Observing and exploring nature feeds the spirit, builds community, and teaches important life lessons like self-sufficiency, environmental stewardship, and camaraderie. These opportunities in nature are offered in community gardens like the one at Jordan Park in South St Petersburg.
Jordan Park Community Garden (https://www.facebook.com/jordanpkgardens) is unusual as it’s the first community garden located in a public housing community in this area. Residents of the 237-unit neighborhood joined with non-profit organization Local Food Park, some members of Garden Club of St Petersburg, and community volunteers to create an edible garden in April 2014.
Children ranging from age 3 to 12, adults, and senior residents pitched in, participating in the whole process of establishing the garden -- from installation of the very first plants in JP Kids butterfly garden, to creating the JP Kids Garden Club demonstration garden for herbs and seasonal crops, to developing raised bed garden plots for families and table gardens for seniors. They helped lay cardboard and cover it with mulch, then added wooden frames and soil for family garden plots.
“The kids have learned they can plant a seed, grow healthy food and eat it. They’re excited when they learn the story of the butterflies and bees, how they pollinate the garden to make it thrive, and have been entranced as they watched the caterpillars feeding on plants in the butterfly garden. They’ve gotten to see the chrysalis form, and shortly, butterflies flitting about,” says garden coordinator Cristy Abbott, “It’s thrilling to see the children appreciate the cycle of life through the transformation of these insects.”
Organic and permaculture gardening classes, field trips, and activities provided by Local Food Park staff and volunteers take place year round in Jordan Park, providing fun and engaging, hands-on exposure to the cycle of nature and seasonal crop production. Resident gardeners actively participate in the planting, harvesting, and maintenance of the organic garden and are now learning permaculture techniques.
Local Food Park (http://www.localfoodpark.com) was awarded a grant by Bon Secours and received funding from other neighborhood partners and individuals to establish the garden as part of its not-for-profit mission to connect people to nature and healthy food through community outreach, training, and education. The group teaches health and wellness through sustainable gardening to grow organic food. Local Food Park’s team coordinated with property owners St Petersburg Housing Authority and Winn Company management to obtain permission to place the garden on unused land and bring the edible gardening opportunity to Jordan Park residents.
The garden is located on a lot between a pair of two-story apartment buildings, bordered by pathways residents use to access main street activities at 22nd Street South, so a good amount of interaction with folks occurs as they pass by on their regular errands. “We’re right in the middle of their daily activities, so we welcome everyone’s participation, even if it’s just occasional help toting wheelbarrows to spread mulch or pumping buckets of water for thirsty plants,” comments Carol Smith, executive director of Local Food Park. “Some kids stop by from time to time with their mother on the way home from school to plant and water the garden, chat with regular participants, or listen to a book being read during Magic Carpet Reading Circle.”
“The Jordan Park community has really embraced the garden, and the kids are really excited to see their plants grow and produce food. This summer, the kids learned how to use watermelon and cantaloupe rinds as natural bowls, filling them with fruit balls for the afternoon snack after an hour of fun activities digging in the soil and watering the crops. They have also enjoyed refreshing herb-infused water, made with herbs they grew. Summer crops have included herbs, kale, beans, watermelon, and eggplant. Prodigious crops of heirloom golden sweet pear tomatoes were producing through June! The recent rains have helped the new Huegel Kultur berms on the garden perimeter produce lots of new sprouts, including pigeon peas, native sunflowers, moringa trees and papaya trees,” reports Smith.Jordan Park residents are welcome to join the garden or volunteer for community service hours. Volunteers from the community are invited to participate as well by scheduling with Local Food Park. Contact Carol Smith at 727-804-0694, email firstname.lastname@example.org.