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Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Volunteers create community garden for University Area

UNIVERSITY AREA – A lack of basic necessities has plagued the populace of the four-square-mile community north of the University of South Florida for decades.

Thus the primary purpose of the University Area Community Development Corporation is to curtail that problem in the so-called University Area neighborhood, where 95 percent of people live below the poverty level.

In doing so a group of recruited area volunteers and UACDC landscape specialists came together at 1910 E. 137th Ave. on a recent Wednesday morning to break ground for the area’s new Community Garden.

The 8-acre, UACDC-owned site is the former home of the Tampa Police Athletic League.

With shovels, hammers and hatchets in hand they assembled 18 wood-framed rectangular beds for vegetable planting. They also dug trenches to accommodate the garden’s micro-irrigation system.

There is space for 45 plots, so more beds will be incrementally added.

“This is so needed,” said Sarah Combs, UACDC’s chief operations officer. “Community members will work the beds and our goal is to have a garden that will be able to feed the community.”

Combs noted that the UACDC received a start-up grant from Wal-Mart and is hoping other grant requests will be approved.

She would also welcome local business sponsorships to help sustain the effort.

“There are many nearby corporate organizations that could help us out by partnering with us,” she said. “We’ve had such positive feedback for community members.”

David Whitwam, owner of Whitwam Organics, has been hired as a yearlong consultant to oversee the project. He’ll check on it every two weeks.

“I am really excited that they are putting an organic garden in to benefit this community,” he said. “One hundred years ago everybody planted gardens and grew their own food.”

Whitwam noted the key to a successful garden is starting plants in seedling tables, rather than immediately placing them in the ground.

“You also need to apply fresh compost to give the growing seedlings a kick in the pants,” he said.

Vicki Sue McGucken, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Southwest District brownfields coordinator, was one of the first people on the scene to lend a helping hand.

“My work in the brownfields program is dedicated to revitalizing communities and working toward environment justice,” she said. “This project accomplishes both.”

Daniel Cupp, the landscape manager of the University Area Community Center on North 22nd Street, was also among those who worked in the heat to get the garden started.

“It’s nice to help the community by providing foods with nutritional value to keep them from getting sick,” he said.

Freddie Lockhart, a volunteer from Feed America who was also on hand to help, agreed.

“I think it’s a great idea for the community and we could use more volunteers,” he said.

Combs said plans also are in the works for a food pantry in a building on the property adjacent to the garden. It will be a place where community residents can come for provisions, including freshly picked produce from the garden.

“It has a kitchen so we can hopefully also show people how to cook what they select,” Combs said.

To learn more about the program, contact Carla Henry at chenry@uacdc.org.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at JoyceCMcKenzie@gmail.com.

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