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A Community garden in a food desert: Nutrition, multiculturalism, and education in walking distance for Brownsville

Create a community garden for Roosevelt Park to walk for fresh produce, develop an intercultural community, and youth resilience.

Photo of Iqbal Akhtar
22 19

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Our answer to the City of Tomorrow challenge question is to develop community and promote ecological growth. We propose a community garden pilot based on a successful porotype for a year and a half completed on our home across the street. The garden would eventually minimize trips to the grocery store for residents, connect older African-American residents with newer Hispanic-American homeowners, provide an aesthetically pleasing area to walk to and congregate around, enhance local ecology for birds and pollinators, and engage youth with the virtues of ethical gardening.

Brownsville was historically a middle-income African-American area during the time of segregation. Once segregation ended then black professionals moved out of the area into wealthier neighborhoods leaving Brownsville in an economic depression that has continued until today. According to the most recent economic and educational indicators, the city is doing worse than even Liberty City. Problems include gun violence, lack of economic opportunities, drugs, prostitution, and blight. Miami is a diverse city and yet race, class, and nationality segregate many of its inhabitants. The city’s overdependence on cars means social isolation from neighbors despite the information revolution connecting us globally. Our answer is an ancient one in which the land heals generational trauma, to connect people to the earth and food thereby developing new multicultural communities.

My wife and I decided to move to Brownsville about two years ago in order to live with the communities that we serve; I am a teacher and she is an educational researcher. Our life is considerably different from living in Brickell. There is no grocery store in a 2.5-mile radius, we can cannot take walks in the neighborhood because of slum and blight, there are frequent gunshots on the weekends, and vacant lots are overflowing with trash.

To answer the community’s transportation and social challenges, we developed a prototype community garden on our property. The garden has attracts all sorts of people commenting on how much they enjoyed the flowers to wanting seeds and asking us to plant trees on their properties. Through the garden, we have taught children on our street how to plant, educated neighbors on medicinal herbs, shared financial skills on how to save to buy a home, and connected with residents across race and class. Most importantly, trust between newcomers and the older residents is being developed as we engage local churches and the oldest African-American mosque in Florida, Masjid al-Ansar.

The porotype community garden is ready for a pilot project in Glenwood Park. The county’s Parks and Recreation Department is in the process of giving us permission to proceed with the pilot community garden, the first in Brownsville. The community garden would serve 324 households in the five-block radius of the proposed garden, serving an approximate population of 1,296 residents in Brownville, where the median household income is $21,798. Additionally, the school of Bethune Head Start, three blocks away serves 247 students. Walking field trip visits to the community garden would be incorporated into the school’s curriculum as local field trips. Trees would be planted in the surrounding bus stops to shade the hundreds of public transportation riders in the neighborhood.

Perhaps for the first year, the pilot project will not have much of an effect on the traffic, but as people get better at growing what they need it will cut out one car based shop journey in four. The project would bring together your growers so they always ride share for other groceries too, we would be reducing local traffic, and your growing will add to that the more successful it becomes. With support from the local farming community, we hope to attract vendors to a weekly farmers market that accepts EBT cards and other forms of federal and state assistance to purchase fresh fruit and produce. With the success of this pilot project, it could be scaled to other communities in Brownsville, as there is a lot of unused vacant county land. In addition, the project has connected with Million Trees Miami to plant 8-10’ mature trees at the following six bus stops in the vicinity of the community garden- NW 43 Ter & NW 31 Av,  NW 44 St & NW 32, NW 32 Av & NW 44, NW 32 Av & NW 43 Te, NW 32 Av & NW 41 St, and NW 32 Av & NW 46 St.

