Jonathan and Chrystal Nazeer saw a problem with the lack of fresh produce and food insecurity in their community and realized they had the power to help. They formed Victory Gardens International, with the ambitious mission of spearheading community redevelopment through urban farming, food production, food access, and job creation. And they already are making a difference in Rock Hill through hard work, creativity, neighborly outreach, and community partnerships.
Just check out the ten raised-bed community garden, Victory Gardens at the Hands of Mercy, or the Mobile Produce Bar that Jonathan built and which sells fresh, affordable produce weekly in the parking lot of the Family Dollar. (But if you are a woodworker, don’t look too closely, as Jonathan is not! But he does what he has to do to get the job done.) Victory Gardens International also partners with the 180 Program in its after-school program to educate children about farming and healthy eating.
Wholespire York County was glad to learn from Jonathan at our December 14, 2021, general meeting. Mr. Nazeer also shared that Victory Gardens International just launched a capital campaign! They are building a community and innovation garden featuring 30 raised beds, youth programs, a Silver Gardening Club, and a youth workforce development program, in partnership with the City of Rock Hill Park, Recreation and Tourism Department at the Emmett Scott Recreation Center. The fundraising goal is $200,000 to sustain this project.
What Is Next?
Of these raised beds, 20 will be for the community and 10 for youth programs, including a re-launched 4-H Club. They also will give some of what they grow to local food pantries. Excitingly, Emmett Scott’s granddaughter may come in April 2022 for the garden launch! It seems apt that this project will establish educational and vocational programs around agriculture, to continue the legacy of Emmett Scott, the long-time secretary of Booker T. Washington and the power broker of the Tuskegee machine, and the vision of Julian and Booker T. Washington’s to establish Rosenwald schools .
Because collaboration leads to a bigger impact, they welcome opportunities to work with community partners. They hope to be a central knowledge-exchange hub for a broader community food-security sector. They intend to build capacity and impact and increase funding across the sector. Ultimately they will provide tools, resources, training, and grants. They realize that lasting change comes by taking action at a policy and systemic level. So they will create opportunities for low-wealth community members, partner organizations, and concerned individuals to advocate together for policies and systems that reduce poverty, food insecurity, and poor health.
Why “Victory Gardens International?”
Jonathan gave the history of victory gardens in the U.S., a wartime effort in World War I and World War II with federal government involvement. He says the fight continues today against poverty and systemic racism that keep people marginalized. Food systems are an important component, as when a neighborhood can only access processed food, not fresh produce, their health is negatively impacted, and they do more poorly in school and at work.
How Can We Help?
The Nazeers welcome volunteers, financial support, and encouragement. In February 2022, they will need people to help put together the greenhouse. They also will put together 50 aeroponic towers, as they are going into the profitable specialty lettuce and mushroom business!
 Emmett J. Scott was the private secretary of Booker T. Washington and later became Secretary-Treasurer of both the Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. He was involved in numerous business activities, ranging from the establishment of the National Negro Business League (NNBL) to Special Assistant to the Secretary of War (1917-1919). His business activities were largely unheralded, and the frustrations he encountered illustrate both the obstacles and the opportunities for Black entrepreneurs in the first half of the twentieth century. He promoted more African Americans in business and farm ownership.
 Rosenwald schools, including Emmett Scott High School, gave African American students a comfortable environment for academic advancement.