Kevin Anderson II last lived in Duluth in 2017, and he recalls driving by the Hillside Public Orchard and appreciating it.
"They always had such a beautiful setup, and I appreciated the work they put into it," Anderson said. "It was mostly done by a couple who lived right next door."
Between then and Anderson's recent move back to Duluth to become the Family Freedom Center's new executive director, the couple who ran the orchard moved to Iowa. Anderson drove past it this spring and noticed it wasn't quite the same.
"The neighbors did their part to keep it going," Anderson said. "But the go-to folks who made sure things were up and running were gone."
As of May 25, the site at 500 E. 10th St. has been renamed "Freedom Farms" and will be the location of new community gardening programs through the Family Freedom Center, an organization that seeks to empower the Black community in the Twin Ports by creating culturally specific and inclusive spaces aimed to engage, empower and educate community members.
Anderson has a passion for food sovereignty: the right for people to access healthy food produced through sustainable methods and the right of people to define their own food and agriculture systems. He sits on the Duluth Community Garden Program board and when the group received a call from the owner of the lot looking for new stewards for the orchard, Anderson jumped at the opportunity.
"We met with the owner, Lance, and he said, 'Hey, if you want to do a program and upkeep the land, please be my guest,'" Anderson said. "From then on, it was like a mad scramble to get everything ready. And we're still trying to find our footing, but we have the gist of the program planned out."
The site will house a few different projects. A good portion of the land has been sectioned off to create eight to 10 garden beds for a youth garden. Anderson has plans in the works to collaborate with the Valley Youth Center and Outside the Box to do some STEM programs there.
"We'll have a large variety of vegetables that they can later take home and try," Anderson said.
The space also features two raised garden beds that will be dedicated to the elders involved in the Family Freedom Center. The organization has already held its first "Conversation and Coffee" event at the garden May 25 to introduce the elders into the space. These will continue at the Freedom Farm throughout the summer.
"We took a survey of our elders to see what they want to plant, and it ranged from tomatoes and collard greens to cucumbers and zucchini," Anderson said. "I'm sitting there thinking, I'm going to have to build you all another garden box. But that's what we want to see, that kind of engagement."
The garden also houses two small public pantries where people can take or leave nonperishable or canned items for anyone to access.
"We know there are a lot of people with food insecurity right now, and that's not just a Black thing, that's an us thing, as my predecessor, Xavier Bell, used to say," Anderson said.
The garden will also be open to the public as a space where people can meet and hang out.
"It's a place where, if you have kids, you can bring them out here while you read a book or something," Anderson said. "It's a safe space where you don't have to look over your shoulder or question if you belong. It's a place where, if you maybe don't know many people of color, you can come and start having those simple conversations in a social setting."
Anderson hopes to continue some of the programs held by the previous orchard stewards such as apple pressing in the fall.
"I loved that about the history of this place," Anderson said. "But I've got to be honest, how many kids of color do you think have done an apple press? We're going to try to bring those inclusive experiences and create new opportunities like that for people of color here."
Right now, the organization has rough plans to hold work days where people can work on the garden on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Visit familyfreedomcenter.org or keep an eye on the Family Freedom Center Facebook page to learn more.