Pensacola, Florida
Saturday October 25th 2014

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Retooling Community Gardens

By Jessica Forbes

Cruising around Pensacola, it’s typically not difficult to spot at least one community garden.

Sarah Bossa estimates there are at least 65 community gardens in Pensacola, about half of which are in schools, and several churches maintain gardens as well.

Bossa sits on the Board of the American Community Gardening Association and on the Advisory Council for UF IFAS Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Committee. Having previously worked for Manna Food Gardens, Bossa is also now serving as part of the newly formed “The Local Motive” a group focused on, as Bossa puts it, “looking at the big picture of food systems.”

Part of the big picture that Bossa and others are seeing, is that for those community gardens not associated with a church or school, coordinators are finding that the traditional model needs some retooling to suit Pensacola.

One garden that has retooled over time is the GROW Community Garden at 209 N. Martin Luther King, Jr Drive. Rick Kindle developed the garden almost eight years ago in collaboration with Manna Food Pantry. “Initially there was a lot of interest,” Kindle remembers, but in his experience, “It has been a challenge to sustainably get people over a long length of time to participate.”

Over the years, Kindle says many people have come, learned gardening techniques, and taken that knowledge back home to develop a garden of their own. “I look at it more as a teaching garden now, because we’re not in an urban area where no one has any property to grow food; people have yards in Pensacola,” said Kindle.

The availability of yard space has others considering remaking local gardens into teaching facilities. Indeed, those involved with the gardens are learning a great deal themselves.

“We’ve seen community gardens go up, some have succeeded, some have not, but they’re all important stepping stones because they’re all helping us learn what works, what doesn’t and how we can improve in the future,” said Bossa, who believes looking at the culture and infrastructure of a city is important when planning a community garden. “A community garden really requires some level of self-organization and leadership and management. We may need to think about those things before just building community gardens.”

Kindle, an early adopter of what could be the new model for local community gardens, is happy to share his knowledge with those interested every Saturday and weekday evening in the garden, and still sees education as a part of the cooperative foundation of community gardening:  “We all work together, we all get food.”