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Share the Soil, Share the Food

By Jennifer Bronson

There is nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a plump, juicy tomato; a firm, sweet pepper or a meaty, grilled eggplant that you grew yourself. To grow and enjoy your own food is an empowering feeling for people of all ages—not to mention fun. I distinctly remember when I was a young child hiding in my father’s vegetable garden popping summer beans off their vines, pulling radishes from the ground, and tugging on tomatoes to see which ones were ready to eat. I loved watching the fruit and vegetable plants start as sprouts, grow tall, flourish with flowers whose pollen was devoured by bees, and finally see the produce flesh out into the colorful cornucopia I would find on my dining room table. Of course, I didn’t always wait for them to reach the table.

This same joy is brought to communities and school children through food garden projects. Community food gardens support and enrich lives by stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, producing nutritious food and therefore lowering family food budgets, creating opportunities for recreation, therapy and education, as well as providing chances for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections. People can thoroughly enjoy the food because they know exactly how it was grown and what they are eating. There is no guessing or worrying when it comes to the quality, or safety, of the food grown in these gardens.

One such garden can be found off Orange Avenue. This community garden has been around for 35 years and is part of a cooperative extension program hosted by the College of Engineering Sciences Technology and Agriculture at Florida A&M University. This cooperative extension program is a joint effort of federal, state, and county governments. The mission of this program is to “serve the populous through agriculture and natural resources.” Garden participants pay twenty dollars a year for a 40x40 foot plot. This is a well-known and loved community garden in which each person can do as they please with their produce whether that means using totally organic practices or not. The one rule is that the food grown at the garden can not be sold; it must be used personally or given to others in the community.

The Damayan Garden Project is a local, small, nonprofit whose motivation lies in the belief, “that everyone should have access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being that comes with eating locally grown, seasonal food.” They have three different programs including family gardens, edible schoolyards, and community gardens. By planting the gardens and teaching others to tend them without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, Damayan is supporting a sustainable future.

“We go into backyards, schoolyards, and low-income housing communities and provide our gardeners with everything they need to establish a raised-bed vegetable garden. In addition to providing soil, compost, plants, seeds, stakes, trellises, and frames, we also offer hands-on instruction while the new gardeners are mastering their skills.” Damayan’s Educational Showcase Garden, where they also hold gardening activities for both children and adults, is located at Lichgate on High Road.

The ideas and missions that drive these organizations can be practiced on a smaller scale. Anyone can plant a garden in their own yard and share the produce and flowers with neighbors, sprouting relationships that may not have happened otherwise. Gardens bring people together. It is our raw instinct to grow and nurture things, whether tomatoes and peppers, or family and community relationships.

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