STORIES BY SIDDIE FRIAR

A Bright Future Means Reconciliation with an Ugly Past

Published: Sept. 30, 2020

Moncrief Springs used to be something of an oasis, though you wouldn’t know that looking at it today.

The spring of its namesake has long since been buried. The once bustling and lively neighborhood is now a ghost. The story around how this happened is shrouded in mystery

Today, what you will find is White Harvest Farms. 

The Farm is owned and managed by the Clara White Mission. It has served the Jacksonville community for a century, and the new farm team is ready to honor the history of the land and bring the 11-acre plot back to life.

The White Harvest Farms team L-R: Farm Assistant Imani Vidal, Farm Assistant Sarah Salvatore, Soil Biologist Alan Skinner, and Farm Manager Mallory Schott. Photo by Siddie Friar

“I think the farm ties into the mission’s vision by preserving, honoring, and sharing the black history of this neighborhood, of this land in particular,” farm manager Mallory Schott said. “As the farm develops and becomes a destination, it can be a spot for a sustainable local food economy for this community to gather around.”

In the early 1900s, Moncrief was a booming neighborhood. After the spring was discovered, development was soon underway. Including a 125-mile racetrack, which quickly became one of the country’s most popular destinations. 

Its success was short-lived. Religious legislation ended up shutting down the racetrack and the parcel was never fully developed. Eventually, it came under the ownership of Earth White. An African American activist and the founder of the Clara White Mission.

“My family has been in this neighborhood since at least the 40s,” farm assistant Imani Vidal said. “The Africans that were here then made it into a community where they felt safe. Where they could use their skills and talents to give themselves a chance after all of the horrible oppression they had gone through.”

White opened a bathing house and a boys and girls club on the parcel. Both were enjoyed by African Americans until the 60s. 

Photo courtesy of UNF archives. The Eartha White bathhouse in Moncrief Springs.

The City of Jacksonville, for reasons that are still unclear, covered and diverted what was left of Moncrief Springs. They were also operating an incinerator dump nearby. The ash of which would cause damage to the lands and people for years to come. 

The effects of these decisions can still be seen and felt in the area today. Once a booming resort with freshwater and promise, now known as one of Jacksonville’s most dangerous neighborhoods with no city sewage infrastructure.

The mission renewed their efforts with White Harvest Farms in the early 2000s. They had the land remediated and are now using regenerative practices on the farm. 

“Regenerative agriculture actually helps the land over time, it’s not purely extracting,” Schott said. “We work together with the ecosystem that’s here. And that’s the knowledge we try to share with the community and our volunteers.”

After many years of planning, the mission will soon celebrate the groundbreaking of a new multi-purpose building on the farm. Once completed it will serve as a training ground for those in the mission’s culinary program, among other things.

“This new building is going to be a turning point for the farm,” Vidal said. “We will be able to have more workshops and really start to reintroduce people here to farming as a way of life. We can remember together how to respect the Earth and give back to the Earth.” 

Learn more about volunteer opportunities and workshops at White Harvest Farms here