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FAMU is joining the growing movement of urban farms in Palm Beach County

A sign for Coleman Park Community Center farm
Wilkine Brutus
Upcoming community garden at the Coleman Park Community Center in West Palm Beach. It's a partnership with Florida A&M University's Cooperative Extension Program.

FAMU is teaching sustainable fresh produce practices to residents in West Palm Beach

There have been a handful of urban farms putting down roots around Palm Beach County, from the new urban farm in Riviera Beach to African drum circles and vegan food options held at a newly acquired farm in Loxahatchee.

It’s part of a growing consciousness surrounding wealth, health and wellness. But knowing how to sustain an urban farm or community garden is just as important as having one. 

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Vonda Richardson is executive director of Florida A&M University's Cooperative Extension Program, an outreach arm of the land-grant College of Agriculture and Food Sciences at FAMU.

The City of West Palm Beach recently partnered with FAMU to establish three urban gardens in low-income communities that lack access to fresh produce. In an effort to address these food deserts, FAMU — the historically Black university — says they’re bringing sustainable farming techniques to residents in West Palm Beach. The project aims to teach community gardening — the collective skills needed to sustain the accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We were mandated to improve the economic conditions of those communities and those persons that were underserved. Minority communities. Historically, that's our mission,” said Richardson. “We're not exclusive. We do make that particular emphasis on those underserved and minority communities.”

The program, through its research and technical assistance, has built urban gardens, family and youth development programs with cities and community-based organizations across the state. And their 4-H Youth Development program is known for its Agri-STEM approach, hands-on workshops that expose the youth to the science and business of agriculture.

This is its first agriculture and nutritional training program in South Florida.

Gloria Y. Williams Multicultural Center farm.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Upcoming community garden at the Gloria Y. Williams Multicultural Center in Pleasant City, West Palm Beach. It's partnership with Florida A&M University's Cooperative Extension Program.

FAMU’s three community gardens will be located at Coleman Park Community Center, the Gloria Y. Williams Multicultural Center in Pleasant City, and Phipps Park on South Dixie Highway.

“Kids tend to try more fruits and vegetables when they engage hands-on with growing their own food,” said Richardson.

Richardson said FAMU plans on hiring an extension agent, which will be a faculty position, and a paraprofessional for nutrition education in West Palm Beach.

The news came shortly after the city’s controversial closing of Henrietta Bridge Farm in the middle of growing season. Stewart Bosley, the founder of the farm and executive director of the non-profit Urban Growers, said the decision could worsen the food desert situation in the city’s Historic Northwest neighborhood.

West Palm Beach officials decided not to renew the farm's lease on the city-owned land. Mayor Keith James said during a commission meeting, that he wants to use the 1.5 acre farm space as transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

FAMU’s community garden initiative is part of a memorandum of understanding with the city. Richardson says an advisory committee will oversee FAMU’s community gardens and she says the gardens and training programs could start as soon as April or as late as June.

“Typically, the way that we've done community gardens across the state, we get that buy-in from the community and usually there are few people who are willing to volunteer and help out,” said Richardson.

"It's all a community effort.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.