Dent Street is a part of the Frenchtown neighborhood in Tallahassee, Florida and is considered the oldest Black neighborhood in our state. Frenchtown is located northwest of downtown Tallahassee. The City of Tallahassee’s Planning Department defined the neighborhood’s boundaries as Seventh Avenue and Alabama Street to the north, Bronough Street to the east, Tennessee Street to the south and Woodward Avenue to the west. Until the 1970s however, it extended south of Tennessee Street to Park Avenue, including land currently occupied by the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library. The area originated from the 19th century settlers who moved to the area from France and who did not move west to New Orleans or back to France.
On July 4th 1825, the federal government granted $200,000 worth of northern Florida territory to Marquis De Lafayette, a wealthy French military officer and veteran of the American revolutionary war. He decided to establish a town in which slavery was outlawed. This attracted many French and and free black settlers to the area, which was named Frenchtown. Some dispute exists over whether the name comes from its French residents or from the black population’s connections to the abolitionist town of Frenchtown, New Jersey, which served as a temporary haven for free black persons prior to the U.S. Civil War.1 After the Civil War, newly freed African-Americans moved to the Frenchtown section; it occupied low-lying, relatively undesirable land, and therefore was available.
From the early 20th century this area became a hub of activity with growing businesses. The area was renowned for its soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues music in the 40s, including the likes of Ray Charles who lived in the community. It still houses the Woman’s Working Band House, a historic site located at 648 W. Brevard St. This completely restored National Register Property housed the B Sharps Jazz Club which was struggling for preservation in 2019.2 The house is one of the few recognized, extant properties financed jointly by rank and file and upper class African-American women. Unfortunately, the area’s businesses have found it difficult to compete with chain grocery stores and fast food chains.
While Frenchtown has access to small convenience stores like the 4th Avenue Supermarket and Superfoods on Tennessee Street by the Greyhound station, grocery stores are largely absent creating a food desert. The area’s community gardens and the Frenchtown Farmers Market are community based efforts to revive the community through health advocacy and access to fresh, locally-sourced foods.The Market is a project of the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, a non-profit organization working to grow the Frenchtown community.
Visit and support the Frenchtown Heritage Farmers Market – every Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.
The Dent Street Garden has had support from numerous people and groups over the course of the last couple of years.The Dent Street Diggers, for example, whose mission was the revitalization of their community and the beautification of our city. The group was active and crucial in forming and running the original garden, at 604 Dent Street, from about the Fall 2012 to sometime in 2014. The current Dent Street Garden is also known as the iGrow-Tallahassee Food Network Community Garden and is located at 611 Dent Street in Tallahassee. It counts partnerships with Sustainable Tallahassee and the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office. The Tallahassee Food Network is a regional coalition of the global movement that works to grow community-based food systems and organize across lines of division. Sustainable Tallahassee’s mission is to accelerate the community’s transition to environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Last, the UF/IFAS Leon Extension is a federal, state, and county partnership throughout Florida, with the mission to improve our lives by developing knowledge in agriculture, natural resources, and the life sciences and to make that knowledge accessible to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. These common missions have led to the robust partnerships that have made the Dent Street Garden possible.
The community garden serves several purposes. It provides a space for the community to gather and share; the heart of the garden features a friendship garden where everything grown is freely shared. The garden also addresses the nutritional and health needs of the community and seeks to teach people about self-sufficiency and how they can grow their own food at the garden and in their own homes. Last, Dent Street engages in social justice work by means of centering people at the margins. This includes the immigrant Congolese families that form a part of the community.
Last year, Weeds and Deeds had the opportunity to get involved with the Dent Street Garden after meeting with community elders and cultural brokers to discuss the health and wellness needs of the community. Weeds and Deeds volunteers participate in gardening dates as well as with the processing of herbs, like moringa, which is abundant at the garden. We have already installed some plants, helped with tree pruning, and look forward to adding more medicinal plants in the Spring.
In addition to making tailored herbal consultation available to the Dent Street community, Weeds and Deeds will aid by making processed medicinal herbs and live plants available for distribution via the Tallahassee Food Network and Sustainable Tallahassee. It is our hope that the community will also be able to use any extra harvests for trade, barter, or sale.
In 2019 the Community Gardening Network, a project of Sustainable Tallahassee in partnership with the IFAS/Leon County Extension Services participated in the Tallahassee Farm Tours and held four community garden fall workshops/open houses. Another exciting Dent Street project that Weeds and Deeds has in the works is the creation of a visual how-to guide on the processing of moringa for use as a powder (often used in smoothies or encapsulated-in pill form). This will be featured on our website as well as be made available for print so that it can be widely distributed to the Dent Street community and the greater Tallahassee area.