No matter how big, or Earth-shattering, every big idea begins somewhere. All movements begin as idea-or better yet-as a seed, that with love and care, will germinate and grow roots.
But can it also be possible that a series of events, circumstances, and needs resulted in the birth of one idea that has the potential to transform the lives of local communities? I think so. In this segment of Farm to Spork, I would like to introduce you to Ana Jones and Andre Hill, Jr. Ana Jones is the Secretary, and Andre Hill Jr. is the Project Manager for Urban Progress Alliance, Inc., a Tampa, Florida-based 501(c)(3) Nonprofit organization. I had the pleasure of not only getting to know this dynamic duo, but to learn more about Garden Trust 4 US, a grassroots petition they launched with goals of establishing community gardens throughout Tampa’s food desert areas.
[The Funky Spork] Tell us about yourselves:
[Andre Hill, Jr.] One of our goals with the Urban Progress Alliance [further referred to as UPA] is to take it to an international level. UPA likes to foster economic development opportunities for individuals and communities. Additionally, The Tampa Heritage Initiative is an initiative under the UPA. The common agenda for Tampa Heritage Initiative [further referred to as THI] is to be self-sustainable, a vision that we strongly advocate for. We want to give communities information and provide them with the confidence so that they can do things for themselves, without having to worry about outside sources.
Our work in the community is how we got involved in urban agriculture. When we talk about self-sustainability, in addition to clothing and shelter, food is one of the pillars. We also got interested in urban agriculture because we love to eat.
Andre Hill, Jr along with Elder Horus Canty-Bey gathering donated windows that will be turned into the greenhouse.
[Ana Jones] There’s a beautiful story about how UPA got into urban gardening. We had a situation where an elderly woman approached our organization. The lady had a home located in West Tampa, a home with unlivable conditions. The state of her home resulted in contentions between her, her neighbors, and city officials that imposed code violations on her property. UPA was then able to assist her with Title work, in order to reinstate her name on the property deed. Afterwards, we contracted with Fresh Start Development to demolish the house. Once the house was demolished, she was very happy.
In light of the situations occurring with the aforementioned West Tampa property, for over a year, THI had been in the process of searching for a lot to establish a community garden. After the demolition, we asked the West Tampa lot owner if we could install a community garden on her vacant lot, as it was in a strategic location in the heart of the West Tampa area. She agreed to the proposal, and now, and thanks to her generosity, The Unity Garden will be located on Beach Street, in West Tampa.
[The Funky Spork] Tell us more about The Garden Trust Petition.
[Ana Jones] The purpose of the Garden Trust 4 US petition is a request from the community for the city of Tampa (specifically the Mayor’s office) to put on her budget $35 thousand dollars per year so that we can create community gardens, in order to provide access to healthy foods for people around the city that are in food deserts. Our goal is to collect at least 300 signatures.
Some of our organization’s members and volunteers at our Wednesday night meeting.
[Andre Hill, Jr.] Being that we are a nonprofit, we have gotten acquainted with a lot of movers and shakers around Tampa. One of our supporters has been The Color of Change, a political organization that works to change policy for Black folks. After learning about our proposal for the Unity Garden, The Color of Change became interested in supporting the initiative.
[Ana Jones] Even with support from The Color of Change, our work on the garden was far from over. So we spent the next several months from February to September of 2019 undergoing a series of land use and zoning permits, in order for urban gardening to become a permissible use for the lot.
One of the other motivating factors behind the petition has been the current nutrition landscape of the area. After conducting some research, we realized that most of our communities were in food desert situations. Situations where many community members were either half a mile up to twenty miles away from the nearest grocery store. Along with grocery access, transportation became another motivating factor, where subgroups, such as elders, single parents, and children also did not have ways to access these grocery stores. We often found that nearby grocery stores that were around had higher prices on average, compared to other major grocery chains.
After conducting our research for establishing the Garden Trust 4 US, we found that while this project is one that we could do on our own, this was one that we felt that we must also hold others accountable to. Therefore, we will be contacting Mayor Castor’s office, in order to inform her administration about our proposal.
We want to also cultivate community, and we feel that community gardens meet these needs: community members can plant together, harvest together, and help to cultivate a greater sense of togetherness. Those goals are what is behind the Unity Garden, but we really just want to be able to extend this community garden vision beyond ourselves.
Ana Jones (left), and Andre Hill, Jr. (right) at the Unity Garden site, in West Tampa
[The Funky Spork] Are there any target areas you want to see gardens around?
