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Project New Village using urban agriculture to promote neighborhood revitalization


“We are probably more of a food swamp than a food desert,” says Diane Moss, when describing her community in southeastern San Diego, where most residents are people of color and earn significantly less than San Diego County’s stunningly high household median income of roughly $85,000 annually. “Yes, you can get a meal here, but it’s fast food. We don’t have many healthy, local food choices. We don’t have those kinds of grocery stores or national chains. We have the mom-and-pop shops and their inventory isn’t healthy food.”

Which is one of the reasons Moss founded Project New Village (PNV), a nonprofit organization that aims to improve fresh food access in southeastern San Diego as part of a broad-based movement to build social equity and promote healthy neighborhoods known as Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD). EFOD is a community-anchored development strategy centering Black, Indigenous and People of Color food and agriculture projects and enterprises as vehicles for shared power, cultural expression and community asset building.

For PNV, that means using urban agriculture to promote revitalization in neighborhoods that Moss describes as both underserved and committed to change.

“People in our neighborhoods will pull out the deeds to their homes and show you where the redlining took place and where African-Americans weren’t supposed to have property. But on the contrary, there are people who have lived here a long time, generations of families that know that history. They want things to be better and are actively involved in making things better.”

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PNV is part of that movement. The nonprofit owns and operates one of southeastern San Diego’s few community gardens. Currently, neighbors and friends grow food together and make the harvest available for community members. There is also a market space where garden members can share and sell their harvest.

“The garden is special to me,” says Ami Young, an artist who grew up in southeastern San Diego, and who returned three years ago to care for her aging mother and shortly thereafter became garden member. “Being there breaks everything down. There’s no politics there. There’s no feeling right or wrong. Growing food is the common denominator. Every creature in the world, every person, no matter their color or gender, must eat. So we have come together to grow food and in this community, where our healthy food choices are limited, the garden is a place where we can try to do something about that. I meet gardeners who don’t look like me. Gardeners from the next neighborhood over. And we are all feel included here.”

Eventually, Young began volunteering in the garden, and recently used her artistic talents to design and create the artwork for refrigerated van that serves as PNV’s inaugural mobile farmer’s market. Similar to a bookmobile, the truck makes fresh, local produce available for purchase in communities that otherwise wouldn’t have access to fresh produce. As Moss explains, the goal of the mobile market is not only to help connect communities to healthier food, but also to position community members to use their power as consumers to change the food system.

“There’s this misconception that because these are poor neighborhoods, people don’t have any resources. But really, it’s actually that people need more education and learning around our purchasing power.”

The mobile farmer’s market is one piece of PNV’s growing presence in southeastern San Diego which also includes the Neighborhood Growers Network, a collection of local businesses and organizations that provide technical assistance, supplies, and additional support to fellow urban gardeners and growers of local produce, and a second, larger community garden on land that PNV leases but plans to purchase in the coming year.

“Our vision for the land is essentially a food hub,” explains Moss. PNV plans to eventually build on the site a small grocery store rich with local produce and other healthy food, six eateries that offer sit-down meals – a rarity in the community – and certain ethnic foods that are both popular with residents and healthier than traditional fast food, including Mediterranean and Halal foods.

The site will also include a commercial kitchen that community members can use to make food for purchase, an option that is now available to residents with the recent passage of enabling legislation. And, of course, there will continue to be the community garden, a portion of which is set aside for educational activities, and also an outdoor patio space, another rarity in the community, where “green space is in short supply,” says Moss.

According to Moss, the food hub is at the heart of PNV’s mission. “We call ourselves Project New Village because it takes a village to raise a child and we wanted a new village, a new geographically-defined space that was shaped in our best interest.”