1. SoJo Learning: The unexpected value of simplicity

    March 31, 2015

    Photo: Amy Yee

    Photo: Amy Yee

    One lesson in solutions journalism, or in any journalism for the matter, is to be alert to ideas – you never know when something will come up. I had not planned on writing this story about “vertical gardens” that let villagers grow vegetables even in salt-affected farmland. I came across the idea while working on another article about salt-resistant rice in southern Bangladesh.

    An agriculture expert at another NGO mentioned the vertical gardens project and it sounded intriguing. Because World Fish Center had enough clear information about this project on its website, I was interested enough to contact them for more information and determine whether there was a story. I only had a narrow window of two days to see the project at the tail end of my reporting trip. But World Fish was very responsive and arranged a field visit with an expert program officer with very short notice.

    At first I didn’t understand how simply collecting soil after the monsoon could work, but I learned that salinity can fluctuate and be flushed out with heavy rainfall. In the hot, dry months that follow, salinity returns. World Fish also had plenty of background material handy that made it easier to understand the project and conceptualize the story.

    Without those basic but effective communication tools, which are not to be taken for granted in a developing country, it would have been easy to let the idea go. Instead, I got to write about how the simple idea of vertical gardens can flourish.

    In addition, I was reminded of the importance of simple solutions for the developing world. An American agricultural scientist from World Fish Center had described their “vertical gardens” to me over the phone. I had expected some fancy technology that allows poor people to grow vegetables in salt-affected soil.

    But when we went to the village and followed a dirt path to the yard of a humble home, I found that vertical gardens was a hifalutin term for growing vegetables out of recycled plastic sacks and containers made of plastic sheets and bamboo. When I first saw the “vertical gardens” my initial reaction was, “Is that it?”

    But I shouldn’t have felt disappointed. In fact, simpler, low-tech approaches using local materials are probably more likely to take root and spread than fancy, complicated solutions.

    With a couple hours of training from World Fish and NGOs, a small investment in materials and seeds, villagers could grow hundreds of pounds of vegetables to eat and sell each season.

    The vertical gardens do need some special preparation, such as filling large containers of soil with columns of brick chips to improve drainage or creating trellises from string and sticks to support tendrils of growing vegetables. Large containers called “vertical towers” are made with sheets of plastic and bamboo strips.

    But the technique is straightforward. It is so simple that villagers not in the World Fish program simply copied their neighbors’ designs so they could grow vegetables too. This is a simple indicator of the viability of an adaptation to climate change: when a technique can be replicated by word of mouth.

    The gardens may look modest but they are extremely robust. One woman told me her garden in one season produced 450 pounds of vegetables, including pumpkins, a variety of gourds, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant and more. The list of vegetables went on. Another woman strolled by and posed with two pumpkins she had just plucked from her garden. The tin roofs of homes in this village were covered with lush vines sprouting pumpkins and fat gourds.

    Of course, vertical gardens are not a silver bullet solution to coping with climate change. But growing hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables can make a big difference for families struggling to survive amid the threat of extreme weather, increasing salinity and climate change.

  2. Responding to Violence: A new SJN initiative

    March 31, 2015

    Photo: National Youth Violence Prevention Week

    Photo: National Youth Violence Prevention Week

    Images of terror, killings, and abuse dominate the news, reminding us of the persistent prevalence of violence in American communities and its debilitating effects, particularly in vulnerable communities. This reporting is vital to raise awareness and spur reform – but it often fails to inform society about what can be done – and what is working – to mitigate the effects of this great hidden health care challenge.

    The Solutions Journalism Network believes that, in order to combat violence, people need to hear about effective responses, so they can see possibilities and build upon them. Ideally, this should be done through engaging stories that have the potential for widespread influence. That’s really what solutions journalism is all about: Rigorous coverage of promising ideas, we expect, will unleash creativity from citizens and make it more likely that effective models will realize their potential.

    That’s why we’re excited to launch a yearlong initiative on Violence Prevention and Reduction. Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we will help journalists across the U.S. pursue high-impact, solutions-oriented reporting projects that take on questions such as:

    • What is working to prevent gang violence, gun violence or domestic violence?
    • What efforts to prevent cycles of family violence or abuse are showing results?
    • What can be done in prisons and in the justice system to interrupt cycles of violence?
    • How are people and organizations reducing bullying or changing disciplinary practices that promote safety in schools and out-of-school contexts?
    • What works to heal survivors of childhood trauma or mitigate toxic stress?
    • How are health care providers intervening to keep families and patients safe?
    • How are cities building safety considerations into their planning processes?

    [Read more…]

  3. The Solutions Three: How one U.S. city cut its homicide rate by 62% in five years

    March 26, 2015

    Solutions Three small logoThis post is part of the “The Solutions Three” series, a weekly newsletter highlighting some of our favorite recent solutions stories across the media landscape. Our goal with the newsletter is to bring to you different, constructive takes on recent headlines–Where are community-police relations strong? Where is ebola being fought the most successfully? How are countries successfully preventing radicalization of their youth?–and to celebrate the journalists and publications doing fantastic reporting on responses to social problems. If you have recommendations for great solutions stories, send them to samantha at solutionsjournalism dot org. And to get “The Solutions Three” sent to your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.43.53 PMHow one of America’s most dangerous cities reduced gun violence

    Al Jazeera America, March 12
    AJ Plus

    Richmond, California, used to be one of the most violent cities in the country. But in just 5 years, it brought down its homicide rate by 62%, thanks, at least in part, to the newly created Office of Neighborhood Safety. AJ Plus brings us this 2-part video series (part 2 here), beautifully shot, emotionally riveting, and most importantly, solid reporting on Richmond’s unique approach to violence reduction. [13:22 min/13:15 min] [Read more…]