FoodSpark Hialeah Addresses the Community's Growing Concerns

Hialeah sometimes gets a bad rap. It's far from the urban core, the street grid changes seemingly at random, and there's always traffic. In the past year alone, the city has topped lists for being one of the worst places to date and to stay fit. But this Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m., FoodSpark Miami, a pop-up potluck event that cultivates dialogue about food, will address these problems at the historic Hialeah Market Station.

"I was looking at the responses to a Miami New Times article about nightclubs in Hialeah, and people were incredibly nasty," FoodSpark Miami organizer Naomi Ross says. "Some don’t even live there. It’s all hearsay."

To ensure the three-hour event stays true to locals' needs, the conversation topics will be crowdsourced. Ross has been polling local residents about their top concerns about living in the city. At the event, participants will vote from a list of eight topics, narrowing it down to their top four choices. 

Ross has been exploring Hialeah's community for the past month. She attended Community Redevelopment Agency meetings in Hialeah, conducted outreach at the local charter school City of Hialeah Educational Academy (HEA), and went to the Hialeah Food Truck Invasion to see what citizens had to say. 

"I was asking them: 'Do you do fun things in the community?' And they said, 'No, we have to go elsewhere.'"

She polled high-school students at HEA for their top three likes and dislikes about living in Hialeah. Students listed likes as family, friends, and access to malls. Their top dislikes were overwhelming traffic congestion; not enough public spaces, restaurants, or entertainment; and a lack of aesthetically pleasing buildings.

"Their concerns are relevant and should be addressed. They just don't have the resources themselves," Ross says. 

FoodSpark was launched in St. Louis in 2014 by Civic Creative founder De Andrea Nichols in response to unjust police shootings of unarmed black men. The city needed an outlet. Ross heard of the program and immediately reached out to Nichols, who quickly gave permission.

"I was asking, What is a simple way to bridge people together? and I thought, Over food, you can break barriers," Ross says. 

Ross grew up in Coral Springs and moved to Miami in 2004 for college. During the ten years she lived in Miami-Dade, she visited Hialeah maybe once. But two years ago, the Leah Arts District caught her attention. 

"I have a passion for thinking about how arts can affect social change," she says. "Hialeah doesn’t get a lot of projects. So I thought, Let's do it in an area that people aren’t talking about."

To organize Hialeah's FoodSpark, Ross is using grant money from the Miami Foundation's Public Space Challenge, whose goal is to uncover the best ideas for creating, improving, and activating local gathering places. The event will take place outside the historic Hialeah Market Tri-Rail Station, where the public space will be transformed. The steps to the miniplaza will create a small stage; local art, courtesy of Art Central Miami, will line the walkway.

"This is about creating spaces where people can convene and get to know each other and enjoy their community," Ross says. "We want to show the potential of what that space can be."

All of the food at the free event will be donated by local restaurants, including La Fresa, Quinoa Corner, and Alameida Bakery.

FoodSpark Miami
6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Tri-Rail Hialeah Market Station, 1200 SE 11th Ave., Hialeah. Admission is free. RSVP via the New Tropic.

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