Sunday, June 2, 2013

Good Things Growing at a Local Community Garden by Maggie FitzRoy

Here is a great testimony from one of our Friends!

Karen Aaro waters her plot at the Ponte Vedra Beach Community Garden (1525 Palm Valley Road
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082) as her mother Marie Peterson keeps her company. Aaro and a friend have adjacent plots so they named them "The Bloomer Boomers" because they are baby boomers. 

Within her 20-foot by 20-foot garden plot, Karen Aaro is growing cucumbers, basil, tomatoes, snow peas, eggplant, peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, spinach, melon, and lettuce - plus some flowers: cosmos, zinnias, and marigolds.

"I come out here a couple of days a week - work about five hours a week," Aaro said one recent day at her plot in a Ponte Vedra Beach community garden off St. Johns County Road 210.

"I manually water," she said. "I like to keep it neat and weeded."

Aaro has one of 70 plots at the Ponte Vedra Beach Community Garden, sponsored by Christ Episcopal Church, located in the heart of town, almost a mile west of Florida A1A.

The 2-acre garden was started two years ago on land donated by church members Jack and Patti Billingsley, with the help of a few other church members. Since then, it has flourished, attracting gardeners from throughout the community. About 75 percent are not church members, just people who love to be outside and enjoy growing their own food around like-minded people.

All plots are currently assigned, but people who are interested in joining are encouraged to get on a short waiting list for when plots become available.

The entire garden is fenced and secured by a locked gate. The 20-by-20-foot plots cost $50 a year to rent; 20-by-30-foot plots cost $60. Each is equipped with a water faucet, which connects to two wells on the property. Gardeners need to provide their own drip or soaker hoses.

Working a plot requires commitment and work, but it's worth it because the Northeast Florida climate is conducive to growing crops year round, said Bernie Golczynski, garden "team captain".

"If you can spend two hours a week working it, you can have a garden," he said. "If you can do more than that, you'll have lots of food."

Some people come out to work on their plots and also to socialize, he said. "They might work one hour and be out here three."

Donna McNamara said she also finds the garden a good place to meditate. During breaks, she sits and watches things grow.

She's also made it a family project. Her husband, Matt, and son, Kyle, help her work three plots. They keep food from two, and donate produce from the third to the church kitchen.

"Right now, we have lots of beans, onions, squash, cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, peppers, and lettuces," she said. "And sunflowers for beauty." 

"This is our second year, and it's been wonderful to meet people and have a fresh harvest," she said. "We also learn from each other; it's a huge learning experience."

It's also an opportunity to grow food not available in grocery stores, said Coke Flood, who plants a lot of heirloom vegetables from seeds. Heirloom vegetables have not been genetically modified, so they offer a lot more flavor, she said. She plants vegetables in the fall, winter, and spring.

The community garden is not organic, although many gardeners chose to grow their plots organically, Golczynski said.

Members recently built an open covered shed in the center of the garden, where they hold gardening seminars to learn new techniques. The shed also provides a shaded place to relax.

The garden "has been a huge success," Golczynski said.

"When we first saw this property we set out to create 20 plots," he said.

Now there are 70, all flourishing.