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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Growing Community, Food & Jobs with Urban Ag in Raleigh

AHA Partner in the Spotlight: Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

What began 23 years ago as an effort to recover fresh food from grocery stores and restaurants to feed hungry people in our community has evolved today into a mission to empower people to feed themselves. The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) continues to address hunger in our community, but according to Urban Agriculture Program Manager Lara Khalil, that has to happen on multiple levels. “We can’t just give people food but also need to educate and empower them to take control of their own food system,” Khalil said. “Job creation and revenue generation are essential pieces of the puzzle.”

Since 1998, the Food Shuttle’s Culinary Job Training Program has prepared men and women with severe life challenges for careers in food service.  Now, with the expansion into Urban Ag, IFFS trains community members in food production: growing their own healthy food to eat and developing microenterprises to generate income.  

“The root issue of hunger is poverty,” says Khalil. “In order to build a healthy local food system that feeds everyone, we have to address the issues of income and access to healthy food.”

Urban Ag Training Center Debuts

Andre Evely (left) and Dominique Smith (right) prepare raised beds at one of the IFFS urban gardens across the street from the Urban Ag Training Center. Photo credit: ©2012 Maurice Small.

Recently a long-time supporter of the Food Shuttle donated 2.79 acres of land in Southeast Raleigh and a 14,000-square-foot building on that property to the Food Shuttle. With this, the Urban Ag Training Center was born, and the potential to allow urban agriculture to take root in that community.

Khalil said that the community will be deeply involved in the visioning and planning process as to how the land and space will be used, and volunteers already have begun to renovate the building during volunteer work days. Although the Food Shuttle just acquired the land and building last month, Maurice Small, Urban Strategist and Food Access Cultivator at IFFS, has been entrenched in the community since January.

“Maurice has been spending time in that neighborhood, talking with people on their front porches, sharing meals with them, and doing the legwork needed to build relationships in the community. This is critical work that most organizations don’t spend time doing before they jump into programs,” Khalil said.

So the important ground work of building relationships is well underway and continues. The Food Shuttle anticipates the center will have a teaching kitchen, nutrition classes and a community gathering space, as well as lots of space inside and out to grow food.

The Food Shuttle is wasting no time in engaging the community at the new facility. This month, the Food Shuttle will host a Fresh Food event at the Urban Ag Training Center with smoothies, a mini mobile farmers’ market and samples of vegetables growing in nearby urban gardens. In part the event is designed to introduce community members to the space itself and the urban ag program, discuss ways to get involved, and pique their interest in growing their own food.. “The full plan for the center will come together over time, but we want the community at the table before we move forward,” Khalil said.

Plant the Pavement Workshops

At the Fresh Food event, the Food Shuttle also will invite community members to attend the 2-day Plant the Pavement workshop to be held at the Urban Ag Training Center in November. The Food Shuttle is the new Regional Outreach Training Center in North Carolina for Growing Power, an internationally renowned urban ag program founded by Will Allen. Through this partnership with Growing Power and Longview School, the Food Shuttle will host a series of workshops, with a focus on engaging youth.

Inside the Urban Ag Training Center: (back row from left to right) Fred Jeter, Tradell Adkins, Dominique Smith, Andre Evely. (Front row from left to right) Travis Taylor and Maurice Small. Photo credit: ©2012 Maurice Small.

Community members in the neighborhood have an opportunity to attend the workshop at no charge, and others are also invited to participate. (Agenda and registration details are online.)

In addition to this two-day workshop on Nov. 10-11, area youth are invited to a workshop specifically for them on Nov. 8 or 9. The Food Shuttle has reached out to school teachers in central NC inviting them to bring their entire class to the workshop. During these workshops, they will be building some infrastructure, including a hoop house for extending the growing season and an aquaponics system for plant and fish production, as well as learning about composting, vermiculture and year-round micro and leafy greens.

Empowering People with Jobs and Training

Because the Food Shuttle wants to empower community members by educating them and generating jobs and income, it is also expanding training efforts beyond its culinary and young farmer training programs. The Urban Ag Training Program is underway and currently employs five specialists who live in the neighborhood and are working at the Urban Ag Training Center and in four neighboring urban gardens.

Khalil said the Urban Ag Specialists are doing hands-on work, moving soil, planting, building raised beds, and so forth, as well as building partnerships with churches and other organizations in the community and managing outreach for upcoming events. They have also started selling food they are growing to local chefs and at the Midtown Farmers Market. One crew member is working on urban strategies and  creating a library of resources for the community

“The best part of the program is getting food into my community and showing kids how to grow food,” said Urban Ag Specialist Travis Taylor.  “I’m excited about teaching young kids something new.”  When looking to the future, Taylor envisions a community where “everyone can eat fresh vegetables.”

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