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Lindsay Smith and Dina Feldman are transforming a vacant parking lot into Sowing Seeds of Change, a sustainable, urban farm and a space to nurture young adults with disabilities.

For Sowing Seeds of Change’s roughly 20 participants, who have all connected to the organization through Long Beach Unified School District’s Adult Community Transition program, days at the farm begin with tea and honey harvested from the site, meditation and mindfulness activities.

Music plays throughout the morning, and students dance along to Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson, all while learning about every stage of the gardening process, from planting and transporting seeds, to composting and irrigating, all while developing job-readiness skills.

“After they transition out of school services, a lot of the kids that aren’t completely independent, but still need a little bit of help, just kind of fall through the cracks, and they don’t have as many opportunities as most kids,” said Smith.

While Smith had worked with Long Beach Unified Schools in special education for the past 10 years, Feldman worked with special needs populations as a certified board analyst for the past 20.

When the two were finally introduced in May 2020, they discovered that not only were their backgrounds similar, but their visions for an organization that would unite urban farming with job opportunities for people with disabilities aligned.

“We had the exact same dream,” said Feldman. “It was insane.”

The two hit the ground running, and in September 2020 they were allotted a plot of land from the city’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department.

While the organization’s main growing systems are almost ready to be planted, the farm already includes fruit trees, passion vines and flowers.

“Our main goal is to show them everything about urban farming, and because we’re utilizing this concrete jungle site that we were given, we really want to highlight that you can grow food anywhere,” Smith said.

Through Sowing Seeds of Change, Smith and Feldman hope to create a space for people to feel empowered through nature, while connecting to their food system.

The organization has successfully connected a few participants to job opportunities so far, and Feldman and Smith also hope to be able to hire students themselves in the future.

Apart from developing agricultural skills, students’ individual interests are embraced, whether that’s culinary training, art, building their own business, or even beekeeping.

Sowing Seeds of Change involves its participants, young adults with disabilities, with each piece of the gardening process, from planting, to irrigating, to composting. Learning about sustainability and food systems is also central to the organization’s mission. Photo courtesy of Sowing Seeds of Change.

“We just want to really get to know these students to know what their interests and passions are, and just kind of connect them wherever we can, whether it has to do with gardening or not,” said Smith. “We just want them to see them be successful.”

For Feldman and Smith, who are funding the farm largely by themselves, creating a sustainable and thriving urban space has been no easy feat, and the two have hit significant roadblocks since first welcoming participants last June.

“If COVID taught us anything, it’s you have to be flexible, you have to roll with the punches, and you can’t fall in love with a specific idea,” said Feldman.

Not only has the site been broken into and vandalized, but a shipping container they purchased was significantly damaged. While the container was initially meant to serve as a mini kitchen along with an office and storage space, during the rain, everything became damaged and moldy, and it has been too expensive to replace or remove from the site.

The pair has had to continuously get creative, embracing the challenges that have come with the journey of pursuing their shared dream.

Instead of being defeated by the setbacks, the women use them as teaching opportunities for students, to demonstrate resiliency, and the ability to overcome struggle.

“We both have this visceral desire that we want it so bad,” said Feldman. “I know that this is my god-given purpose, and that there’s a reason why I met Lindsay, and there’s a reason why all these doors open. And so we laugh and cry, and then we game plan,” said Feldman.

Despite the difficulties of building Sowing Seeds of Change into a flourishing space, for Feldman and Smith, nothing compares to the joy of seeing students come out of their shells and thrive.

“It literally fills your heart with joy,” said Feldman. “It doesn’t get better than that, the only way to get better is if we got paid.”

Dina Feldman and Lindsay Smith first met in May 2020, and were immediately connected by their similar backgrounds and vision for an organization that combines urban farming with vocational training for people with disabilities. They hope to be able to hire some of their participants in the future, as the organization expands. Photo courtesy of Sowing Seeds of Change.

As Sowing Seeds of Change continues to grow, Feldman and Smith hope to not only open a secondary location, but to also serve young adults who were in the foster care system. They also hope to offer a sustainable, community-distribution farmers market, that provides free and culturally sensitive food that community members can pick out themselves.

“I don’t think this would have worked in any other city, and I am so grateful,” said Smith. “We know it’s gonna be a big success, even though we’ve had all these challenges, but I’m so happy that it’s right here in Long Beach.”

To sponsor a participant’s work on the farm, to volunteer with Sowing Seeds of Change, or to help with grant writing, email [email protected].

Join Sowing Seeds of Change every second Saturday at Fair Trade Long Beach for a vegan cafe and plant pop-up from noon to 4 p.m. at Parkview Village, 5423 E. Village Road.