Art Friedrich, Founder of Urban Oasis Project, explains barriers to urban farming in Miami and what it will take to change this
By Sofia Zuñiga
Growing your own garden on your own property was only recently legalized in Miami. And when we say “recently,” we mean last year when Bill 82 was approved, meaning that the government could not limit vegetable gardens and must “encourage the development of sustainable cultivation of vegetables and fruits at all levels of production.” Before this, many people lived in fear of being fined for growing their own food.
Miami proper has become a dense and highly populated city, leaving little space for traditional farming. Many of us rely on whatever’s shipped in by major grocery stores and locally grown food is becoming less and less common — even though there’s plenty of produce that would thrive growing in Florida.
The Urban Oasis Project is a non-profit organization working to reverse this trend, reconnect locals to their land’s natural resources and make healthy and local food more accessible.
Art Friedrich founded the project approximately 10 years ago, to catalyze a local food movement that’s racially diverse, demographically diverse and affordable for different people.
They started by organizing potlucks and planting gardens for free in Liberty City, then were asked to start a farmer’s market in the community, so they did. This was only the beginning, as it then led to many more markets in other locations.
Leading several volunteer initiatives to establish gardens and educate the community on the local food movement, the Urban Oasis Project also supports community farms and vendors through their own farmers markets.
Striving to also educate the younger public, Art chuckles and says “kids have to know that eggs don't come from supermarkets, they come from chickens.”
Food for the People
Offering several alternatives to facilitate the growth of home gardens, Art explains that “parks could have mulch and compost pickup sites all around the city so people could get free supplies to take home and plant gardens. It makes it so much easier, it makes it more affordable for everyone and it's a public resource.”
He’s also pushing to make zoning easier, creating more urban farms, and ultimately having more families grow their own produce. With today’s policies, establishing your own farm is a lengthy and expensive process that can take months and thousands of dollars.
The use of a vacant lot for commercial use is mostly prohibited, but many other cities have encouraged the use of vacant lots for agricultural projects as they see the value in having food production in the city for their citizens.
As explained by Christina Bouza, an urban farmer who works with the Urban Oasis Project, “They want their food to have less contact from people in factories and from shipping across the country and a low carbon footprint. They want to know their farmer, they want local food from people they know and trust.”
Being on the forefront of climate change, focused on the resiliency of its citizens, Miami has waited long enough to embrace urban agriculture. Now this pandemic serves as a good pause, making local food more important than ever. Locally grown food here in the urban core strengthens our resilience in many ways.
Affordable - Unaffordable Greens
In order to make sure people are not restricted from healthy eating due to their finances, the Urban Oasis Project works with SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Volunteer market assistant Lisa Palley mentions, “with unemployment benefits coming to an end, it will be very difficult for many in our community to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.” SNAP benefits are doubled when purchasing local fruits and vegetables, meaning that people are able to buy twice as much produce from local organizations such as Urban Oasis.
However, some categories of people are not eligible for SNAP regardless of their income, assets, immigrant status. "Our programs are only a small part of ameliorating the symptoms of a lot of broken systems," continues Art.
The Online Farmer’s Market
During the pandemic, the Urban Oasis Project took further action. Localline, the online farmers market, allows for individuals to safely purchase from over 20 vendors and receive their items in a packaged box. Following all safety guidelines, seven people package the boxes each week, which can then be picked up from five locations or delivered.
According to Art, over a hundred people purchase from Localline each week. When purchasing, you can also donate to a family in need. These donations are used to create and deliver free boxes of fresh produce and anything that is needed such as masks and cleaning materials. Art described the program as having a “holistic approach for people who have been really hit hard by the pandemic.” This initiative supports 80 families each week but is currently expanding through the use of SNAP doubling.
Art also stresses the importance of supporting authentic farmers markets as he says, “there are a lot of fake farmer’s markets out there that do not have any local produce but are just the same grocery store produce sold under a tent. People have to demand that accountability at farmer’s markets.”
However, farmers markets were quickly shut down in March and the city government has allowed no discussion for reopening them even though it has been proven to be safer to shop at outside locations such as farmers markets instead of grocery stores.
Support Food Movements - Get Involved
Although Miami is considered to be behind on the local food movement, there are several organizations that are worth looking into to support the movement. By buying local and supporting community farms, you are also helping yourself by improving both your mental and physical health.
Health in the Hood installs and maintains community gardens in disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout South Florida. They are putting children on the path to healthy futures, giving parents helpful information and creating environments that support healthy choices. Another organization pushing for sustainable communities is Live Healthy Miami Gardens, which is focused on engaging community residents to reduce poor health outcomes. With the Urban Oasis Project, they provide residents of Miami Gardens with access to a Mobile Farmers Market. The Education Fund designs and implements initiatives that involve the entire community in improving schools life. Its Food Forests for Schools program engages kids to plant and maintain vegetable, fruit, and herb food forests on school grounds. Common Threads equips communities with information to make nutritious food choices wherever they live, work, learn and play. The Urban Oasis Project works with Common Threads to conduct on-site healthy cooking demonstrations to increase healthy food knowledge and provide healthy recipes utilizing produce from the market. Finca Morada is a volunteer-led organization focused on fighting for “environmental, racial, LGBTQ, gender, social, & food justice.” They are constantly accepting financial support, volunteers and interns in order to spread their mission.