Faces of Public Health: Taja Sevelle

May 13, 2013, 12:05 PM

Taja Sevelle Taja Sevelle in one of her many gardens [Photo courtesy of Urban Farming]

Urban Farming, founded by recording artist Taja Sevelle, is a nonprofit organization with a goal of reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods by encouraging people in urban, rural and suburban areas to plant gardens on unused land. There are now over 66,600 community, residential and partner gardens that are part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain around the world.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Taja Sevelle about the group and its plans for the future.

NewPublicHealth: How did you become interested in the issue of Urban Farming?

Taja Sevelle: I was recording a CD for Sony Records in Detroit, Mich., when I began to see the vast amounts of unused land in the city. I knew that numerous jobs were being shipped overseas and a lot of people who had lost their jobs were suffering. So, in 2005 I put my music career on the back burner and started Urban Farming with three gardens and a pamphlet. It was always a global vision that grew rapidly and started to get international coverage quickly.

Even though this seems like a new idea, it really is just reacquainting people with the age-old act of planting food. The World War II victory gardens, for example, are a great model because during that time, 20 million Americans planted gardens and grew almost half of the U.S. produce supply. Recently, when the economic downfall hit around the world, planting a garden became a necessity for many people who may not have been thinking about it previously.

NPH: What are the key goals for Urban Farming?

Taja Sevelle: The intention is to create a paradigm shift in the consciousness of the human race to end hunger, so that our kids come up to us and ask what it was like to have hunger in the world. Imagine only being able to imagine a world without hunger because the world is filled with edible walls and rooftops and personal gardens in yards. Imagine a world with no abandoned space in cities because people utilize it before it is developed.

This vision also becomes a catalyst for so many other wonderful things for the planet, and for health. When you have a garden you start to engage your children in healthy eating and you yourself become engaged in healthy eating because you are incorporating the healthy foods into your diet. On many levels the act of growing your own food is very powerful. And a lot of families are realizing that a garden also cuts down on monthly food bills.

NPH: What are some of your proudest accomplishments with Urban Farming?

Taja Sevelle: From an initial base of just three gardens, we have grown to over 60,000 gardens and have helped to feed over a million people. The gardens are registered in over 20 countries.

One of our very exciting projects occurred with Kraft and their Triscuit brand. We planted 65 community gardens in 21 cities across the United States. Kraft funded the entire project, which helped to feed thousands of people and inspire more than 50,000 people to register their gardens.

We also launched a campaign last year with comedian Richard Lewis along with CNN and the network’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, called the Urban Farming 100 Million Families and Friends Global Campaign. The campaign encourages people to start growing their own food.

Other partnerships include a relationship with Lightlife, a meat alternative company. Partners and supporters help us reach more people and provide support for the community gardens, free plant giveaways and other projects.

NPH: What’s next?

Taja Sevelle: We are funding more Urban Farming Community Gardens around the world and we continue to expand our online educational resources in the areas of: Healthy Thinking, Healthy Eating, Healthy Fitness, Healthy Finances and Healthy Families, and we are adding Healthy Communication this year. Our website has an interactive section including space where users can share photos of their garden and share healthy recipes. People who register their garden on the site can pick a name for the garden and see it on the map, along with the other gardens around the world. And by registering their garden or farm people become eligible for free plants, special offers and potential funding for community gardens.

>>Bonus Link: Read a news story on community gardens in Lawrence, Kansas.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.