A 2nd Act: Putting Down Roots

Posted By on August 27, 2020
Bridget Pettis

Pro athlete teaches others to weed it and reap

Becoming a professional athlete requires many skills, beyond the obvious physical abilities. Dedication, drive, endurance and courage are also crucial to an athlete’s success. Those same skills help nonprofits bloom. Bridget Pettis understands this, right down to the souls of her — now — very muddy shoes.

Her athletic career as a sought-after women’s basketball star began in high school, carried through the University of Florida, and into the WNBA. She played guard for both the Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever. She then coached for the Mercury, the Dallas Wings, and the Chicago Sky. Throughout her two-decades-long basketball career, Pettis consistently focused on the connection between peak health and peak performance.

Organic fruits and vegetables have long been a mainstay of Pettis’s diet, keeping her body in top condition. An aha moment came when she learned the pleasure of gardening. Today, her happy place involves digging, watering and weeding. “It’s rare to find organic produce that’s not so expensive. And the amount of food that comes out of a garden is way more than you would think,” she said.

When the WNBA season ended in October 2019, Pettis planted the seeds for a nonprofit, appropriately named Project Roots. The organization marries her love of gardening and passion for healthy food with the grocery needs of many in the Phoenix area. She intended to balance a coaching career in Chicago with nonprofit work in Phoenix. And then, COVID-19 arrived.

“I discovered that some of the team medical staff not only believe it’s not safe to play, but also the women don’t have the resources they believe we should, unlike the NBA, going into this bubble,” she said. “I encourage others to find a project they are passionate about and jump in 100 percent. We can play next year.”

For Pettis, serving others, educating them about growing their own food, and helping the hungry is the perfect pivot right now. And Project Roots has several avenues to accomplish its mission of offering and promoting a healthier, natural and more sustainable way of living. The organization provides access to a half-acre plot at Spaces of Opportunity in Phoenix, where 18 gardeners are currently volunteering. They also offer an educational program, free to the public, with University of Arizona master gardeners coming in to teach best gardening practices.

Those educational programs will also be part of the area schools’ outdoor activities.

“I want the message to go out that gardening doesn’t take much space,” Pettis said. “We’ll help you get going. We’re even partnering with True Gardens to teach people how to maintain a hydroponic garden.” 

Food raised by Project Roots is either used by those who grow it (co-op style), sold every Saturday at the Uptown Farmers Market (held at North Phoenix Baptist Church) or delivered free of charge in produce bags.

“The funds we raise at the market allows us to keep reinvesting in supplies,” Pettis said. “We’re also planning a fall festival fundraiser, complete with a pumpkin patch. It’ll be held outside on a six-acre farm so everyone can social distance.”

Lastly, for the homeless community on foot, Project Roots’ produce also finds its way to the Culture Cup Food Bank in Phoenix. There, Pettis’s 15-year-old daughter, Anniyah, is known as the Soup Lady. She delivers a different healthy vegan soup each week. Mindful of the sodium, they add herbs and spices known for their health benefits, such as building strong immune systems.

When asked where she sees Project Roots in a year, Pettis laughed and said, “Raising more produce! We have a community need. Let’s get healthy food to them. We’re adding new elements: an herb garden, chickens and more. It’s a place of welcoming. Everyone is encouraged to help and learn. It doesn’t matter whether you’re growing for your family or because you’re donating your time.”

The Project Roots mission statement is to provide and promote a healthier, natural and more sustainable way of living in urban areas where there is a need. But the English poet Alfred Austin provides the perfect addition to that mission: “To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”

To learn more, visit ProjectRootsAZ.org.

Judy Pearson

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.