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Sense of community takes root in urban gardens

Robin Milcowitz looks across the modest Tampa park at the end of 22nd Street and sees not a quiet stretch of mowed grass and trees, but vegetables.

All kinds of vegetables. And herbs. And fruit. Maybe flowers. Most importantly, people.

She sees the future Seminole Heights Community Garden growing here, neighbors side by side digging, growing local, and reaping produce for a fraction of what they would pay at Publix. Not to get too poetic about a venture involving worms and manure, but she sees community.

Thriving community gardens take various forms, but often it's local folks working individual plots for a nominal fee, planting what they like and reaping what they grow.

"We'll have that," says Milcowitz, a graphic designer. "But I want it to be just a beautiful place for people to come."

It can be work, finding the right land and someone willing to lease it, sell it cheap or, in the best of all worlds, donate it outright. These are hard times for grass roots.

But Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern recently put some muscle behind the idea of community gardens. And Milcowitz says since they put the word out through neighborhood associations and the local penny saver, her phone hasn't stopped ringing. "People," she says, "are ready for this."

• • •

The garden in St. Petersburg's Bartlett Park, 24 plots and more to come, stands testament to all who planned and worked and built and mulched. People pay $25 a year to grow their own tomatoes, collard greens, black-eyed peas, cilantro, eggplant, peppers, cabbage and more.

Folks were enthusiastic even before the economy went south. "Now it just has more urgency," says founder Andrea Hildebran, also executive director of Green Florida, an organization for people interested in community gardens.

Tonight, the former weedy lot, hangout and home to trash and broken glass, celebrates its one-year anniversary as a garden, homage to the sweat that built it. (The party's at 7:30 p.m. at Twigs and Leaves Nursery, 1013 Martin Luther King St. S.)

• • •

A scrap of land behind a metal fence by a school in urban Ybor Heights might seem an odd place to try to grow local hope. But grow it will. Nine plots have been squared off. They have dirt. Neighbors can plant free; others can pay $20 a season.

Behind that fence, the beginnings of tomatoes, carrots and lettuce go in the ground in two weeks.

• • •

Recently, Mulhern hosted a community garden get-together. Talk ran the gamut from places like Town 'N Country's Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, whose paid membership gets weekly produce, to smaller gardens to nourish neighborhoods.

Over 100 people showed.

"The interest goes up as the economy goes down," Mulhern says. "It's really kind of the Victory Garden model."

Victory Gardens, planted to help communities with food supply and morale in hard times. Maybe there's an idea whose time has come. Again.

Interested? Go to www.green-florida.org.

Sense of community takes root in urban gardens 02/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 9:05am]
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