Ballard: Remembering the leaders who inspired urban farming to feed those in need
Thang Do and Raul Lozano are pictured in this file photo.

    In the past two years, the Silicon Valley Community has lost two incredible community leaders, Thang Do and Raul Lozano, most recently with the passing of Raul.

    Coincidentally, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) was connected to both of them through a program, written about here in Streetsblog, that ultimately inspired SVBC’s commitment to the farm box delivery program, Eastside Connect.

    I serve on the Board of Directors of the League of Conservation Voters, an organization that identifies and supports environmentally minded candidates for local office. Each year, we host a fundraiser  to honor very special environmental leaders. One year, both Thang and Raul were honored together for their work to advance urban farming through a Santa Clara County incentive program. Thang owned the land, Raul needed land, and together they found a home for Valley Verde.

    As a member of the LCV Board, I got to know both Thang and Raul deeply, something that then resulted in a wonderful partnership in the seedling delivery program. Here’s how it all happened.

    You all know that COVID shut everything down in early 2020. Those of us in the nonprofit world who rely on the charity of others to fund our work found ourselves in a tailspin. At SVBC, one of our signature events, an annual fundraising dinner, had to be canceled, leaving a big hole in our budget. The same was true for many other nonprofits, including Valley Verde. (By the way, SVBC has completely transitioned away from a fancy fundraising dinner to an annual fundraising ride — save the date for the next one in October!)

    It was in this environment that we got a call from Raul. He was in a bind because his usual program to sell seedlings to raise money had to be halted. But he didn’t want all those seedlings to go to waste so he called SVBC and asked if we might deliver seedlings by bike to families in need. SVBC hesitated because although it was a wonderful idea, there were so many unknowns with COVID. We weren’t sure if we could recruit volunteers or who on staff would have the time to coordinate the whole thing.

    Regardless, we moved forward and ultimately had way too many volunteers. It turns out many of us who could were looking for ways, eagerly, to be helpful during COVID. So many of you jumped at the opportunity to help and to do so using your bikes. Once again, thank you!

    At that first seedling delivery day, a few folks from Veggielution came out to volunteer. They had been toying with the idea of delivering boxes of farm-grown food by bike to families sheltering in place. Perhaps SVBC could organize a bike brigade to deliver boxes? So, they showed up to volunteer to deliver seedlings and together we were able to test the concept.

    Fast forward to today, and with support from the Open Space Authority, Veggielution and SVBC have been partnering for the past two years to deliver farm boxes by bike. The first year we piloted a once a month program with the intent to ramp up to every week by the third year.

    With Raul’s passing this year, and Thang’s last, both untimely and too early, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on their legacies. These two extraordinary men, who’s run-in with SVBC is only one example of their vast contributions to the community, will live on through Veggielution’s Eastside Connect.

    And, we would be remiss if we did not encourage you all to volunteer to come out and deliver farm boxes. There is no better way to spend a Saturday morning than to come to the farm, be greeted by the shrieking peacocks, and then to pedal through the beautiful streets of East San Jose delivering fresh produce. You can sign up to volunteer here.

    Shiloh Ballard is a longtime advocate and executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

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