The music industry knows Taja Sevelle as a protégé of Prince, a recording artist and songwriter. But among philanthropists and urban gardeners, Sevelle is better known as the founder of Urban Farming, a global charity organization that has so far established 59,000 gardens in more than 40 cities. Her goal is to create 100 million urban gardens across the globe, supplying people in need with fresh produce. We recently sat down with Sevelle to talk about the inspiration for her career change.
You spent years in the music industry, perhaps most famously working with Prince as a singer and a songwriter. What led you to switch gears to work in the urban farming movement?
I was recording a CD for Sony 550 in Detroit and became acquainted with the poverty and job loss as well as the massive amounts of unused land in the city proper. I was moved to put my music career on the back burner, and I started the global vision of Urban Farming with $5,000, a pamphlet and three gardens.
Were you inspired by the Victory Gardens of the post WWII era?
Not initially. I didn't know about the WW II Victory Gardens when I first started Urban Farming. I found out about them shortly after I founded the organization in 2005. When I discovered the statistics about the war relief effort of that time, I was happy to know that the model had been done on a mass level. This demonstrated to me that it could be done again, especially when you consider the technology that we have today to spread the word.
Tell us more about how you started, compared to where you are now?
I started Urban Farming with three community gardens in Detroit. We now have over 59,000 community and residential gardens worldwide that are a part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain. We focus on empowering and encouraging people to grow their own food. Our healthy eating resources and workshops provide information to help people take excellent care of their bodies and their overall health through better food choices.
Have you been surprised at how receptive people have been to this project?
I haven’t been surprised, because the mission of Urban Farming intersects three major current movements: the worldwide push for good stewardship of our planet – or the green movement; the nationwide movement to address obesity and personal responsibility for our own health; and the gardening movement. Urban Farming teaches people how to plant their own food and provides resources about healthy thinking, healthy eating, healthy fitness, healthy finances and healthy families. With the downturn of the economy, people have gravitated toward these concepts.
Are there any particularly inspiring stories of people who have benefited that you’ve witnessed?
There are so many inspiring stories. The learning that occurs on these gardens is fantastic. Young people who are only acquainted with city life are particularly astonished to find out where some of their food comes from. We have witnessed teenagers discover that eggs do not come from eggplants, and that tomatoes do not somehow magically come from fast-food burgers. One particularly touching story for me is the time that a mother came up to me crying and thanking me for the community garden that Urban Farming had installed during phase one of our mission. "I don't know how I would have fed my family without this food all summer." She was one of many who have thanked us, and it was not the first time that I have seen people cry with gratitude.
Tell us about your newest initiative, "Global Urban Farming: 100 Million Friends and Family Campaign."
Urban Farming is in phase two of our mission. We have just launched our "Urban Farming 100 Million Families and Friends Global Campaign,” which encourages 100 million people worldwide to plant their own gardens. When people are empowered to grow their own food, the benefits are numerous. Planting gardens helps to cut down on monthly bills and teaches families about healthy eating. We feel that this is a wonderful step to empowering people around the world because once people remember that they have the ability to grow their own food, a self-realization inevitably follows. At that point, people become more creative and innovative and ultimately motivated to pursue higher learning, entrepreneurial endeavors or training programs that can enhance their lifestyle.