March 3, 2021

Andy Diaz | Food Deserts | Liberty | Community

hey guys sorry I've been gone so longwith the Christmas holiday I just needed to take a break spend some time withfamily and regroup now I'm back it's the new year 2020 and we're heading into anew legislative session and we've got some news first item up is what you'relooking at you can see I've got a new logo here right to garden this is thename of our new bill going into this legislative session I'm very excitedabout it and you'll see that we've rebranded all of our social mediaaccording to this new title for the legislation so that's kind of fun nextvideo that I'll post will be my interview with representative Allenskill corn who is also one of our strong supporters along with rep West and repvia who I've already posted interviews with today I'm interviewing Andy Diazwho along with his family has started urban acres in Peoria Illinois which isjust about a food desert this conversation with Andy went in a lot ofdifferent directions and it's about a lot more than hoop houses legislation orany one particular thing it's it's a conversation about heart and communityand growing together and working together and that x-factor that comesout when we all row the boat in the same direction it's pretty inspiring stuff Ihope you'll stick around for the whole interview thanks for stopping by here wego welcome to my youtube channel Andy thankyou for joining me today can you give us a little background about yourself andurban acres for the listeners so they know like what is urban acres where areyou what are you doing so I'm a pretty much lifelong residentof the near north side of Peoria Illinois it's a midsize town halfwaybetween Chicago and st.

Louis and I'm an urban gardener and I don't know Isometimes I throw in visionary because I I try to envision what I want in mycommunity but I've got four little kids and a wonderful wifethe all have gotten into the farming and being part of a family unit that givesback to our community how did urban acres get started can youtell me the story yeah so it started off I was heading to church one day and wedrove by my old childhood home and there was an excavator out front and ademolition order and it just I texted in fact I texted my mom did you knowthey're tearing down our old house and no and we didn't and I started lookinginto it but where we grew up there was a bunch of houses that have been torn downso I went in and saw that some of these houses were already or some of theseLots were already for sale for $600 they were mine so I picked him up with theintention that I was going to pick up where my childhood home was and thevacant lot surrounding that whole thing and that area was one acre and then welooked at the land where we farm at home and all the people in the community whoare farming I said there's acres and acres of land being farmed here in theNorth Valley or in any city but for us it was urban acres when someone wants todo it you have to give them the least amount of hoops because odds are theydon't have much extra money right or a bunch of extra time if they're trying toguard so if there's something the legislature could do like to help enableit more yeah absolutely remove the obstacles yeah I say thatabout our city as well is if someone's willing to invest in their communityyeah like take the risk yeah so we started buying some of the vacant lotsin our area yeah there's I used to have a count there's quite a few most of themare owned either by the city or the county because of taxes or liens thatare put on them here in the North Valley we are vacant we have a 25% vacancyso that can be either a vacant house or a vacant lot what's the access to freshfood so it's not quite a food desert we do have small international brochurewho's got a produce section it's just one of those produce coolers where youfind grapes and stuff at usually like you know at the main grocery store yeahbut he carries he knows his demographic this area is between 20 and 25 percentLatino so he carries cilantro avocados limes like all the stuff that a Mexicanneeds to make sense that's what he's got okay and then he does have like theMexican cheese and and all that but it's not a full-fledged grocery store rightyou're not gonna do all your shopping at his store would you say like like afull-fledged it would be from here it's about 10 to 15 minutes away it's not ahorrible thing but in a city where or in an area where maybe you don't havereliable transportation you have to get a ride from a neighbor you have to ridethe bus right it's a two-hour ordeal because you have to take the busdowntown to the Transit Center get off there get on another one time it all outso when you purchased your original Lots after you saw that your childhood homewas on the market was it always your plan to grow food on it yes that was thethe first intent because at about that same time there was a local mega chaingrocery store right I don't throw them under the bus I understand I don't saytheir name but they pulled out of our neighborhood where they were just at thetop of the hill as well as the south end of Peoria the two lowest income ZIPcodes in our area and some numbers throughout the state yeahso they pulled out of those areas it just wasn't profitablefor a lot of people trying to throw shade at why they wasn't profitableright and there was an outcry like people were totally just aghast and Ilooked at it as an opportunity that we could do some of the farming that wecould start entrepreneurs doing more down here and here how did you get thisidea that you should start growing food I'm crazy told me the story you said yousaid your dad was a he had experience yes so I'm an optimist right like youwork your tail off you can make things happen and so my grandpa sold my dad toanother guy during the growing season to go and live at his house the the man youknow house my dad fed him and all that but my dad stayed with him when he wassix years old to go farm sweet potatoes and peanuts and my dad comes from afamily of 11 like that was what you did in Mexico to survive okay and so sincemy dad has been six he has been farming something.

