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STREETSEEN  |  Miles Tamboli

Photo by Steve Roberts

Miles Tamboli: Urban Farming

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

On a plot of land in Frayser, Miles Tamboli is sowing seeds of entrepreneurship for teenage girls. The land is the Youth Farm of Girls, Inc. and Miles leads the program as Farm Manager-Operations. The development has taken a while to germinate, with plans for the farm planted in 2014 and the actual ground-breaking taking place in 2015.

“We knew in a broad sense what we wanted to do—grow food, sell it locally and engage young women,” said Miles. “And we also wanted to use food as a platform to teach them entrepreneurship, social justice and civic engagement, as well as have them learn about healthy eating and nutrition.”

“As we are starting into our third year, we are no longer looking at what we are going to be, but rather what we are,” continued Miles. “There’s so much more growth for our future, but now we have a clearer understanding of what our trajectory is going to look like. We know what we’re good at and how we can best respond to the community.”

Part of gaining that understanding came from the farm’s location, which is in the middle of a neighborhood in Frayser, next to Whitney Elementary School.

“Our farm is intentionally not fenced off, because we want to engage with people in our community.” explained Miles. “I probably spend one-third of my day just talking to people who come up to the farm. They see beehives, they see vegetables and they see a dude driving a tractor in the middle of the city. They want to know what’s going on — and how can what we are doing on the farm translate to what they can do at home. In essence, our farm offers live demonstrations that provide unique resources and inspiration.”

While this year will see an increase in the farm’s footprint, from less than an acre to two acres, the group will be limiting the number of crops to those that are most productive. The farm is currently greening up with kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, radishes, turnips, Swiss chard, head lettuces, spring mix, flowers, and different plant seedlings that will be for sale.

“Now we have 14 identically sized plots, with one of those being an experimental plot in which the girls can choose specific plants or plant varieties that they think might work on a large scale,” said Miles. “Another thing that has changed since we began in 2015, is that the teenagers involved in the Girls, Inc. program are no longer our only labor source. Now there are weekly volunteer groups who come out to help.”

Miles says they expect to have about 15,000 pounds of produce this year — three times what they grew last year, and about 10 times what they grew their first year. Overall, their goal is to sell 80% of their produce in Frayser (as compared to 14% the first year and 45% the second year). This year they expect to sell up to 60-65% percent in their own part of town.

Other changes include engaging more girls in the programming. There were only six teens involved in the first year. This year there will be 12 girls in the core program. And there’s been a staffing addition, too.

“We now have a Farm Co-Manager, Kelsey Hoffman, who is our Manager of Programs and Outreach,” said Miles. “She moved to Memphis last May and went through that season with us. She is increasing our community engagement with volunteer groups. Additionally, she is leading our increased program efforts by going to schools and actually facilitating farm-to-table and healthy living curriculum with students. At the end of each class, the students take a field trip to our farm where our crew leads the activities. This last component offers responsibility training for our girls.”

There’s no doubt that the Girls, Inc. Farm has become a place of peace and learning. Some of the entrepreneurial experiences for the teenagers in the program come from staffing a booth every week, from April to October, at the Memphis Farmers Market.

“With the warm weather coming early this year to our area, our crops are ahead of schedule,” said Miles. “We’re looking at some new community partnerships. We’ll be at Curb Market at Crosstown Concourse, and we’re also seeking more ways to expand our presence in Frayser. We’d like to find more vendors so that we can set-up next to them and grow that enterprise into an actual Frayser Farmers Market.”

 

STREETSEEN  |  Jana Wilson

Photo by Steve Roberts

Jana Wilson: Creatively Crafting with Found Treasures

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

It must have been Jana Wilson’s destiny to become an assemblage artist. A self-professed collector of found objects since early childhood, she said she always felt compelled to give those discarded objects a second life.

“When I was about 8 years old, I would sneak my mother’s fingernail polish and paint empty matchboxes and then build scenes inside them with odd objects,” recalled Jana. “And, both of my grandmothers played a role in developing my offbeat creativity. My paternal grandmother taught me how to decoupage and we would cover boxes with velvet fabric and other fabric scraps from her sewing projects, adding broken bits of jewelry and lace or other trim to make ‘treasure boxes.’”

Jana continued, “My maternal grandmother would decorate old flower pots with Betsy McCall paper dolls cut from magazines. She lived in a really small town called Friendship, TN — near Dyersburg—where there wasn’t much to do to entertain me. So, that was what we would do when I went to see her over Spring Break and during summer vacation.”

Jana also remembers making houses and furniture for her Barbie dolls.

“Now my own house is decorated with funky art and furniture that I’ve repurposed,” said Jana. “And those covered boxes from childhood have evolved into what I call ‘Found Treasure Art’ filled with an assortment of items that typically share a theme.”

Although Jana has been creatively crafting items for years, it wasn’t until recently that she participated in an actual art show.

“I participated in a show at Crosstown Arts titled ‘Belongings’ that was held in conjunction with the Cleveland Street Flea Market,” explained Jana. “Participants had to buy an item at the flea market, then create a piece of art inspired by that object. I’ve been in that show twice, and as an offshoot, I’ve now done a couple of other shows at Crosstown Arts and Marshall Arts. Also, I’ll be participating at the Southern Junkers Vintage Market at the Agricenter, May 5 and 6” (first solo show at Found on Broad Ave. last July).

When asked about the source of materials for her artwork, Jana replied, “People know the kind of art I create and they bring me bits and pieces, sometimes boxes full, of trinkets—everything from broken eyeglasses to broken jewelry, bits of metal and chains and lots of broken dolls, headless, they are “damaged” which gives them personality, like each of us. That’s where much of the personality of my art comes from. They also bring me things to use as frames, such as wooden crate lids and cigar boxes.”

“The stuff I collect can start to overrun my house, so I regularly participate in shows like the Southern Junkers Vintage Market so I can sell some of the artwork I make that features vintage items.”

A good deal of Jana’s time is now spent sorting the stuff she has amassed until she has enough to assemble into one of her artworks.

"I make reliquaries, which have religious items like old prayer cards and Catholic memorabilia, and themed boxes like ‘circus’ or ‘birthday.’” said Jana. “I make pop culture references by combining something very old, with more modern, kitschy items. I’m not going for somber, sacred impact. My art also involves tongue-in-cheek references.”

Jana said nostalgia is often her muse.

“You get a glimpse of bygone days from damaged heirlooms, such as Bible covers and sheet music, that might otherwise be discarded,” explained Jana. “Game pieces from board games are some of my favorite items with which to work. I also like to use paper images for the background, scenes from old postcards or books. The Dick and Jane books are also some of my favorite sources.”

So with the photos or book images as a background, Jana begins her creative process. First she selects items from her collection of objects — seashell, crystals, rocks, old baby dolls, and other broken vintage items. Glue epoxy, Mod Podge, nails and paint all become part of her technique. The end result is often a shadow box that is a vignette of repurposed items that have been given a second life and now come together to tell some sort of story.

“When I started with Southern Junkers five years ago, I discovered a group of creative people who were like me. Maybe not artists in some people’s sense of the word, but artistic people with the ability to see beyond ‘broken, scuffed and chippy.’ I knew I had found my ‘tribe.’”