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Sunday, Apr 23, 2017

Community digs in for garden project

TAMPA - If a tree can grow in Brooklyn, a tomato plant ought to have a decent shot in Palmetto Beach. That's the hope, at least, of the dozen or so residents who kicked off their neighborhood's first community garden this morning. "It's such a unique opportunity in terms of the economy and the ecology to do this," said organizer Cary Hopkins Eyles, 33. While their children played around them, young parents assembled two 10-by-4-foot raised boxes along the back edge of property owned by the Palmetto Beach Community Association. The site is at Linsey and South 22nd streets, across from Tampa Fire Rescue Station 6.
The garden will start small, with some herbs, peppers and tomatoes. Eventually, organizers hope to add two more boxes and revive the shuttered community center. "People can get involved and come volunteer and get the fruits of their labor," Hopkins Eyles said, outlining her vision for the project. Palmetto Beach native Alexis Forlong Beeman brought her sisters along to help out. The three hope the garden will be a step toward reinvigorating a neighborhood that has been in decline lately. Like her sisters, Jaye Johnson and Dana Head, Beeman has also returned home after living elsewhere. Like other aging Tampa neighborhoods before it, Palmetto Beach is being discovered by hip thirtysomethings looking for classic cottages and a close-knit community. "They're coming and buying or renting," Beeman said. "We're trying to put a new face on it." Palmetto Beach faces challenges Seminole Heights or Hyde Park never imagined, however. The neighborhood lies in the shadow of the city's trash incinerator, the oil storage tanks of the Port of Tampa and a rail yard. But it also sits at the head of McKay Bay, has a beautiful city park, is home to three historic former cigar factories and is a stone's throw from Tampa's new Ikea store. Rick Martinez, owner of Sweetwater Organic Farm in Town 'N Country, visited the community to encourage the would-be gardeners. "It gives us a chance to reconnect with where our food comes from, especially these children," he said.

Reporter Kevin Wiatrowski can be reached at (813) 731-8168.

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