The world wide web is a wonderful place to meet and connect with other people from around the world. It’s a great place to stumble upon some awesome missions and create some soul stirring movements. It’s a great place to reach out to someone and say “Hey, I love what you’re doing and I’m so here for it!” Which is where I happened to stumble upon Rob Veggies and his movement to bring fresh produce, nutrition awareness and education to urban communities through his love of farming and agriculture. So I’m inviting you to meet me in the trap where it goes down…the Trap Gardens that is, with Rob Veggies.
Trap Garden was founded in Nashville, Tennessee by Robert “Rob Veggies” Horton. Rob’s motivation as an urban farmer stems from his own experiences growing up in a St. Louis, Missouri neighborhood with few fresh, healthy food items. Frustrated with driving miles from his home to find a grocery store with fresh produce, he decided to stop complaining and alleviate the problem by joining a community garden. He started the Trap Garden in February 2015, growing his own vegetables and herbs, and providing assistance to others who do not have direct access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks.I had the opportunity to speak to him about his mission and what we can hope for in the future from the Trap Gardens.
Q: When we think of “trap houses” we think of the rundown and near abandoned houses where all the drug production goes down that no one pays attention to. Then there’s trap music that glamorizes that lifestyle. What positive connotation do you hope to achieve with the Trap Gardens in using that word “trap?”
The Trap Garden focuses on the work ethic of a drug production operation. Although they are not putting out anything good into the community, they are working long hours to produce and distribute those products. The word “Trap” to me is about putting in hard work and dedication to produce the best possible product. For me, that product happens to be vegetables, and I hope to be able to put the freshest vegetables into my community to help fight health disparities.
Q: Can you describe what the process was like when starting Trap Gardens and how it had been received since in your community?
After making the decision to start the Trap Garden, the first steps was finding property to grow on because, my apartment complex did not have any land for me to have a garden. During the search for property, I not only found land but a mentor as well to teach me some of the basics for starting a garden. The land where the Trap Garden was started is at my alma mater, Tennessee State University and my mentor is an African American male who has retired and since became a master gardener.
My mentor challenged me to learn about the planning process before planting and gave me the tools (literally) to be successful. Our organization and it’s mission has been well received by the community. The first year I brought friends and community members out to the Trap Garden to learn about the planting process and well as discuss the importance of growing our own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. That led to others being interested in volunteering, helping, and partnering to establish other Trap Gardens in the city.
Q: How many staff do you have? Is the Trap Gardens a single unit or does it operate as a co-farming space like Farmer’s Markets?
We are a small team of five people operating as a single unit but partnering with small businesses, organizations, and community members for Trap Garden projects.
Q: What are some successes you have seen since starting the Trap Gardens in your city? Do you have several locations? Do you plan on expanding?
Raising interest in the community about learning and planting their own vegetables has been a major success thus far. We recently worked with the Boys and Girls club of Middle TN to help start an after school gardening program. We had the opportunity to speak to club members and get them excited about this years planting season on Earth Day.
We have also started expanding into other locations, other small black businesses have allowed for us to utilize their property to grow, and spread the word about eating healthy. One of those properties being Garden Brunch Café, a popular non pork brunch restaurant where we constructed raised bed gardens for spring/summer planting season. The next site will be launching in the next few weeks at The Learning Tree Academy, a daycare center that is looking to get kids growing and eating healthy at a younger age, and there is more other partnerships and projects in the works!
Q: Back in the early to late 90’s urban communities really started to see a lot of community gardens sprout up, but after a season or two they eventually become what they were beforehand, a vacant lot. What is some advice you would give to city leaders and residents who wish to upkeep a community garden? How can we truly make them community efforts and get everyone involved?
It is important to keep the community involved and engaged in the conversation and process of establishing and maintaining the garden space. Advocacy is also important, ensuring that our local government leaders understand the relevancy and benefits of community gardens/spaces and how they assist the under-represented.
I also believe that not just one person should be over the garden because if they are no longer involved with the program, it will eventually become an empty lot again. If a group of community leaders or community gardeners from the neighborhood are all working together to plan, plant, and maintain the space, it is less likely that it will fail if one person is unable to maintain it.
Q: Why do you think African Americans have such a hard time being healthy even with all the education and awareness programs that do exist?
Historically and culturally we have prepared meals that have not always been healthy for our bodies. Although education and awareness programs are available, we all have staples in our communities that we have become accustomed to eating on a regular basis.
Q: Programs like SNAP and WIC make it possible for low-income families to have access to different alternatives, why do you think most still go for the process and unhealthy choices? What are some things Trap Garden does to combat that?
I think that many low-income families still go for processed and unhealthy choices because they have not been exposed to creating healthier meals or they feel that they do not have the funds to eat healthy even with SNAP and WIC. The Trap Garden wants to expose the pallet of the community to try new foods and learn how to prepare meals that are good and good for you. I remember speaking with a community member about a neighbor needing assistance to buy food for her family. Once at the grocery store, he purchased fresh produce for the family, but the mother did not know how to prepare any meals with the produce. “She expected him to buy frozen pizzas and other pre-made items, not produce. It is so important to connect, educate and teach both parents and youth at an early age to expose them to fresh and healthy items and show them how to prepare healthy meals with the produce. Local chefs and nutritionists are a crucial piece to the puzzle. The goal in the near future for the Trap Garden is to be able to bring local chefs and nutritionists into the communities and provide education.
Q: Do you believe representation matters when it comes to getting minorities to make healthier choices? Why?
Yes, I believe that representation is very important. I believe when you can relate to the communities experiences and cultural beliefs it is easier to have conversations about making healthier choices. I understand the communities I am trying to serve because, I am a part of the community. I am speaking in terms that are understandable and using my life experiences to describe the harmful effects of not eating healthy.
Q: You’re a young black man who is fully aware of his health and how important it is to make smart choices. There’s a stereotype that black men really don’t take care of themselves or their health without the nagging of a black woman. What are your thoughts on that?
Personally, I have seen health disparities in my neighborhood, and family members. Recognizing the effects of type two diabetes, and other healthcare issues that can be alleviated by proper dieting and exercising I just decided that I wanted to adjust my own eating habits to try not to have those same issues. I do think that is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed and believe this can be done by teaching young black males the importance of taking care of their bodies, proper eating habits, and scheduling regular doctor visits.
Q: Where can the people of Nashville find you?
They can find me at one of the three Trap Garden Locations:
- Tennessee State University Farm
- The Garden Brunch Café
- The Learning Tree Academy
****To learn more about volunteer and donation opportunities please visit The Trap Gardens website and contact them for more information.