Thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships, presented by the Library Partnership Branch of the Alachua County Library District.
Abigail Perret-Gentil, the Founder and Executive Director of GRACE Grows, a nonprofit which, in collaboration with GRACE Marketplace, seeks to empower individuals who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity through horticulture. In this episode, we talk about Abigail herself, how she came to found GRACE Grows, and get into the goals of the organization.
The second half of this interview will be posted on May 26th.
GRACE Grows: https://www.gracegrowsgnv.com/
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You can view a transcript of this podcast on ACLD's YouTube Channel.
Hi, thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships. Our guest today is Abigail Perret-Gentil, the Founder and Executive Director of GRACE Grows, a nonprofit which, in collaboration with GRACE Marketplace, seeks to empower individuals who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity through horticulture. This episode has been split into two parts; the second half of the interview will be published on May 26th. [music]Eleanore:
So could you tell us about yourself?Abigail:
So, my name is Abigail Perret-Gentil, and professionally, I do two things. I'm the Assistant Director of Community Engagement for GRACE Marketplace, the low-barrier shelter in town. But I'm also the Director and Founder of GRACE Grows, which is a nonprofit that addresses food accessibility for people who are experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. I live out near Micanopy and I have a big garden at home. Before I worked for GRACE Marketplace, I was coming out here as a volunteer since 2015, and I worked with biotech startups and in the horticulture industry for a long time.Eleanore:
Oh, that's really cool. How long have you been interested in gardening?Abigail:
So my mom was a gardener. I wasn't interested in it at the time. [laughs] But I inadvertently absorbed quite a bit and didn't realize it. And when I got older, probably about the age of 19, 20, I started becoming interested in it. I worked at a local nursery that's been around for forever. And I learned a lot more from the ladies that I worked with there that had been doing it their whole lives.Eleanore:
That's very cool. I like gardening myself, I grew up helping my mom out in the garden. My whole childhood was just like… picking green beans.Abigail:
Yes, we do it together now when we can. We don't live in the same state. But when we visit each other, we definitely get some good garden days in.Eleanore:
GRACE Grows and GRACE are separate organizations, right?Abigail:
Yes, that's correct. It confuses people a little bit because of the names. But GRACE Grows actually started as a program, a volunteer program from GRACE Marketplace. GRACE Marketplace asked us to create a vocational program that was similar to their culinary program. And we had already built a garden out there as volunteers with people who were receiving services from GRACE Marketplace and living in a tent city that existed at the time. And so we had this infrastructure built, and then GRACE Marketplace asked us to do more program oriented stuff. And then over time, we realized that we needed a separate nonprofit status so that we could actually fundraise and support the work that we were doing. And so we talked to the Director of GRACE, Jon DeCarmine, and he was like, total thumbs up. He was like, Yeah, do it. So we did. And we've been expanding since - we're still a small nonprofit, though.Eleanore:
So what inspired you to found GRACE Grows?Abigail:
So I started volunteering out there in 2015. I wasn't really sure exactly how to help. And I had a lot of experience with horticulture. And there was a small garden at the time, but there wasn't a lot of engagement. So I asked them if I could build a new one that was closer to where people were visiting at GRACE, and slowly scaled it up piecemeal from there. But I think when - it's kind of why I started the garden, but also I started volunteering again, is it had a lot to do with my family. My family's from Venezuela. And there was a major food crisis there at the time. And I just kind of felt powerless to help. And so I wanted to do something within my own community to maybe feed people here a little bit better. But for a long time, it wasn't an organization or nonprofit, it was just volunteers and people who are experiencing homelessness building this garden. But over time, working with people who are experiencing homelessness, I would hear their stories. The garden is this space where people can really be eye-to-eye working together. It's not the same as other like volunteer opportunities, sometimes where there's this power differential where you're just giving something to someone. It's really a lot more agency that the people had over the outcomes of what we were building. And I kind of learned, I learned people's stories. For a couple years, I just gardened and listen to people and designed it however they wanted it to be designed. And over time, in learning more and more about homelessness and the disparities that exist in our community, I realized how incredibly important it was to listen to people and to add to their resources - rather than coming in and trying to fix a community, listening to what they are saying that they needed. And really, it could be any platform. It doesn't have to be horticulture. It's more about addressing the systemic needs and the cultural mentalities that we have that inadvertently perpetuate the disparities that exist. Long answer. [laughs] Eleanore: No, that was great! So basically, you founded GRACE [Grows] because you listened to the people you were working with. And you heard what they were asking for. Yeah, they wanted a garden. When we're out there, there's so many people that grew up with gardens, they miss their gardens, their gardens reminded them of their families. And you know, there's also people that never had those kinds of experiences. But it was so important to them to have a space that was actually their space, a space that wasn't punitive or policed. When a lot of people have experienced institutionalization. And a space that really doesn't have like a whole lot of rules other than, you know, don't harvest from somebody else's garden. Because that's really disappointing. [laughs]Eleanore:
