Construction trailers once cluttered the vacant lot on a hilly rise across from Florida Hospital Zephyrhills.
Now, a community garden is taking root there, as hospital employees, one by one, build garden beds that will sprout with vegetables, flowers and herbs.
The Florida Hospital Zephyrhills CREATION Health Community Garden sits behind a white picket fence, on Dairy Road directly behind the hospital.
The garden is a complementary piece to the hospital’s new CREATION Health Wellness Center.
The center offers gym memberships, personal training, a Kid Zone play area, free cooking demonstrations, healthy lifestyle seminars and more.
“This is kind of tying it all together,” said Kelley Sasser, the hospital’s director of process improvement.
Garden beds can be rented by anyone in the community for $75 annually, with no charge for the soil.
Some beds are built tall enough to accommodate gardeners with mobility issues.
Sasser and David Force, who works in the same department as a specialist, are the garden’s promoters.
Force brings gardening expertise to the project; Sasser is a passionate cheerleader.
“We’ve taken the garden under our wings,” Sasser said. “That is what (David) eats and breathes.”
Force credits his grandmother with giving him a love of gardening.
He grew up in Zephyrhills and Dade City, but every summer he visited his grandmother who could coax plants to grow in the worst of conditions.
“She always had a garden,” he said. “This was in north Florida in the middle of sand.”
It was a happy time, he said. “That’s some of my best memories.”
Initially, Force wanted to create a garden for hospital volunteers.
“The hospital thought that was a good idea but wanted to go further,” Force added.
It took nearly three years from merely having an idea to actually digging in the dirt, but on March 16, the first of 70 garden beds were nailed together and filled with fertile soil.
Force has about 500 plants growing in a small greenhouse, from seeds donated by Lowe’s home improvement store in Zephyrhills.
Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, lavender and cilantro are among the plants ready to sprout. Ultimately, these fresh veggies and herbs could find their way to the hospital’s cafeteria or into a cooking demo at the wellness center.
One long-range goal is to have enough community involvement that a farmer’s market might be held once a month, Force said.
Or, maybe a cooperative, he added, “which would be wonderful.”
At the mid-March kickoff, hospital employees walked over throughout the morning and into the lunch hour, to help with the gardening tasks.
Several volunteers sported T-shirts with the message, “Doing Good in the Neighborhood.”
Florida Hospital Zephyrhills is the only hospital in the area with a community garden. As one of 45 hospitals in the Adventist Health System, it is the second hospital in the system to start a community garden. The first started at an Adventist Hospital in Castle Rock, Colorado.
A gazebo, garden shed and a small greenhouse are on-site. Walkways and landscaping give the 2-acre garden a tranquil, inviting ambiance.
Aquaponics, an education pavilion, a butterfly garden and a small orchard will be added during the second phase.
Benches also will be placed throughout the garden, which now is dotted with red and yellow hibiscus in ceramic planters.
The garden also nurtures the spirit.
It embraces the tenants of the Adventist faith and lifestyle, including trust, outlook and nutrition, said Casio Jones, director of the hospitals’ wellness center.
“You’re building oneness with the Lord,” Jones said.
There are social bonds that also knit a community together.
“That increases your ability to see things in a positive way,” he said. “You plant and you reap something good. I just know this is going to be an opportunity for us to partner with our community better.”
Natasha Forbes-Thorne looks forward to quiet lunches in the gazebo, and creating salads from the vegetables she’ll grow in the garden.
Her son donated funds to buy the gazebo, and she served on the hospital’s community garden committee.
“My big thing is teaching the next generation to do sustained gardening, and to know where their food comes from,” said Forbes-Thorne, the hospital’s rehabilitation director. “I see how real this is. This is gold right here.”
Published April 6, 2016