ST. PETERSBURG — The green woman painted with intricate leaves gazes out at 28th Street S, cradling a seedling in the palms of her hands like an offering.
She’s Pachamama, Mother Earth, conceived and painted by local artist Daniel “R5” Barojas to draw attention to the community garden at Daystar Life Center.
Daystar’s gardener-in-residence Robin Clemmons and a team of volunteers nestle collards, Swiss chard and a faux bird of paradise into the planters that are part of the mural.
“Mother Earth is usually depicted as the older, wise woman, but I wanted to do the flip side of that," Barojas said. “It’s celebrating the new birth and new life that’s part of the cycle of Earth. I chose a younger woman with a determined look. The sprout growing from her hands symbolizes birth.”
That concept of celebrating new life is appropriate for Daystar Life Center, which moved from its downtown location into a custom facility in August 2019.
The organization provides necessities including food and clothing to individuals and families living below the poverty line.
The Edible Garden was always planned for the new facility. It was executive director Jane Walker’s vision for a community garden to provide fresh produce for the neighborhood. In a triangular space outside of the building, it was planted in September 2019 and had its first harvest in November. Since then, volunteers have grown 55 different vegetables and produced nearly 1,000 pounds of produce.
Barojas was connected to Daystar by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance after he received a grant to paint a mural that stipulated the project must have a tie-in with the environment and local community gardens.
He wasn’t aware of the center, or the Edible Garden, which impressed him.
“It’s the best I’ve seen,” he said. “I need to learn some things from Robin.”
The garden is a cornucopia of nutrition and sustainability. Fig, papaya and mango trees grow among collards and mustard greens, eggplants, tomatoes, okra and a variety of herbs. Melons and pineapples were harvested over the summer and, most recently, a Monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. All food waste is made into compost in the back.
Its purpose is to supplement the groceries Daystar clients come to get every week. Clemmons gives vegetables to people as they wait in line. She introduces a lot of vegetables to people and gives them ideas for how to cook them.
“We’re trying to give variety on purpose,” Clemmons said. “We want them to be able to try other foods that they wouldn’t have access to or wouldn’t have the funds for.”
It’s also to show people in the neighborhood that they can grow their own food, too. Clemmons provides seedlings, compost and instructions to people to get them started.
The garden’s natural beauty would have obscured a mural, so Pachamama is painted on the other side of the building on 28th Street S.
It was Barojas' idea to incorporate planters into the mural. He and Clemmons discussed putting in edible plants that are hearty enough to grow year-round.
Clemmons called it an “offering” to people who may come by and take the collards and Swiss chard.
She loves the mural and that Barojas depicted Pachamama.
“She’s perfect,” she said. “I feel like we have our own patron saint watching over us. It adds beauty to the neighborhood.”
“It’s such a gift to the community,” said Suzanne Palmer, marketing and community engagement manager at Daystar.
Barojas was equally effusive about the collaboration.
“Discovering Daystar was a blessing for sure and feels like it was meant to be,” he said. “They help bridge gaps and establish pathways and provide overall community outreach. And being a part of that outreach in whatever way possible is a privilege.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Daystar’s garden is manned by volunteers rather than employees and their clients receive groceries rather than meals.