A few years ago my grandmother, mother, some concerned citizens and I set out on a quest to potentially change our community, the Historic Westside of New Smyrna Beach, forever. Based on a lot of surveys and community meetings we realized that the only way we could be proactive in changing the generational diagnosis of high blood pressure and diabetes would be to make a total lifestyle shift. The first place we would start would be with the food we eat.
How to Get Kids involved in the Community that Benefits all Residents
We decided that we would create a community garden. This community garden would be a place that we could build relationships, create intergenerational experiences, reduce waste, educate kids, reduce crime, meet new neighbors and grow food that was nutritious and delicious.
It was a great idea because the residents in the community are living in a food desert. What’s that? A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, in contrast with an area with higher access to supermarkets or vegetable shops with fresh foods, which is called a food oasis.
The USDA’s most recent study says 39 million Americans live in “low-access communities” or communities in which at least a third of the population lives more than a mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store in an urban area, or more than 10 miles away in a rural area.
Our grand idea of having a production garden in walking distance to our neighbors was the perfect plan. We purchased a vacant lot and started a plan to grow food for the community.
The New Smyrna Beach Community Garden
Along the way we discovered that we need to also create an open area greenspace that provides an energy shift as soon as someone enters the garden. We invited the community to help with our Community Clean Up Day. Almost 50 volunteers filled 27 bags of trash and five piles of debris to clear the way for our new community garden.
Simultaneously, we built our first raised garden bed immediately after Hurricane Irma. We used the wood from trees that were knocked down by the hurricane winds. These trees were also obstructing traffic flow. We took the trees, cut them into logs and split them in half to make the borders of our new raised bed. Local churches purchased soil to fill the raised beds, neighbors purchased plants to donate and local nurseries donated seeds. We were on our way to growing together as a community.
Now the PEACE ARTS Youth Garden continues to be a space where the community gathers. We host youth movie nights, game day parties, garden days, peace markets, youth garden clubs, paint parties and it’s a safe space to share new experiences with new neighbors. We are looking to continue expanding our garden so we can share our produce with neighbors in need and local food banks.
We have a partnership with Lindley’s Nursery if you’d like to help grow our garden. You can purchase plants, veggies, seeds and even garden decor to put in our garden or you can get us a gift card to use for what we need. This experience has been extremely humbling. It gave me the chance to reconnect to my roots of agriculture, while sharing that experience with my children and the greater community, and to see the smiles on the faces of all that visit. They always come back and bring something to put in our community garden.