Urban Agriculture

Dear Friends –

We need an alternative vision for saving community “garden projects” and the land on which they are produced.  I heard a lot of people with different opinions last Monday at the Friends Meeting House.  I appreciate a non-direct action approach now, but we must galvanize under the banner of claiming rights to land (I believe).

I have worked, professionally as a housing ‘expert’ and tenured professor who testifies to different levels of governments all the way to the U.S. Congress, and I am not blowing my horn – but I want to say that I have worked with government effectively.  I believe we can put forth some alternatives that can claim rights to the city and garden projects.

I use the term “garden projects” because that indicates these spaces exceed food production.  They can and do serve as meeting places, places of developing alternatives for youth who need/want these types of spaces, as well as adults who want to perform/educate/share stories/ and reconcile the very real racial, gender, and economic injustices that many people face.  There is also the issue of valuing the fact that we are not separate from non-human components of our planet.

I propose that one strategy for us to consider and organize – with people in the system who are sympathetic to have a sustainable city – in order to develop a land trust with a board that represents garden projects people from around Nashville.  Of course, we can persuade the Mayor’s Office as well as the State to work with us.  There is a history of a state land trust for housing, so why not take properties off the market for us to have these projects that benefit the entire Nashville mission to be green, as well as develop a positive citizenry?

I hope that our next meeting we could discuss what this would take, who we would want to bring into the fold, and how we would assure that this would be professionally done.  I think that a non-profit such as the Neighborhood Resource Center under Mike Hodge would be an option for locating such a community land trust.  Other than the land, the City would not have to dedicate much.  Their Office of Sustainability and Hands-On Nashville is already working on Garden Projects, and the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Health Department initiative, as well as the Community Food Advocates, could help us with this project.

Of course, we would need the support of politicians and we would have to successfully partner with groups like MDHA (Phil Ryan) who already supports garden projects in public housing developments (I have a plot at John Henry Hale off Charlotte).  I also believe we could get state support through the Tennessee like the director, Ted Fellman.  I have worked with or had conversations with all of these people, and they are reasonable and care about Nashville.

I think we could reach out to council members who are sympathetic, and the Mayor even wore a sticker that said, “I Support the Carver Food Park.”  While one could say that was a weak gesture, we can be more optimistic and say, “hey, he did it, now let’s create the enabling conditions for Karl to support this proposal.

Last – I think we could tap into different local foundations, as well as Community Development Block Grant funds (in some cases), and a host of other policy tools that already exist at different levels of government.  Local universities could be approached to participate, and we can show the City the multiple benefits of having a land trust for garden projects.

One last thing.  We have many immigrant groups that come from farming backgrounds.  If we provided them an opportunity to do urban farming and maybe even make a small living off of these efforts, we would be doing the City a service by making sure the land can still have “exchange” value and not just be viewed as property that is “off the tax books.”

There are so many positive things that can be accomplished, and this is ONE strategy that would be a concrete alternative vision that is already occurring across the country in different cities.  We have so much vacant land that needs to be cared about, so many people who need the opportunity to develop their capacities as citizens, as well as experiences spaces where inclusion rather then exclusion are a central principle.  Finally, this could be one small step that can open of public spaces of reconciliation for the deeply disadvantaging practices that were directed toward people of color, women, and people who have little means.  This can both serve to be a real space of hope as well as a space that serves multiple stakeholders.

I have attached some materials (some more relevant than others) to illustrate community land trusts around housing – and accessible reading about inexpensive ways local governments have supported these types of efforts.  I hope that you will consider my proposal as One potential avenue for reclaiming and re-creating parts of our city in a manner that is sustainable for the earth as well as the labor and bodies that are a part of garden projects.


Jim Fraser

1509 Fatherland Street, Nashville, TN 37206 615-430-2050

My university information is below.  I am not presenting this as connecting Vanderbilt with this proposal, although it is my hope that conversation with all local universities could take place so we can have as many institutional supporters as possible.  Please forward this to anyone you would like as I am committed to working on this if the group wants to pursue this avenue.  Like everyone – I have imperfect knowledge of Nashville – and I have only lived here four years – but I have worked with many city officials and am on the neighborhood redevelopment subcommittee of the Mayor’s Poverty Reduction Initiative (the committee that Mike Hodge is leading).

If people feel this is not a useful direction, I remain in solidarity and support of other people’s proposals.  I just want to see action and have a real platform, in addition to other legal and letter-writing strategies.

James Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Department of Human & Organizational Development

Vanderbilt University


Phone: 615-430-2050