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 the USDA Community Food Project Planning Grant GRACE Grows received, upcoming events, and how you can get involved.
The first half of this interview was posted on May 12th.
GRACE Grows: https://www.gracegrowsgnv.com/
Battle of the Books Registration: https://www.aclib.us/blog/battle-books-registration-open-0
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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 first half was posted on May 12th and can be found anywhere you listen to podcasts. [music]Eleanore:
That's the USDA Community Food Project Planning Grant. Right? How successful has that been so far?Abigail:
So it's an implementation grant, and so - or not - sorry, apologies, not implementation. It was a planning grant. And we did everything we said we would do. There's more that we would like to do to connect the dots. We would like to take all this data and feedback from the community with what they say, the assets that exist, and the gaps in the systems that are very particular to that community. And we would like to show solutions that had been implemented elsewhere, and get more feedback from the community on which solutions they would like to see here. And use that as like, the final presentation, like a pretty document to give back to them, but also to give to people in positions of power who can actually help resource stuff like that. So there is implementation that still needs to be done. But we've just gotten incredible feedback from the community. It's been difficult because it's a pandemic, through a whole pandemic. But we - there's so many people that have gotten so excited that are just so like, tired of this subject matter. Because they've been advocating for the same things in their community for 30 years. And we didn't want to just repeat what they were saying. We wanted to take what they were saying and amplify it in ways that could garner funding and resources for that community and generate power within that community. But honestly, like, we're not really saying anything that hasn't been said before.Eleanore:
I was going to ask if you've learned anything new, if there were any surprises in the feedback, anything that prompted you to change old practices?Abigail:
You know, there's some interesting stuff in the data. I think one of the more powerful things is like the quotes that we got from the focus groups that we did. Because you know, people’ve been saying we need a grocery store, we need transportation, we need access to healthy food. There's all these different things that we know people have been asking for. But when people really relate it conversationally and we can give these quotes to elected officials and to other people, I think it really has a powerful effect. And the other advantage of doing it this way is that we put the whole process in the hands of the people who were impacted. And so I think it went a long way to garnering trust, because we didn't just go into the community, get information, and then publish an academic article. Like, we're in it for the long term. And we were in it to like take a step back and have people tell us how they wanted it to be done. And to like, amplify that voice anywhere where we would be advocating.Eleanore:
It's still in like, the planning stage. Right? Nothing has actually been implemented yet?Abigail:
Yeah. So we will be applying for an implementation grant. But even if we didn't get that implementation grant from the USDA, we plan on still pursuing.Eleanore:
Are you able to talk about what that might look like going forward? Or is it under wraps, because it's still in the planning stage.Abigail:
It's not that it's under wraps because it's in the planning stage, I just think that we need a little bit more feedback from the community connecting those dots to the solutions. I just don't think it would be like ethical or responsible to kind of like, pick something. And so even when I'm talking to elected officials and community leaders and stuff, I kind of have to explain that, you know, we've done this work, we need help continuing this work. And this is what I see as the final piece of garnering that feedback, connecting the solutions to the disparities, and all those logistical things that people outlined within our research process that we already did.Eleanore:
Okay. And yeah, that's - Abigail: I want them to - I, you know, they are the ones to select the solutions, you know? There's really cool stuff that's been done all around the country, but it's not in the hands of the people who are impacted, it’s not sustainable, it’s not respectful. Yeah, you don't want to just come in and impose an outside solution that might not even be what they're asking for.Abigail:
Yeah. So that's why I'm kind of hesitant to say, you know, this is like the answer. We just need a little bit more information before we make some of those bigger decisions. [laughs]Eleanore:
How have you been collecting feedback from that community? Is there any way that people can reach out to you if they're part of those impacted communities?Abigail:
Yeah, I - we did go door to door, we did surveys digitally, door to door, we did focus groups. But if people still want to talk about it, they can always reach out to us. My email at GRACE Grows is just firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm happy to have more conversations about that. You can also go to our website at gracegrowsgnv.com. And all our contact information is on there as well.Eleanore:
Awesome. And related to that, how can people get involved with GRACE Grows more generally?Abigail:
They can email and say what their interest is. But also, we have community garden days every Sunday out at GRACE Marketplace at the garden out there. It’s a really good way to be able to like interact with people, eye-to-eye.We’re out there 9:30 to 1:
00 every Sunday. You can just get a hold of us, let us know you're coming out so we can show you the ropes, and make sure to meet you out there. But from there, we've had a lot of people get involved in other aspects of the organization. We're also looking for board members. We also put a priority on board members who have been impacted in some way.Eleanore:
