Food deserts in Miami and low-income neighborhoods go hand in hand, but Miamian Asha Loring is aiming to change that.
Loring and her Health In The Hood non-profit recently was surprised with a new food truck to help deliver fruits and vegetables she grows in urban gardens around Miami.
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The Facebook show, “Returning The Favor,” with former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe, featured her on a recent episode. Even Miami mayor Francis Suarez showed up for the special surprise, calling the project a “mission of love and hope.”
“I was looking on Google how to transform a city bus but never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen. I thought it was a documentary, but the producers were in on it,” Loring said. “They gave me the biggest surprise of my life when I saw that thing pull around the corner with my dad driving it.”
Loring had a five-year plan to eventually acquire the vehicle, but the show fast-tracked her lofty goals. The new wheels will help connect various urban farms and distribute crops. She also wants to use it to host events like nutrition, fitness, and urban gardening workshops.
Before “Returning The Favor” put Loring in front of its 1.9 million followers, Loring had been working behind the scenes.
In 2013 the non-profit planted its first garden in Liberty City and made a call to the residents for help. The organization won the Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge grant to start its Opa-Locka garden. Her model of finding vacant land, enlisting key players in the neighborhood and involving residents became self-sustaining.
“People come out when they see the cinderblocks being delivered and get excited when we ask them what they want to have planted in their garden,” Loring said. “We hire residents from each neighborhood to be our garden managers, and during the installation process we have about 70 volunteers come out. Once the harvest is ready, the produce is distributed among residents for free. The gardens have become our living classrooms.”
Loring believes she was destined to serve her community through the land.
Her father, Marvin Dunn, an author and advocate for land ownership, was a source of inspiration. Dunn started his own urban farms in the late ’90s, and she grew up watching her family hustle, particularly in Overtown.
“I’ve always been really disturbed by the disparities that exist,” Loring said. “I live in Downtown Miami, and a mom in Overtown whose apartment I can see from mine doesn’t have the same access to exercise, health education and fresh foods that I do. I figured it was time to write a new chapter….”
Corine Newsome, the Opa-Locka garden manager, lives next to the garden and took it upon herself to take care of the land. Loring hired her on the spot. Newsome’s been hosting monthly community events, like her Books and Breakfast, bringing people together in the garden to build a sense of community.
Neighbors call her “the garden lady.”
“It dawned on me that I was reaching people when they stop and approach me and tell me about the vegetables they’re using or tell me how they’re now eating more greens since attending an event at the garden,” Newsome said. “It’s nice to talk to people in the garden and educate them. Since it is a food desert, they don’t always have to go to McDonald’s or Burger King. Take ten minutes and make a quick meal that’s healthier. I’m always educating people. I’m proud of my Opa- Locka community and how it’s coming together.”