(Field Trip Fridays capture interesting, fun, food-related and/or fishing adventures that I like to share with you!).
Merriam-Webster defines a community as “a unified body of individuals,” and a garden as “a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated.” Pretty simplistic definitions of each, but when you blend the two, as in “Community Garden” the words take on much bigger meaning. . .
Community gardens have been around for decades, but with renewed interest in where our food comes from, they’re more popular than ever. Typically, folks who get involved live in urban areas or deed restricted areas, have gardened on a large scale over the years and now want a small parcel, or are new to gardening and don’t want to go it alone. In a nutshell, the process seems pretty simple — an individual rents a plot of land, cares for it, then harvests his/her hard-earned food. Oh, but there’s so much more to it because the benefits are immeasurable! According to the American Community Gardening Association, gardening improves quality of life, stimulates social interaction, beautifies neighborhoods, produces nutritious food, conserves resources, and provides educational opportunities.
In Sarasota County we have several gardens overseen by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension (IFAS) and Sustainability office. There are 8 community gardens (including 1 operated by an independent organization not affiliated with IFAS) and 64 school gardens (I had no idea!). Knowledgeable staff partner with groups on how to get started, provide best practices for community garden management, offer fundraising and grant process tips, give planting and irrigation guidelines, and offer administrative support (i.e., plot assignments, waitlists, etc.).
I recently visited Culverhouse Community Garden in Sarasota with tour guides Stacy Spriggs, Community & School Gardens Coordinator for UF/IFAS, and Maria Portelos-Rometo, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with UF/IFAS. The two developed a replicable model for community and school gardens throughout the County so individuals and teachers don’t have to start from scratch if they want to start a new effort. Stacy and Maria are passionate about what they do, which includes sharing value-adding information and resources within our community.
This garden is part of an 82-acre parcel of land donated by the Culverhouse family. In 2009, an interested group of residents, in partnership with the IFAS office, started planning, fundraising, installing irrigation systems and a solar powered well, and performing lots of manual work. Stacy Spriggs even researched best practices in Atlanta, Portland and Seattle to evaluate what might work in our community. The garden finally opened in June, 2013 and today there are 80 plots throughout the beautiful wagon-wheel design. Each member pays $25 per plot, per year and is required to maintain it along with common areas. Members maintain organic practices, including a system of composting, and even have ‘experiments’ under way, including a fruit orchard. Note: other gardens also have special projects, including the Nokomis Park group’s “Grow a Row” effort to harvest green beans that will be donated to All Faiths Food Bank — that’s just awesome 🙂
As I roamed I noticed each bed was lovingly cared for, with flourishing plants everywhere — cabbage, peas, eggplant, sorrel, peppers, broccoli, herbs and flowers — and I was reminded of something Anne Raver said: “Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, ‘let’s stay here’. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another.” That level of connection was apparent as I watched gardeners managing their plots and lending a hand to fellow gardeners. Beautiful.
For a list of Community Gardens in Sarasota County, check out UF/IFAS. Most have waiting lists, with the exception of the garden at Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, so definitely check that one out if you have the gardening bug.
IFAS also offers an extensive array of classes including: food safety, rain barrels, gardening, canning, recycling, mosquito control, solar energy, hurricane preparedness and more. I’ve attended several of their well-priced and knowledge-packed programs and highly encourage you to go 🙂