An urban farm feeding the poorest part of Kitchener fights to stay alive and growing | Lifestyles

kitchener – The Life Do Grow Farm on N. 11th Street and Dauphin Street in North Kitchener was carved out of the poorest part of America’s poorest metropolis.

Once an illegal rubbish dump next to a SEPTA Regional Rail line, the nearly three-acre property is littered with trees – some in planters made of painted tires – and lined with flower beds during the growing season, usually covered with flowers and vegetables . Operated by a nonprofit called Urban Creators, it delivers the groceries needed in a supermarket desert where hunger increased long before the pandemic.

The farm also serves as a community community – a hub of artistic and entrepreneurial incubation in what neighbors call “magical” space, dotted with sheds and a pavilion for public events. It offers security, say the organizers, and a break from the “ravages of systemic racism”.

Founded in 2010 by Temple University students and local activists, Urban Creators is now run in large part by young friends in their twenties who started doing odd jobs on the farm as teenagers.

As popular as the farm is, it may end in 15 months when the city’s rent-free lease expires. What happens next is the subject of constant discussion and worry. In the meantime, hungry people keep popping up to buy inexpensive vegetables. There are also free children’s meals, feminine hygiene products, books and free boxes of groceries that the farm owners obtain from hunger authorities.

“This farm is a blessing to the community,” said Brenda Reed, 60. “We need this. They don’t want them to take land away from people. I’m retired and disabled and I need to get food. Look at you what they offer here. Where else can we get this if it’s taken away? “

Across the country, about 12% of people are food unsafe – according to Feeding America in Chicago, the largest nonprofit for hunger relief in the country, they lack enough food in a year to lead a healthy life.

Food insecurity in Kitchener is 21%. In north Kitchener it is 30%.

As of June, the farm has distributed £ 100,000 of food – some grown there, others donated – as well as 2,400 ready meals contributed by partners such as 12th St. Catering on Spring Garden Street. “We also feed hungry children every day with donations,” said Robert Sonder, 24, director of events management.

Together with his friends Daekweon Walker and Rodney Turner, he has been working on the farm since he was 15 years old. “I am grateful for this room,” said Sonder. “It was a life changing experience for me.”

Sonder was born into a low-income family and said he was “the kid you saw wearing only a hoodie in winter. I was shot at by a Glock (semi-automatic pistol) in this area.

“But I’m more of an artistic person than a street person. And in this room it’s like a magical barrier. It’s a different story here than on the street. The cops have never been called here. “

Sonder, who took a few sociology classes at Community College in Kitchener and East Stroudsburg University but failed to graduate, is happy to demonstrate the farm to visitors.

“This is Thai basil that is still growing in November,” he said, running his hand lovingly through a green patch. “Here is peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, fennel. And here is our coriander, my newfound love. Smell that! “

Sonder is particularly in love with herbs. “This is mugwort that is native to this area,” he said, naming a plant more likely to be found in a Harry Potter story than in North Kitchener shit. “It’s for cramps, diarrhea, constipation.”

Mugwort, which is made into tea, is also said to evoke lucid dreaming. Then a person claims control over what they dreams of, Sonder said. This was an important concept for Sonder and his friends at Hill-Freedman World Academy Middle School, who had started working on the farm about nine years ago.

The three guys formed a rock / hip-hop / blues band (Flowt) that didn’t always have enough time to practice. “So we thought that if we drink the tea, we could rehearse in our lucid dreams and practice 10,000 hours, which should bring expertise,” said Sonder. “But it did not work.

“The tea is comforting, however.”

Flowt became the Free Spirit Cloud Co., which is run by Sonder and his friends and is the first company to be sponsored by Urban Creators. Sonder’s outfit supports performing artists in the region. Urban Creators has also helped three companies do landscaping, remodeling, and painting. It has hosted three youth development organizations and 68 different public events.

The nonprofit has a budget of approximately $ 200,000 in donations, including $ 51,000 from the Newman’s Own Foundation in Connecticut, which is funded by Newman’s Own groceries.

Urban Creators co-founder Alex Epstein calls himself an “old head” even though he is 29 years old.

A musician and artist, Epstein helped Urban Creators start communities in north Kitchener as a student at Temple University 10 years ago.

“There were 15 to 20 co-founders, mostly neighborhood teenagers,” Epstein said. “The common denominator in the deep relationships we have with one another was love for this community.”

The main problem for the group was finding a safe space for young people. “We have turned empty land into a farming, art, and education space,” said Epstein. “My privilege as a white man in society with a university degree gives me access to a network of people who come from traditional frameworks. My job is to use my privilege to open doors for us. “

It was co-founder Devon Bailey’s job to literally build the place. Bailey, a carpenter who had trained at a trade school in Pittsburgh, created structures and small buildings in the yard that was used for community meetings.

“I grew up here and made some wrong decisions by using drugs,” said Bailey, Daekweon Walker’s father. “But I asked God for help and he sent me this idea of ​​the farm. It’s something people said shouldn’t be there. But here it is. “

Whether it will last is another matter.

If the Urban Creators lease expires in February 2022, the founders fear the city will sell the land to a developer or to the nearby temple that has expanded into the neighborhood.

Urban Creators hopes to own the land through Kitchener Land Bank, a tool that will simplify the process of moving real estate to private owners.

“We need to let the city understand the social and emotional health of this space,” said Epstein. “Jobs created, young people engaged, food grown – these are the indicators for the impact of the place.”

A spokesman for City Council President Darrell Clarke’s office said Clarke “has always supported the farm and we continue to support it.”

Ultimately, the city needs to know that the farm is “a reinterpretation of the urban country, a radical collaboration to strengthen the black and brown communities in North Central Kitchener,” said farm manager Mari Morales-Williams.

She said research shows that the land once belonged to the indigenous people of Lenni Lenape. It became a farm in the 1700s, later housed a coal refinery, ice and refrigerator factory, and a warehouse for the city education authority in the early 20th century. The site was a junkyard from the 1960s to 1980s, and the city destroyed the abandoned refrigeration factory in 1990, leaving a field of rubble. Village of Arts & Humanities, an arts organization in north Kitchener, covered the entire area with soil and tried to grow a tree farm there for about 10 years. But the place became an illegal landfill at the beginning of the century and stayed that way until 2010.

“That was stolen land,” said Morales-Williams, citing the Indian confiscation. She added that Urban Creators would like to see “land justice done,” giving the people of north Kitchener an opportunity to grow something decent and vital.

“We have to inform the people that the lease will be signed soon,” said Morales-Williams, “and that we have to fight for this land.”

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