[Ana Jones] We are currently targeting West and East Tampa. The majority of residents within these two areas are in food desert situations. Many of the corner stores located in these areas are not places that often sell healthy food. We want to teach people why it’s healthier to have food right out of the ground, instead of the boxed and canned goods, and other foods which produce diseases down the line. In the end, we want to help expose people to healthier options, because if you’re not exposed, you won’t know about it. It’s also a great opportunity for kids to get involved and to get into the dirt to see how life progresses.
[Andre Hill, Jr.] What a community garden can do is educate people on how to supplement their various food choices with healthier foods. Listen, many of our grandparents were magicians in the kitchen. A lot of times, they had no choice but to find ways to make their food from scratch, or out of nothing. We’ve come to learn that a lot of the healthier options have to be made from scratch, but that’s not too far fetched; We want to get everybody back into that same state-of-mind. We want to go back to self-sustainability. We want people to know how to raise their food straight from Earth, know how to cultivate it, know how to process it, and to put it into their bodies where they access the most nutrients.
[The Funky Spork] What I see you doing is multi-generational, but I definitely see this movement benefiting youth. What kind of outreach mechanisms and tactics do you foresee yourself doing, in order to gauge the interest of the community to maintain and take ownership of these gardens?
[Ana Jones] One thing that we plan on doing with our garden is to start a children’s education platform. We want to get the youth out during summer school, during spring break, during all those times where they are already out of school and get them into programs that will teach them how to utilize that. We have partnered with Urban Roots, and they are already going into schools and teaching youth. We also want to have chefs come out and teach youth how to cook the items that they have grown. We’ll also have nutritionists come out to explain the different benefits of the herbs, fruits and vegetables we grow.
Children love the dirt, and love this type of stuff. We want to reintroduce the idea of playing outside, and getting in touch with nature. I mean, Nature loves you, we can’t live without it! We want to show youth that being exposed to gardening is how they can survive, and that you can’t survive without food. And if you don’t know where your food is coming from, and you don’t know what’s in your food, you won’t know how that could harm you, later on.
Our grandparents had gardens and farms in their backyards, where they were growing (and raising) their food. We just want to get children to reconnect with their food and nature in the way that our grandparents did.
I think we have a good community outreach network that people are interested in, and willing to bring their children into.
THI is also the production team for Straight Talk Saturday Morning Show. Airing on Sat at 9am on NTouch News. This pic is of the latest millennial takeover show, our guests were CEO of Tampa Minority Professionals Network, Janise Johnson and CEO of Ripe Brand Clothing, Terrance “Mr. Pineapple” Ramses.
[The Funky Spork] Let’s think big-picture: If you had a magic policy wand for the City of Tampa, what is the ultimate vision that you would like to see?
[Andre Hill, Jr.] What we would like to see are community gardens of various sizes around Tampa, each with different functions. Agriculture is such a vast industry, and we have such a disconnect to our rural suppliers. We want to see stationary lots all around Tampa, with high-functioning agricultural systems on each of them. We want to see lots that utilize practices, such as hydroponics and aquaponics, and train people to utilize these systems, themselves. The community gardens will serve as a place of education, and as a place of resource. But again, the primary goal is to teach self-sustainability. Food is an everyday need, and never stops being a need.
We would also like to add some mobility to the urban agriculture movement. We would like to see mobile units, such as food trucks, and other vehicles that can carry food-on-the go and serve at bus stops for children, or pull up at elderly homes- to pull up in places where people need access to these healthy options. We would ultimately like to see a circuit of healthy mobile food stops circulating throughout the city. The ultimate vision is to convert Tampa into an agriculturally self-sustaining city.
[Ana Jones] As far as policy goes, I think that we should also be thinking about renewable energy, and how and what we are building, and how that affects the environment. We have got to be cognizant of that. Because if what you are building is not conducive to what you have in the community, then that’s a clash. We want to get everything on the same page. We have to think about the consequences of our actions. Even though we want to progress forward, we have got to take the steps to care for this planet.
[Andre Hill, Jr.] Policy is not difficult to change, it just takes numbers. If we can get the Garden Trust 4 US campaign moving forward, I think there are a lot of people who will support policy change, if they know that policy can change, and that they could do something about it.
To get in contact with Ana Jones or Andre Hill Jr, or to learn more about the Garden Trust 4 US petition, Urban Progress Alliance, Unity Garden, or Tampa Heritage Initiative, please visit: www.urbanprogressalliance.org