The Edible Peace Patch Project honors Watson Haynes

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Edible Peace Patch Project held a fundraiser dinner honoring President and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League Watson Haynes May 20 at the Morean Center for Clay. Haynes, for his support of the Project, was awarded the Golden Carrot Award.

Reluctant to receive the award last Friday, he made sure to include his staff in the honors.

“The people who really make me what I am today,” Haynes told the crowd on hand in praising members of the PCUL, “is a group of employees who run the show. I stand out front and they push me.”

Growing up in the Gas Plant area of south St. Pete, Haynes said he was born in real poverty. His mother grew fresh produce such as collard greens and raised chickens to keep food on the table.

“It was our way of living within the means of what we had,” he said.

Haynes remarked that 96 percent of the children attending Lakewood Elementary School are on free or reduced lunch, which means outside of school, food is scarce.

“When you could go to those schools and see the faces of those children when they realize that they planted something that actually grew up in front of them and now they have the opportunity to take it home, that’s phenomenal,” he said.

He thanked Edible Peace Patch for their efforts in eradicating hungry and stressed that everyone needs to help.

“Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy,” Haynes said.

Former St. Pete mayor Rick Baker said that he got know Haynes while running for office years ago, as Haynes was very involved in Baker’s campaign. Baker added that Haynes was a supporter of the area’s youth, education and programs aimed at helping people conquer drug dependency.

The Edible Peace Patch is dedicated to raising the quality of life for every child, said Executive Director Sherry Howard.

“We want all children, regardless of race or circumstance to reach their fullest potential,” she said.

The Project was begun in 2009 with the innovative schoolyard gardening program, originally designed to introduce undergraduate students to urban agricultural techniques. In doing so, Howard stated, there was and ambition formed to address serious issues such as high dropout rates and health challenges of the city’s low income, predominately African American south side community.

“With these factors being in the forefront of their desires to bring about change,” Howard explained, “the Edible Peace Patch was born.”

In Pinellas County, there are over 40,290 children who are considered “food insecure.” The Project, which began its first educational garden at Lakewood Elementary School, is now a federally recognized 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization with gardens at five Title 1 St. Pete elementary schools: Lakewood, Maximo, Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Melrose Elementary Schools and Sanderlin IB, a magnet elementary school.

The Project is also at work creating First Farm, a sustainable, educational urban farm in south Pinellas.

“We’re planning on having a space in Midtown where we can have events as well as classes on cooking…with the product that we actually grow,” Howard said.

Rene Flowers of the Pinellas County School Board noted the programs already in place that offer needy Pinellas County students food not only to take home for themselves but for their families, and called them “an incredible feat.”

“But when you are also able to transcend science, technology, engineering art and math into growing your own food,” Flowers said in lauding the multi-dimensional benefits of the Edible Peace Patch Project, “you’ve given them the ability to fish for a lifetime.”

In aiming to promote the merits of eating healthy and living an invigorating, healthful lifestyle, last year Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin launched the Healthy St. Pete Initiative.

“We set out to build collective impact and empower a community to transform our health attitudes,” said longtime city employee Kim Brasher about the program.

Last year Pinellas ranked 33rd in “health outcomes” out of 67 counties, she said. This year Pinellas is ranked 26th, so there has been upward movement, especially in such areas as length of life and quality of life.

The initiative is working to decrease food insecurity by serving over 360,000 balanced meals to children in area recreation centers, she noted. This summer the initiative will expand its meal program to offer outdoor, stationary locations.

Frank Biafora, dean of Arts and Science at USFSP, called the Peace Patch one of the most innovative and important programs in our community today.

“If you think about it,” he said, “in the long run what is more important than teaching children from the earliest ages the values of healthy eating and living, of patience and persistence, of planting and harvesting for a stronger future, and all within a cooperative, inclusive environment?”

And that is just what the Project did for Daisy Harris from Melrose Elementary. She and her second grade class planted spinach, carrots and broccoli, cultivated, harvested and ate them on the spot.

“Some people didn’t like it but I really did,” she said about the broccoli.

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