Edgewood Gardens blossoms with community involvement

Our Fertile Earth, Florida Christian Center celebrate grand opening

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

Emily Dale was easily spotted during the October grand opening of Edgewood Gardens in Murray Hill even when surrounded by towering plants and camouflaged by endless shades of green and brown.

Among the red-streaked Swiss chard, purple eggplants and orange pumpkins Dale stood visible in her electric green shirt and blue denim overalls. Atop her head rested a special gardener’s hat.

“This hat belonged to Katharine Hepburn. It was her gardening hat and she wore it in the movie, On Golden Pond. My daughter knew we were having the grand opening and bought it for me. She was my favorite actress. She was a tough bird…I think I am, too,” said Dale, 88, a Murray Hill native and now resident of Florida Christian Center, site of the gardens.
What began over a year ago with Dale discovering an abandoned greenhouse on FCC grounds has blossomed into a fruitful food park with deep community ties – particularly with Our Fertile Earth, the nonprofit that built and sponsors the garden.

Emily Dale welcomes guests to the grand opening of Edgewood Gardens – Photo by V. Domonic Parigi

Emily Dale welcomes guests to the grand opening of Edgewood Gardens – Photo by V. Domonic Parigi

“When I moved here my first thought was, ‘Oh shoot, I’m not going to be able to garden.’ Then I was exploring the grounds and found an unused greenhouse and an idea was born: to have a community garden to furnish good, organic, homegrown vegetables to the people who live in these units,” said Dale, referring to her fellow 270 residents of the senior adult independent living facility.

A convergence of people and synergy was set into motion that, Dale said, “far exceeded my wildest dreams.”
She worked with FCC’s director, Brent Reynolds, and several nonprofits, including Occupy Jacksonville, Anyone Can Plant A Seed, and Our Fertile Earth to refurbish the greenhouse, germinate seeds, construct elderly-friendly, raised planter boxes, and, most importantly, plant an organic garden.

Reynolds said FCC is in a food desert – what the department of agriculture defines as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food – so the garden takes on added significance.
“Our main ministry is about the health and wellness of the residents: mental, physical and spiritual. That certainly includes diet. Many don’t have the resources or knowledge to eat healthy. The garden provides fresh fruits and vegetables and we’ll utilize the components we have to teach residents things like how to cook healthy meals for themselves,” Reynolds said. “It also gives them something to get involved in; another opportunity to be active and get healthier.”

Gardening as a health and community-building tool drives Our Fertile Earth’s mission. Co-founded by Dennis Decker and Jon Jessup in April as part of the One Spark crowdfunding festival, the group aims to plant a sustainable network of local organic gardens and educate the community about growing and sharing naturally produced food. The half-acre Edgewood Gardens, which broke ground in June, is their first project.

Jessup described Edgewood as a hybrid.
“We use permaculture and organic gardening principles but really we just hit on overall green, natural, sustainable themes. It was designed to integrate a park and garden, so people can walk through, sit on benches and even use a wheelchair,” said Jessup, crediting Sabrina Huerth as designer, and local permaculture experts Valerie Hermann, Eli Bajalia and Alex Ojeda as providing insights that maintained the natural integrity of the system.

Herrmann addressed such integrity at the grand opening.
“There is a way to design a system based around our needs that does not endanger or destroy the life around it. In fact, there is a way to meet all of our needs while
regenerating our resources instead of depleting them. And these solutions can be found here in the Edgewood Food Park.”

Our Fertile Earth and FCC devised several ways to distribute those resources and raise funds to support the garden, which cost under $1,500 to create. The garden’s harvest will be sold in FCC’s gift shop; FCC will hold a plant sale the third Saturday of every month (starting Dec. 7) and yard sale every other month; a voucher system will exchange working in the garden for produce; and, there will be weekly free meals for FCC residents prepared with garden ingredients.
Beyond that, Decker sees an even greater harvest.

“Freedom is the ability to conceive of a better world and then go out there and bring it to pass through hard work, ingenuity, and cooperation with other people. When we can’t feed ourselves we’re dependent on somebody else’s food, somebody else’s system. And we’re a little bit less free…So what we’ve done here is increase freedom in this little corner of Jacksonville.”

Raised planter boxes specially designed by Brit Webwell to accommodate elderly gardeners – Photo by V. Domonic Parigi

Raised planter boxes specially designed by Brit Webwell to accommodate elderly gardeners – Photo by V. Domonic Parigi

That is something that resonates with Emily Dale.
“I’m thrilled with what’s happening! It’s given me a new lease on life, which doesn’t hurt a bit at my age,” she said, tipping her Katharine Hepburn hat.
Our Fertile Earth can be found online at www.ourfertileearth.org or www.facebook.com/OurFertileEarth.

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