people standing in an urban farm with collard greens

Fresh Collard Greens and Charitable Gift Annuities: How an Endowed Fund Met the Needs of a Historical Orlando Neighborhood

It’s the jazz music that got me. It permeated my car windows, engaging me before I even stepped foot onto West State Street on the edges of Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood. I was an outsider looking in up until that very moment. And as I saw Ray Warthen’s warm and open smile through the chain-link border of his urban agricultural center, Infinite Zion Farms, one phrase was certainly not on my mind: charitable gift annuities.

But it should have been.

people standing in urban garden in Orlando, Florida talking
Photography by Cherette Warthen

Whether you’ve heard of charitable gift annuities (CGAs) or this is your first time stumbling across this planned giving strategy, this is a story of inspiration and innovation. In short, it’s a story you want to read.

How Charitable Gift Annuities Turned into Fresh Produce in Parramore

Recently, Infinite Zion Farms, an urban farm headed by husband-and-wife team Ray and Cherette Warthen, received a grant from Central Florida Foundation from the Penelope and Winton (Lt. Col. USAF Ret.) Wilson Fund at the Foundation to support the process of building Parramore’s first urban agricultural educational hub. This endowed Fund was established with a small initial gift, and then later fueled by multiple charitable gift annuities and a final estate gift by the late Mrs. Winton Wilson of Longwood, Florida, with the goal of lifting up underprivileged communities.

A charitable gift annuity (CGA) is a transfer of cash or appreciated property to Central Florida Foundation in exchange for fixed payments to you (with rates based on your age) for the rest of your life. Upon end of life, the remaining amount of the gift remains with the Foundation to continue to support your area of interest.

Falling under the planned giving umbrella, charitable gift annuities offer an opportunity for both the donor and the charity.

Partnering with Innovative Nonprofits

Do you think of fresh produce and agriculture technological innovation when you think of Parramore?

Maybe you should.

Back to my visit to the farm.

I crossed the street, brass instruments and piano keys pumping out of speakers from somewhere, and Ray, clad in one of his nonprofit’s bright red polos, welcomed me onto his farm amidst the growing collard greens and post-season grape vines. (According to Ray, one man walked all the way to the farm just to see the grapes growing in Parramore. He just had to see it for himself.)

Over the next hour, I chatted with the Warthens, along with other members of their vivacious team, and learned about the educational program that the Foundation’s community investment grant will help to fund – plus, their big vision for their nonprofit.

“The educational hub will be right here in the heart of Parramore. The whole premise is that we want a space that will house our aeroponics lab which will help us to create more produce for the community – and jobs,” Cherette says. Not only will there be classes taught about aeroponics, but also about apiaries (beekeeping), gardening, nutrition, and STEM education.

Infinite Zion Farms’ larger vision? Ray says he wants the farm to be a beacon of light and introduce his urban farming model around the country to other communities like Parramore.

The Inspiration

Descending from a long line of Florida farmers, Ray, a civil engineer by day, felt the pull back to the world of agriculture. He also knew there was a need in many underserved neighborhoods in his home of Central Florida. In the early stages of Infinite Zion Farms, he says he took his scooter around to each and every grocery store in Parramore to ask if they had produce – a question that was answered with a resounding no at each of his stops. A neighborhood with no walkable access to any produce? There was a big problem in Parramore that no one was solving.

The Journey

“The food pantries give [Parramore residents] mac and cheese and potatoes, but some of them have diabetes and high blood pressure, and that’s the last thing you want to be eating,” Ray explains. “We want to show people that there’s a better way to prepare food.” Infinite Zion Farms regularly welcomes community members to experience healthy foods in new and delicious ways. Cherette adds that when they send out food from their garden into the neighborhood, the meal kits include other staples such as lentils, along with a recipe card for food that can be simply prepared in one pot with affordable and accessible spices and herbs.

