I had one woman come out to the garden to pick some peppers. Unfortunately, all of the pepper plants were pulled up the previous weekend so there were no peppers for her. This was the first time I had ever seen this woman at the garden, but apparently she would visit frequently to pick peppers. I had a very long conversation with her about what I was doing in the garden. She told me about how she grew up on a farm on Highway 10 and loved it very much. She said that if she was physically able she would want to get back into it, but her shoulder had been causing problems for her recently. We talked for a little bit about food justice around the 12th Street area, she expressed to me her appreciation that someone 'so young' was dedicating so much time and work into the garden to support the initiative. As she was leaving she said to me, "You know, I really do believe that God sent me here for a reason, and I thought it was to pick peppers but maybe it was just to talk to you."
- Rebecca Rahn

Village Commons is a Little Rock-based grassroots organization dedicated to improving quality of life and environmental sustainability for all members of the community. Village Commons was founded in 2008 to organize environmental justice initiatives in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The organization's main programs focus on urban gardening, energy efficiency, and Fourche Creek restoration.  

With the help of a new youth-led program called Summer of Solutions, Village Commons is transitioning the quarter-acre 12th and Oak Garden into a teaching and market garden.  The 12th and Oak Garden is located directly across the street from the Willie Hinton Neighborhood Resource Center and utilizes land owned by Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church.  Thanks to different individuals and groups that have cultivated the site over the past 4 years, the 12th and Oak Garden has excellent soil quality, a well-stocked toolshed, and strong connections to gardening experts and volunteers.  Summer of Solutions has brought Sunday School classes to the garden and organized work days over the past few months; the site will play host to community dinners, workshops, kids' activities, and infrastructure projects during the program's main operations from June through August.  

The potential of the 12th and Oak Garden must be understood within the larger context of the surrounding area.  The neighborhoods along the 12th Street Corridor are considered low income according to 2010 census data, in which census tracts 13 and 18 had poverty rates of 35% and 30%, respectively.  Unemployment hovers around 7%, and crime rates in 2011 were highest in this part of the city. Lack of access to reliable transportation poses a serious barrier to economic advancement for many residents in the area.  The 12th Street Corridor is also considered a food desert. There are several community gardens in the area, but they produce enough food to feed only a handful of individuals.  Some residents grow personal kitchen gardens, but the extent of this activity is unknown. The grocery stores that are within easy walking or driving distance do not offer the same food quality that is available in other parts of the city.  

Despite these and other concerns, the 12th Street Corridor is the epicenter of a wave of renewed interest and activity.  City, state, and federal entities have begun to reinvest in the Corridor to improve street infrastructure, public safety, educational opportunities, and quality housing.  A number of private,  non-profit, and faith-based organizations in the area have also ramped up activities to provide better access to human services.   Key partnerships that have already been built for this garden include Hoover Methodist, the Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society, Arkansas Community Organizations, UAMS Office of Community Based Public Health, Children International, and the Little Rock Choice Neighborhood Initiative.  Village Commons is building an exciting partnership with New Futures for Youth, which plans to establish an urban agriculture training area behind the new Young Adult Opportunity Center on 12th Street.  Other partnerships on the horizon include Better Community Developers, Inc. and a developing coalition of 12th Street churches.  

 

Rebecca Rahn

After getting my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from Hendrix College, I volunteered for a summer in Little Rock with Summer of Solutions to give back to my community. With Summer of Solutions I helped maintain a community garden in an effort to increase awareness of and access to fresh local foods while also promoting health and wellness. I have been a part of several efforts to promote sustainable agriculture in the past few years, and I have come to understand the value that community engagement has in supporting a sustainable system. I am excited to be serving with Village Commons to continue to promote food justice and healthy eating in the Promise Neighborhood of Little Rock.

 

 

Friday the 24th. .