When he came to this countryhe you know he didn't have a lot of money but he knew how to grow stuff andthat was something to him that is a pastime like you know fun thing yeah soever since I can remember we have had a huge garden wherever we've lived firstof all as a Latino and central Illinois in the 70s and 80s there wasn't a placethat you're gonna go find thumb at the US or Halle peniel's like you you justcouldn't write like even today there are still certain things you have to go tothe Mexican store for because they don't carry them in in your normal chaingrocery stores.

I do believe that we have to take a new approachto getting change in our neighborhoods.

And so when you say change, it soundslike you might be talking about more than just food yeah? Yeah, I mean it's.


Sowe bought the building that we're doing this interview in with the whole ideathat.



Our original plan was to have just the Urban Acres, and a little farm standacross from apart selling tacos and produce during the summer and calling ita day.

And thinking that's the kind of stuff that people down here want.

When weapproached the city about it, we had the highest leadership in the city, Citystaff questioned our motives, our intellect, our economics.



Okay, hold on a second here.

Are you telling me this whole endeavor has not gained huge support from your municipalgovernment? No.

From our local people – People love it! Right – from the localgovernment standpoint because I'm not the multi millionaire pulling inmillions of dollars in tax subsidy we're not a we're small potatoes, especially inthis community where you're a lot we were 20-25 percent Latino or mixed; 30percent white; 40 percent African-American Okay.

So we are like a Benettoncommercial right like we have a little bit of everything.

So, it's not about, youknow, making just a mix another Mexican store.


It's about making a storewhere, you know, African- American people where Asian – like – we grew bok choy, you know, because there are people in this community, you know, of the Asianpersuasion – they said if you grow that we'll come buy it.

So tell me how you gotfrom “I want to grow food with my dad” on this land that we got to this buildingthat we're sitting in? To prove the City wrong.

To prove people wrong.

Likethis This is the length I will go to.



What were the primary obstacles that you encountered in dealing with the City ofPeoria in terms of this project for Urban Acres? Can you describe some of those obstacles? So when were goingafter some of the vacant land in in our neighborhood and there is some landthat's owned by the county and some land that's owned by the city and the countywill take your money whenever you want to write them a check and give you land.


The City, on the other hand, chooses who they want to give land to anddoesn't believe that a Latino living in the poor part of town is smart enough orhas the finances to go through and help change his neighborhood.

Is that a guess Andy? No.

our Director of Community Development wrote an email to every City Council member to let themknow that I didn't have the the capability of doing development becauseapparently I'm not smart enough or I don't have the economic resources to doit – when the man knows nothing about my economics or my intellect.

I see.

After atwo-hour meeting he wrote that as his justification to turn me down frombuying land from the City, So as we stand today in December 2019, there are certainlots in the City of Peoria, which you are barred from purchasing.


Is thatcorrect? Well I want to be – watch my terms.

It's not that I'm barred.

It's that we have bigotry in the City of Peoria andas a Latino they have not given me the they have and they will not sell to meland.

Long story, short – I've gone to our Equal Employment Commission, EqualOpportunity Commission – you know I've been told to call the Justice Departmentto bring in, you know, like the racial help hotline, but I look at it, andto me, right, I've talked to lawyers the $600 that I wanted to spend on a lot justgave me that fire to go spend more money on a building and and it had to happenright – for as much as I may dislike the Community Development Director becausehe's a bigot it drove me and it put me into a place where I was going to showthem wrong.

So what developed? From all of the produce? Was it just you and your family that ate it? No.

W were selling it out of thegarden, like we put it up on Facebook we'll be at the the garden today on fromnoon to 4:00 stop by and buy produce.

I go out in front of the house and set upa table but that whole intent was to have a little farm stand across from apark in the neighborhood.


Now when that blew up, like I said, it had to happen.

This year we ended up with over 1500 pounds of produce.

Wow! That's a lot.

