Acta Non Verba!

Acta Non Verba!

Photo credit: Neshan H. Naltchayan
Slider photos credit: Janet Donovan

“I think that the typical image of a veteran is not me,” Navy Veteran Kelly D. Carlisle told a totally engaged audience at Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Public Media and Lidia Bastianich Celebrate Homegrown Heroes luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C.  “You know there’s not a whole lot of veterans that look like this and I think one of the things that CPB does well is show how representation matters – the fact that I’m a veteran, the fact that I’m black, the fact that I’m a woman, the fact that I work in a low income part of the country – all of that matters.” Kelly is the Founder & Executive Director of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project. What does Acta Non Verba mean? “Deeds not Words:” It’s Latin and it’s actually the words of the Merchant Marines. 

Calvin Riggleman, Kelly D. Carlisle and Edgar Hercila

Kelly’s story: When she came back from the military she had a few corporate jobs in the city but got laid off several times and ended up in a plant nursery.  When she came across a little tree that had an enormous lemon on it she thought somebody had vandalized the tree so she tried to get the lemon off and realized it was attached.  “So I bought the tree and I bought a garbage can and a whole bunch of compost and planted it and dared the tree to give me another lemon. And then, I was in love. It was like everything in Harry Potter all in this one plant: Splarius.” Now she has a four acre farm near the Oakland Coliseum that’s run by kids age five to thirteen. They plan, plant, harvest and sell the produce that they grow and 100% of those dollars are placed into individual savings account for their futures. She is an avid gardener whose work has been honored at the White House By President Barack Obama. 

“Farming was nowhere on my radar or anything,” she explained. “My parents started a little tiny garden in our backyard in East Oakland and I thought they were complete weirdos, like I didn’t wanna tell anybody that we had a garden. Who does that? Who grows food and eats it?  That’s crazy. Why would anybody do that? But farming changed all of that – understanding that you can’t just grab the plant any old kind of way and shove it in the ground. You’ve got to nurture the plant, you have to fertilize it, you have to make sure that it has it’s best chance to live and grow and produce. Once that part clicked in, I understood that on this quarter acre or on my back patio or whatever it was, that I’m responsible to make sure that this plant has it’s best life. That changed the way that I looked at my daughter. To transfer that thinking about that plant and how it needs help until it gets to a stage where it can produce, it needs assistance – same for my daughter. And sometimes when I get mad at her I think to myself, you’ve got to prune her in just the right way.”

Lidia Bastianich and Pat Harrison

“Tomorrow we will be on the Hill meeting with members on behalf of millions of Americans who value public media and support our federal appropriation. But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, which is not easy, this is not deja vu all over again,” said CEO of CPB Pat Harrison. “What’s different this time is the growing number of members – Republicans, Democrats  – who really do celebrate public media as a positive force for civility through our thoughtful, educational and informational content. They do applaud the fact that since the Public Broadcasting Act was signed 50 years ago, there is an archive of public media story telling. I call them proof points that speak to our better angels and enhance American life. With the commitment of everyone in this room and our funders and our supporters throughout the country, we’re going to continue to do things we do so well for the next 50 years.”

Jacquie Gales Webb 

CPB’s Director of Radio and Television Content Jacquie Gales Webb, a Peabody recipient and an award-winning producer, performer and host of the number one Sunday afternoon gospel music program on Howard University’s WHUR where she’s been on the air for 28 years, moderated a panel discussion. “I am so excited to be a part of this conversation. Home Grown Heroes is a prime example of excellence in public media, celebrating American veterans who showcase their service to this country. It’s my privilege to introduce three of the veterans featured in this special. And so I really want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

Edgar Hercila (third from left)

Edgar’s story: Edgar Hercila, who was participating in farming when he served in Iraq with the villagers, is the CEO of Civitas Organics in Anaheim, California. The mission is to grow organic mixed vegetables in urban communities where the choice to purchase organic food is not seen as an option.  “We make pesto now. Little did I know, seven years ago, I was gonna be making pesto. But when you have virtually 20,000 basil plants, that’s where it is.”

His parents are first generation Mexicans so he has been playing with cilantro also….a little bit of this and a little bit of that. He then sells directly as possible to farmers’ markets which has connected him with other veterans who have found a way to transition from the military into the civilian sector  “We kind of come from where they feel that they can continue to serve and specifically serving in a nonviolent [atmosphere].  We have that tribal connection. We get it. There’s a common thread that runs through the stories even though each story is different. So you talk about coming out of military service, which is very difficult for many veterans, making that transition. I think we have the same experiences. You come back, and then they’re like, ‘Okay, well here’s your papers. And, we’ll see you.’  There’s no transitioning element. There’s nobody that goes and takes you, breaks you down and decompresses you. They just kind of throw you back into this place. So, it’s not something that you think about and you plan on. I think the only thing that I had a vision of was a vision of coming home. And so I thought, ‘Okay. Well, I could do this. That would be great. I could do some kind of something at the schools, and what not.’ And it’s one of those things that you manifest, right? You just end up manifesting those ideas in your life, the ones that truly have an [impact] to really kind of come to life. And, I did. I started doing gardens in inner-city schools in LA, and that kind of just created a larger ring and a larger need that I needed to identify.”