Someone who can actually speak to the experience in this field? Abigail: Yeah, yeah. And we're I mean, we're open to everybody with the skills and insights needed. But we do want to help upend that hierarchy that exists even in the nonprofit world. Yeah. And you want the people you're helping to actually feel represented, you don't want to be - Abigail: Yeah, absolutely. [laughs] Yeah.Abigail:
It's a big problem. [laughs] Eleanore: Yeah, for real.Eleanore:
So GRACE Grows used to hold events, right? Before the pandemic?Abigail:
Kind of, I mean, we do fundraisers every year, and then we used to have a lot more group activities in the garden. But what I've noticed is that people who benefit from the garden tend to shy away a little bit more. And so we do accommodate groups, but we just had so many reaching out that it became more about like facilitating these groups. And we wanted to make sure that our resources went into actually, you know, interacting with the people that had gardens there. And so we reduced that a little bit, which kind of sucks because it was really helpful in other ways, for like fundraising and stuff. But you know, we still have outside volunteers do the majority of the labor, we like to keep the hard labor for the outside volunteers so that the people out here can enjoy the garden in the way that they would like a little bit more. [laughs]Eleanore:
That’s totally fair. Do you have any events that you're planning for 2022? Are you planning to just keep it steady, as it has been?Abigail:
So um, I don't have like a named event yet. We will do some holiday fundraisers, we'll probably - we usually do like one fundraiser a year. So like we did like a comedy show dinner one year, that was really fun. We even had some of our gardeners out at GRACE come attend. And we would like to do something like that again this year, COVID permitting.Eleanore:
Yeah, here's hoping. Do you have any community partners or partnerships that you do events with?Abigail:
Not really events, but we have organizations that really support our work that we collaborate with. Like we've collaborated with the University of Florida, multiple departments, the Doctor of Plant Medicine department for our Empowerment program, and Public Health, Family Youth & Community Sciences for our - our Community Food Projects grant. And then the Partnership for Reimagining Gainesville has actually funded us for the past year to create a toolkit for us to help other organizations and people to recreate the Community Engagement process that we've been using.Eleanore:
That sounds really cool. Was there anything else you'd like to talk about that we didn't cover?Abigail:
So I, I was going to answer that with talking more about being community driven, and you know, not doing like performative community engagement and being really equity driven, but that's, it's kind of hard to talk about because you can say it, but the proof is really in the pudding. And like, actually following through with what you're doing, anyone can say that those things matter. But they really do. And, you know, I rail on that a lot with the people that I work with just because it's my hope that we can interact in that way. Because I really do think that it leads to more success in addressing different injustices, and it's a more respectful approach. And people are tired, they've been asking for the same things and working towards those things for so long. And we need to honor that.Eleanore:
And it is very easy to fall into a sort of paternalistic approach to people who need them. And to think that just because they need help, that they're helpless, which isn't true.Abigail:
We have like - so when we started the Community Food Project, we had community members nominate people in the community that were doing some sort of work in any kind of food systems or related Human Services, feeding their neighbors, you name it. And we just got this incredibly long list of people in that particular community who've just been like helping each other for years and years. And it was such a long list of these incredible human beings. And they don't get traditionally recognized for what they contribute. But it's amazing. And this community is not just a food desert community, it's full of these incredible people with incredible knowledge that can do really great things.Eleanore:
Yeah, I mean, here at Partnership, we have the food distribution, like every other Friday, roughly, and I can't tell you how many people I've spoken to who come to pick up food and they aren't picking it up just for themselves. They're picking it up so that they can distribute it to their neighbors, to people they know who have a difficult time getting the groceries that they need.Abigail:
Absolutely - that was one of the data points, actually, that we had in our project. We asked people, you know, how often they're helping their neighbors get food, how often their neighbors are helping them get food, all sorts of stuff so that we can really get an accurate picture of that.Eleanore:
It's heartening to know that there are organizations like GRACE Grows that aren't just coming into communities and assuming that, oh, these people need everything done for them. You're going in there and you're asking, What can we do to support you? What do you need in order to achieve your goals? Not just being like, here's what we're going to do for you.Abigail:
Yeah, that doesn't work clearly. [laughs]Eleanore:
Abigail, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. The work that GRACE does is amazing. And the work that GRACE Grows does is amazing.Abigail:
Thank you. Thanks for having us. Yeah, it was nice to meet you. Eleanore: It was nice to meet you too. Have a good day.Eleanore:
Enjoy the weather! Abigail: I will! [laughs] [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 email@example.com. 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 first half of this episode was posted on May 12th, and can be found anywhere you listen to podcasts. 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!