Talking about the homeless population of America is popular these days. And yet fixing the situation seems, to many, an impossibly overwhelming task. Others are proving it’s not. The Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project (HGP) uses sustainable agriculture as the springboard to a safer, productive and more hopeful life for many. The agriculture and gardening training provided to the homeless of Santa Cruz County through the project has culminated in both jobs and permanent housing for its trainees.
“We find people that express much greater degrees of well being after they are with us for a year, whether it’s in their diet, in their sense of self, in their ability to set goals and achieve them, in how connected they feel to the community,” says Darrie Ganzhorn Executive Director of the Homeless Garden Project.
Established in 1990, the HGP was the brainchild of Paul Lee, a member of the Citizens Committee on Homelessness. Lee began spending nights along with other board members in the homeless shelter.
In what some might describe as a midlife crisis and others an epiphany, Daron Babcock, the executive Director of urban farming organization Bonton Farms, quit his all-consuming job in the corporate world and moved to Bonton, an impoverished inner city community in Dallas, Texas. He had already been volunteering there once a week, meeting with a group of men who had been in prison and were struggling to get their lives back on track. But two hours on a Saturday was not enough, so he decided to work full-time with the men.
After moving to Bonton, he noticed that many people were sick and dying at a rapid rate. He also learned that Bonton was a food desert, with the nearest grocery store a three hour return trip on public transportation. Daron recognized a correlation between the lack of access to healthy food and the high rate of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes – Bonton had a 300 percent higher death rate from diabetes than the county rate.
It was a collaboration between six men, three of whom suffered from diabetes and cancer, that led to a decision to plant a garden.
Straddling the rural urban divide, Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota seeks to unite minority and immigrant farmers and help them gain access to local food markets, achieve economic viability, and enhance leadership skills all while emphasizing sustainable farming.
“Our coop aims to bring together farmers from diverse backgrounds to work towards a better living and more healthy food for folks in the city,” says Emily Hanson, co-founder of Shared Ground and co-owner of Amery, WI-based Whetstone Farm, a 40 acre property that is primarily in pasture with approximately five acres of vegetables is one of the founding farms of the cooperative. “We strive to help make farm ownership possible, especially for immigrants and others who struggle with land tenure.”
Whether it’s an affluent person who can afford to spend money on gourmet produce, or a person of limited means who wants to eat better, both are united in their quest for healthier food. That’s part of the driving force behind the Urban Oasis Project, which Art Friedrich founded in 2009 to make healthy, local food more accessible in Miami, FL.
Although Miami is a big city located in the agriculture-rich state of Florida, Friedrich found when he moved there that the sustainable food scene—one that would also help those who are lower income—was small. “It’s more based on image here, not reality and a nitty-gritty work ethic,” he says. This contrasted with Friedrich’s experience of living in New England and St. Louis, where sustainable farming is more common.
Born of Triumph and Tragedy, Social Justice Org Fosters Health Equity and Well-being of Communities of ColorOctober 19, 2016 | Judith Gerber
Though D’Artagnan Scorza grew up economically disadvantaged amidst a food desert in South Los Angeles, his family created an oasis of fresh fruits and vegetables that left him wanting for nothing at home.
“My grandmother grew corn and bell peppers, and grafted trees, though I didn’t know what that was until I got older and began to understand the relationship between food and the land.”
Scorza’s family not only grew their own food, but also cooked it.
“The history in my family is connected to food. My grandmother held food culture high in our family and it has always had a strong place,” he says. “My aunts, uncles, nieces all cook. I cook.”