Youcan't can, steam, bag, freeze enough, with that much produce.

We were trying to sell it andshare it and you know the farm stand wasn't gonna work where we were trying, and one night I saw a for sale sign go up in front of this building.

You know II drive this neighborhood or I'll walk this neighborhood during the day tofigure out what's next right to run into a neighbor and say “What do what else arewe lacking?” “What would you go to?” right? And to know the neighbors and I wouldsay it's what we want as a neighborhood and we wanted a place where you couldbuy and sell stuff, so when I saw this for sale sign it was a sign from Godthat said “Hey the City had to deny you so you didn't have all your money tiedup in trying to build a farm stand, ” So we immediately after we closed on a Fridayand I think it was that next Saturday we had our first Mercado.

We brought all the produce out of the garden.

I called up a couple of people Iknew.

A lady at work said “Hey, my sister sells tie-dye t-shirts can she come down?”and I told this to Jacob in my neighborhood if you would have told mesome lady's gonna come sell tye-dye shirts I just said she's gonna makeabout 10 bucks and never come back.

That woman has made more money thananybody else at the Mercado.

God bless her.

She makes cool shirts like my kids are her biggestfan.


So this is having.



it must be having a broader impact in the community than just access to food.

What do you see? It's access to everything.

Peoria is an area that we are losing, like every other Midtown midsize community the box stores are closing up because it's easier andcheaper to go to Amazon or buy online.

and all that.

The malls are you knowgetting they decimated and they people still want to be able to go touch andbuy stuff and there are certain things that you just can't outsource.

You know, the woman who sells wind chimes and Christmas crafts.



That stuff, you can't.



gets hit Etsy and all that stuff is great but sometimes you need to see that product.


So there's a woman here in the neighborhood that she makes these windchimes and lights and Christmas stuff and directors chairs like it's allseason stuff but when she heard what I was she knew I wasdoing the garden she's right behind the garden, so when the the neighbor ladyfrom when I was a kid – her her daughter's my age.

She knows me, right – she knowswhere my heart is – what my intentions are right she sees me doing the garden andselling off produce and giving it away and everything else.


She's like”Andy, I want to support you.

” Yeah, and I make all this stuff and sell it onlineand I.


she goes to craft shows and all that she wanted a more regular place.


So she was one of the first vendors of that first weekend that we were open.

And she gave me all kinds of just help, right, like “Hey, you know, one of the otherguys has their truck parked there why don't we have him move it over here, sothat people are driving by they can see the stuff for sale?” Ya know it's notsomething I didn't know, but I was moving in 10 different directions that day toset up my booth and get produce down on the table and all that – Yeah – like she washelpful she was kind and touching and like helped us have a successful firstyear of the market but it was it's those kind of things that local entrepreneursthen have a reach far bigger than even my community -right We we have a bus stop here at the corner, so people are coming they're waiting for the bus they seethat we're selling produce and we had a taco stand and all this.

They would shopfor the few minutes before the bus came by.

Sometimes they walk away withsomething, sometimes just lunch, sometimes nothing; but then the next Saturdaythey'd come back.

So you had the local people shopping here and then like thiswoman and the t-shirt lady and our my folks and and my friends and family weput it out on Facebook hey the market is this weekend.

They are coming fromWashington, which is a 15 minute drive across the river.

They're coming fromMetamora.

They're coming from Dunlap.

People from throughout the communityare coming because it's something different.

like I want to feed peoplebecause that's in my heart.

Like you see me I'm a big boy.

I break bread – I will break bread with anybody, because when we have mealstogether and can sit down across from a table and talk, we learn about eachother we actually tell stories to each other.


And can grow as community.




And that's what this market is my goal is to have aplace where community gathers you know the room that we're in now is you knowsoon or hopefully will be a commissary where we can bring kids from theneighborhood school that's four blocks down the street to teach them how tomake a healthy meal.

Maybe at Christmas there's some grandmas in the city thatwant to just come bake cookies so that the kids can pick up a bag of cookies ontheir way home before Christmas break.

I don't know.


But that's the kind ofstuff I envision.

You have ideas.

I have ideas for our kids did a Saturday morning gardenstand largely because our oldest was super super super shy and our youngestrefused to learn subtraction.

