Sunny Garden Isles Community Farm Launches This Weekend in Dania Beach: Free Lunch and Tours Saturday | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Sunny Garden Isles Community Farm Launches This Weekend in Dania Beach: Free Lunch and Tours Saturday

Most people probably don't think of Florida as a place with deserts, but if you look closely, they're there.

They run up and down what city planner types call "the transportation corridor." They are the areas immediately surrounding I-95. They are food deserts.

Researchers call them "red zones." They are areas where poverty, lack of food stores, and high rates of diet-related diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity all overlap. They have long been the poorest communities. When I-95 was being built back in the 1970s, these were the communities that lost the NIMBY wars.

Not only did those communities get all the things no one else wanted in their backyards -- from freeways to landfills -- they also never got many of the things one would want.

All images are from the Northwest Garden in Fort Lauderdale, formerly the Dr. Lindsay Garden, part of the Housing Authority's community garden project.

Retail development was largely ignored in these areas, according to food policy activist Michael Madfis of Fort Lauderdale Vegetables. A master gardener and vehement advocate of the concept of decentralized agriculture, Madfis has teamed up with Dania Beach CRA's PATCH (People's Access to Horticulture) Program to build a community garden in the center of a low-income neighborhood. The Sunny Garden Isles Community Garden will has found a home in a vacant city lot. Volunteers, under the tutelage of two staff farmers, will start planting all organic foods this weekend.

The garden is possible thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Touch Initiative, a federal grant program being administered by the Broward Regional Health Planning Council. But it is far more than your average community garden, which generally consists of locals puttering around with tomato plants in an unused lot.

This is urban farming, and it is a way of imagining life. Bringing the farm and -- just as crucially -- the farmer to the urban community can revitalize an area that has been crushed by poverty and unemployment. Part business, part charity, part community project, part educational program, the Sunny Garden Isles farm will provide just the spark need to bring a community to life, Madfis hopes.

"The farm will be large enough to service 100 families in about an eight-block radius, or maybe one restaurant and 50 families. It's walkable. No extra trips, no extra carbon," says Madfis. By making fresh, organic produce as convenient and cheap as fast food, locals will be able to make healthier choices.

Because the farm is organic and hand-farmed, there is no overhead for fertilizer or pesticides and no diesel fuel for large equipment.

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Rebecca McBane is the arts and culture/food editor for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. She began her journalism career at the Sun Sentinel's community newspaper offshoot, Forum Publishing Group, where she worked as the editorial assistant and wrote monthly features as well as the weekly library and literature column, "Shelf Life." After a brief stint bumming around London's East End (for no conceivable reason, according to her poor mother), she returned to real life and South Florida to start at New Times as the editorial assistant in 2009. A native Floridian, Rebecca avoids the sun and beach at all costs and can most often be found in a well-air-conditioned space with the glow of a laptop on her face.
Contact: Rebecca McBane

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