We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Harris and Emanuel Thomas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin Harris and Emanuel Thomas, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Erin and Emanuel conceived and birthed Armada Unified in response to Covid-19. As it did for so many others, the rapid escalation of Covid-19 led to a dramatic reduction in Erin’s income–as a gardening and composting instructor for LA County. Her job was immediately placed in jeopardy and it was only through the goodwill and flexibility of her boss that she was able to continue working at all. At the same time, Emanuel, who had recently left corporate America to pursue a promising career as a motivational speaker and mindset coach, quickly became derailed by the limiting effects of Covid-19. But the health crisis also presented immediate opportunities for the couple to be of service that they were both eager to seize upon.
In the early days of March 2020, the pair began managing a small urban farm on the outskirts of Compton and quickly established relationships with organizations like Social Justice Learning Institute, Alma Backyard Farms, Farm2People, Future City Pantry and Feed Our Soul, which had the infrastructure in place to distribute the produce they grew and harvested to families and individuals whose access to healthy food was further threatened by the crisis.
Erin had been a Master Gardener for several years, working as an urban farmer and school garden educator. She was also inspired by the small and sustainable farming movement to write the agritourism guidebook Visit California Farms (Wilderness Press). While she had been gardening for her family and friends for years, her primary role was in teaching others how to reduce waste and grow organically. She hadn’t yet found the partner who would enthusiastically join her in the field, dividing the labor or urban farming while doubling the reward.
While he was new to working with the soil, Emanuel took to it like a fish to water. By practice and trade, his professional background was in human resource management. But he had decided to switch into the lane of public speaking and coaching children of color to believe that they can make it in life without having to rely on athletic ability, but rather by using their minds to build the future that they dreamed of; Which inspired him to write his first book The Power of Thinking Inside the Box. Emanuel was eager to learn the science of urban farming and was inspired by Erin’s passion for food sovereignty. He came to realize that agricultural studies, food education, and farming were three areas that fell seamlessly into his overall goal of living a meaningful life of purpose. Urban farming has provided Emanuel with a sense of gratitude and solace that he’d been searching for for years.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Currently, Armada Unified has three projects underway and one in the pipeline. The first is AU’s free produce/food distribution, located at 2851 Santa Fe Ave, Long Beach, CA. As a receiving agency of Food Forward, Armada Unified and Grow2Zero Farms joined forces to tackle the fight against both hunger and food waste by donating nearly 2,000 pounds of fresh produce and non-perishables (weekly).
The next two projects are centered around Armada Unified’s mission and emphasis, which is program development and social justice leadership training. In partnership with California State University Northridge and the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica, Erin and Emanuel have been trusted and tasked with the opportunity of educating individuals from the age 12 to 55+. Although the curriculum developed for each partnership is uniquely tailored to its appropriate audience, the content and actionables for both programs center on the social justice leadership theme that drives Erin and Emanuel.
Last, but not least, is the Culinary Food Justice Program that Armada Unified will conduct in partnership with Marina Del Rey Middle School. The school is home to a three-quarter-acre garden that is currently being unused–the Culinary Justice program will kick it back into production for students and for the neighboring community and is currently under funding consideration by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
Erin and Emanuel are blessed to be where they are in life and where they are professionally, but they don’t typically give their focus to questions like “How did you get to this point…” because they understand that the journey of life is what’s most important. Not where they are at ay given time, in business. They simply enjoy the seasons that come with operating within their purpose. Some seasons have their highs, and some their lows. But Erin and Emanuel embrace them all–because together, they constantly seek the learning opportunities that each season of business brings.
Erin and Emanuel feel that overcoming challenges, and learning from said challenges, is foundational in the sense of truly growing as a company or organization. Business itself is a great a teacher if you fully embrace and engage with the mundanity of the day, just as you would engage with and celebrate the successes of completing a contract, executing to and/or exceeding expectations relative to a project, etc…
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Erin and Emanuel will always default to taking friends, family, and visitors to the various nature centers, trails, beaches and parks throughout Los Angeles. In terms of food, drinks, and hangout spots, Erin and Emanuel definitely recommend Cava in downtown Culver City if you’re looking for a clean, hearty, and healthy bite. They would also recommend Bacari for both drinks and food, and as a hangout spot–especially with the restaurant sitting near and overlooking Playa Del Rey Beach. Incidentally, Erin is the author of the guidebook, “Walking Los Angeles,” which includes a plethora of additional recommendations. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Mr. James ‘Jim’ Francis Mahoney. Father of Erin Harris.
Mr. Mahoney won his battle with Covid-19, by not allowing the virus to conquer him, his lifestyle, nor his peace. Mr. Mahoney transitioned on February 18th, 2021, at home and in the loving presence of his wife Barbara Mahoney. But through spirit and memories, he will remain with his family and friends forever.