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FarmerGirl Eb Feeds the Community Through Urban Farming

FarmerGirl Eb Feeds the Community Through Urban Farming

The concept behind urban agriculture is using city-based spaces for growing produce. Because many people live in food deserts, farming in an urban environment is an excellent way for people to access fresh food in a way that is interactive, educational and enjoyable.

Ebony Lunsford-Evans, dubbed FarmerGirl Eb, is a former teacher with the Pittsburgh Public Schools. She began experimenting with gardening in her backyard with her children and the neighborhood kids, basically transforming her backyard into an outdoor classroom. This experience sparked an interest in gardening and farming, and today, she operates several urban farms and works with communities to educate them about urban farming with the mission of alleviating food insecurity.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): Tell me about your interest in farming and gardening—how did it all come about?

Ebony Lunsford-Evans (Lunsford-Evans): I do not have a story of growing up on a farm. Agriculture is not something I ever imagined being in. This is a spiritual journey; I was called into purpose. I have three children, but at the time I was raising my two youngest and was a teacher in the community. I was going to go back to school and get my Ph.D in higher education, but when it came to financial aid, I was stuck. I didn’t want to take out loans. I had hit a roadblock and was really sad.

So, I was in my yard with my kids, growing little things, just keeping my kids occupied. Eventually the neighborhood kids started coming into my yard. They were really interested in what I was growing. I eventually set up an outside classroom, stations with tables and chairs, and we sectioned off my yard. We were growing things, and then we started building greenhouses around it. I had laptops and let them research whatever we were growing. At another table they would do art, paint a picture of a plant. One of the little girls fell and skinned knee, and so I used that chance to show her sisters how to help her. I taught them how to take care of her wound. As the food started growing, I let them take food home. At the end of that season, we had a farmers’ market, and we set up a table in the alley. They sold the food, and earned some money. I told them this is what it took to create community: we had an education system in place, a food system in place, we were caring for each other, and we had a bank.

A week later they said, can we have our program again? I ended up not going back to school and creating a program. I took a year and taught myself about growing, researching everything I could through every season; I failed, I succeeded. I started a nonprofit called Out of the End, and through it, we have since gained two urban farms, one in Manchester (Food for the Soul Community Farm), which is for the community to learn to grow and sustain fresh food.

Then at another urban farm in the West End, 1 Sound Farm, we grow specifically for community organizations. We also partner with Café Momentum downtown, and I have a fresh foods corner store.

NHM: What do you grow?

Lunsford-Evans: I’m a diversified vegetable grower, growing everything that I can grow in this region: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, watermelon, pumpkins, strawberries, all kinds of herbs, sage, oregano, tarragon, garlic, root crops, carrots, beets and potatoes. Every year, I try to grow something new and different.

FarmerGirl Eb Feeds the Community Through Urban Farming

NHM: Where is the food distributed?

Lunsford-Evans: At the farms, some food is given away to the volunteers; they can take what they want. All of the food grown at our Northside farm goes right into the community for free. Last year we grew 3,000 pounds of food. All of that is given away. At the farm on the West End, a lot of food there is given away as well, but we create a bit of revenue, as some gets sold to the community center.

NHM: What does the ability to grow something from the ground and being able to put it on your table mean to you?

Lunsford-Evans: It means everything. I grew up so poor. I remember growing up, there was never enough food or food stamps. I don’t remember growing up and having access to fresh fruit at all. On special occasions, we’d have canned fruit. I didn’t even know or couldn’t even identify fresh veggies as a late teen. That was heartbreaking for me. So now, to be able to identify so many different vegetables, growing them, teaching communities around me, watching them learn, watching language change all around me and youth using agricultural language is everything for me; that is my mission, that is my purpose.

NHM: Tell me about the nonprofit that you formed called Out of the End.

Lunsford-Evans: It was established in 2019, and our mission is to create a foundation for the Black and brown community within the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area and surrounding area with sustainability, equity and livability. We want low-income and at-risk families to thrive by growing their own food, providing their own basic medical skills and becoming financially literate enough to produce their own financial institutions. Our vision is a world of people with access to free food, healthcare and financial resources to help live a stress-free life.

NHM: In what other ways do you apply your teaching background to your business?

Lunsford-Evans: I have partnerships with organizations, such as When She Thrives. One of its programs is called The Book Project. That is a program for single mothers to learn how to write books for another stream of income. When those single mothers come to writing sessions, they bring children. I come in and take the children and teach them about agriculture, while their moms are learning. I usually have a project in place that mirrors the book project with their mothers.

Anyone is able to come onto the farms for programming. I do classes with the community on canning, fruit preservation and pickling. I also do private classes with families or businesses, and I do consultations.

FarmerGirl Eb Feeds the Community Through Urban Farming

NHM: What life lessons have you learned from the work that you do?

Lunsford-Evans: I learned that I can create the world around me that I want by working hard. I learned that in order to get what we want; we have to put the work in to it. I never knew that I could become a food producer, but it just started from planting a seed in my backyard, from looking in the mirror and creating what I wanted to see.

NHM: What key takeaways do you want readers of this article to understand?

Lunsford-Evans: Everybody should at least try to grow something. Food security is so important. If you don’t have access to fresh food on foot, you live in a food desert. If you can grow food in your backyard, look to see where food is growing in your community. If not, you should do something about it. Everyone has the right to access fresh food.

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