Calvin Riggleman

Calvin’s story: Calvin Riggleman grew up farming in the hills of Hampshire County, West Virginia and always dreamed of becoming a member of the U.S. Marines.  After serving on the front lines during the Iraq war, Calvin returned to work on his grandfather’s farm which they have owned and operated for five generations. “When I was deployed in my second deployment, I actually used the satellite phone making sure my mom plants seeds on time, ’cause the first time I came back from deployment, I came home to nothing and didn’t have a plan. On my second deployment, I knew I was still wanting to get into farmers’ markets again and I actually had to have my seeds started so that when I got home I could actually start planting stuff so I could be ready for the next season.”

“We have our own fruit stand that’s been there since 1941. I got paid five or six dollars an hour and I worked probably 60 to 80 hours a week, and that’s all I was ever gonna get paid until somebody in my family died because nothing had changed since 1940. My family still grew the same amount of apples. The price of tractors went up with everything else, but the price of apples just went up a few dollars a bushel, if that. There was just no room for me to get paid higher. So all the guys I was with (in Iraq) told me that I should do something different and get into the farmers’ markets and make products like jams, jellies, and sauces. I thought this was a great idea but when I came home, like any good Lance Corporal, I went and blew every cent that I had just partying like a rock-star. And next thing I knew, I’m waking up at my friend’s apartment in Arlington and his wife gave me a roll of quarters and told me to get home and get my life together. So I took this roll of quarters and bought $10 worth of gas and went home. I thought about the jams and jellies idea and I got a Capital One credit card and maxed that thing out and got this jam made and then brought it back to my grandparents fruit stand and within two weeks sold it and doubled my money. I did that again and then before my grandparents place closed for the winter, I sold all of it. We make corn whiskey, we make apple pie, we used my grandparent’s peaches to make peach brandy, which is peach moonshine. There’s been a lot of people that I’ve talked to on like how to get started, or just what to do first. My biggest suggestion is to go find a farm or somebody that’s in agriculture and talk to them and see about getting an internship.”

Edgar, Lidia, Calvin, Kelly

Lidia’s story: Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy award-winning public television host, a best-selling cookbook author, a successful restaurateur and owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business who prefers the intelligent platform, the formative platform that public media offers and that’s where she wants to be. Lidia believes that the table offers a sanctuary and a place to come together for unity and understanding. She works with the Homegrown Heroes, dines with them. She talked about what she thinks are negative stories on these young people that never know if they are coming home again.

“I’ve met many of you on my travels to the different stations and I’m very grateful of the platform that you give me to express my appreciation, my love and my philosophy of life to this country that has so welcomed me. I have a specific soft spot in my heart for people that protect freedoms. I was deprived of freedom in my young age. And my way to this series, Lidia Celebrates America, is going into America with the way I know best – with food. And food opens all the doors because food is very special. It’s a communicator. It’s a direct line to everybody’s heart and stomach, should we say. The veterans are always down in the dumps or homeless or whatever. I said this can’t be it.”  So she went to Pat Harrison for a PBS series. “The great thing about farming was that they came from a place where there was destruction and killing and death and now they were able to give life to something. They were able to raise something, they were able to give something to continue life and that just brought it all together for me….. 360 degrees to see these young people really excited about jobs, feeding America and making sure America is well. I came here when I was 12.  I feel very blessed. I have two of the best cultures in the world; one Italian and then now being American and putting those two together is just wonderful.   Talking about food diplomacy, I think there’s no place better than at the table. The table is a place that people feel they belong and they don’t feel threatened.  I think that public media has a great slow revolutionary platform of sending messages just like this. That’s why I wanted to be and stay on PBS and that’s what we’ve enjoyed. It’s a great thing when these young people ask me ‘so where are we going to air.’  And I said we’re going to air on PBS in November and I said PBS covers all of America, the smallest towns. It’s 380 somewhat different stations. All of America is going to see you and this is what we want to communicate to all of America because all of America has got to go through it and make America great.”

Homegrown Heroes and CPB board members

“Food is the oldest tool in the diplomat’s tool kit, but culinary diplomacy is happening every day when each of us interact with people at home, in our communites and around the world.”  –  Lidia Bastianich