Yeah, don't steal someone else's harvest.Abigail:
Which has never been a problem!Eleanore:
I'm sure I'm sure a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness have experienced that sort of loss. So I'm sure they don't really want to inflict it on someone else.Abigail:
Yeah, most people here want to grow stuff so that they can give it to the kitchen or give it to other people. There's not - you know, I think it really pushes against some of the stigma that exists, like people don't want to share with each other because that's not true.Eleanore:
And I, I think in some of the articles I read about GRACE Grows, you mentioned how therapeutic gardening can be?Abigail:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when people are experiencing homelessness, a great deal of them are in crisis. And there's not a whole lot of welcoming spaces for them. There's not healthy activities for people to participate in, because they're so alienated from public spaces. And there's a lot of mindfulness inherent in gardening and getting your hands in the soil and touching the plants and paying attention to what you're doing. And so it can have a really big impact on people who don't have much of that in their lives. It's not about fixing people, either. You know, it's about providing people with the opportunities that other people get to have every day.Eleanore:
Like you said, fixing those disparities. Abigail: Yeah. And what are the overall goals for GRACE Grows?Abigail:
So well, we have a few different programs, we have the garden here, which is open for anyone who's experiencing homelessness to use. We also supply food to the shelter kitchen, sometimes to people who've been housed. And then we also haven't run our Empowerment Program through the pandemic, because it's just been too difficult, but we have the Horticulture Empowerment program, which is for people who are experiencing homelessness. We would like to create a phase two of that program for people. Once they get to a more stable environment, once they're housed, a lot of times, they want to pursue some of the goals that they made in our Horticulture Empowerment program. But being such a small organization, we only have capacity to do a limited number of things until we can get more funding to do that. But it's our goal, to be able to continue to work with a lot of those people so that they can pursue those higher level goals that they had when they were living on the streets. And then the last thing is we have our community food project that we've been doing for the last year and a half with the southeast Gainesville community, which is very rich in cultural and community assets. But it also, the community experiences food injustice and food disparities. So we've been working in that community to garner feedback for solutions and how to advocate for resources to be put towards people who are already doing that work in the community. And so we've done that. And our goal is to kind of be beholden to that commitment and to that program that we've created, advocate to the city, advocate to different organizations to help really with implementation of that, because it can't be on one organization. We need to look at resourcing the people that have been doing that work in that community first, but then also take collective responsibility for addressing that. And so moving forward, presenting those solutions from the community and advocating for those solutions as well. And maybe picking some of those things that we would like to actually help implement ourselves.Eleanore:
So you're not just trying to be a top-down organization. You're looking to actually collaborate with the communities you're assisting?Abigail:
Yeah, absolutely. So you know, we've done that. We've done that with the garden. You know, we always have meetings with people who are staying out here. From like, what cultivars of vegetables they want us to grow to the design of the garden, it's always the people out here, who say what they want and what they need, and we try to make it happen. Being realistic with what we have the capacity to do, and it started off with that. But then with the Community Food Project, the entire design of the research, it's called community-based participatory action research, which kind of upends some of the traditional models of social research and puts the hands and the impacted people to actually even design the process of the research, which brings us to more sustainable solutions. And so really, just having it be community driven is really important. [music] Thanks for listening to Patrons & Partnerships. If you know of an individual or organization you’d like to recommend for an interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To listen to more episodes, find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. And be sure to check out the Alachua County Library on Spotify while you’re there for chill playlists to read to, hand-picked by our librarians. Again, the second half of this episode will be published on May 26th. ACLD is happy to welcome you back for In-person programming at all library locations! Join library staff for arts and crafts, book clubs, and educational programs like computer classes and Conversation Clubs for ESL speakers. Registration is required, and seats are limited. Visit aclib.us/events to view and register for programs. Alachua County teens ages 11 to 17 looking to read and flex their trivia skills this summer can join the Library District’s annual Battle of the Books! Participants receive free copies of the three books selected for the competition, then face off in the Battle of the Books on July 23 on Zoom. Check this episode description for a link to register. Join the Library District and our community partners to celebrate the start of Summer at the Library on Saturday, June 4 from 10 a.m. to noon at Depot Park! Register the whole family for Beanstack, our Summer at the Library tracking program, and receive a free book for kids and teens ages 18 and younger, and a goodie bag for all ages. Track your reading and summer fun from May 28 to July 31 to earn badges for chances to win a grand prize tablet from PDQ Restaurant and weekly pizza prizes from Five Star Pizza. See you there!