Oasis: Farm for the Next Generation of Farmers in West Dayton

For some, the goal of creating an urban garden is to tackle food scarcity, while for others it means connecting neighbors with other neighbors. While others might do it as a hobby. But it can also be a big task.

About eight years ago, Gregory Muhammad bought a plot of land in West Dayton for $1. call it Oasis Center for Agricultural Education. Right now, it’s mostly a blank canvas. But Mohamed dreams of building a community garden and gathering place.

The farm is located in West Dayton, on a four-acre plot and has a single building on it. The building needs some repairs, the paint is fading and some of the windows are paneled.

But it is not deserted, in fact there is life everywhere. There is a garden plot for growing vegetables and fruit trees. Local children painted lilac and lilac flowers on some of the wood-panelled windows while others wrote words of encouragement on them.

Next to the building, there is a trailer. This is where Muhammad lives. He has big plans for this place.

“I’m not an expert or master gardener yet, but I’m learning,” Mohammed said. “This is all trial and error, you’re still dealing with the elements.”

Muhammad Tawil with gray hair and glasses. He was born in Dayton and always remembers gardening as a child. He has a teaching degree and worked at Dayton Schools as a teacher for a while. But he works mostly in construction now.

He’s on a mission, he wants this garden to be an asset to the community and bring farming awareness to young people in Dayton.

He said that today’s world is full of many distractions, but gardening has a way of focusing on someone.

“Earth has a way of humiliating you,” said Muhammad. “Once you come and put your hand in the dirt, it is a whole new reality, it is just soothing the mind.”

In 2010, Muhammad moved to Alabama where he joined the Nation of Islam Ministry Of Agriculture. He learned that growing food is essential to the growth of a healthy community – and he wanted to share that message.

When Muhammad returned to Dayton, a friend offered him a lot practically for free, paying only one dollar as a token gesture. And at first, he didn’t know what to do with it.

“When we get the land, it’s as if someone is giving you something, but doesn’t understand what’s coming after it, like taxes and maintenance.” Mohammad said.

Since the land grab, the learning curve has been steep. But Mohammed is making progress. Now he grows grapes, fruit trees, cabbage and other vegetables. He set up a small chicken coop behind the old building and at one point kept honeybees in the grounds.

For a while, Muhammad was walking alone. He said the work it takes to grow on Earth can be enormous. He added that he sometimes feels like “Little Red Hen” from a children’s story.

“She was a worker and asked people to help her or ask for help from other farm animals.” Mohammad said.

The hero of the story is a chicken who sowed wheat seeds. I harvested the wheat, milled it and baked bread with it.

Along the way she asked her friends for help but, “No one had time for that, but they had time to eat, but they didn’t have time to help with the process.” Mohammad said.

There is still work to be done – and yes, he sometimes feels like a little red hen, but he is happy to do it for his community. And he wants to involve more of his neighbors.

He invited local children and other farmers to help with the harvest and weeding. Some members of the Dayton New Black Panther party even helped him build a greenhouse last summer.

“The Black Panther Brothers and the Nation Brothers came and helped me get rid of the plastic and move on to the ring house.” Mohammad said.

Alexandre Figueroa

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WYSO

Gregory Muhammad along with other members of the Nation of Islam and the New Dayton Black Panther Party built a circular house on a four-acre plot.

The farm also partnered with Dayton City Schools to found it From farm to school Programming – A state and federally funded program aimed at educating children about farming and providing schools with fresh, nutritious produce.

He wants this land to be a gathering place, a hub for food in a community that has limited access to fresh, healthy produce.

“I want to have small, distinctive products where we sell fruits and vegetables from other black farmers or any farms in the area,” Mohamed said, “I mean your work deserves some reward.”

But this property will be more than just a garden or production stand.

He plans to repair the old building and turn it into a neighborhood day nursery and education center where the local community can gather.

He says he wants this to be an oasis for the next generation of farmers.

“[This is] To pass something or start something and hand the wand to some young men, because without them, it is pointless.” Muhammad said.

Mohamed still has a lot of work to do. He managed to save some money to pay taxes on the land and run the water. But there is a long way to go to make Muhammad’s vision of this quality a reality.

Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a panellist with Report for America, a national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms.

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