This garden will:

  • Reduce traffic by providing fresh produce and fruit in walking distance, create an aesthetically attractive place for community gatherings and recreation, and develop tree canopy.
  • Provide opportunities for participating youth and community members to learn and implement ways of growing their own food;
  • Teach our neighborhood the skills of composting and organic gardening;
  • Teach participating youth social-emotional skills such as patience, tenderness, and respect for all life;
  • Provide low-cost ways to produce healthy and natural food for low-income households;
  • Provide a visually and aesthetically pleasing environment for our neighborhood;
  • Promote biological diversity, such as local pollinating bees;
  • Provide local youth the opportunity to learn, and to be positive change-agents in our community; and
  • Promote healthy ways of eating fresh produce that can prevent diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure that lead to stroke and heart attacks

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

For neighbors of the garden it would be a place where they volunteer and feel ownership of the space. In part, this application is the activation of an existing public space to grown and purchase fresh produce to decrease automobile traffic and increase walking in the neighborhood. Community members would come together to take care of the garden with local students and interns from FIU carpooling to grow seasonal crops and plant fruit trees on properties with the help of residents. The garden and trees would help to reduce flooding by absorbing excess rainwater and improving the air we breathe. The garden and trees Children from Bethune Head Start would routinely come to the garden for planting demonstrations and to use the space as an outdoor classroom. Bus riders in the area would eventually be shaded by trees at bus stops where there are no benches or covering to protect public transport riders from the weather.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Pilot - you have implemented your solution in a real-world scenario

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

Iqbal Akhtar- organizer and professor at FIU Zafreen Jaffery- organizer and lead researcher at The Children’s Trust Roger Horne- FL Master Gardener and Director of Community Health Initiatives for Urban GreenWorks Catherine Houlihan- South Florida Muslim Young Professionals Alison Austin- Audubon Society and Brownsville community consultant FIU students and summer interns

Size of your team or organization

  • 11-50

Funding Request

  • $25,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

The grant will fund the major infrastructure needed for the community garden and for some caretaking afterwards. The organizer will donate 6 hours a week to maintaining the garden and the local caretaker will be paid for his 8 hours a week of work. Certain plants will be left to seed in order to be replanted. The material costs for the garden once established would be to replace soil seasonally, pay water bill quarterly, replace tools, spend on marketing & advertising, buying seeds, and miscellaneous items. This can be provided by donations secured from the Home Depot- Hialeah and other chains that have community outreach programs and other funding opportunities that support community gardening. Volunteers from South Florida Muslim Young Professionals will help seasonally through days of service to help with seasonal garden activities. Each summer, interns from the FIU Summer Youth Employment Initiative will help in the maintenance of the garden.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Quantitative metrics for the success of the project could include: number and type of plants planted; number and type of plants blooming, and producing high quality produce; number and type of plant survival; number and type of crop yield shared with neighbors; attendance at opening; number and type of volunteers serving the garden; number of volunteer and paid hours dedicated to the project; number of media write-ups; number of likes and shares across social media platforms; number of people who visit the garden weekly; number of new gardening projects initiated by neighbors in their homes; a decrease in crime at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery across the street; and decrease dumping in adjacent vacant lots. The qualitative metrics are: Improving quality of life for residents in Brownsville; educating people about plants; gardening as emotional therapy; improvement of neighborhood aesthetics; & educating students from Bethune Head Start to Brownsville High on values of community life.

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Photo of Julian Brizuela Trochez
Team

The city should create bicycle trails on the highway. Example: if they were to take 1 lane from I-95 north and 1 from south, they will be able to make a bicycle trail in the middle of the highway. By building 5 foot tall concrete barrier with plastic glass ontop of the barrier, protecting cyclists from motorists and any flying debris. And at each existing exit, making a stairway to allow cyclists to safely get On and Off under the bridge and back on the highway. The same can be done for all major highways. This will motivate people to cosider cycling as a much faster way of transportation at high peak hours. Especially from Golden Glades to Downtown Miami on I-95.

Building wider roads is clearly not the solution for our traffic congestion, it's only getting worst. Building safe bike trails will encourage people to commute on a bicycles. Having less cars on the road and less pollution. Distance is not the problem, safety is the biggest concern.

Photo of Iqbal Akhtar
Team

Thanks, Julian Brizuela Trochez . That is a great idea. But, I think that would go beyond 100k award limit for this competition. Would be great to mobilize supporters and petition city and county to work on this sort of a project. Good luck!

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