Where We Grow?
Urban GreenWorks (UGW) started growing food as part of its community foods security programming eight years ago. We started with a small community grant from the American Community Gardening Association. After an initial failed effort (community gardening in SoFL is community specific), we had the idea of combining small plot gardens across the City to create one big community urban farm. We connected with supporters at the City of Miami and inquired about open-spaces, unused and available.
Our efforts garnered us access to three unused city lots in Miami's District 5 neighborhood of Liberty City, a USDA classified "food dessert". The women who started that first lot were from Liberty City and called their effort a P.A.T.C.H. (Public Allies That Cultivate Hope). What started as a healing and medicinal garden for these women, evolved into Miami's first urban farm on 18,000 sq. ft. of unused, open City space.
Today, through strategic partnerships, UGW has expanded its urban farm to over an acre of unused space; we have developed a nationally recognized horticultural therapy program call the "Mustard Seed" project that works with abused women and veterans; we have developed school garden curricula, food forests, and aquaponic systems; we create and restore native habitat through our "Hammocks in da Hood" and "Pollinator Pathway" projects; we offer sustainable and replicable advisory services to those interested in the work; and we continue to grow healthy, affordable, organic food (up from 500lbs to 2000lbs annually) for our Community.
Cerasee is a tropical vine that appears wherever land is undisturbed. It trails along fence lines, up telephone poles, and treetops, spreading uncontrollably. In the Caribbean, Cerasee is an important medicinal herb.
We started in October 2013 as an alternative to a failed community garden project and within 9-months an abandoned lot on NW 54th St & 17th Ave in Liberty City, Miami sprouted into a productive food oasis.
We called it Cerasee Farm, an antidote to the ills plaguing poor land use and poor health in Miami’s inner-city. It started as a medicinal garden for local women. A place where they could connect with each other, their families, and their community through the soil. A place for women to grieve and rejoice.
As a result of lessons learned working with these women and due to our connection with alternative prison reform, we started to train local residents with a history of incarceration. This is when we truly began to implement horticultural therapy, as a foundation of our work with marginalized populations.
We offered individuals an opportunity to reacclimate themselves back into society and the workforce. We trained in "organic" farming with an emphasis on permaculture. The idea being that nothing goes to waste because everything has its value.
In May 2014, we took over two more neglected lots across the street from the initial site and planted a moringa (nutritional and medicinal benefits in a full use plant) spiral. In October, Miami Country Day School returned once again a for a "day of service", this time with one hundred 7th graders. Together, we created 20 large planting beds and compost bins (with the assist of the Worm Whisper, a veteran eco-preneur) that contributed to the full scale production, doubling our output at the farm.
We also integrated a farm internship program for women who graduated from our Mustard Seed program. As these women are coming out of addiction and abusive relationships, the Farm and the soil provided a safe haven for them to work through their issues as well as create a track record of gainful employment and community service.
In 2016, through a partnership with CombCutters, Live Bee Removal, UGW introduced urban beekeeping to the farm. The results in production has been amazing, especially with our fruit trees. Workshops and youth programs are offered throughout the year.
The farm also serves as a space for local schools, colleges and universities to conduct research or test theories, such as FIU’s Department of Architecture, whose students create prototype shade and process structures that improve farm efficiency while utilizing recycled materials and harnessing natural resources or Barry U's Physical Sciences Department students who conduct soil test at UGW farm sites.
See Cerasee Farm @ NANA for more updates.
NorthWestern Senior High School (Go BULLS!)
Since Fall of 2013, Urban GreenWorks has been working with Northwestern Senior High School (NWSHS) and FIU in the design and installation of an Environmental Science Laboratory in Liberty City. Funding from Chase Bank helped support two 1,600-gallon aquaponics tanks as the centerpiece of the lab as well as a food security initiative.
Before the Garden
This once barren plot of ground is now a rich oasis of color, food, herbs, birds and butterflies. The space now provides a wealth of hands-on learning, training activities and internships for students.
Over the past year, six students were paid as garden interns to maintain the garden. These students are usually part of a pre-college environmental sciences or nutrition program at school and usually assume other internship roles within UGW as they prepare to move from high school into college.
Aquaponic Lab: A Symbiotic Relationship Between Plants and Tilapia
Students learn to raise Tilapia, which in turn support an assortment of greens and herbs growing above the tanks. This ties into scientific processes such as nitrogen cycling, pH control and fish life cycles as well as offering discussion about the social, economic, and health disparities that define Liberty City's status as an 'food desert". The aquaponics system is part of a larger hammock consisting of native trees, shrubs and ground cover which merge into a food forest and vegetable garden.
Cerasee Farm @ NANA
As a response to results from analysis of daily activity logs collected at Cerasee Farm and in our efforts to constantly adapt and respond to community dynami cs and needs, UGW has partnered with Neighbors And Neighbors Association (NANA) starting the 2017-2018 season. NANA offers UGW over an acre of unused green space on which to grow Food. The goal is to grow up to 10,000 lbs of food - some which will be shared with the Culinary Arts School at NANA, slated to open August 2018.
UGW will serve as the agricultural arm of a a farm to table culinary training program for adults 18 and over. Students will prepare daily healthy meals as part of their training. These meals will be available to local residents, especially school-aged youth for under $3 or free when needed.
To date, we have worked with AP science students from Hialeah High to clear our initial farming area. Then we tasked them with the job of designing a layout for the farm, using SPIN farming and permaculture concepts, that will maximize the planting space and production.
BU students and local residents, came out for a "Day of Service" in October 2017 to plant some fruit trees (citrus and guava) and start the initial phase (drop cardboard and mulch area) of the HS student's farm design. They returned in January 2018 for a "MLK Day of Service" to plant a 40-tree papaya grove and complete the initial phase of the farm design (add soil and design beds).
The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation awarded UGW a 25 tree orchard which was planted at NANA on June 7th. The orchard has been a pet project of UGW for a few year and now creates a solid foundation for community food production moving forward. The trees allow us to move to more permaculture concepts during the hot Summer months.
The 2018-2019 season can't get here soon enough.
Barry University Community Garden
Three years ago, UGW and Barry University's Center for Community Involvement (CCSI) partnered on the Barry Fair Share, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project that provided locally sourced organic produce on campus (to staff, students, & faculty) and to low-income residents in Liberty City. It eventually expanded to include a similar program at St. Thomas University, as well as service throughout the City of Miami.
Starting in the Summer of 2018, both parties again will partner to design and build an on-campus community garden with an accompanying in-season, farm stand.