Have you ever visited the 18th Street Park and noticed a fenced off area boasting colorful flowers, fruits, and veggies? Welcome to the Sanford Community Garden – Sanford’s first community garden – celebrating it’s fifth year this month!
The Sanford Community Garden, a community-led organization working in conjunction with the City of Sanford, provides an opportunity to grow organic fruits and vegetables, educate young people and adults about the benefits of gardening, and cultivate a community of individuals committed to sustainable land use in an urban setting.
The garden was established in May of 2010 and was made possible only because of donations from local businesses who partnered with the city and the expertise of Robert Bowden, Director of Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. A group of about 40 residents built raised beds, filled them with compost and spread mulch in the aisles.
We met with Sheila DiPace, current president of the organization, one afternoon over a glass of delicious raw juice for a tour and more insight into the past, present, and future of the community garden.
“Our goal is to educate and empower not only our gardeners but our community, by showing and teaching them about the many ways to reconnect with nature, grow their own food, utilize natural resources respectfully and most importantly, build a better community . . . and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Sheila’s passion for the garden and the impact that it has had on her was clearly visible. The garden has become a sanctuary for her – a quiet place to clear the mind and enjoy nature, even though she had an aversion to “creepy-crawling things” as a kid!
“I’m trying to create a natural ‘third place,’ like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, yet you are digging in the mud with your friends and neighbors instead of being in a smokey bar. Many come by every day after work.”
As Sheila took us around pointing out different plants and veggies in the various plots, it was evident that these gardeners work together, help one another, and benefit from this tight-knit gardening community.
“We also have Golden Shovel awards given each season, voted on by the gardeners to acknowledge a unique or hard working gardeners efforts.” Awardees receive a Lowe’s gift card.
Gardeners enjoy growing their own food for eating, juicing, and to heal their bodies and fight ailments naturally. This trend led them to create a plot called “The Herbal Healing Garden” where all gardeners can learn how to use herbs for healing. One gardener, Jana, grew all the herbs from seed and is making a guide book on the many uses of herbs.
Maintaining the all-organic garden is such a delicate balance. An often challenging climate with unpredictable pests have the gardener’s coming up with creative ways to beat the heat and deal with bugs and squirrels in a natural and safe way. Hence a super cool bat house close by!
So what’s on tap for the garden’s future?
Besides a Five Year Celebration later this fall, monthly “Yoga in the 18th Street Park” classes will be held . . . in the Park! The first class was held in May and was a hit for gardeners and residents. The classes are free to the community, but donations are welcome as funds are needed for water, insurance, and keeping dues low so the garden can be accessed by all income levels of the community.
Plans are also in the works for a large fall event, adding to the many ways the community can enjoy not only the garden but the 18th Street Park as a whole. Sheila is working with local artists for the event with a theme of “repurposed garden art.”
The women of the garden a.k.a. the “Garden Girls” enjoy fun night’s out on the town too!
Additionally, plans to expand the garden, doubling it’s size, will provide more space and beds for potential gardeners.
Sheila expressed that this is an exciting time for the garden AND the park.
“I would like the city to create a soft walking trail around the perimeter of the park with some light landscaping and then feed into an educational eco trail for children through the forest. This would then feed into our educational garden area.”
She has a ton of ideas and we look forward to reporting back! In the meantime, Sheila will be posting news and gardening resources on the Sanford Community Garden website.
We also asked some of the gardeners what the community garden means to them and how it has affected their life in Sanford.
Willie: “I joined the garden approximately 3 years ago. I love planting my own produce and it gives me great joy to watch it grow. From the garden to the table how wonderful.” (Willie, a retired Sheriff’s Officer, received his plot as a retirement gift from his daughter.)
Waynette: “Destiny connected me to the Sanford Community Garden, with a little help from Facebook. A random post showed up in my newsfeed about the garden and spots available. I sent a message quickly saying I wanted a spot. I was so sure I wanted to garden there, even before I saw the place. Soon after I signed the up for the garden plot, my dirt therapy began. My therapy begins by riding my bike to the garden. Working from home keeps me isolated from the community. Now I had a reason to get out beyond my bubble – the garden. Living in downtown Sanford, the bike ride to the garden is short and beautiful. Cleaning the plot and amending the soil was the mindless work I needed. Work hard and see beautiful results. I’ve planted grape tomatoes, sweet peppers, red bell peppers, dill, basil and rosemary plants. I’ve also planted cucumber, green onion and okra seeds. The best part of the garden is not seeing my plot grow – it has been the new people in the community I have met. I may have or may not have success with the plants and seeds but I have loved what the dirt therapy has done for my heart.”
Brendyn: “Plants are my passion and I believe they are the answer to future problems as they have been in the past. Not only do I find gardening a calming activity, but it is a great way to open the mind to the world of botany. There are brilliant people in the world working with plants these days. The more research and learning that is done both in corporations and communities will change the world for everybody. All it takes is the imaginations of the initiative, no matter their age.”
Sheila: “Lots of good things are blossoming at the garden besides vegetables: creativity, community, and companionship.”
Ginger: “I just moved my family back to Sanford and we love it. We are just down the street from the garden so we go by there almost every evening during our walk to check on the progress at our plot. Even my 19-year old son thinks it’s cool. My husband and I enjoy the project and being able to dig back into the community like this, share seeds and stories, meet new neighbors, and reconnect with old friends. It’s a beautiful place alongside the park, and is loaded with potential. It’s great being back home again.”
Chris: “I found the community garden in Sanford and discovered it is a great environment for keeping my reborn hobby alive and well. With some planning and hard work I am growing many different plants that I enjoy eating. Seeing that your labor and patience pays off is agreat feeling because you made it happen. Spending time in your garden whether it’s quiet in silence or with music coming from wind chimes do bring make gardening an enjoyable activity.”
Excited about growing your own vegetables? Want to become involved? Not a green thumb but wish to help? Here are ways you can support the garden:
- Grab a plot! Space is limited but be sure to put yourself on the list for future expansion!
- Become a General Member and support the garden. Gain access to all the events, educational workshops, and guest speaker appearances, while also contributing to the design and organization of the garden.
- Become a Corporate or Community Sponsor. Donations from local businesses such as Horstmeyer Farm and Garden and Lowe’s have been so helpful and appreciated by the gardeners.
More garden stories: Last year Sheila wrote a garden series for The Sanford Herald. Click her articles below to read more!