City farmer cultivates communities
Will Littleton A community garden in the Bronx, New York is about as far away as you can get from the practice rooms of the University’s Elder Conservatorium. It’s there among the plots of sprouting spring vegetables that you’ll find Will Littleton, musician-turned-garden manager.
Having studied a Bachelor of Music at the University of Adelaide and playing double bass professionally for many years, Will’s music career came to a halt because of recurring back problems. Developing an interest in sustainability and the environment, he undertook a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management.
Over the next 10 years he worked in urban and rural settings in Australia, the UK and New Zealand in water conservation, bush regeneration, arboriculture and agriculture, broadening his understanding of global environmental issues and seeing the need to change land management practices to remedy the damage already done.
Will also travelled through South-East Asia, India, and Samoa, volunteering as an English teacher and on farms in rural communities, working alongside people who were struggling to feed themselves and their families.
“This made me think about our food system and the huge inequalities that it produces, not only between countries but within communities,” he says.
Returning to Australia, Will enrolled in a Bachelor of Development Studies where he built upon his already diverse skill set.
“I thoroughly enjoyed returning as a mature-aged student,” he says. “I was more prepared and driven to learn and position myself to change direction and enhance my career, which is what I feel I have done.”
After graduating, Will moved to New York and within six weeks was working at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center (KHCC) in the Bronx, managing a nutrition and garden program. The community is made up of predominantly Latino immigrant families on low-incomes, many of them living below the poverty line. Because of the lack of affordable fresh produce, they are forced to eat cheaper processed or takeaway foods. Will says this is resulting in extremely high rates of food-related health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“We need to ensure that the community has access to affordable fresh produce and the knowledge from a young age of the importance of healthy eating and the food system,” he says.
Will organises fundraising campaigns and is responsible for projects that provide food literacy education and an affordable source of fresh produce for the community. In April, Will invited New York-based University of Adelaide alumni to visit the centre and help prepare the Bronx garden for spring.
He says everyone felt a sense of achievement so they have agreed to keep in touch and make the work day an annual alumni get together.
“Working at KHCC has shown me a side of New York that I never would have seen if I worked downtown or came here as a tourist,” says Will.
“It is really a city of social and economic inequalities, but there is a significant movement to make change with a bustling non-profit sector working to improve the infrastructure and support systems to ensure residents are able to live healthier, more productive lives.”
Story by Genevieve Sanchez