Planting the seeds of sustainable living

Pasco County is pursuing a vision that’s aimed at giving people more opportunities to grow their own food, to learn the ins and outs of gardening, and to bring young and old together for a variety of activities.

A celebration was held recently at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park, 5401 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., to unveil a new “Food for All” mural and to offer tours of a new community garden.

Dr. Whitney C. Elmore, director of the Pasco County Extension Office, told the crowd that the effort to create community gardens across the county began a few years ago.

Dr. Whitney C. Elmore, director of the Pasco County Extension Office, is working to expand the number of community gardens across Pasco County. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Feb. 15 to celebrate the new community garden at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park. (Christine Holtzman)

“No. 1, we wanted to provide recreational opportunities for folks of all ages and abilities.

“We also wanted to provide areas where we could beautify different parts of our county.

“We wanted to be able to provide a location for folks to be able to come and learn about a variety of topics, from horticulture all of the way over to water conservation, and composting and sustainable living practices.

“But, we wanted to ensure food sovereignty —  that anybody that was lacking, that was in need, would be able to have a place to go to grow their own food for their family; maybe even be able to start a small cottage industry, so they could be providing a source of income for their families,” Elmore said.

Such community gardens empower people, she added.

Elmore expressed gratitude to the Pasco County Commission for supporting the cause.

“They saw fit to see our vision to provide these spaces all across Pasco County, and you’re going to see more of these.

“We’re already on the east side of the county, here in Land O’ Lakes, and working on agreements for more community gardens on the west side of the county,” Elmore said.

She also expressed gratitude to master gardener volunteers who have been instrumental in helping to develop the community gardens.

“All of these plots are leased out for free to folks in our communities,” she said. “We have individuals. We have organizations. And, we have families, that are growing their own and learning to do so.”

Growing vegetables, and inclusivity, too
Elmore also noted the gardens can be used for special programs, such as the Gardening for Autism program, a six-week course that gives kids on the autism spectrum the chance to learn about horticulture.

Besides learning how to grow fruits and vegetables, they also can learn leadership skills, develop and hone social skills, and work on fine motor skills.

“And, we have been absolutely ecstatic at the response from the Autism Society of Florida and especially the impact that we can see these programs are having on children on the spectrum, as well as their families,” Elmore said.

Besides serving as the grand opening of the new community garden in Land O’ Lakes, the Feb. 15 event also featured the unveiling of the “Food for All Mural.”

Connor Laverty and Lucas Yingling, who are both on the autism spectrum, won the mural art contest. And, their work was transposed to the mural by Amy Nevins, an artist who lives in Palm Harbor.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, who spoke at the event, expressed gratitude to the Autism Society of Florida and to Nevins, for their involvement in the mural project.

“In Pasco County, what we want to do is to make sure that people of all abilities can participate in any activity we do,” he said.

That’s true, whether it means participating in an art contest and seeing one’s work on display, or having fun at a playground designed to be used by all children, such as the one at Wesley Chapel District Park.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis also dropped by the event and commended the efforts to create more community gardens.

“I’m a big fan of community gardening. I’d like to spread this throughout my congressional district. How can we miss with something like this?”

Sonide Simon, of the county’s planning and development department, noted, “Our mural is a prime example of what it means when county government and community come together to make something beautiful.”

She also pointed out the benefits of growing healthy foods in a garden.

The vegetables growing there are “natural medicine” that can help combat chronic diseases, such as obesity, that are plaguing the nation, she said.

She praised the mural, which she said proclaims the message:  “let’s get back to nature and let’s make sure that everyone has access to food.”

Community gardens are creating communal spaces, which children and families can enjoy, she added.

Stacey Hoaglund, president of the Autism Society of Florida, congratulated the county and extension office for their involvement in the mural project.

These kinds of opportunities don’t always come to children with autism, she said.

“What this is about really, is inclusion. Being included in our communities. Being able to show what our kids, our adults with autism, are able to do. And, to become part of the overall life,” she said.

“I believe that a lot of people just underestimate the abilities of people with autism, and don’t include them in their communities as much as we would like,” she said.

“The Food for All Mural you have here — every time people drive by here and they see this beautiful wall, they can think about how people with autism are included in our communities, and have some really great things to offer,” Hoaglund said.

Published February 26, 2020

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