Urban Wholistics Gives Back to Toledo’s Junction Neighborhood

Sonia Flunder-McNair is the founder of Urban Wholistics, a program that brings urban farming to Toledo neighborhoods

Residents of many Toledo neighborhoods cannot make it to farms for fresh produce, so Sonia Flunder-McNair brings the farm to the city. McNair, a self-described urban farmer, is the founder and CEO of Urban Wholistics, an organization that hopes to plant gardens in city lots and teach youth the joys of growing fruits and vegetables. 

“My mission is to plant more trees and create more holistic green spaces within communities that have been historically excluded from healing places in nature,” McNair said. 

McNair, a Toledo native, began her health journey after a serious medical crisis in 1995 that left her hospitalized for many weeks. She vowed to turn her health around, and to teach others how to do the same. She studied herbal education and began an organic product line. 

Staff and volunteers work side by side with youth at Tatum Park.

McNair, whose family has resided in the Junction neighborhood for sixteen years, began to dream of how to start a community garden that would provide fresh produce for her neighbors while teaching children and adults the benefits of sustainable farming and healthy living.

That dream became a reality in the fall of 2019, when she began her farming project with the creation of Tatum Park, a former land bank demo site next to the historical Art Tatum House. 

“My job is to teach the community how to become self-reliant and to love where they live by taking care of the approximately 2,000 open spaces within the Junction community alone.” 

With help from ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality), McNair was able to create a garden that provides produce for the community, as well as learning opportunities for children and adults. 

“Urban Wholistics has created a one-of-a-kind program with a curriculum that meets the Ohio Learning Standards to teach urban farming to youth.” added McNair. “We believe that our primary responsibility is to instruct how to produce life-giving herbs and food by creating local food hubs that will allow residents an opportunity to buy and sell handmade items and fresh produce.” 

Participants in the program have also ventured outside of the garden to promote the cause of urban farming. 

“We’ve had the opportunity to speak to the Ohio House of Representatives in support of Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson’s house bill 592, The Youth Farming Initiative. Serving as a founding member of the Women for Solheim, my youth farmers also had the opportunity to meet and engage with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts at the 2021 Solheim Women Summit. Some of our youth farmers had the opportunity to address her personally with their questions, and many were inspired by the encounter.” 

McNair has created her own organic skin and hair care products that she markets as SONIA Organics and SOrganics. In addition to the produce grown at Tatum Park, the group also sells T-shirts and other merchandise, and will soon sell lip balms made from beeswax sourced from their own beekeeping. The group can be found with other local vendors on Saturdays from 10am-2pm at the Urban South Youth Farmers Market, which is adjacent to Tatum Park at 1209 City Park Ave.

Future projects include establishing a fruit tree orchard on the land and planting no-mow clover in their 2023 Summer Clean Air campaign. 

As a mother of three and grandmother of seven, McNair is passionate about creating a healthy and sustainable environment for the next generation. “We are committed to making a strong contribution to an improved environment, creating job opportunities, and giving back to our community,” she said.

Future events will include a Family Day at Tatum Park on Sunday, September 11, and a launch of their School of Urban Agriculture in October. For more information on how to volunteer, donate, or partner with the program, visit the Urban Wholistics website

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