Florida Weekly Column

Garden Party to Urban Farming

Garden Party to Urban Farming

I still can’t look at a cherry tomato. Not that I have an aversion to tomatoes in general, just the petite variety.

Several lifetimes ago my husband and I entertained a fantasy of living on the land. We wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy city in Virginia and move to a rural setting. Keep in mind that the word fantasy is in no way linked to reality and this pretty much sums up our move.

But I was all in and painted a picture of idyllic bliss to my friends of my life on the land. One of the things I was most looking forward to was planting a garden. Keep in mind I have never been able to keep a house plant alive for more than 30 days, but somehow the move to the country was going transform me into a master gardener. I had my friends so convinced that as part of my sendoff party they donned me with a lovely wide brimmed hat suitable for my new role in life.

I don’t have the luxury of space here to go into all the ways I was ill equipped for life on over a 1/4 acre in the suburbs, but no one told me I would have to take my own trash to the landfill and that other than cows, milk was a 30 minute drive each way. By the way, a family of five drinks more milk than you can ever imagine.

Even with the setbacks I was determined to wear that hat, which meant I needed to plant a garden. The project started with great gusto and in my enthusiasm I planted enough vegetables to feed an entire community. For some reason I had a special affinity to cherry tomato plants and purchased 42 of them for my first crop.

Did you know that an average cherry tomato plant can produce 250 tomatoes a season? Me neither.

Now multiply that by 42 plants all harvested at the same time by a novice gardener in a very cute but albeit uncomfortable hat.

I was giving them away to everyone and anyone. I think some people were running when they saw me coming and I heard some disparaging remarks about my hat.

That was my first and last year as a country gardener, but fast forward a few years and I found myself as a hunger fighter and searching for ways to produce healthy food for people experiencing food insecurity. I was now living back in the suburbs and working in more urban settings but the demand for food was great.

I remembered my bumper crop of cherry tomatoes but more importantly the other successful gardens I had seen developed by my experienced neighbors. Fortunately local non-profit groups and schools were exploring the concepts of container and urban farming and I knew from my limited experience that this was a viable option.

Over the last decade in Southwest Florida I have seen the urban garden flourish in many different settings. Through my work at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I have seen our donors support local gardens designed specifically to support the needs in our community.

Most recently we funded a garden in the Pine Manor community and I was thrilled to get an update that our grant helped the Improvement Association to get even more grants to support their community garden. The families have embraced it and are nurturing crops and just enjoyed their first harvest from more than 20 garden boxes. We continue to work with our grantees like the Pine Manor Improvement Association as their grants and their plans merge from the community garden which will also support their culinary arts training program. I cannot wait to taste the fruits of the earth and the training kitchen in Pine Manor.

If any of you are interested in learning more about urban farming in our community, please reach out to me at [email protected] I have great hat you can borrow.







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