Today in our blog, I invited Kitty Wallace, one of the fearless and intrepid leaders of the Coalition of Community Gardens to talk about Community Gardening, what it is, what it means, and why they’re important to cities all over the nation, especially right here in Tampa Bay.
Marissa: Kitty, what is the Coalition of Community Gardens?
Kitty: The Coalition of Community Gardens is a network of community gardens and advocates. Founded by Lena Young Green and me in 2015 with 4 other community gardens, we’ve grown quickly and now include over 30 member gardens in five counties. We support the success of community gardening, through sharing knowledge and resources, and providing mentoring to new groups looking to form their own community garden.
This is the Tampa Heights Community Garden, where Kitty spends a lot of her gardening and teaching time.
Marissa: So, is there a template for a Community Garden? Or does each one have its own vision, mission, processes and systems?
Kitty: Each garden establishes its own ethos, guidelines, and culture. A community is not only growing vegetables, it is growing a strong community. It is growing a healthy community. There are immigrant gardens, gardens integrated with art installations, gardens in rows, gardens in circles. There are gardens for seniors, and gardens for children. There are gardens that “Plant a row for the hungry.”
Marissa: That sounds really great – so the Community Garden can decide for itself what kind of community they want to build and also make itself a resource for the people they want to serve.
Some Community Gardens have multiple sites. Temple Terrace Community Gardens, for example, is associated with Riverhills Elementary and Greco Middle School and has gardens near or on each school’s property.
Marissa: So, why do you think Community Gardens are so popular, and so crucial, in the communities they serve?
Kitty: Lots of people are realizing how important it is to know where your food comes from. Gardening in a community garden is a great way to take back control. Maybe you don’t have space to grow much. Maybe the last time you stuck your hands in the soil was with your grandma when you were 10 years old. All good reasons to join a community garden. There will be some experienced gardeners there who will help you.
Marissa: I think the space to grow your own food is a definite advantage to people who may rent, or who may have nothing but a small balcony and a north-facing window, both of which makes growing any real quantity of food nearly impossible.
Plant a Row for the Hungry, started in Oregon, is a movement associated with the Garden Writers Association and has become a theme for some community gardens. Image Credit: the Plant A Row group on Facebook
Marissa: Besides experienced gardeners at the community gardens in the area, where can people at the community gardens, or really anywhere, find more information about gardening in Florida?
Kitty: There is great information on growing individual vegetables, when to plant them, how deep to plant the seed, how far apart to plant the rows, etc. The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide also has valuable charts with all of this information: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/VH021
Marissa: Many of your community gardeners shop with us here at the store, and pick up our bi-monthly printed Shell’s Garden Guide, which has much of the information in that publication as well. The link you gave us above is a very comprehensive list of utterly everything you could imagine growing food-wise, it’s very thorough!
Kitty: I recommend that our gardeners purchase their veggie seedlings from Shell’s because they are grown locally using the varieties of plants that are recommended for our area.
The entrance to the Seminole Heights Community Garden, a great resource for Seminole Heights!
Marissa: If people want to join a community garden, find one near them, or maybe even start their own, what’s a good resource for them to access?
Kitty: The Coalition of Community Gardens website has lots of information about community gardens in West Central Florida. Click on “About us” and take a look. There is address and contact info for each garden in the coalition.
If you want to start a community garden, you can make an appointment with the community garden nearest to you and ask them to give you guidance and info. There is also a nifty one page publication from American Community Gardening Association, called “10 steps to starting a community garden” for which you’ll find a download link on this page.
Our member gardens are interested in helping you succeed. You can always reach out to us directly.
Marissa: And if you’re reading this and you’re a community garden looking for resources, membership, or anything related to community gardening, then you can also go to that website and ask to join the Coalition. They’re always looking to expand their reach into more and more local communities and provide assistance, and they can also help memberships grow! They even have an annual Grow Gardens Conference where everyone learns from each other and they host very knowledgeable guest speakers with lots of valuable information to share. I try to go each year to learn more about how my store can support community gardens.
Thanks for chatting with me today, Kitty! We appreciate all you do for the community gardens in this area!
VISTA Community Gardens is one of the most successful community gardens in the area. Go check out what they’re doing!
Footnote from Marissa: I think Community Gardens are a great resource for many people who don’t have access to other ways to garden. Container gardening on a patio can be space-limited and quality containers can become expensive. Not having a balcony, or a very small one is a similar situation. Most apartments and condos don’t get enough light to grow indoors without investing in expensive growing lights. Some people rent and don’t want to invest in an in-ground garden and then not be able to move it when they leave. There are any number of scenarios where Community Gardens really help families grow their own.
Community gardens allow people in all housing and socioeconomic situations to come together, learn from each other, and help each other, and help the community grow its own delicious food. It decreases the dependence on grocery store produce, especially in areas that are considered a “food desert”, where fresh produce is not available to purchase within a reasonable walking distance. It gives opportunities to educate, delight, and provide purpose and fellowship to people, and enhances quality of life by getting people outside, breathing fresh air, basking in sunshine, exercising, talking, laughing, and sharing in common goals.
Community Gardens are a place where not only flowers, but also people, can grow and bloom.
The benefits of gardening are numerous, and scientifically proven. The popularity and essential nature of community gardens makes gardening accessible to people who may not have the chance to experience the joys of gardening otherwise.
I definitely appreciate all the hard work that is put in to community gardens everywhere and look forward to seeing more and more successful gardens come into being in Tampa Bay.
Until next time, friends, Keep Growing!
P.S. I mentioned container gardening here for people who have limited space, or no permanent space, in which to garden. If you want to learn more about the containers we recommend for growing food, please check out my article about the EarthBOX!