Community gardens are not a new concept, but the Watson Park Community Garden in Dade City has a new twist.
This garden is the first of its kind in Florida, and the people behind it hope it will become a model for others to follow.
At a ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 26, children from Cox Elementary School were among the first to get their hands dirty in the garden.
There were others there to celebrate, including Saqib Mukhtar from the University of Florida; Whitney Elmore and Eden Santiago-Gomez, of the Pasco County Extension Office; Camille Hernandez, mayor of Dade City; representatives from the Dade City Garden Club and Pasco County Master Gardeners; financial supporters and members of the community, too.
A cast of many played a role in making the garden become reality, Elmore said, in her opening remarks.
She credited Santiago-Gomez for coming up with the idea and working relentlessly to pursue it.
But, Elmore also noted that it was a collaborative effort and required the help of many.
“It’s the first one in the state that is a partnership between the University of Florida and a municipality (Dade City), so, we’re really, no pun intended, breaking ground, breaking new ground here,” Elmore said.
“Camille Hernandez, the City of Dade City and the commissioners were kind enough to see the value in this and allow funds for the fencing, for the irrigation. They had their work crews, city crews come in and put that in very quickly, a professional job, very, very well done,” Elmore said.
Mukhtar, associate dean for extension and program leader for agriculture, said “this will be a shining example of what can be done.”
Elmore noted: “We’ve got different types of plots. We’ve got regular raised-bed plots. We’ve also got handicapped-accessible plots.”
The value of community gardens goes beyond growing fruits and vegetables, both Elmore and Hernandez said.
“It really is an exciting day today,” Hernandez said.
She then shared Dade City’s vision for community gardens.
That vision, Hernandez said, is “to provide opportunities for people to grow food for themselves and for donations; to promote healthy diets and activities; to get to know their neighbors and make new friends; to learn from each other; to engage our youth; to promote environmental sustainability and to create a productive and beautiful common ground in our community.
“Today is all about engaging and educating. I’m excited about this wonderful opportunity,” she told the crowd before the ribbon-cutting to officially open the garden, which offers free garden plots for lease.
After the ceremony, Hernandez donned a pair of pink garden gloves and made her way into the garden.
This is the first of many community gardens that Elmore would like to see across Pasco County.
Another community garden is planned in Dade City, which Elmore expects to open within a few months at the Stallings Building, which is owned by Pasco County.
Other possibilities include establishing community gardens at public libraries on the west side of Pasco County, adding community gardens to development projects and possibly to schools, too.
Like Hernandez, Elmore sees enormous potential in the good that community gardens can do.
Besides producing wholesome food, they offer a place where people can learn, she said. They also can bring people together and can provide a source of nutrition to reduce chronic disease.
Elmore expressed gratitude for the widespread support.
“All of these folks saw the need. They all saw the potential for good. And, if it hadn’t had been for them, we couldn’t have made this happen,” Elmore said.
She heaped particular praise on Santiago-Gomez.
“This is the result of her brainchild, of planning, coordinating, being on the phone 24/7, and getting things done. A lot of labor on her part,” Elmore said.
Published January 31, 2018