Today, it sits an empty, grassy lot in the heart of Pahokee, Fla.
Martavious Odoms, a former Michigan football wide receiver, has a vision for the future of the plot at the corner of 4th Street and Banyan Avenue; a vision that goes back to Pahokee’s roots.
“This is gonna be big,” Odoms said.
They call Pahokee “Muck City,” referencing the mineral-rich soil on the banks of Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. It’s summer year-round there.
“Pahokee used to be one of the best places for growing vegetables in the world,” Odoms said in a phone interview.
But that was back in its heyday. Today, the economic recession has crippled the community — home to current Michigan players Brandin Hawthorne, Richard Ash and Vincent Smith — leaving businesses, homes and gardens unattended. Odoms wants to start a movement; he wants to bring the garden back.
Odoms, with help from partner group Robot Hustle Crew — self-described as “a collection of artist, promoters, multi-media and social media consultants” based in southeast Michigan — set out this month to raise $35,000 on Kickstarter, the online crowd funding website, to plant a community garden in Pahokee through Urban Greenworks, which runs five gardens in Miami.
With eight days left in the campaign, Odoms’s project is less than $5,000 from being completely funded, having raised more than $30,000 by Tuesday morning.
The goal is to install a garden that can be self-sustaining — a project that values community involvement as much as getting food on tables. The funds raised will be used to buy the empty the plot, pay for tools and seeds and to hire people from the community to work on the garden.
Odoms would also like to see the money help give kids in the community after-school programs or to teach residents how to sow their own garden.
“This could give someone an opportunity to be part of something outside of their family to feel like they’re making a change, making a difference,” Odoms said.
The staple crops? Collard greens, green beans, black-eyed peas, tomatoes and okra, just to name a few.
“All the stuff that people eat here down here in the south,” Odoms said.
The garden project is just the first of many for Odoms, who, using the title ‘Martavious Odoms Presents,’ hopes to fund similar non-profit ventures in the future. He trademarked the project earlier this year with a simple slogan: #EATING.
“It’s a slang term that’s about trying to become successful,” Odoms said.
It’s the opposite of starving, and there are some members of the Pahokee community that fight that battle everyday.
The Hope for Pahokee cast released several T-shirt designs and wristbands to start raising money. They plastered campus with “Martavious Odoms Presents: #EATING” signs, encouraging students to wear their apparel in support.
Last week, Odoms launched the official $35,000 campaign on Kickstarter. Within days, news of the Hope for Pahokee fundraiser began to make its way through the Michigan fan base.
After Odoms posted about it on the Michigan fan site MGoBlog, things took off. And took off quickly.
“I’m not a blogger,” Odoms said, “but I do it because they’re really loyal and they really respect what I want to do and back me 100 percent on this project.
“Words can’t explain it. I didn’t realize how much people want to see me be successful.”
Most donators won’t see the benefits of their goodwill. That’s what touched Odoms the most.
“Most people know who I am and what I stand for, and somehow they just want to help me,” Odoms said. “They don’t know where the money is going or nothin’, but they just want to help.”
In eight days, Odoms will have the funds to begin the real work. He’s poured all his time into it since he graduated from the University last spring with a general studies degree.
He’s still chasing the dream of playing football professionally, working out every day to stay in shape, but this project tends to weigh heavier on his mind, he says, adding that it’s put a lot in perspective.
“I really wanted people to see that it’s not all about money,” Odoms said. “Growing up, I felt like the only way I could help someone is if I got rich. It’s not all about money. All you have to do is give your time and people will realize that you’re a real genuine person and they want to help you.”
He says he has a vision for a better Pahokee, and a community garden is just planting the first seed.
“This is just the beginning,” Odoms said. “There are a lot of great opportunities out there, you’ve just got to know what to do.”