marvin dunn_cc_fc.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI – The founder of the Roots in the City Farmers Market in the Miami neighborhood of Overtown says he is seeking financing for his project from Miami Heat superstar LeBron James.

Retired Florida International University professor Marvin Dunn, who launched the market initiative three years ago, told South Florida Times Wednesday that he delivered a letter to James’ home with the request. Dunn said he took that step after receiving a letter from the city of Miami’s Overtown/Parkwest Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) rejecting his request for funding.

“Mr. James is my neighbor. We have never met but I am reaching out to him,” Dunn said.

James could not be reached for comment at deadline time.

Dunn said his project will run out of money on April 26 and he asked the CRA for funding. On Wednesday, he received a letter signed by CRA Executive Director Pieter Bockweg notifying him that his application for $149,000 had been denied.

Dunn had intended to attend a special meeting with the CRA this Thursday to ask for a total of $3 million, he said. Up to Wednesday he had not heard whether that meeting would still take place. He accused Miami City Commissioner and CRA chairman the Rev. Richard Dunn – no relation —  of being behind the rejection.

“Commissioner Dunn knew when I asked for the money he would turn it down,” Marvin Dunn said.

If the project does not get funding, it is likely a charter school will take its place, leading some observers to believe the market is being forced out.

Marvin Dunn said at least one meeting was held concerning plans for a school. He said if it had not been for media coverage of the controversy, “they would have eased us out.”

Commissioner Dunn, while offering no specific comment about plans for a school, said that Marvin Dunn’s market initiative was “never intended to be permanent.”

“He could use the land for farming… have the vegetable garden there until we could create some kind of development,” Commissioner Dunn said. “You would get more out of a development than you would out of a garden in Overtown. One thing we know: [the land] is not going to be… a garden permanently. That I can tell you.”

Marvin Dunn responded: “Why don't they tell people the truth? If they want us to move, there is a lot of vacant land in Overtown they could help us with. They don't have to let the program just die — and that's what they are trying to do."

The market is located on a two-acre lot bordered north to south by Northwest Ninth and 10th streets and east to west by Northwest Second and Third avenues. It is the only place in predominantly black Overtown where residents can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

At a rally held on April 2 to protest the lack of funding by the CRA, Marvin Dunn had announced that he would show up at the CRA meeting to demand funding.

“We are demanding $3 million for food justice in Overtown,” Dunn said in an interview Tuesday.

Half the amount would be spent directly on jobs for Overtown residents, he said, adding. “And we will give away a third of what we grow.”

With the funding, Dunn said, the project will plant more land and put 20 to 25 people to work full-time growing produce that would be sold wholesale to markets and restaurants.

The only way Roots in the City will get any money is by pressure, Dunn said. “The CRA has $39 million and all we want is three [million],” he said.

For any grant request made to the CRA, the agency looks into what the community would gain from the project and whether it would benefit the overall community, said David Karsh, the CRA’s director of communications. “And we have not seen [Marvin Dunn’s] request for $3 million,” Karsh said.

Between 2008 and 2010, the CRA awarded $100,000 annually in grants to Roots in the City, Karsh said. “The CRA does not fund the farmers market. The monies [Marvin Dunn] receives is to train people and get them jobs in that field,” he said.

Dunn has not complied with the grant’s requirement that every year he must train no less than 16 people, Karsh said. “He trained six in 2008, six in 2009. We are waiting for the 2010 numbers,” he said.

Dunn said he was required to train the 16 people mentioned by Karsh in rotating groups of four over three months each. “This will go on…  until all 16 are trained,” he said.

The amount of money allocated by the CRA for each person, he said, was about $700. “I told [the CRA] that was not going to work. I can’t train people to farm in three months. We were set up to fail,” he said.

Annette Brown, 81, who led the protest march with Dunn, said the market isn’t hurting anyone.

“I sit outside my door and watch the school buses of kids come and help out and it’s really nice,” Brown said. “This is creating jobs and every little bit helps. Seems like folks don’t want anything in Overtown but crime.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at