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Largo's community garden reaps more than fruits, veggies

In many respects, the small lot at First Avenue and Fifth Street NW represents the burgeoning spirit of Largo.

It is a place of transition and redefinition. It is a place where ideas between community and government come to fruition.

For Old Northwest Community organizer Joseph Stefko, the city-owned lot represents an idea that works amid an abysmal economic climate that continues to challenge his vision of a commercially viable, historically relevant Largo.

"It was a sandpit, it was just sitting there, it was so ugly," Stefko said of the vacant lot. "This was tough, but we got it and it has been the best thing."

For Stefko and some of the gardeners, the project provides sustenance bringing zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, okra and watermelon to the cupboards. Others come to grow flowers or just for the hobby of it.

Regardless, Stefko said the garden has served a greater purpose of bringing people together.

The organic Old Northwest Community Garden took root early this year with 24 plots where, for the last six months, members have gathered to celebrate the growth of something in their town.

For $60 a year, gardeners sowed seeds into 4- by 16-foot plots (or $40 for a 4- by 8-foot plot) to cultivate organic, Florida-native plants. That money, paid directly to the city of Largo, pays for the garden's city-installed irrigation.

The idea for the garden came after the city decided to move the historic Jason Perkins House, used for months as a training house for the Largo Fire Department, to a nearby lot for rehabilitation and private sale.

The city, while in support of the garden, is looking to sell the lot to a commercial buyer.

For Largo city commissioner and area chiropractor Dr. Woody Brown, the garden provides an island in his day where he can hike across the street, detach and tend to his crops: tomatoes, carrots, radishes, zucchini, jalapeno, red and green bell peppers, cilantro and cantaloupes.

Signaled by ripening cantaloupes, the hot summer has taken its toll on Brown's thinning garden, which he will soon clear and cover for a month to solarize the soil in preparation for fall planting.

"I haven't yet decided what I will plant this fall," he said. "I will probably plant tomatoes, crook-neck squash, peppers and Brussels sprouts."

As for the possibility of the land selling, Brown isn't holding his breath.

"I'm not concerned about it. With the market being the way it is, I don't think the city will sell it this year," he said. "Right now we are more concerned with where the rat is that is eating our cantaloupes."

If you go

The Old Northwest Community is planting an organic garden at the corner of Fifth Street NW and First Avenue NW. The city of Largo's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department is accepting registrations for garden spot assignments.

Cost: $40 for 4- by 8-foot plot, $60 4- by 16-foot plot for a year, plus a $25 deposit, which will be returned when plot has been cleared (this includes all water use).

For more information: Visit discoverlargo.com or call (727) 586-7415.

About the Old Northwest

Old Northwest in downtown Largo is in the central portion of Pinellas County and stretches for nearly 1.8 miles along both sides of the West Bay Drive/SR 688 corridor through the heart of Largo. The historic downtown area has been the focus of redevelopment efforts dating back to the early 1980s.

Largo's community garden reaps more than fruits, veggies 07/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 4:18pm]
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