Many Tallahassee residents don’t live in walking distance of a grocery store or garden, especially in the city’s Southside. But the closing of the Winn Dixie on Paul Russell Road could be an opportunity for urban farmers.
Tucked alongside Orange Avenue, rows of tomatoes and okra are thriving. The squash and watermelon plants will take over if you let them. This is the South City iGrow community garden, where once a month the Tallahassee Food Network hatches plans to increase access, over a lunch of cornbread and collards. Here’s organizer Bakari McClendon.
“I’ve seen people getting out of taxis loaded down with groceries. So it’s just a number of different things that go into food access and food security,” McClendon said.
McClendon says the closing of the Winn Dixie, just a few blocks up the road, could make more room for urban farmers and gardeners like him.
“In the market that’s an opportunity for somebody else to come in. Or something new to happen. Or something different to come into the community,” McClendon said.
Miaisha Mitchell remembers a time when her neighbors would grow their own crops in kitchen gardens. On Saturdays, folks could stroll along the street, stopping at the curb markets and get everything they needed for the week. But as grocery stores opened up, gardening slowed down.
“The bottom line though is cost of food. Food is going so high that they can’t afford it, so they come to the places that distribute food, and get the free produce that they can get,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell says mobile food banks help, but she wants to see more people make ends meet by growing their own food.
“So we’re hoping that they can supplement it more with their gardens that they’re growing in their own backyards if that were possible, or in a community garden,” Mitchell said.
The closing of the Southside grocery store further underlines the needs of the community. Even though the Tallahassee Food Network doesn’t have a formalized plan to fill in that gap, they hope to continue to empower urban farmers. But they’ll have to compete with what is available: corner stores, gas stations, and fast food.