From the quiet soil in a once-vacant lot in Mt. Hope, a food forest grows. Kale, collard greens, beets, and broccoli are flanked by African daisies and birds of paradise. Project New Village’s garden, previously formatted to host individual raised beds, has transformed into an agrarian wellness center. Colorful, nature-inspired art panels displayed on the chainlink fence along Market Street entice community interest. A pergola provides shade and new equipment to host chef-led cooking classes and demos using herbs and produce from a nearby apothecary garden and communal growing space. Managing director Diane Moss looks forward to the day when the pandemic eases allowing for “the biggest party the community has seen,” she says.

To overcome the systemic lack of healthy food and access to wellness takes commitment and community collaboration. Project New Village’s approach, a Good Food District, engages the Southeast San Diego community from Lemon Grove to National City in sustainable urban agriculture to provide healthy, affordable food for all its residents. Their strong BIPOC collective boldly faces challenges one step at a time. They have two recent reasons to celebrate: a garden refresh made possible by Tito Vodka’s Block to Block Program, which bolsters community gardens in urban neighborhoods nationwide; and a $50,000 grant from the Equitable Food Oriented Development Project (EFOD) aligned with the Kresge Foundation.

Garden Refresh: A 2020 Minor Miracle 

Managing Director Diane Moss expresses gratitude not only for the capital that Tito’s Block to Block Program granted but also for their approach. “It was a first,” says Moss. “They asked us about our goals and sent an enthusiastic team of 20 people who made the day fun. I was impressed with the attitude and work ethic of the company. They went above and beyond.”

Kasi Munoz of Studio Nectary who works on local outdoor community builds helped lead the project management for the refresh. “I see the garden refresh like a teaser. It's a bit of an interim space where they have programs and ideas to test and a tangible space for continual engagement. You can quickly develop a space and see how people interact with it, what feedback is received, and then continue to evolve before you pour thousands of dollars into it.” Munoz says the project’s ability to serve as this type of experiment is incredibly valuable.

Developing an Agrarian Wellness Hub

A second big win for Project New Village is its recent award for an Equitable Food Oriented Development Project (EFOD) aligned with The Kresge Foundation. Using a community-led approach, EFODs unite historically marginalized peoples around food to bring about healthy outcomes and economic development.  

Through the hard work of its steering committee, PNV earned a $50,000 grant which they will invest in developing the technical skills needed to gain business capacity. With the help of consultants, the leadership team will create a capital development campaign to reach philanthropic partners aligned with the group’s mission. 

Moss says, “The ultimate goal is to create a multistory commercial development that uses food as a catalyst to help stimulate economic growth and build wealth in the community.” The group’s ideal vision is to create a wellness hub housing a non-traditional grocery store. Moss describes the goal of stocking locally grown healthy foods including grains, dairy, and produce, which the neighborhood lacks. The collective also envisions growing wealth through kitchen packaging cottage products made by community entrepreneurs and a food corridor similar to the Liberty Public Market. The multistory complex will also serve to educate budding entrepreneurs, provide job development, and affordable housing. 

“We are still defining our vision,” says Moss, but the future looks hopeful with a well-established mission and a collaborative relationship with other Kresge awardees, such as The Mandela Partners in Oakland. Moss emphasizes the importance of continued conversation with surrounding neighbors that honors community values, not gentrification. 

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About the Contributor
Cherie Gough
Cherie Gough is an award-winning freelance writer based in San Diego. She is passionate about food equity and loves writing about innovative people finding positive solutions.Find her on Instagram @cgoughwrites.