it would take about nine months to construct the community–complete with a huge garden, running water, food, trash collection, a church and community center, and more. He stressed that the ultimate goal would be to create such a nice environment that anyone–not just homeless–would want to live there. Even the property they currently have has such a nice feel and is so aesthetically pleasing (very connected to the earth) that, personally, I think that goal has already been achieved.

Please spread the word about this program! I really enjoyed our visit and Community First’s goal and principles. They are truly cultivating a community full of love, neighborliness, and awareness of the earth and serving others in a waste-free cycle.

by: Karrie Newton


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