Growing Food, Equity and Friendship in Palm Beach County

(3BL Media and Just Means)—If you have stopped watching documentaries about the agricultural and food industry, I don’t blame you. Me too. Overwhelmed, helpless and hungry (because I stop eating everything for a few days, not knowing what to put in my mouth) is my typical response to a food exposé. But not for Stewart Bosley and his hard-working team of volunteers at the Henrietta Bridge Farm in West Palm Beach, Florida. They are putting an end to one of Palm Beach County’s 27 food deserts by cultivating fresh produce in an unlikely place. As the first project of the Urban Growers Community Farm, the Henrietta Bridge Farm is bridging a gap between racially, divided communities—and inspiring young leaders to get their hands dirty and work harder in school.

The Henrietta Bridge Farm is the first of its kind in the neighborhood of Historic Northwest, close to the communities of Pleasant City and North Tamarind. For ten years the pavement lot, once the home to the low-income housing of the Lincoln Plaza Apartments, stood idle and vacant, as many lots in these neighborhoods do. Stewart Bosley (or Boz as many call him), a New Yorker and retired advertising professional of 30 years, joined arms with the City of West Palm Beach’s sustainability efforts in 2008. When he first moved to West Palm Beach, Bosley thought he would open and manage a jazz club. He never imagined that the summers he spent farming in Ohio as a child would have new meaning for him. In 2009, Bosley was approached by city leaders to help write a community food grant from the USDA. Six years later, Henrietta Bridge Farm sold its first harvest.

“I didn’t get the first grant I wrote,” says Bosley. “And it took five years of working through re-zoning the land, water connection issues and finding a way to make the farm financially independent. It’s taken a lot of perseverance, but I’m from New York. It will take a lot to run me out of town.”

Bosley’s perseverance is paying off. It’s evident in the joy and ownership of the teens who volunteer with him every weekend.

“I have more of an appreciation of where food comes from. I see why non-GMO food costs more. It tastes better! I take home the cherry tomatoes and add them to pasta with butter and garlic. And, I chop the bell peppers and put those in my omelets in the mornings,” Paula, a local high school student tells me.

Paula continues, “I think we should sell our produce to local schools. We need more fresh food at lunch!”

Jordan, who lives a few blocks from Henrietta Bridge Farm, wants to pursue a career in food.

“Usually I’m home sleeping on the weekends, but helping here is fun. I want to be a chef someday and get into the culinary program in school next year,” she says.

12-year-old Maya says volunteering on the farm is inspiring a good work ethic for her. She says she pays more attention in math and wants to do her homework. Her 11-year-old brother, Johnathan agrees and says the farm has “emphasized money management” for him. All of the teens who volunteer at Henrietta Bridge Farm agree that the quality of the food they are growing is beyond anything they’ve ever tasted from a grocery store. But Bosley knows a major shift in thinking will need to take place in order for the locals to spend money on fresh produce instead of fast food.

“People say to me, ‘you’re planting a farm in the hood?’ And, I know. If you only have two or three dollars for food [that day] are you going to buy peppers or tomatoes? [I’m try to communicate that] the healthy impact of fresh produce is better than the dollar menu. There’s a big difference from something that’s still growing in your mouth as you chew it than food that’s been on the shelf for a week,” says Bosley.

Bosley also wants Henrietta Bridge Farm to be an oasis for the community. His vision is for the farm to belong to the community. And I believe it already does. Cucumbers, peppers and the best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted grow in abundance on the farm. What’s also growing is collaboration and friendship which is creating racial and socioeconomic equity in a divided city.

“If you have exposure to other ethnicities you learn something. Standing side by side, picking corn or cherries. The only way you learn anything about anyone is by being embedded with one another. Relating. Listening. You’ll find out quickly when you prick your finger that your blood is red. When you trip your toes hurt the same way. When you’ve been in the sun too long, you’ll both burn. While you’re here together, you get to tell the story of what brought you here,” says Bosley.

Bosley has plans to plant fruit trees, open a daily produce stand and eventually offer produce pick-ups as part of the community shared agriculture (CSA) model. He also envisions using the farm to host concerts, weddings and other community events. The Henrietta Bridge Farm is currently open every Saturday from 9 Am to 1 Pm and most Sundays from 1-5 Pm.

Read here to learn more about Urban Growers Community Farm and Henrietta Bridge Farm.  Visit it during your Florida vacation. Volunteer and make new friends. Donate so that Bosley can hire staff and open the produce stand. And let me know if you plan to visit. I’ll go with you!