Q&A | Trap Sustainability Initiative Brings Solution To Food Deserts
In recent years, my interest in entrepreneurship has increased significantly; there's something special about ownership, improving your community and living your best life doing exactly what you love. Every day. When you do that, it's never work.
I met the founder/creator of Trap Garden, Rob Veggies, 10 years ago (wow, I hadn't realized how long ago we met until I typed that just now). I believe we were in the same tour group during freshman orientation, on the campus of Fisk University, and when we had to awkwardly introduce ourselves to everyone, I recall Rob proudly saying he was from St. Louis and had an interest in studying biology. Who knew years later he'd go on to start something that improves not just his community, but the residents of communities where there might not be a Whole Foods or the hottest organic market on the block.
I asked Rob a few questions about the Trap and what direction he sees it going in the future. Check out the interview below:
KS: So. What is the TrapGarden and what motivated you to start such an initiative?
RV: My own personal life experiences motivated me to want to build something that could provide assistance to others who do not have direct access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, in a neighborhood without many fresh healthy food items then moving to Nashville and having to drive miles away from my home to a grocery store with fresh products was frustrating. I woke up one morning and decided that I did not want to complain anymore but do something to alleviate the problem. I decided to join a community garden and become an urban gardener to grow my own vegetables and herbs. My undergraduate university, Tennessee State, offers a community garden and my passion for gardening all started there. My enjoyment for the garden grew into the idea of a healthy corner store to help provide fresh locally grown items to other community members. The next step for the Trap Garden is to get others involved in planting. I would really like to be able to purchase my own land in a urban community and allow for others to grow fresh vegetables and herbs.
KS: What’s the long-term goal of TG, if you want to share?
RV: We want to establish sustainable food programs in low-income communities. These programs will consist of cooking demonstration classes, community gardening, and tips for shopping healthy on a budget. The ultimate goal is to open a corner store and have an established garden for the community to plant fresh items and purchase healthier, fresh food. The ultimate goal of the corner store is to give people in low-income housing areas healthy food options as opposed to fast-food restaurants or other unhealthy items immediately available in their community. I think having a place where residents in the neighborhood know where their food came from and can build a personal relationship with the staff would be dope. I literally visualize what the store would look life everyday. With HBCU flags hanging up and fresh fruit and vegetables for customers at an affordable rate. It is only a matter of time before this vision becomes a reality.
KS: In recent years, there has been a spark of interest with the Black community about “living green” or adapting sustainable lifestyles, but it’s still relatively new terrain for us. What’s your approach to educating our people about growing their own products?
RV: Long story short, having real life conversations with community members about my personal experiences and how living green can improve, not only your personal health, but the health of your family as well. Showing people simple ways that you can make small adjustments in your lifestyle that can make a big change. We also try to make our events fun by incorporating music and games as well as debunking the myth that living green has to be expensive.
KS: Well something must be working for you -- I see you’ve partnered with Toyota recently. What’s up with this automotive gig?
RV: Yea, I am excited about going on tour with Toyota I think it is going to be a dope opportunity. The company created the Toyota Green Initiative as an environmental stewardship platform designed to educate African-American communities on the benefits of adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle. The Trap Garden as well as some other organizations will be providing tips at DIY stations, serve on panel discussions and volunteer. [I'm] looking forward to traveling to different HBCU sporting conferences and music festivals such as Broccoli City to spread the word about living a sustainable lifestyle. It is about to be pretty lit.
KS: That’s dope! Glad to see you get this additional exposure and meet some other folks in the space who could inspire you. What other projects have you worked on in the Nashville area?
RV: Outside of the gardens that we have already established here, we recently partnered with the Boy’s and Girl’s Club to help recruit kids for an after school gardening program. We have also served as sponsors for “A Walk for Education” supporting the event by providing healthy breakfast items for all participants. Currently, we are partnering with local chefs to begin our healthy cooking demonstrations in the community.
KS: How can one go about creating an urban garden? I think sometimes folks that live in metropolitan areas get discouraged when it comes to having their own garden, but it’s totally possible, right?
RV: Anyone can turn their balcony or window stand into an urban garden. You can do a lot with limited space, you just have to be creative. I recommend anyone to start with small planters of herbs or vegetables within their homes or apartments and work up from there. For individuals looking to expand into their community, I would meet with community members to create a plan of action and partner with a local business that has unused space that can be used for a garden.
"You can do a lot with limited space, you just have to be creative."
KS: In their respective fields, everyone has a role model or two -- someone who’s work they admire or who’s path they want to emulate. Who are your role models in the green space?
RV: First it would have to be Ron Finley who is a gangster gardener in South Central LA who challenged the system and decided to start a garden near the sidewalk in front of his house. Next would have to be my mentor in the green space, Briars Davis who taught me a lot about gardening when I first decided to start growing my own vegetables and herbs at TSU. Lastly, the founders of Broccoli City [Brandon McEachern & Darryl Perkins]. They created a movement that not only supports creating a more sustainable lifestyle but merged it into the hip-hop culture.
KS: That’s dope, Rob. For real! Let’s switch gears a bit. How do you think the presidential race will impact sustainability? How will the country’s next president help, if at all, Black folks under/better adapt to this way of life?
RV: That is a good question, as sustainability was one of the questions asked in [a recent] debate. Honestly, from what I have heard from both candidates, I do not see how their policies on sustainability will directly help African-American communities. I think we as a community have to come together to create programs that can help us and vote for local government officials that can assist with our plans. As an organization, I believe that we are taking matters into our own hand to help our community.
KS: Alright, I hear you! What kind of music do you listen to? When you’re trapping, what puts you in the zone?
A lot of Rap and R&B. I think I am a good balance of Soulection radio and the Rap Cavier playlist on Spotify. When I’m trapping, I am listening to whatever is recorded over a MetroBoomin beat. I need something that is going to get me hype and give me energy.
KS: Are you familiar with the term, “Blerd?” A Blerd = Black Nerd. I think it’s safe to safe being green is seen as kinda blerdy. Recently, we’ve seen shows on TV that are embracing the American Blerd -- Insecure and Atlanta specifically. Do you like those shows? Would you identify yourself as a Blerd?
RV: Nah, I have actually never heard of the term, “Blerd” until now. Lol. I watch both of those shows and I think Insecure is hilarious! I remember watching The Misadventures Of The Awkward Black Girl on YouTube a few years ago. I am happy to see Issa Rae doing well. I am digging Atlanta [too]. Childish Gambino can’t lose right now. As for me, I don’t think that I can identify myself as a Blerd. I can identify with a lot of different people because of my experiences and upbringing, so it is difficult for me to just put myself in one category and say I am a Blerd. What are the other options I can identify with? Can I just be Rob Veggies? Lol.
KS: Lol! Yes, you can. Is there anything else you want to add before we wrap up?