ST. PETERSBURG — Since the closing of the Walmart in Tangerine Plaza three months ago, Midtown has once again become a food desert, or a community that lacks food resources such as a grocery or produce store. People now have to travel further out of their community to get groceries, making it more difficult for lower income families to get any other food than fast food.
At the corner of Newton Avenue and Highland Street South, Bartlett Park is home to one of the only community-based gardens in Midtown that is not affiliated with a school. Second Chance Life Skills (SCLS) provides volunteers to work in the garden and uses it as an educational option for at-risk youth.
“We went from 20 square feet and we doubled that,” said Adrian Taylor, strategic community relations officer for SCLS. “Primarily, it was a garden where mostly seniors worked. Since then, we have been able to recruit the community, so it moved more to a family garden with a production mindset.”
The garden has made lots of progress integrating solar panels, composting, as well as adding chickens, which are all tended to by volunteers and Early Bryant, the foreman of the garden.
“The kids come over here and they help pull the grass and the weeds and help plant the vegetables,” Bryant said.
He has been working with the park since its beginnings and enjoys inventing new advancements for the garden. Bryant takes great joy in seeing the children volunteer as well as providing fresh vegetables to anyone in need of healthy produce.
All you have to do is show up with something to carry it away in. The produce is 100 percent organic and ready to harvest in the spring.
SCLS is a local organization that has been helping homeless veterans and struggling families in Tampa Bay. Their primary focus, though, has been reaching out to the at-risk youth in the area and providing them with a sense of community and education on healthy lifestyle choices.
“As a culture, we have become far removed from how we sustain ourselves,” Taylor said.
With nearly 50 kids in their various programs, Taylor hopes to start getting the children more involved with the garden. He wants children and families to know where their food comes from and to develop healthy eating habits.
“My son is more involved with doing community service and activities with his team and it has given himself a sense of comradery,” said Tania Phillips, a mother of a child in one of SCLS’s programs.
While SCLS is ready to extend their positive influence to the children of Midtown, they are hitting logistical obstacles that are prohibiting them from reaching out to these kids.
“One of the biggest issues is just transportation,” Amy Kockek, SCLS’s program director, said.
They hope that if they get a van or bus, they will be able to get more kids involved in Bartlett Park. Currently, SCLS mostly relies on parents to drop their kids off.
Funding is another issue. They currently rely on grants from donors but have received no aid from the city or the schools. They also need funding to add more solar panels and develop more land to cultivate the garden further.
SCLS hopes to build the community garden into an epicenter for food distribution and act as a solution to the Midtown food desert but to do that they need to increase their funding.
In addition to the community garden, SCLS hosts other programs for kids such as a track team and a classic rock baseball clinic. Every Saturday they also host an open bread bank at their location on 1700 Ave. S, off 34th Street.