By Dedrick D. Henry, Sr./Kaiser Health News
The Community Redevelopment Association (CRA) and a few South Florida communities are reaping the benefits of their harvest since the inception of the gardens which have provided a sense of unity and pride in those respective communities. Using farming methods is just one way to bring a community together and also improve health of African Americans and Caribbean in neighborhoods where chronic illnesses is a norm.CRA director, Gary Rogers, used a planting tool called a charrette to interject his idea into the residents of Lauderdale Lakes.
The City of Lauderdale Lakes embraced the idea with open arms and also wanted to have a garden for the children to become involved in this project. The garden of vegetables and young herbs located near the homes on the 4200 block of Northwest 36th Street opened in 2011 with 17 beds. Since its creation demand has tripled with 47 beds to date. Any Lauderdale Lakes resident can join, the initiation fee is $10 and $20 per bed; per season.
A lot now also exists on Northwest 40th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. that teaches five Broward County schools’ students the process of growth from scratch and commitment to a project. Piney Grove Boys’ Academy third- graders visited their section of the garden last week, weeding and watering preparing for next year’s harvest. Tomatoes, okra and cabbage can all be found on these community projects, each bed shows personal expression of each owner from the garden’s harvest to the self-titled, hand-painted names of each garden.
In 2008, the residents of Sun Garden Isles in Dania Beach told city officials that they wanted a community garden. The vision of CRA director, Jeremy Earle, was a self- sustaining market that would provide potential job opportunities as well as health improvement throughout the community. PATCH- People Access To Com-munity Horticulture- located on Northwest First Street began its harvest in 2013 in Dania Beach’s Sun Garden Isles neighborhood. This particular area has been labeled by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a “food desert”, an area where the areas have limited access to healthy food options.
Broward Regional Health Planning Council provided seed money to grow some 2,500 bags filled with soil and nutrients. What was once a dirt bike riders’ playground and a landfill of trash has blossomed into 1.6 acres of kale, collards, Swiss chard and baby eggplants. PATCH profits have exceeded tremendously with shoppers from local surrounding cities and the tourism trade. Earle noticed something was missing, community involvement, so he decided to include long-time resident of Dania Beach and a truck farmer’s son, Leon Carroll, 78, on the garden’s advisory board. Carroll along with other board members remembered the city’s past agricultural history “ The Tomatoe Capital of the World” and began to plant and plan for growth.
Earle also brought in urban farming experts to help jump start PATCH’s garden/market project and he also recruited consultant Dion Taylor to create a business plan for the Dania Beach garden and he has been working since October to increase resident participation. Thus far, Taylor has gotten PATCH to reach out to area schools so children can experience the process of making things grow. Purchases since January have grown significantly since Taylor introduced a food stamp system.
Community members frequent the market most Saturday mornings and early afternoon considering the prices are half price for locals. Taylor has truly been monumental in bringing in groups to share healthy options of popular recipes using the organic produce. Customers are now asking for the recipes and buying the ingredients.
According to Earle the biggest sign of progress will come this summer when the PATCH team will advertise two paid positions with training, farmer and marketing manager. Taylor says it’s too soon to tell from sales data whether PATCH is making an impact on the com-munity.