PHOENIX — Staying on the right path in life can be challenging at times, but one local non-profit is using community gardens as spaces to overcome just about anything.
ABC15 spent a Wednesday morning with the TigerMountain Foundation, as people from all walks of life came together in a south Phoenix neighborhood to learn about growing fruits and vegetables.
"You can be old, young, Black, white, we want everybody to come but it’s about what we do when we get here," said 25-year-old Brandon Bates, a natural leader in the garden who not long ago was out of a job due to COVID-19.
On the other side of the garden was Emily Bowe, an Arizona State University student, and Jemeirr Jones. The two just met and were working alongside one another harvesting turnips.
“I started working here when my dad brought me out of CPS custody because that’s where I was and once I got out, I started here," Jones said. "Gave me a nice peace of mind. I did show up with a big temper, but throughout the years of working here, I've pretty much calmed down."
That peace of mind is what Darren Chapman, CEO of TigerMountain Foundation, wants everyone who joins him in the garden to feel.
"We have a zero-tolerance of any animosity or division, and this is the place where we do that," Chapman said. “Our community has dealt with a billion-dollar prison pipeline, obviously there’s systemic issues that crunch the backs of our community, so TigerMountain Foundation was started because it was a place where I could go in a garden to be free.”
Chapman says he's overcome some hurdles in his life and believes others can do the same.
"Been behind bars probably seven times in my life and for a multitude of reasons," Chapman said. "How did I get from there to here is an amazing story I feel all in itself. To be in a place of darkness and not really caring whether you lived or died the next day. I was just going to press on the gas pedal. I was told as a young man, if I lived to be 25 years old, by one of our teachers, that's the life expectancy of a Black man in our community. That's when I was in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Last Monday I turned 56 years old."
Along with being a part of a community, the work being done through the foundation helps those in south Phoenix have access to fresh and healthy food.
"When we have leftovers or an abundance of harvest, we will provide food to places at Local First to tell us to deliver the food," said Katelyn Prinzo, the agribusiness manager for TigerMountain Foundation. "We also see people when we're at the Garden of Tomorrow in south Phoenix, I mean people just walk up from the neighborhood and ask if they can help garden so they can take some of the produce home."
But it's easy to see what's happening in the garden is bigger than food and, to Bates, that's an amazing thing.
"We’re trying to figure out the next way to bring this community together because that’s our purpose, literally," he said. "It’s not, where are we going to make this money at? It’s not, when are we going to the club? It’s, how do we get people that have been torn apart for centuries back together in a place like this?"
To learn more about TigerMountain Foundation, click here.