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Tallahassee Democrat: ‘This is Frenchtown’s farm’ Frenchtown’s iGrow program works to create produce oasis

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In Frenchtown’s “D-Block,” where crime, prostitution and poverty are a way of life for some locals, an urban oasis is taking center stage.

A working farm, run by mostly young people, has taken root. It began in 2011 and ever since, it’s grown into a living, breathing example of what can thrive when residents put their minds together — not to mention till rich soil ripe for growing organic fruits and vegetables.

Leafy collards, kale and mustard greens flourish in raised beds. Baby carrots are sprouting. Soon juicy strawberries and other fruits will come along in time for spring.

The iGrow “Whatever You Like” farm program of the Tallahassee Food Network – located on Dunn Street off Old Bainbridge Road — reduces the food desert in Frenchtown.

A handful of other community gardens now exist and are helping to create a community-based food system. Coordinators are seeing more and more residents take notice.

And they’re proud of what they see.

Every Friday, local artist Annie Harris walks to the iGrow garden. She and others sample the goods, and residents sample each others’ dishes made with the farm’s crops.

“They know me when I come now,” Harris said with a laugh. “It’s quite convenient. You can see it growing. I have seen people there that I have not seen.”

Linda Hackely, whose daughters work in the garden, sees the same booming interest.

“A lot of people are going to the gardens to buy fresh vegetables,” she said.

Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Frenchtown, there’s no grocery store within at least a mile for residents to access.

“Working in a food desert, which is a neighborhood that is designated to not have a grocery store within a sufficient distance, our goal is to provide organically grown fruits and vegetables to the community,” said Kristen Goldsmith, an iGrow volunteer coordinator. “That’s our focus here.”

On Saturday, the group is hosting Frenchtown’s first iGrow Food & Art Festival. It will celebrate the growing movement to bring vitality back to a once booming community.

The food and art festival is funded through a $5,000 grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency, which provides event grants within designated districts. CRA executive director Roxanne Manning said the CRA, which has a broad mission, was interested in helping activities that benefit the district.

A Tallahassee Knight Creative Communities Institute project, along with the CRA, is working toward finding a permanent site to build a year-round indoor farmer’s market in Frenchtown.

Manning said a couple of spots are being reviewed. She said more details may be completed by the winter.

Within Frenchtown’s boundaries, numerous efforts are taking root to make the neighborhood a more thriving place to live.

Some of the other efforts include the following:

• iGrow partners with CareerSource Capital Region to pay youth for their work on the farm, with plans to provide more students with stipends to work.

• ScottsMiracle-Gro GRO1000 Grant was awarded to the Tallahassee Food Network.

• The Frenchtown Neighborhood Revitalization Council created a Frenchtown Heritage Market.

• Tallahassee Food Network’s “Collards & Cornbread” monthly gatherings bring a cross section of more than 30 residents to discuss issues driving the local good-food movement in Tallahassee.

“If you have any issue in a community, it always works better to have the residents help guide that,” Manning said.

Goldsmith said the iGrow farm is truly a community effort, which also allows young students to get job skills. Most of all, though, she said, “This is Frenchtown’s farm.”

The compost section of the farm is shared with the Dent Street Community Garden, also known as the Dent Street Diggers.

A large tree in front of the farm marks a pass-through where residents have always gathered and cut through the lot when it was overgrown with brush and trees.

People still pass through. But now, instead of vacant space, they see life in the ground. Young people taking pride and charge of local farm and, perhaps most of all, they see promise for a better community.

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