Communication Builds Our Community

New Community Garden Almost Ready to Launch

Fresh Fruit, Vegetables to Help Green Up "Food Desert"

An opportunity to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in the heart of a "food desert" has motivated a team of volunteers to plan the city's second community garden on a plot of land next to the James P. Austin Center.

Funded primarily through a grant arranged by Congressman Darren Soto, the garden will be managed by a non-profit corporation, Lake Wales Grove Garden LLC, guided by a local board of directors.

The need for the garden was established through a walking survey of the surrounding census tract, which is without a grocery retailer. According to Program manager Dorothy Scott Wilson the project is receiving backing from ten organizations, including the City of Lake Wales Parks and Recreation division, the Florida Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the NAACP, and Central Florida Health Care.

A recent Saturday morning found the group gathered in the parking lot adjacent to the site to discuss their plans. Wilson was joined by local resident Leroy Smith, Lake Wales CRA coordinator Cheryl Baksh, retired nurseryman Howard Davies, Library employee Sheree Lee, and Magaly Peterson, director of the Boys and Girls Club that operates in the Austin Center. Children engaged in the club's programs are expected to access their own garden plots.

"Kids need a job," Peterson told "It changes their mindset when you give them responsibility." There's plenty of time to get them involved, she added, because "we have the kids every single day."

Peterson said that getting area kids involved in the project gives them a sense of ownership and makes them protective of the project. She has invited kids residing in the adjacent Grove Manor apartments to join her club members for lunch to build rapport and engagement in support of club efforts.

Young people engaged in the program recently took part in a four-hour "agri-fest" visit to EPCOT for a "behind the seeds" educational experience.

The garden was designed by Roosevelt Academy agriculture teacher Ray Cruz, and the renderings were created by city planning consultant Dover, Kohl & Partners. It is expected to feature a small gazebo and water feature as well as 24 individual raised gardening beds and a small fruit orchard on the quarter-acre lot. A tool shed at the rear of the site will house gardening hand tools. An attractive white picket fence is depicted surrounding the garden.

There is one existing community garden on North 5th Street, operated by the Care Center on the grounds of the Lake Wales Methodist Church.


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