Nearly $ 2 million in town, federal cash would help combat the NW Jacksonville Food Desert

The non-profit Clara White Mission has been growing produce on their White Harvest Farm property on Moncrief Road for about four years.

Ju’Coby Pittman, CEO of Clara White, describes running the farm as a “pavement” approach as not all the resources desired are in place for a larger vision of helping the surrounding community with fresh food and professional training.

That could change, however, with up to $ 1.5 million in potential city dollars and a federal grant of $ 454,513 already granted.

City money is one of the priorities for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, which he highlighted in his budget presentation earlier this week. If the council approves funding, the 14.5-acre White Harvest Farm would receive an educational facility that would also serve as the food packaging processing center and the new farmers’ market for the community.

According to the city’s bill, the project will create six to eight new jobs and provide training and internships to 200 residents and low-income students annually

Pittman said the training programs range from construction to agriculture.

“That would be a signature project for this ward, and beneficial for this ward too, as you train individuals for jobs not only on the farm but potentially in other areas of District 8,” said Pittman.

In addition, the city funds would be used for a new irrigation system, additional wells, fences and a footbridge.

The farm is located in what is known as a food desert, which means that there are no grocery stores nearby. White Harvest used to have a regular farmers market that was damaged during Hurricane Irma, Pittman said.

She said that many residents in the area do not have cars. At the same time, another organization was working to bring a grocery store a few miles from White Harvest Farms. Pittman said the two would work together – White Harvest is supplying products.

Pittman said she worked with Councilor Sam Newby and now-suspended City Councilor Katrina Brown for city money. Recently, Governor Rick Scott named Pittman to replace Brown on the council. Because of this, the council will vote in a separate bill outside the city budget to fund the white harvest, and Pittman must abstain from voting on the measure to avoid a conflict of interest.

If the funding is approved, it will come from what is known as the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund in the form of a reimbursement grant.

At the same time, the nonprofit recently received news that it will receive a nearly half a million dollar Conservation Innovation Grant to help improve the farm’s soil and grow healthier crops.

Pittman said much of the funding will go towards equipment, laboratory work, and employing the right scientists. The non-profit organization will also use the grant as a training opportunity to educate the community about soil improvement.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at [email protected], 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @ lindskilbride.

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