LINCOLN HEIGHTS, Ohio – They show up every Saturday armed with rakes, hoes, shovels, weed cutters, seeds and, on a recent weekend, fly swatches to ward off the cicadas.
These residents hope to feed their city.
Of course, growing your own food is not easy.
“It’s supposed to be carrots,” William Fraley said on a recent Saturday morning as he raked through a mass of vegetation with a rake. “But it’s not really carrot. It’s more weeds than carrots.”
As the question of food deserts gain more nationwide attention and locally, leaders in this predominantly black suburb just north of Cincinnati hope to improve access to fresh produce and teach village youth valuable life skills.
It’s not just Lincoln Heights. Residents of Chicago, Atlanta and other cities have also turned to gardens to improve access to fresh food, the Associated Press reported in 2019.
Fraley, 33, and the organization he is a part of called the Heights Movement, transformed a vacant lot in Lincoln Heights into a small farm called Jackson Street Produce Market.
This spring, they planted more than a dozen varieties of crops.
Lincoln Heights Gardeners aim this summer to provide fresh produce to a village where the nearest grocery store with fresh produce is a town of Woodlawn.
“Everyone must eat”
The nearest supermarket is only a few miles away, but it’s on crowded Springfield Pike. Lincoln Heights, in fact, is not listed on the United States Department of Agriculture Food Deserts Map although other places in Hamilton County and the metro area are.
While those with a car can easily get there, those who have to walk cannot, said Daronce Daniels, city councilor for the Village of Lincoln Heights.
“If you don’t have transportation, the ability to get food and fresh produce is non-existent in Lincoln Heights,” Daniels said. “On Springfield Pike, it’s not a safe ride.”
Daniels started the Heights movement in 2017. This is a group of residents who defend Lincoln Heights, a community founded by black families who moved to the area from the south 75 years ago.
Ninety percent of the inhabitants of the village of 3,300 are black. Almost half of the inhabitants, i.e. 46%, live below the poverty line, according to the most recent estimates from the US Census Bureau.
The issue of access to fresh food and food desserts was also at the top of Daniels’ list when he started the movement.
“It was a way to bring people together to solve a problem,” Daniels said. “How do we solve problems? Everyone here loves to grow food. Everyone must eat.
Lincoln Heights Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey doesn’t consider her village a food desert with the nearest grocery store within five miles. But she loves the little farm.
“It’s a great opportunity for residents to learn about agriculture,” she said.
Teach life skills
Daniels enlisted a group of around 40 residents to work in the garden every Saturday. Thanks to a grant from the United Way and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the Heights Movement is able to provide workers with an allowance of $ 50 per day.
It’s not just about food. He also teaches residents about self-reliance, finances and business, Daniels said.
Products will be sold at Fanci’s, a local market one block away.The profits will be donated to the operation of the garden. The Heights movement will use bankers to provide financial and business advice to gardeners, he said.
Daniels led a dozen children and adults across the 100-by-100-foot terrain on Saturday. Several teenagers who live in the nearby group home, Acts 1: 8 Housing, helped plow the soil and cover some of the crops with netting. There were also volunteers from the nearby GE Aviation factory, who also provided gardening expertise.
They walked on a grid of pipes that extend to a large water reservoir, a makeshift irrigation system that they improve over the weeks.
Daniels hands Adwana Carter-Dubose a hoe. He asks the 12-year-old Lincoln Heights resident to show how to get rid of the weeds around the green cabbage that has grown.
“Adwana has been doing this for three weeks. You’re the expert,” Daniels told her. The group then watches her dig around the crops. “We really want to clean the whole area.”
Adwana said she has been there every Saturday for several months.
“It’s not really that hard,” she said.
Protection against deer and squirrels
At present, the garden seems inconspicuous among the houses and a construction site nearby. A peach tree in the center has sprouted fruit. And the tomatoes and collard greens started to grow.
There are over a dozen varieties of produce waiting to come out of the ground, including carrots, broccoli, peppers, corn, tomatoes, peaches, apples, squash, potatoes, plums. , collard greens and kale.
The local fauna began to notice it. For the first time, residents reported seeing deer in Lincoln Heights, with several sightings around the garden. Keeping nature and wildlife at bay is one of the biggest challenges.
“It’s not easy,” said Celeste Treece, 34, a member of the Heights Movement who works in the garden. As she stood in front of the garden, she took on the challenges of this year. “The cicadas made it very difficult. We have never seen deer in Lincoln Heights. We have recently seen deer. We think it’s the raccoons and squirrels that eat the broccoli.”
By the end of July, the first harvest is expected to be in, Daniels said. Finally, they plan to have a regular farmers market in the garden, which will make it a community gathering place. They are building picnic tables and will have a fresco painted by ArtsWave.
“I’m excited about this project, to see how much it grows, to see how much it evolves, to really see how much the community is taking care of it,” Daniels said.
“This is what is missing”
Over the morning, parents and grandparents dropped off their children in the garden. Paula Lee pulled up in a silver sedan and dropped off her grandson Yosiah Williams, 7.
“That’s what’s missing,” Lee said. “See, my mom taught me how to garden. Lincoln Heights, when I was growing up, we used to do all that kind of stuff.
Her grandson jumped out of the car as Fraley approached. Fraley put Yosiah to work clearing the weeds along the front fence. Within an hour, the proliferation was gone. And the rows of freshly plowed earth emerged from what was just a thicket an hour ago.
“If the pandemic has shown us anything, we have to be self-sufficient,” Fraley said. “It’s another road behind us, and we can help the people of Lincoln Heights… When we have the hearth, the benches set up, it will be a beautiful thing.”