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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Community members gather to discuss new community farm for Porters Quarters residents

About 15 people attended a meeting Sunday to discuss plans to grow healthier food options

Sprinklings of mustard plants and wildflowers poke out from the tall grass in a plot of land behind a row of houses next to the Porters Community Center. 

Where other people see a mostly unused land, Faye Williams and Christopher Fillie see an opportunity to bring sustainable agriculture and healthy food options to the people of Porters.

About 15 people gathered at the Porters Community Center Sunday to discuss creating a community farm on the lot on Fifth Avenue. Williams, a 67-year-old community activist, explained why affordable healthy food options are necessary.

East Gainesville has been suffering from a food desert and rising food insecurity rates, making it difficult for residents to have easy access to fresh food.

“There are elderly folks, as well as unemployed folks. We have a few homeless people here,” Williams told the group. “So, the food is needed.”

The meeting started when Williams gave a tour of the lot owned by Fillie, a 45-year-old Gainesville contractor. Representatives from community organizations and community members went inside the community center to discuss the future of the lot.

Williams provided background on the history of Porters, its food insecurity issues and the best ways to approach the project. She advised the group to always make the community feel included and to never impose a new agenda for the garden without their approval. 

Williams had approached Fillie to turn it into a place where the community can embrace and grow their own healthy food options.

Fillie first moved into Porters in 2004 and purchased the plot of land shortly after. He hoped the land would become a community garden. Many organizations used it for that purpose, such as Swallowtail Farm and Keep Alachua County Beautiful.

“There’s been times where there have been a ton of food grown out here, and recently, it’s gone to almost nothing,” Fillie said.

Fillie believes the new community farm initiative can be a great way for residents to be involved in the growing process, instead of just organizations and for the community to access healthy, organic foods without having to worry about expenses.

“Healthy foods have become really expensive,” Fillie said. “For people who have been priced out of really nutritious foods, it's really easy to go to the store and get pop tarts and garbage.”

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At the meeting, Fillie and Williams discussed previous attempts to bring about a community farm, but none that took off.

Mia Crisostomo, a 23-year-old Gainesville resident and recent UF graduate, attests to previous attempts to kickstart a community farm. 

Crisostomo interned with Keep Alachua County Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and protect the environment in Alachua County. She names a distrust for one-time grants within the Porters community as a roadblock.

“When the garden had been running in the past, it had been funded by grants,” Crisostomo said. “And the nature of grants is just like a lump sum of money that you get and then the money will dry up eventually.”

Because of the lack of reliable funding, Crisostomo took matters into her own hands and made a personal donation of $1,000 to fund the farm, which she raised by working markets at the 4th Avenue Food Park.

Gina Hawkins, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, also attended the meeting and offered assistance through providing resources and volunteers.

Hawkins mentioned bringing in sprinklers, hoses and compost to help get the farm started with funding from Alachua County and Gainesville. She emphasized that the Keep Alachua County Beautiful is there to help, but not overtake the project.

“It's not our goal to run a garden,” Hawkins said. “Our goal is to help people make it their garden. We want it to be the Porters community garden.”

The importance of community involvement is not only to accommodate food insecurity in Porters, but to also build a sense of community, Hawkins said.

“Food is a major factor in sustainability, but food in terms of a community garden is even more important because it brings people together,” Hawkins said.

Shannon Regan, the president of Strong Roots Movement and 22-year-old UF environmental science graduate, also attended the meeting to offer support.

Strong Roots Movement is a nonprofit organization that aims to bring organic foods to youth in underserved communities. Regan lived near that lot and walked by it often in hopes to see it turn into a community garden.

“We’re hoping that this [the community garden] can provide access to healthy, safe and nutritious vegetables and produce,” Regan said.

Regan mentioned a community garden can familiarize Porters residents with healthier foods and incentivize youth to make healthier food purchases when they grow older.

The attendees of the meeting took turns to express their hopeful sentiments at the end of the meeting. They decided to meet again on April 2 to plan the next steps.

Contact Erina at Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_ .

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Erina Anwar

Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.

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