Can we grow our own healthy foods?

Grow Community Garden, letter

 

Dear Editor:

The City of St. Petersburg last Monday, April 17 at the Enoch Davis Center conducted a workshop on a community gardens initiative to gather input from urban agriculture stakeholders and community residents.

The city will be offering six vacant land parcels to be transformed into community gardens as an extension to address healthy foods access and a way to grow a variety of vegetables, fruit and flower agricultural crops year round directly behind the Enoch Davis Center in the Thirteen Street Heights Neighborhood.

The Community Gardens Initiative outlined in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Plan calls for the development of community gardens on vacant city- owned lots to beautify and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods.

Many who attended last week’s community garden workshop felt that it requires a fair amount of upfront capital costs to convert vacant land into suitable gardens to grow healthy plants and foods.  It was recommended to the city to incorporate into the upcoming request for proposals (RFP) that the municipal government will consider providing a water source, lighting, security fencing at the site, soil testing, free mulch, soil builder and sea grass.

The city will probably release the RFP sometime in June with a selection of respondent(s) in September.  They were also encouraged by the workshop participants to consider providing a grant to successful respondent(s) for some operational and maintenance support since there is not a lot of funding to support community gardens in the CRA and citywide.

While the city did some outreach to the community through door hangers, it was noted that very few Thirteen Street Heights residents attended the workshop.  The city will require in the RFP that respondents must show community participation and support for their proposed community garden.

It was also mentioned that if the city wants to create a community garden initiative model to be replicated throughout the South St. Petersburg CRA, they should look at the Green Thumb initiative in the New York City Parks & Recreation Department, which provides annual public grants to community groups, a Green Thumb toolkit, an informative garden newsletter that outlines a series of technical and funding sources to aid community groups in the development, management and maintenance of more than 2,500 community gardens citywide.

I call upon the residents and members of each neighborhood association in the South St. Petersburg CRA to actively identify and select at least one vacant city-owned lot to be developed into a community garden by youth, seniors and family residents in those respective areas.

I think that with the support of the master gardener and SNAP-ED Programs at the University of Florida Pinellas County Extension Service, urban agricultural organizations and public/ private funding sources, community garden and healthy affordable foods nutrition initiatives can start sprouting up in neighborhoods and improve the health outcomes for the general public, especially for lower income children and family residents throughout the South St. Pete CRA.

Growing your own fresh healthy foods in backyard and community gardens is one direct way to improve the health and wellness of your child and family, beautify the neighborhood, improve the quality of life and bring the entire neighborhood together.

For more information on developing a community garden and growing your own healthy affordable foods, please call Assisted Living Community Gardens, Inc. at (727) 258-7093.

Coy M. LaSister, executive director, Assisted Living Community Gardens, Inc.

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