I thought well we're doing this garden if I haveher I have to make change she'll have to learn subtraction and if he has to workwith customers he just is gonna have to get over this shyness and it was thesame kind of like if you build it they will come people started I met moreneighbors on those Saturday morning it's just three hours doing a garden standthen in 15 years prior living in the house and something happens.

Theyjust see you doing something good and people are like what you doing they'relike what's good you know like and it's wholesome and it's good and you can'tduplicate that on Amazon.

No, you can't.

duplicate it through a digitaltransaction.

There is a personal component.

It gives me a chill to thinkabout it because what you just said – yeah – It's so true.

People see someone else doing good and they want to be they want to be a partof that.

Right – like what we see on the Internet is: “I want to tear you apartbecause I don't have to look at you in the face and I can troll you and call younames” but when you're people sitting and talking to each other and civilizedsociety – yeah- you mirror those actions of the people doing that so when someone'sdoing good you want to go mirror that you want to do good – yeah – and we're thesame way.

Like there was some neighbors an apartment building behind the farmand this old man comes out one day “Hey, just want to let you know I missed adeer by this much last night.

” Because he's got a bow and arrow, he's a bowhunter, and he was going to take out a deer, you see we don't have fences up there right – The deer were coming in eat all the sweet potatoes so like we have notgotten a sweet potato out of that garden oh because the deer come and eat theleaves, the runners – but you know like I had never met him before he's been downthere in that apartment for like 15 years.

Now I made a connection yeah he'swatching out for the place.

I heard that you donate food, but you also sell food.

I am interested to know more details.


So my first goal is to move theproduce through the market.

There is something to be said if somebody buying tomatoes.



As we were walking the neighborhood today, you heard the woman, one of the neighbors as we stopped to talk – the green tomatoes – right – she is buyingproduce freezing it and saving it and using it.

It's something that I'vetalked with other farmers and urban farmers about and even food pantry folksis when they are gifted and given a bunch of produce and they're justwilly-nilly giving it away, it goes to waste.

More often than not, people, ifthey're not selecting it, if they're not saying: “I know how to use an eggplant”, oreven if something as simple as a tomato It's a sense of value.

So we try to sell it here first but I don't want to see anything go to waste.




So, if, on a Saturday, when wefinish up at the market, we still have a bunch of squash, or tomatoes, or whateverelse, my church has the food pantry that happens a couple times a month.

My folks' is Church has a food pantry that happens a couple times a month.

We've got some food pantries and things down here, but we make it a point to toget that produce into the hands of people at all costs.

So you harvest foryour family, and then you bring to the Mercado, and then you donate the rest.


And that's like a weekly basis? So from Memorial Day to Labor Day we you know we'll have this market set up the Mercadowill be here on Saturdays.


And then you know, during the week, if we find thatwe have a bunch of extra stuff that's where we make salsa.

We freeze it.

But our goal is, that on Saturdaymornings we have the best harvest and you know Friday night Saturday morning, we go out and harvest everything, come here with the freshest produce.

When you go toany other farmers market – you'll never hear another farmers market person sayyeah the produce was grown a block from here.


You'll have them this was allwithin 10 miles, hundred miles, whatever yeah but this is true local produce waitthat's very cool.

Okay, let's talk about those shoulder seasons.

What about hoophouses for you? I consider it more as a great place to start stuff especiallythose cold weather crops that you can't get spinach in the middle of the summerhere or even getting like the broccoli and things like that started.

So, I showedyou the two lists two newest acquisitions last year.

The lots acrossfrom our house – yeah – that is where I would do a hoop house because like – and it sounds crazy and maybe a little lazy the garden is two and a half blocks from myhouse.

Yeah, oh no – but two and a half blocks when you like.



It was a beautiful day wewalk the neighborhood.

I totally agree with you.

No problem.

I totally agree.

My wife got mad that this year I only grew a cherry tomatoes at the housebecause I had a hundred tomato plants at the garden.


