In May 2012, when I was a host at MSNBC, veterans on my show said their mission is to pursue global security through sustainable systems in housing, food, fuel, and water. A month later I resigned and moved to Southern California to learn about this mission.
"The Daily Show" came out to feature my work with these veterans and that feature was seen by Evelyn Ducote of New Iberia. Inspired by "The Daily Show" segment, the people of New Iberia set out to emulate the veterans' message of security through sustainable systems by experimenting with a solar powered hydroponic greenhouse using rain water capture in their rural fresh food deprived village.
I received a letter from Evelyn Ducote in January 2014. Evelyn humbly explained the initiative she had taken on with others in her community, including veterans. Returning veteran Louis Lancon was a leader in the process, here's a link to a story about his hydro farm.
What made her letter personal to me was her eagerness to tell me that the old segment of me on "The Daily Show" was what initially struck her interest in sustainable greenhouse technology.
I didn't realize at the time of Evelyn's first letter that hosting veterans on MSNBC, going to Southern California, being featured on "The Daily Show", and my ensuing relationship with the people of New Iberia had become a direct case study of how we can employ returning veterans and develop global security through solutions to housing, food, fuel, and water.
In a sense, "The Daily Show" helped me drop a pebble, Evelyn was a ripple, and New Iberia has become a rapidly growing wave.
Six months later, I am ecstatic to congratulate Evelyn, Phanat Xanamane, and the entire New Iberia community on receiving a $625,000 grant to expand all of their cooperatives. The grant is coming from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. The BCBSLA Foundation was impressed by what New Iberia's team of innovators had created with a previous grant partner: a monthly farmers Market for the West End, which is a specific area in New Iberia--historically black, with high poverty and unemployment levels. The market's success transcended produce, technology, and sales as a historically racially segregated town came together as a community.
The team in New Iberia is also producing a series of mobile markets, at times alternative to the monthly farmer market. The alternative markets are aimed for when people are getting home from work; generally located in high-density housing areas, so hard-working people can gain access to affordable high quality food, in a convenient way. The first two alternative markets sold out in half an hour, which speaks to the potential to create jobs and new businesses for returning veterans and entire communities through these hydroponic systems.
Evelyn said, "We want to expand the amount of locally grown produce in the area. We developed the cooperatives so people would have an outlet to grow their own crops, which is something that has gone away little-by-little, over the last couple of generations. People find out how much better and fresher the food is when it is locally grown. We also wanted to develop new economic opportunities through local, small-scale agribusiness and year-round crop production. On top of that, the new farmers markets do a great job of bringing a very diverse community together."
When I explained to Evelyn how she is a ripple that created this New Iberia wave of change, she said, "I am a very quiet, ordinary person. With the help of many other extraordinary people, we have managed to accomplish wonderful things."
A pebble drops in an ocean and ripples roll outwardly in every direction. It might be impossible for us to follow every ripple to its absolute conclusion, but we should never stop dropping those pebbles, because somewhere in the distance ripples can grow into powerful waves.
For a 21st century renaissance everyone from Jon Stewart, to myself, to you must drop pebbles, release ripples, and unleash waves of change. As overwhelming as issues such as empowering veterans or pursuing global security through sustainable systems may seem, communities like New Iberia can show us how to face them on a local level with community solidarity.
Thanks again for showing us, Evelyn.