In the tri-state area, one in six neighbors struggle with hunger. That’s 94,000 children living in food insecure households. Many of those households are located in food deserts. A food desert is an area where residents lack access to grocery stores within walking distance of their homes. In many communities, citizens are forced to default to corner stores where most of the store’s products are sugary, processed foods.
Grantee Domonique Peebles believes that every person should have access to fresh, healthy food. Domonique's project, Brick Gardens, is an urban gardening model using indoor vertical towers to grow produce that will be donated to local community organizations. Domonique's goal is to set up small indoor gardens in areas that are considered food deserts as well as in individual homes where residents are interested in growing their own food.
Brick Garden’s began as an idea to turn vacant lots in Cincinnati into community gardens. As Domonique began to formulate a plan of action, he began to question the community garden model. “Through a couple of conversations with multiple people I got to the point where I thought, where is the benefit in the down seasons?” Domonique knew that residents needed a solution that could serve them year round, not just during the summer months. This is where the idea of Brick Gardens began to form.
Domonique is currently growing food in three locations— New Baptist Church in Roselawn, Cincinnati State and a store located in Over-the-Rhine. Since Domonique planted his first seedlings at the end of September, he has been able to produce 18 pounds of vegetables from 9 vertical gardens. Domonique is presently growing kale, spinach and basil with hopes to expand into other fruits, vegetables and herbs. A large portion of the produce goes to Gabriel’s Place in Avondale. Gabriel’s place holds free weekly dinners for members of the community.
Besides obvious nutritional benefits, Brick Gardens has also proved educational. Cincinnati State’s agriculture program has become a hub of experimentation for Brick Gardens. Domonique explains, “Cincinnati State has been a great partnership because I’m partnering with their agriculture program to share the knowledge that I’ve learned with the students in the class. The students are also a small workforce where they can obtain experiential learning by tending the gardens. Research and development is important to get a good grasp of other types of fruits and vegetables we can grow indoors once we really start to expand the operation.”
Domonique believes his idea is on the cusp of something huge. There are many benefits of growing your own food indoors. “There’s this big misconception that there’s a huge energy cost at play and it’s going to up your monthly utility bills. On top of that, science for a lot of people is intimidating.” When people start to learn and understand the process, he believes neighborhoods will see a drastic increase in the number of people who grow their own food in homes or spaces they have available.
Domonique foresees a bright future for Brick Gardens. “In a perfect world I envision Brick Gardens being a program that can run in any neighborhood throughout Cincinnati, especially those considered a food desert. Many people rely on fruits and vegetables that have been transported into Cincinnati. By the time fresh food arrives in Cincinnati it’s lost 3-4 days of shelf life. I would like to see city and neighborhood councils start looking to tackle food issues that Cincinnati neighborhoods are experiencing.”
If you would like to learn more about Brick Garden’s visit www.brickgardens.com