Healthy foods at Dania Market Garden support whole community
CRA Executive Director Jeremy Earle (r), with Dion Taylor, who handles marketing for the PATCH.
By Audrey Peterman
Last December I read an article about the prevalence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply that chilled me to the bone. I had not realized that more than 30,000 items in our foods are infused with GMOs which, when tested on animals, result in high levels of disease. GMO products are also exposed to higher levels of pesticides, and the article cautioned against eating foods whose tags begin with the numbers three or four and opting instead for those that begin with the number nine.
I went immediately to my fruit basket and sure enough, my apples and lemons and oranges all bore the numbers three and four. I can’t express the revulsion I felt that the food I am purchasing for my family to consume as part of a healthful lifestyle could actually have the opposite effect. When I went to the supermarket next and told the young man in the produce section that I was looking for organic and pesticide free foods, he practically laughed in my face, suggesting that “organic” was a complete rip off.
So when my brother- in -law Jimmy Peterman, told me about the PATCH farmers market in Dania, I was overjoyed. He said that the food was grown on the property without pesticides or fertilizer, and invited me to come down Saturday morning when the market opened. Little did I know that what I’d find was not only the answer to my food challenges, but the nucleus of a method for community transformation.
Walking among the rows of potted tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, kale and herbs, I felt so calm and happy. This nurturing acre of nature was right around the corner from where my husband Frank and Jimmy grew up in the 40s and 50s, when this was “Colored Town” and Black Americans caught east of the railroad tracks at night could legally be assaulted. White people seldom came into the Black community.
After picking out my produce, including sweet potatoes and carrots, radishes, strawberries and blueberries, I was waiting to check out behind a white woman who rapturously invited me to smell her freshly-picked herbs. I got into a conversation with the white man behind me about the corruption of our food supply, and how important a place such as the PATCH is. The friendly and energetic staff around us included Black and white people.
“This is the vision of the community that they expressed to the CRA more than five years ago,” explained Jeremy Earle, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency which created the PATCH. “We wanted to address the issues of slum and blight, declining infrastructure and lack of jobs. The people also wanted something to be done about the vacant lots and for them to be put to good use.
“This ‘market garden’ model addresses all those things. It produces fresh, healthy food which is the basis for a healthy life; it provides employment for people in the community; it builds a sense of community pride and it’s bringing dollars into our community where dollars usually flow out.”
A landscape architect who also majored in business ad-ministration with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, Mr. Earle brought a perspective uniquely suited to creative solutions. He gives local citizens all the credit for the success of the efforts:
“The CRA is the business arm of government, responsible for revitalizing the community. But we couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the community residents who come to the meetings and work with us, who provide the leadership and stick with it long term,” he said. “As a result of the community meetings we developed a plan that meets the community’s needs.”
At just over one-and-a-half acres, the Market Garden uses the bag system where the plants are grown in “jackpot bags,” producing four-eight times the yield of an in-ground system and using less water. Mr. Earle said the market garden is different from a community garden in that it is a business, with everything geared toward producing income.
“This is designed to be a self sustaining business,” he said. “It allows you to hire someone – ideally from the community -to manage the operations. It pro-vides a great return on investment in terms of providing the community with healthier food as well as more opportunities. For example, people who have a prison record have a hard time finding a job, but this job does not discriminate.”
The PATCH (People’s Access to Community Horticulture) is working with local restaurants to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for local consumption. It is partnering with a host of organizations such as Broward Regional Health Council; FLIPANY (Florida Introduces Physical Activity and Nutrition to Youth) to help improve the health and nutrition of the community, with environmental education programs and with the Earn a Bike Program which trains youngsters to fix a bike and get a bike. It’s looking to develop a supply chain to companies as diverse as Wal-Mart or Google.
“I believe this is the first program of its kind in Florida,” said Mr. Earle. “We are hoping it will become a model of how you bring all the pieces together – community health issues, education and development. There are thousands of vacant lots in urban communities across the state, and we’ve shown how you can take what could be a liability and turn it into a huge asset.”
Yes! And I was never more thankful for that asset than when I came home and made a big fresh salad, popping cherry tomatoes like they were grapes. I could almost feel my body saying, “Thank you!”
My total bill was $26 and they take cash, credit and EBT cards. I intend to be back at the PATCH, 1200 N.W. First St. next Saturday morning. They’re open 8:30 a.m. -1 p.m.
(Audrey Peterman is an environmentalist and writer living in Fort Lauderdale. www.legacyontheland.com)