And she goes: “I want aplace where I can walk outside when I'm making lunch for the kids” yeah”or dinner what you want and grab what I want I don't have to walk over there with you already I'm just telling you togrow because right outside your back door that's why I started with my little4 foot by 4 foot bed in 2013 with lettuce because I had trouble like onthe greens you buy at the store because they're already a week old they're likeslimy into these and you're like so I put the lettuce right outside thekitchen door for sandwiches and salads or whatever and it makes a hugedifference that will be on the newest property that's where I could firstly Iknow if you have any restrictions in Peoria we do it can't be more than 10%of the property I think it is I first learned about you way before you evenreached out is so we didn't stop and look at her garden becausewe the way we went but there's another woman who does some urban gardening it'sheard about it because some she's going through the U of I Master Gardenerprogram and it got brought up with hoop houses and really so she had shared iton social media here already so I had seen it and it was interesting right Iwas like screwed over that's what made me go read some of our rules right solike in the City of Peoria they and this is only in like the last five years Ithink that they have allowed five to seven years they've allowed urbangardens okay because the amount of vacant land that we have you know butit's weird the things that we allow on an urban garden versus what we wouldallow an out right like they will allow a fence up to the fence line like up tothe property line up to like any size like a you know around a garden but if Igo umpire to put a four-foot fence on my house I'll get written up because thecode is only allows a three-foot fence in our situation it's supposed to bethat membrane structures are not permitted membrane anything with amemory is not permitted the issue is that's written in the permanent BuildingCode and hoop houses are not permanent buildings are they no so then when youdrive around town you see membrane structures all over theplace even once they've written permits for so if they're writing permits forthem how is it that they are not the world is changing right and whether itbe because of Amazon or because of the internet or because of the economics oftoday we have to evolve and change with it would you say like could you givelike a nugget of what people could do or something that might inspire them totake action in there region in their own City what would youwant to say to people I wish I had an inspirational word to get someone offthe couch and go do something but it really is it's like give give a crapabout something and fight for it yeah because too often we see when you watchthe news or if you follow your local politics it's the same four or fivepeople you hear about right and that person who's going from the farmersmeaning to the n-double-a-cp meaning to you know the neighborhood meeting thoseare all great people but for people shouldn't carry your town your villageyour country right well we when we look at politics or life as a whole we followthe six people's tweets of the moment but be different go off and and makesome change that you can do yourself and and it sounds more but but leave some ofthat other stuff to other people figure out what your lane is and be in thatlane yeah that's great when it comes to what can you buy local that's producedlocally I'm all about it I want to go find that kind of stuff yeah and I wantto and I want to find those jobs that can't be outsourced yeah I'm spending alion's share of my money here locally when we buy local art local serviceseverybody thinks you need a billion dollars or you know these megainvestments right this so I walked you around our neighborhood a little bityeah if we started saying no that we need to have million and billion dollarinvestments or multi-million dollar investments yeah it would change herneighborhood it wouldn't be the neighborhood that I want to live inright I love the fact that I can walk down the street and talk to myneighbor and she's sitting on the front porch hanging out and people lived inthe suburb hanok yeah kind of grow an organic growth that is natural to ourneighborhood the needs of these constituents they don't need to bepushed to another place we've got plenty of affordable housing like we just needthe mixed economic portfolio if you will but we need to have a thriving blackcommunity right a place where people know like there is culture there tooyeah and we don't allow that to happen in this community you know I am NOT asyou can see I'm not a black guy but I am comfortable going to a black club or toa black business there may be some people in this community who they justdon't know right I'm I had a co-worker come up and asked me hey can we go tothat place we want to go to lunch at this one place and it's a wing place onthe south end of town that's you know black hole business and I said I can'tgo today you know are you going yeah I wasn't sure if it's the kind of placethat I can go that's like what I looked at weirdI think freedom is something people really I'm not showing here I think wehave an impaired sense of Liberty I mean definitely the municipal governmentsdon't understand what our liberty is like for sure and I think for thisexample a lot of people don't understand what their own Liberty is like thesethese projects the one they are doing what I'm trying to do what we're tryingto do I think it all stems for that you know like if we're not free what do wehave yeah I think part of it is like that's what I like about my Medicaid allright like I've got black senators white vendors everything everything and we arepulling in black white brown people yellow peeling yes we are pulling inpeople everybody and and they're realizing alright thisis not just a place for Mexican people to come shopping just a place for blackpeople to cut a shop I think that's a great message to wrap it up with thankyou very much do you mind if I come back in the spring didn't know when it's ormaybe early summer when it's hoppin yeah not at all our communities are verydifferent but they are both served by supporting people's freedom to grow foodright so the legislators need to see that from as many people as possiblethank you Andy very much for letting me chat with you this long I reallyappreciate it thank you very much for coming down and see anyone we got allright you.

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