The recipe cards were included when the farms’ team realized that some community members didn’t know how to prepare kale or other greens. The recipes shared include not only share easy ways to prepare healthy produce, but also using methods that embrace culturally aligned cooking methods.

There was also another unforeseen consideration: dental health. Ray shared that originally, the farm gave out hard, crunchy vegetables, such as carrots. An older community member came back and said he couldn’t eat it, that he preferred canned vegetables. When Ray started to make his case for fresh produce, the man opened up his mouth, showing his decaying teeth. It was becoming all too clear: this was a complex, layered issue within Parramore. The farm’s team pivoted yet again to match the true and unique needs of the community.

The Partnership

While Infinite Zion Farms has seen direct donations to their cause, receiving a grant from Central Florida Foundation supports their nonprofit in ways simple cash does not.

We know the Central Florida Foundation is an amazing opportunity to be connected to others throughout the Central Florida area that have that social justice mind frame, who really believe in equality and reducing inequities.

Cherette Warthen, Co-Founder & Vice President, Infinite Zion Farms

For Ray, it’s also about accountability. “The biggest thing about Central Florida Foundation is that they show up. Not everyone does that.” He says money is not the big motivator; that, instead, it’s the fact that the Foundation team shows up at the table, adds to the conversation, and supports nonprofit grantees. “We’ve had so many let downs in the past. We’ve had so many promises and then nothing happens. You almost give up hope.” Working with the Central Florida Foundation has been a supportive partnership with real guidance, conversation and connection.

“The Foundation team shows up.”

Ray Warthen, Community Investment Grantee

Flexible Giving Strategies Power Community Investors

Infinite Zion Farms’ mission is part of a larger vision to help underprivileged Central Florida communities help them help themselves – something that speaks directly to the heart of Mrs. Winton Wilson’s Fund established through charitable gift annuities. Infinite Zion Farms doesn’t seek to simply feed Parramore; it wants to understand, reinvigorate and empower a community that, for a long time, had been written off.

One of Central Florida Foundation’s fortes is helping community investors (what we like to call our donors) find giving strategies that work for them, so that their charitable dollars work for their mission – now and in the future. Mrs. Winton Wilson’s charitable gift annuities might not have been the traditional way of thinking about charitable giving, but it fit her unique charitable and financial goals – and created a seed of hope for a budding urban farm.

Back to that Jazz Music

As I said goodbye to the Infinite Zion Farms team, I couldn’t help but smile. As in, I literally wouldn’t stop smiling. The nonprofit’s team is tapped into the community and its specific needs, challenges, and values.

Central Florida is truly moving forward – and it’s all due to the winning trifecta of a generous community investor, like Mrs. Winton Wilson, a committed community foundation, like Central Florida Foundation, and an innovative nonprofit, like Infinite Zion Farms.

And for those of you wondering if Ray lets the sweet tunes of jazz stretch over the streets of Parramore every day, the answer is no. He makes a point to switch it up each day, with Tuesdays being jazz and R&B and Saturdays being old-school jazz. Community members often sit outside in lawn chairs Shazam’ing the music.

“Hey, what song is that?” someone calls out.

“Come on over to the garden, and I’ll tell ya,” responds Ray.

At the end of our conversation, he added with a chuckle, “Those aren’t our most popular days though.” He smiled. “Yeah, that would be ‘Thugged Out Thursdays.'”

And as I crossed back over South Street to my car with a smile still refusing to leave my face, I couldn’t help but spend just a few extra seconds breathing in the fresh air – and taking in the music of Infinite Zion Farms.

The Takeaway: Planned Giving Creates Impact

We get it: it might not be the hottest topic to talk about; but after absorbing the story of Mrs. Winton Wilson’s Fund established through charitable gift annuities and the impact those dollars are having on the Parramore community of Orlando, planned giving is undoubtably a powerful tool with an array of options that can work for unique needs and situations.

Learn more about planned giving offerings, including charitable gift annuities, at Central Florida Foundation’s Planned Giving Resource Hub.

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