Community gardens grow in Tampa Bay
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07/14/11 Aaron Dalley
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

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Green vegetables growing at Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF (Apr. 2011)

Community gardens have been sprouting up across Tampa Bay for the last few years. At one in South St. Petersburg, some of the local and global benefits of urban gardens are evident.

The Bartlett Park Community Garden in St. Petersburg has been in-bloom for 3 years now and counts tomatoes, black-eyed peas and a variety of herbs among its seasonal offerings. Ashley Spalding has a plot there and has also been helping organize the garden since last fall. She says what make this and other community gardens special are the relationships that grow there.

“It just brings people together to learn and get to know each other. It promotes positive social relationships in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t have met so many people if it wasn’t for the garden.”

The American Community Gardening Association estimates that there are around 18,000 such gardens across the U.S. and Canada. They cite several benefits for supporting community gardens in urban areas such as cheap nutritious food, self-reliance and more beautiful neighborhoods. The gardens can foster a stronger sense of neighborhood pride that may lead to reduced crime and increased property value. Spalding says the garden has also become an after school hang-out for children.

“During the school year, the minute anyone opened the garden shed here and turned on the generator to use the hose, maybe 5 kids would automatically run over here to garden. Kids age 3 or 4 to, say, 11 are just really excited about the garden. And it’s a great place. If you ask them, “What do you like about the garden?” they say “watering, weeding,” they don’t like to weed. They don’t reflect deeply on what it is that draws them to the garden. One kid said, it’s something in the neighborhood. And, so, the kids seem to really enjoy having this as a place to go after school and hang out with each other, hang out with us. And we really enjoy hanging out with them and there’s learning going on but it’s not at all formal, it’s just neighborhood people coming together here.”

Around Tampa Bay, Seminole Heights and Gulfport both offer gardens and the Bayboro Garden was planted this year on the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. But new gardener Ryder Wooten said his roots and his interest in sustainability brought him to the Bartlett Park garden.

“In the last 5 or 6 years of my life, I’ve really gotten in to the green and sustainability movement. I understand me, individually, I don’t have a major influence on the earth. My fiancé and I recycle everything now, we reduced a lot of our waste, but I realize that’s not a huge impact on the earth but we’re just trying to lead by example in our regular lives as well as our careers.”

While the Bartlett Park Garden is having a positive effect locally, Spalding - who is also an Urban Anthropology researcher - says the greater community garden movement is helping to bring together the global community.

“I think it’s part of all kinds of other exciting things that are happening right now in terms of movements to green, various green social movements and environmental activism and also people concerned with food security or food insecurity and nutrition. I think it’s one of a lot of exciting things that are happening right now socially and politically. So, community gardens or growing your own food in your backyard and these school gardens and community supported agriculture, urban farms, I think this is one part of a lot of exciting things that are happening.”

In addition to providing food and neighborhood pride, community gardens are one way to preserve green space and bring a bit of nature to the steel and concrete of the urban landscape.

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How long is that hose???

It amazes me how the county water restrictions don’t seem to apply to “Johnny Apple Seed”…