Tarrant Lanier stands inside the small, one-room office building of Victory Teaching Farms. Still in its developing stages, the space is being cooled by a couple portable fans trying desperately to combat the heat on a sweltering May morning in Mobile.
After applying to be a provisional project for the Junior League of Mobile, Victory Teaching Farm saw about 150 volunteers help gut and renovate the Rickarby Street building, which had previously been vacant and subject to neglect and vandalism.
Founded in 2009, the nonprofit organization The Center for Family and Community Development set out with a mission to support and promote healthy families, healthy living and healthy communities. Thus, to fulfill the mission of CFCD, Victory Teaching Farm emerged in December 2013.
Full of excitement and anticipation, Lanier struggles to find the exact term to describe her feelings about the Victory Teaching Farm project she helped create.
“It’s on the tip of my tongue!” she exclaims. “There’s a terminology for it. You know what I’m trying to say,” Lanier says, looking to her partner Cathy O’Neal. “It’s a passion for us,” she continues, though still searching for another word she wishes to use. “It’s something we love to do and see the results of.”
According to Lanier and the Victory Teaching Farm website, the goals of the farm are:
•To improve public health through increased access to locally and organically grown food and increased awareness and knowledge of sustainable living
•To foster education regarding health and wellness and environmental sustainability as it relates to local food systems and food production
•To reduce community food insecurity and promote equity and access to affordable nutritious foods by establishing local food systems
•To foster economic development opportunities with green jobs related to agriculture and sustainability
•To network, connect and support local and regional efforts regarding local food systems and environmental sustainability
Victory Teaching Farm is comprised of two different programming aspects—youth education and community outreach.
With a huge emphasis on youth education and collaborative partnerships with The Environmental Studies Center, part of the Mobile County Public School System, Volunteers of America, Junior League of Mobile and other community partners, Victory Farm will serve as an onsite experience for children to learn where their food comes from and how organically grown food matters to their health.
In addition, the farm hopes to provide edible schoolyards for local schools by developing and incorporating a curriculum comprised of garden and science activities with an emphasis on nutrition and healthy foods.
“You’ve got to follow all the way through to the point where the child actually eats [produce] because you can talk all day long about nutrition and health, but until they’re actually eating it and going through that full circle of growing it to consuming it, I don’t think the impact is as strong,” Lanier says.
As far as community goes, Victory Farm will serve as a center for research, education, training and community interaction. Apprenticeships and educational programs will provide support to urban farmers and connect them to consumers and local markets.
“The ultimate goal has always been to have a teaching mechanism for the community,” Lanier says. “We’re different in that we are reaching out into the community to help them establish these things and our focus is widespread. It’s health and nutrition. It’s economic development because there is a definite market for locally grown food, there’s just not enough people doing it.”
Lanier explains the United States Department of Agriculture designates certain areas throughout the United States as “food deserts.” These food deserts are typically low income areas that have limited access to healthy foods where, in turn, obesity rates are higher and poverty is more prevalent.
“The community behind us is a designated food desert,” Lanier says. “One of our goals is to pick those communities off the map.”
Because Victory Farm is a teaching farm with a production garden, Lanier says the food will not be donated, but instead they will put it out into the community via farm markets.
“We’ve also had several interested parties, a distributor and a restaurant, interested in buying from us,” Lanier says. “The revenues that come from that, we pump directly back into the nonprofit. We’re not out to make money, we just want to keep operations going.”
Victory Farm broke ground on their current property located at 126 Rickarby St. in December 2013 after spending the last three years searching for the perfect piece of land for their farm.
“We just kept reaching out and asking different groups,” Lanier said. “We called about vacant property. We explored every avenue.”
Now, with 3 acres of land the city of Mobile almost used as overflow parking for Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Victory Farm is home to 700 plants already producing various goods such as okra, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and 10 different varieties of tomatoes.
Currently, the property also has a designated area for outdoor classes complete with shade and wooden stumps for attendees to sit and congregate. There are also plans for a beneficial insect and butterfly garden, a children’s nature play area, Satsuma trees, compost area and drainage ditches. With hopes to one day be fully self-sustainable, there are also plans to install a water well and a windmill to run the pump for the well.
Though there is no definitive opening day set, Lanier says the farm will have a ribbon cutting this summer.
The farm also gained approval to show a film about urban farms in America titled “Growing Cities,” which is currently circulating the nation. Lanier says they are in works with The Crescent Theater to schedule a viewing.
“The thing about what we’re doing is that it’s so universal,” Lanier says. “There is no dividing line between income or age or race or religion or anything. We appeal to everyone. We are that One Mobile initiative because there would be nobody left out.”
“A labor of love!” Lanier says with excitement as she finally finds the one phrase she had been searching for all along. “It’s a labor of love. If you believe in it and want to learn more, we’re here.”
To find out more about Victory Teaching Farm, please visit http://victoryteachingfarm.org/.