Saturday, May 14, 2011

FNFCG Caravan Report - Clara White Mission Training Center & Community Garden

Can you identify this mystery curcubit?
I think Gardeners may be the only group of people who would plan an outdoor event, invite the entire city and then stand grinning from ear to ear as a downpour begins! You can understand the delight when you consider the dry spell we've had in Northeast Florida.  The rain did nothing to dampen the spirits today at the FNFCG Caravan to the Clara White Mission Training Center & Community Garden.

Ju'Coby Pittman-Peele, CWM CEO/President, was on hand today with Kelly Mulligan from Clara White and Derrick Robinson from U.N.F.'s Environmental Center to answer questions and give tours of the Organic Garden located on the grounds of the Clara White Mission.  

Built in a collaborative effort by Clara White Mission and University of North Florida, the garden broke ground in June 2010.  Initial funding for the garden project was provided by a UNF Environmental Center Seed Grant awarded in Spring 2010 and Transformational Learning Opportunity funding provided by UNF’s Department of Undergraduate Studies and Academic Affairs.  Fall 2010 was the first official semester of the project at U.N.F.. Encompassing 500 square feet, the completed garden provides fresh fruit and vegetables for the kitchens of Clara White and its Culinary Arts program. 

Today, visitors got to enjoy a tasting provided by the Culinary Arts Center at the Mission - roasted beets accompanied sauteed cabbage, beet greens, collard and mustard greens topped with carrots seasoned with Clara's seasoning (where can I get some?) and thinly slivered radishes.  Sorry, got lost there a moment in remembering the flavors! Oh, and I'd like to point out that I managed to control myself enough to write 3 paragraphs prior to commencing the food talk.  Mmmmmmmmm.

Mary Puckett from the Urban Gardening Program at the Duval County Extension Office was also on hand to answer questions and share the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide by University of Florida IFAS Extension. If you have not got a copy of this guide, PLEASE check it out.  The planting calendar it contains for Northeast Florida is worth it's weight in gold!  

Kelly Mulligan shows off Dill and Tomatoes
Kelly Mulligan gave us the tour, pointing out the variety of  thriving cherry tomatoes donated by the Duval County Extension Office and the thornless blackberry bushes covered in large, glistening fruit.  Derrick Robinson from U.N.F. insisted we sample some - you don't have to tell me twice! As we moved around the garden, we could see blueberry bushes, 3 different varieties, and broccoli plants past harvesting for florets but covered with long spires of seed pods.  Broccoli produces a prodigious quantity of seed, and saving the seed will ensure that the crop will appear again in next winter's garden.  Kelly is a constant figure in the garden, tending to it most days - he is there so often that some of the Clara White Mission's clients have dubbed the garden "Mulligan's Meadow".   

While the current location is 500 square feet, the program has been such a success that Clara White Mission plans a future expansion to an 11-acre plot of mission-owned land in Northwest Jacksonville off Moncrief Road. Irrigation is provided by an in-ground sprinkler system which was converted from an existing lawn irrigation setup; there are 3 zones with 6 heads each, utilizing gear drive sprinklers.  The garden administrators hope to rework the system into a more efficient drip irrigation system. Derrick Robinson explained that solving the garden's irrigation needs will hopefully become the focus of a student project at U.N.F. as part of this Community-Based Transformational Learning Opportunity (CBTLO).

My favorite tour guide by far was Winston Peele, 7 year old son of Ju'Coby.  Winston brought us over to the absolutely gorgeous row of dill that was as tall as he was and invited us to pull a sprig and enjoy the fragrance of pickles! He's right you know - dill pickles.  And if you know me, you know that I can't grow dill no matter how hard I try. I think I need gardening classes with Winston. He reports that his favorite food growing in the garden is collard greens (Now that's a southern appetite! Forget those strawberries, blackberries and blueberries - pass the greens!).

If you would like to find out more about the Clara White Mission Organic Garden project, we've included the following links:

If you'd like to get in touch with someone regarding the Clara White Mission Organic Garden project, you can contact the following:

Thank you so much to Clara White Mission for welcoming us into their Garden and being so gracious and hospitable.
    We'll see you at next month's FNFCG CARAVAN which will be at Hodges Boulevard Community Garden!


    Click here to contact Clara White Mission Community Garden