Residents of Lake Como Family Nudist Resort and Community find every reason to get together and have fun — the Dare to Go Bare 5K Run; National Skinny-Dip; Nudes, Blues & BBQ. So I figured they'd be old hands at World Naked Gardening Day.
It sure sounds like a natural for the 75-year-old Lutz community, with its wooded trails, drum circles and folks who feel happiest when there's nothing between them and the dirt except shoes. (Yes, foot garb's popular when co-existing with fire ants and sand spurs.) But while World Naked Gardening Day marks its 12th year on Saturday, it's brand new here.
Residents plan to mark the day by serving up free "stone soup" made from fresh vegetables and herbs, hosting a farmers market and, naturally, gardening sans T-shirts and shorts.
"Up 'til three months ago we didn't even know World Naked Gardening Day existed," says Gerald Petroff, a stocks analyst who moved to the 200-acre nature park with his family when he was 11, left for college and returned for good in 1992.
About a year ago, he and a few other residents launched the co-op's first community garden. At last count — and it grows weekly — they had 53 adopted beds and plans to build 10 more. That's a lot in a neighborhood of about 400 residents, a third of whom flee north half the year.
Gardeners don't have to pay a penny and don't have to live in Lake Como, although they do have to have a tangible connection — members, RVers, shareholders, staff. Gerald buys wood for the raised-bed frames, dump truckloads of enriched soil and other supplies with money from an aluminum can recycling initiative he started five years ago.
Donations of time, labor, tools, seeds and plants make it easy for anyone to participate. Even watering's free; Gerald and other volunteers used donated PVC pipe to route well water to the plots.
"This is the Zen zone," says resident Andrea Hansen, a minister who planted her very first veggie bed in October. "I'm out here every day. I come in the evenings and there's always someone to chat with and share (garden fruits) with. That's the neat thing."
She's growing dill for a neighbor who does a lot of pickling, strawberries, curly kale and beets, among other herbs and veggies. She doesn't wear gloves — just shoes and sunglasses.
"There's nothing between you, the earth and the sun out here," she says. "You plug into the universe."
On a beautiful April Saturday morning, the garden has a steady stream of visitors, some in the buff and others fully clothed. Tracy Reger and her boyfriend, Alan Shipe, stroll down the grassy lane leading from the tennis courts and stop to chat.
Like Andrea, they're medium-aged, new to gardening and loving it. Between them, they wear a hat, earrings, sandals and not much more.
"It's so exciting. There's a lot of energy here," says Tracy, proudly showing off a head of celery started from the base of a stalk from Walmart.
Every evening, she and Alan harvest a giant leaf of dinosaur kale for their morning smoothies. There's a lot to like about gardening naked, they say.
"It brings us closer to nature and you don't have all those dirty clothes to wash," says Tracy, who transitioned from the clothed world just four years ago. ("It's easier for men," she confides.)
For Alan, a 10-year resident, the allure is simple.
"Doing anything nude is preferable as long as it's not cold."
Such bliss helped spark World Naked Gardening Day in 2005. It began partly as an experiment in civic activism, says co-creator and nudist Mark Storey of Seattle.
"I teach philosophy at Bellevue College and we talk about social justice. Usually, civic activism is about causing misery with things like roadblocks and strikes. I was interested in doing something that makes people smile. Can doing something good effect change?"
He and a friend polled people on what activities (beyond the bedroom) they enjoy, or dream of, doing naked. Swimming won; gardening came in second. A naked gardening movement seemed like a good idea.
"Anything that makes the world more food-friendly or flower-pretty and helps get people comfortable with their bodies is good," Mark says. "We wanted to make it fun; no one cares how you do it and no one owns it. You can pot plants naked in your Manhattan kitchen or rake leaves in your back yard. Then tell people about it."
With little effort and at no cost, the experiment worked.
"We get calls from around the world. It's huge in England and India, where nudity is more taboo," Mark says, adding that no one tracks numbers.
"The idea gives people a chuckle, and then they try it and they like it."
Got plans for next Saturday? I do! Shhh — don't tell my neighbors.
Contact Penny Carnathan at [email protected]; visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; and join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt.