NEW PORT RICHEY — Imagine a bounty of tomatoes and squash, cucumbers and eggplants, sprouting from the empty patches of earth around the city. Neighbors would work together on plots, growing fresh produce and exchanging the fruits of their labor.
Community gardens, which have become a source of nutritious food, satisfying labor, green space and neighborhood pride, may take root in New Port Richey.
The City Council gave initial approval this week to an ordinance that would allow community gardens in all zoning districts throughout the city. Such gardens would be subject to all city code regulations, including permitting for building or modifications of any structures, fencing or signs. Each garden operator must register annually with the city's Environmental Committee.
The measure comes back for a final vote in two weeks.
"It's a very community related activity," said Marilynn deChant, co-chair of the Environmental Committee that worked with the city staff to draft the ordinance. "When people see other people working their gardens they come forward and start their own gardens and exchange food.
"So people work together and it becomes a wonderful outdoor activity."
New Port Richey development director Lisa Fierce referred to it as a "civic ecology whereby people take responsibility for their neighbors and neighborhood, creating healthier and happier citizens."
In a memo to the council, Fierce noted that similar programs have been implemented in St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
"I just think it will be great," said City Council member Bob Langford.
Under the ordinance, community garden operators would be responsible for enforcing the internal operations of the gardens, including any disputes among gardeners, according to Fierce's memo.
The program will have no economic impact on the city, she wrote.
There is excitement in the air for the project, according to Environmental Committee co-chair Rose Mohr, who read a speech to the council in favor of the ordinance.
"We really have a strong belief that it will be beneficial to everyone in the community," she told the Times.