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Volunteers working together to build a food forest to train veteran farmers

For many, Martin Luther King Day is a day free from the worries of work. It is celebrated on a second Sunday, and featured as a day of rest. However, for others, it is a day of service. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Day of Service Project inspires “A Day On, Not A Day Off,” and this is what it has been for much of my life. I must confess that I am not a native of St. Pete. I grew up in Atlanta where MLK Jr. raised a family and leveraged and launched his civil rights platform and movement. In school, we meticulously arranged our day weeks in advance to honor his message of service to community. In high school, we had the privilege of hearing MLK III speak to our student body. In fact, my first published article in the school newspaper recounted an interview I conducted with MLK III. This inspired my love for volunteerism and my dedication to promoting social justice.

I began my day of service with The Local Food Project, a local non-profit organization. We work to create greater access to locally grown healthy food for disadvantaged communities. We do this by working with community members to install gardens and food forests in neighborhoods and schools, and provide on-going garden support and classes that teach nature stewardship, organic gardening, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture. We subsequently implement perfectly paired programming that fosters individual empowerment and more resilient communities. Our mission makes the MLK Day of Service a fitting platform for our work.

Benefiting from an award from The Local Food Project–a program administered by St Petersburg College, our sponsors honored Dr. King through an environmental project that funded installing seamless rain gutters to capture, transfer, and redirect rainwater through an underground system and nurture the gardens nestled in the children’s play areas at Mt Zion Children’s Center. The project also funded the installation of an automatic irrigation system to assure quality food crops and provide tasty food for students who attend the Center’s pre-kindergarten, daycare, and aftercare programs. The project taught children the values of volunteerism and community service and supported the nature stewardship concept that Dr. King favored.

Contributor Nicole spreading mulch over the newly installed seamless irrigation lines that now drench the garden in reclaimed rainwater.
Contributor Nicole spreading mulch over the newly installed
seamless irrigation lines that now drench the garden in
reclaimed rainwater.

The Imagine and Awesome Edibles Gardens served as the MLK project site. It also provided an outdoor learning environment for STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math), a program developed by The Local Food Project’s team that fostered collaboration of many local partners who are dedicated to introducing children to the wonders of nature and teaching them to grow and eat their own food.

This day also brought us together with others committed to actively helping improve St. Pete. Pinellas Ex-Offender Re- Entry Coalition (PERC) reached out to The Local Food Project to design their garden space, so we helped the organization to design and install their own organic garden. As gardener Nic explains, some vegetables have extensive root systems that benefit from deep garden boxes, For example, a beet’s taproot can go several feet deep. Thus a small army of high school volunteers and ladies from the Red Tent Women’s Initiative at PERC, installed a 4-foot pallet structure in the garden, and soon delicious vegetables will grow where at-risk youths and ex-offenders can learn wholesome gardening practices and cultivate healthier lifestyles.

Next, we raced over to local Imam Askia Aquil’s food forest project in partnership with the wonderful Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition (SUAC). Under the direction of Askia and the illustrious Bill Bilodeau of SUAC, we built a food forest to train veteran farmers.

We wrapped up the workday at Askia’s with Ray Milton at Ray’s Vegan Soul, and received a bounty of juices donated by a local organic fresh pressed juice company, Squeeze Juice Works. Ray has developed a positive cult that follows his vegan foods, and people come from all over the Tampa Bay area to feast on his famous vegan mac and cheese. Squeeze Juice Works is just as delightfully addictive. Both Squeeze Juice Works and Ray’s Vegan Soul began by responding to the national health crisis with a local hands-on solution. In addition, Squeeze Juice Works makes a point of giving back to the community by regularly supporting community events and local initiatives.

All were perfect and wonderful extensions of the work that The Local Food Project and SUAC initiated. The veteran food forest will serve as a refuge for the mind and a personal empowerment forum to encourage veteran healing.

The Local Food Project wrapped the day up at St. Pete’s new ecovillage. The Eco Hostel hosted a meeting of great minds with a bountiful dinner and many foods sourced from their own garden. My MLK Day of Service came full circle and brought me on an awesome journey from farm to table.

For more information on The Local Food Project or to contact them, visit their website at www.localfoodpark.com.

Tags : EducationFarmingLocal Food ProjectNon-profitVolunteerism
Nicole Brand

The author Nicole Brand

Nicole had her first interview article published in 2005 in Mirror Images, her high school student-run newspaper and her first literary works published in the student anthology that same year. As a senior, she served as the editor for the student-run anthology the following year. She then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and she fell in love with writing about all things related to food. Upon completion of her undergraduate, she moved out to Hawaii where she worked for the Honolulu Weekly until they went on hiatus. Soon after, she moved to the other side of the Pacific and worked as a freelance copy editor for a branding firm in Auckland, New Zealand before returning to the United States. She now works as a freelance writer for the Green Bench Monthly in St. Petersburg, Florida as she completes her Masters of Science in Food Systems.

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