Food deserts — or communities without easy access to fresh foods — are a growing concern nationally and in Greater Cincinnati. Among other things, the Jubilee Project is bringing fresh produce to the McHenry corridor of Westwood and East Westwood through an innovative urban farm and market program.
“We have five lots in Bracken Woods, a small area next to the market and two front yards that we farm currently,” says Thomas Hargis, pastor at Calvary Hilltop United Methodist Church. “We not only grow outdoors but we grow in basements as well. We are currently growing out tilapia and have been doing aqua and hydroponics for over a year. We grow lettuce, basil and micro greens throughout the year that provide amazing produce during the wintertime.”
Pastor Thomas Hargis of the Jubilee Project
The Jubilee Market, which opened in June, sells produce from Jubilee Farms as well as clothing and merchandise from local vendors. The project was part of a City of Cincinnati collaboration between Place Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories and the Neighborhood Enhancement Program.
“The NEP coming behind PIVOT played a huge role in galvanizing the community, not only around the market but several other projects that have been completed in that area,” says Hargis. “We asked the community what they would like to have in their neighborhood and evaluated what made sense economically. We have since had over 1,000 hours of volunteer labor helping to restore the market and ready the plots for farming.”
The Jubilee Project, a pilot effort of six local Episcopal and Methodist churches, began with a construction job training and housing program.
“Any time you work in a community, you face all the issues that prevent the best parts of the community from blossoming,” says Hargis. “While construction was the first thing Jubilee started working on in Cincinnati, plans for food and other ventures were always in different stages that just needed the right opportunity and space to thrive. Traditionally, farming has not been a career path for most individuals. Urban agriculture, however, has created an opportunity for small businesses to be not only sustainable but provide a thriving wage.”
Jubilee Market also hires neighborhood residents who will learn retail skills and customer service that will hopefully lead to more permanent employment. The Market is currently only open on Saturdays, but the hope is to expand hours soon. Jubilee Farms produce can also be found at the Northside Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings and the Lettuce Eat Well Farmers' Market on Fridays.