ST. PETERSBURG –The sun was hot and pesky gnats were buzzing around, but that did not stop the Jordan Park Kids Garden Club from tending to their garden for a few hours Tues., May 19.
Nestled in between two apartment buildings on Twenty-third Street South, sits an organic splendor of kale, tomatoes, greens, varieties of herbs and even eggplants.
Jordan Park Community Garden was the inspirational idea of Annette Hubbard, and developed in collaboration with Carol Smith with the not-for-profit organization Local Food Park Inc., as well as Garden Club of St. Petersburg and community volunteers.
The purpose of the community garden is to teach residents how to grow their own food, improve their health by eating fruits and vegetables and to help build communities in the process.
The club usually meets every Wednesday, but this week was special. Operation PAR joined in on the fun with their partner Local Food Park, Inc., just in time for National Prevention Week.
This week-long event, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is dedicated to increasing public awareness of substance abuse and mental health issues.
Operation PAR brought over a few teenage volunteers from one of their youth clubs, LiveFree! Coalition, to help out in the garden, read to the younger garden club members and talk to them about drug and alcohol prevention.
“We try to engage them in our leadership development so that they are positive influences with younger students and with their peers as well,” said Daphne Lampley, Administrator of Prevention Services with Operation PAR. “They work together to promote not drinking and not using drugs.”
“This is what you do when you want to eat healthy and you don’t have much money, you garden,” said Zanetta Starks, LiveFree! Prevention Services with PAR, who admits that she has taken up gardening.
Cameron Sweat, 16, has been in the LiveFree! Coalition for about four years and goes to Gibbs High School. He came out to read to the kids and handout healthy snacks. “I love being a part of the coalition,” he said. “It’s all about giving back to the community.” Cameron wants everyone to know that they are always looking for new members who would like to volunteer and reach out to those in need.
Sixteen-year-old Heaven Taylor-Wynn is a student at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School and has been with LiveFree! for three years. She said they target the younger children with drug and alcohol prevention so that they can head them off at the path.
“It’s a fun an interesting experience. You learn a lot about what people are going through,” said 13-year-old Joanna Miller who stated that LiveFree! also tries to prevent drunk driving among their peers.
The LiveFree! teens had to wait to read to the club members because their first priority was tending their garden.
In the first year, children in the club learned about the cycles of nature, basics such as what plants need to grow and how to plant and harvest food. Some earned their JP Kids Garden Club t-shirt and member badge for regular attendance.
Next, raised bed gardens for families and table gardens for seniors were added, built by students through collaborations with Job Corps and AmeriCorp.
The program expanded to serve senior residents of Jordan Park who could not participate in gardening. One of the regular gardeners, Heidi Hanson, took on the responsibility of harvesting and delivering regularly. During fall and spring, she was harvesting about 10 pounds of produce per week, including lettuce, collards, tomatoes, herbs, kale and mustard greens.
“We’ve been amazed at how the residents have supported it,” said Smith. “We have had very little problems. Residents have embraced the garden.”
One such resident is Delores Fletcher who has been working in the garden for some 10 months. Her favorite foods from the garden are collard and mustard greens and kale.
“The way the world is right now we’re going to have to learn how to grow our own food. Everything we can learn about producing healthy things for ourselves we need to do,” said Fletcher.
A St. Pete native, she remembers when everyone had personal gardens and even chickens. “People knew how to feed themselves,” she said explaining that the whole city was full of fruit growing naturally, such as mangos, guavas, oranges and grapefruits. “You could walk around all day long and eat.”
Not just gardening goes on here. Smith explained that some of the kids have had problems at home and the garden has become a safe haven. Garden Assistant Laura Clarke has a human service background and uses nature therapy with the kids.
“Some of them have issues at home that they are trying to deal with and it’s sort of beyond what a kid can cope with, but she’ll work one on one with them with the watering and harvesting. She gives them extra attention and it really makes a difference,” Smith said as she explained that the human service needs are huge. “It’s so much more than growing food.”
The group of children in JP Kids Garden Club has grown to 17 regular members who attend weekly meetings with hands-on garden activities and educational opportunities. There can be anywhere from three to 17 children in the garden.
New garden coordinator, Cristy Abbott is a permaculture specialist who teaches sustainable techniques that work in sync with Mother Nature. She believes the only way to lower our carbon footprint is to “work together and sharing our strengths and talents and celebrating the diversity that we are.”
The major funder for Jordan Park Community Garden is led by Bon Secours Healthy Communities Initiative. Additional funding was raised through donations from individuals and neighborhood groups, such as Buffalo Soldiers and The Deuces Live Business Association.