Alfred Melbourne: Growing Food, Growing Resilience

Today’s episode features Alfred Melbourne, who runs a farm called Three Sisters Gardens in Broderick, California.  Melbourne hasn’t always been a farmer. In fact, he spent several years of his adult life in prison.  But when he got out in 2016, he connected with an elder who pointed him towards a vacant piece of land in his city.  

With hard work and dedication, he turned that garbage-strewn space into a flourishing garden, and has since expanded into multiple other farm sites throughout the Broderick area. Three Sisters Gardens and Melbourne’s process are deeply inspired by his Hunkpapa Lakota heritage.  The name “Three Sisters” comes from three crops that are important in indigenous culture and cuisine: corn, beans and squash.

Melbourne sees farming as a chance to bring back the land into productive use; to feed neighbors who don’t have access to affordable, fresh food; and to help guide young people down a supportive path during their youth.  His farms employ teens in the community, giving them the mentorship and purpose that he didn’t have when he was young, to hopefully help keep them out of trouble.  He says he’s moved from “plotting to planting” and now he gets to help young people make that same shift.

Our Strong Towns Strength Test—a sort of litmus test to determine if your community is on track to being financially resilient—asks the question “If you wanted to eat only locally-produced food for a month, could you?” For most people, the answer is no

Three Sisters Gardens is working to change that.  They’re taking neglected land and using it to grow precious resources—food—to feed the community, and Melbourne is mentoring the next generation of neighbors and farmers in the process.  They’re helping move the surrounding neighborhoods toward food resilience, enabling them to support themselves, steward their own resources and build long-term financial stability.

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