Community Garden

In Overtown near Northwest 2nd Avenue and 11th Street, a vacant lot has been transformed into a lush community garden.

Not far from the railroad tracks, in the heart of Overtown near Northwest 2nd Avenue and 11th Street, a vacant lot has been transformed into a lush community garden. As you walk through the rows of eggplants, bananas and papaya, it’s clear that many hands have come together to cultivate the land.

The Green Haven Project, one of several local organizations working to support food-insecure families amid the pandemic, was established in 2018. Its popularity has spread by word of mouth.

“With this project, we’re continuously growing food sanctuaries in urban food desert communities,” said Jorge Palacios, Green Haven’s vice president. “It’s been ongoing.”

Expanding ways to feed families is a hot topic in South Florida, as more people struggle to put food on the table.

“That a garden exists in the heart of Overtown comes to show how we’re committed to give back to the community, especially in the time that we’re living in,” said Celina Ishahak, a volunteer who has been involved with the program since its inception.

During the peak months of COVID-19 from April to July, Florida’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications increased significantly. According to the Department of Children and Families, more than 518,000 SNAP applications were processed in February; in July alone approximately 760,000 new applications were received.

Organizations such as the Green Haven Project, Feeding South Florida, Farm Share, Health in the Hood and others have stepped in to shrink a food deficit stemming from massive, coronavirus-related unemployment.

“A lot more families have been impacted than we thought,” said Paco Vélez, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida.

The organization combats food scarcity in some of Miami-Dade County’s most socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods. In late June, anywhere from 700 to 1,200 families consistently visited its food banks.

“More than 45% of the households we were seeing said that this was their first time applying for food assistance, and it was because of the pandemic,” Vélez said.

Long lines of people looking for help compelled Feeding South Florida to increase its distribution. There are now 20 food pickup locations in Miami-Dade. Locations can be found by clicking the “Find Food Now” tab on the homepage of the organization’s website.

In Overtown, volunteers flock to Green Haven’s vibrant lot every Saturday to lend a hand and distribute food on Tuesdays.

“A lot of people can cultivate their own vegetation here,” said frequent volunteer Fonia Celetin. “This project is helping people realize more and more that it’s possible to grow fresh food, even in an urban setting.”

Health in the Hood is another link in Miami’s feed-the-hungry chain.

“Our model is that we go into food desert, food-insecure communities and convert vacant land into large-scale raised vegetable gardens,” said president and founder Asha Loring.

In April, Health in the Hood launched Filling Fridges, an emergency food relief initiative that helps support struggling families. Besides growing its own vegetables, the program also receives food donations from other organizations, including Feeding South Florida and Farm Share, for disbursement in the community.

Established in 1991, Farm Share is a free fresh food distribution company that brought more than 88 million pounds of food to more than 17.5 million households throughout Florida last year alone.

Collectively, these food banks and urban gardens are providing thousands of meals for hungry South Floridians every day.

“We’re [loading up more than] 500 cars, two days a week, preparing grocery bags of fresh food for families,” said Loring.

David Michael, Green Haven Project president and founder, packages groceries for Health in the Hood’s Tuesday food drops.

“The idea [behind all these efforts],” he said, “is to simply cultivate from the land and give back to the community.”

For more information about the Green Haven Project, email greenhaven411@gmail.com.

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