Community organizer. For the good of the community. The online community. The ethnic community. Campus community. Community center. Community property. Community service.
With so many variations on a theme, the word “community” often gets filtered as white noise—almost an expectation for any civilized society.
“People form a community for two reasons: to fulfill some sort of interpersonal need, such as the need to belong, or to fulfill an objective,” says Larry Chase, a Sac State communication studies professor who specializes in group dynamics.
The sense of shared purpose and feeling of belonging, the “unity” that comes from being part of a community, is a value that is fostered at Sacramento State. Academic and student programs instill the importance of being involved with the campus community and the community at large, and students take that sense of inclusiveness with them long after they graduate.
Of like mind
Ryan Sharpe (’07, Government) was still a student at Sac State when he made his first foray into the cycling community. He and some friends thought it would be fun to start a Sacramento version of Critical Mass, a group bike outing on the last Friday of the month. They were successful in attracting dozens of cyclists. Unfortunately, the anarchist vibe that permeates Critical Mass in places like San Francisco also brought out riders that weren’t interested in the polite, “Let’s go for a ridealong” that Sharpe had in mind. It also brought unexpected attention from the police.
Since then, he jokes, he’s “gone legit,” volunteering at the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen and serving as vice president of the board of directors for the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, working with local governments to make it easier for cyclists and motorists to share area roadways.
The Bicycle Kitchen is a do-it-yourself bike repair shop with a volunteer staff that helped more than 3,000 riders last year perform tune-ups and fix flat tires. “We’re very community-oriented,” Sharpe says. “It doesn’t matter what kind of bike you have, we won’t turn anyone away. You shouldn’t have to give up riding your bike because you can’t afford to get it fixed.”
In addition to being a haven for outdoor types, California is known as a food community and a number of movements have sprung up to change the way Americans approach food. One that is continually gaining traction is the farm-to-fork trend.
Sac State alumna Janet Zeller (’08, Communication Studies) is steadily growing a crop of city-based fresh food advocates by putting them in direct contact with the land where the food is grown. But she’s taking it one step further, making sure that healthy produce is also accessible to those in need.
At the Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project, where Zeller is co-founder and co-director, urban dwellers learn to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables in their lives by getting up-close and personal with the people who grow them. “When people are having fun and eating food that tastes, they are more open to hearing about eating healthy,” she says.
Believers and future converts receive that message at Soil Born’s original one-acre urban farm, located smack-dab in the middle of a Sacramento neighborhood, or at their 40-acre site just miles down the American River from Sac State. The American River site offers a weekly farm stand that helps raise funds for its educational and outreach campaigns. They also provide produce to local restaurants and community-supported agriculture programs, helping to nurture the “eat local” movement in Sacramento.
And, with help from a cadre of volunteers, Soil Born efforts are putting fresh produce in the hands of area food bank recipients. Six acres at the American River Farm are set aside for the Sacramento Food Bank. They also run the Harvest Sacramento program, which relieves homeowners of excess fruits and nuts that are then given to people in need.
“We changed the quality of the food they distribute,” Zeller says. “People are getting fresh, organic, amazing produce.”
Zeller says they see Soil Born as a model project that they hope other cities will replicate. “This feeds our souls,” she says. “It’s a practical hands-on operation, but it’s also magical.”