An oasis of goodness and kale, too: CAMP project takes on Camp Washington's food desert problem

Urban farm supplies cart with nature's bounty

CINCINNATI -- It’s been about a decade since Kroger shuttered its Camp Washington store, and the community is still trying to fight the effects of the loss.

Today, Camp Washington is what’s known as a “food desert,” an area devoid of places to get healthy foods like fruit, vegetables and other whole foods. However, a group of community-minded volunteers is working to make fresh, locally grown produce available to the neighborhood. 

Volunteers Matt Spahr and Valerie Molnar (from left), both of Richmond, Va., and Braydon Booher of Northside work at the Camp Washington Urban Farm in July. Photo by Matt Koester.

In March, the Camp Washington Art and Mobile Produce (CAMP) project was one of five community engagement projects that received $10,000 in funding from the Engage Cincy Challenge Grant program. Through a partnership with the Camp Washington Urban Farm and other local partners, CAMP’s mobile produce cart is distributing fresh vegetables to local food pantries and the wider community, as well as nutrition education and art activities to neighborhood residents. 

“We see that people want that connection with the land and where their food is coming from,” said community organizer Joe Gorman. Gorman wrote the CAMP grant and serves as director of the urban farm. 

In addition to a vehicle for the distribution of produce, the CAMP cart is a rolling art project. Skip Cullen, the founder of a nonprofit for contemporary artists called Wave Pool, designed the cart. As it brings food into the community, the CAMP cart provides children artistic opportunities and adults education on where fresh food can be found in their community.

 

The first foray into the community was a mixed bag, Cullen said. For its first trip, the cart was loaded with onions and kale. The onions were popular. The kale? Not so much. 

“Kale is a hurdle to get out there,” Cullen said. “You can’t give it away.” 

Part of the reason kale wasn’t popular, though, was because many of the people who encountered it didn’t even know what it was, Cullen said. CAMP plans to educate people and provide them recipes so that they know what they can make with the produce they receive. 

The Camp Washington Urban Farm is still gearing up on the quantity and variety of produce being grown. Cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, squash, garlic and broccoli are among the vegetables being grown now, and volunteer crop manager Kevin Graef hopes to plant fruit trees and berries. He also envisions raising chickens on the property. 

Graef, a Rhinegeist employee, became acquainted with Gorman through Gorman’s son, another Rhinegeist worker. An avid urban gardener, Graef seized on the opportunity to become a part of the project shortly after CAMP received its funding. He now spends about four hours per day at the farm, which he considers a privilege. 

“It’s been a real blessing to be out here and get to grow all this food,” Graef said. 

Located immediately adjacent to the River City Correctional Center, the Camp Washington Urban Farm has become a popular community service project for River City inmates, adult probationers and Talbert House residents, along with members of the broader community. It’s tough work, but Gorman knows the community needs this. 

“It’s 2016, and here we are just growing basic food for people,” Gorman said. “It’s crazy.”

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