Conflict resolution in community garden an ongoing debate

Conflict resolution in community garden an ongoing debate
The new gate on the community garden fence

Lock it up or leave it open – that’s the issue facing the Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) board of directors as they grapple with complaints of theft from the community garden at the corner of Park Street and Azalea Terrace.

The garden, which opened in April 2016 under a public-private partnership between RAP and the City of Jacksonville, contains 31 plots on one-third acre within the 17-acre Willowbranch Park. There are currently 86 gardeners renting plots (some sharing plots) to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. There is an ADA-accessible plot currently shared by two gardeners.

The reason for the lock? Poachers, who arrive at the garden armed with shopping bags, help themselves to produce grown by fee-paying plot holders.

Gardeners pay an annual fee of $100 for a 4-foot by 20-foot raised full plot to cover water, electricity, insurance and other maintenance needs. Gardeners maintain their own plots and must commit to six hours of volunteer service each quarter. 

The contract with the City of Jacksonville indicates that a lock is acceptable and there were plans to secure the garden from the beginning of its inception.

“The plan has always included the installation of a secured gate, with a lock, which was communicated from the start to gardeners and the community. It was not built right away, due to time and funding, but has been recently been constructed,” said RAP’s board in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, during this time without a locked gate, thefts of food grown in the garden have been experienced,” the statement continued. “In a recent survey, 60 percent of the 33 responders reported theft. The issue of protection from theft is something that gardens across the country have struggled with, leading to a variety of different local solutions.” 

For public enjoyment, the garden features a butterfly garden, rose garden, herb garden and soon fruit trees, which are all open to the public on the perimeter of the garden. There are plans to share excess produce in a community basket outside the garden. 

Based on comments on social media, the community is divided about locking the garden. Some take umbrage at losing access to a public park; others understand why gardeners want to protect their investment and enjoy the fruits – and vegetables – of their own labors.

RAP is trying to bring both sides together by working with the community to organize free, scheduled events – such as lectures and workshops – open to the public.

“Riverside Avondale Preservation is working with the Parks Department and Councilman Jim Love to resolve these concerns in a way that ensures the garden’s continued success, for both the gardeners and the community at large. The City does not plan to staff the garden, or maintain it, so it is up to the community to come together on a good solution,” the statement concluded.

If you have an opinion about community gardens or a solution about the problem of produce poaching, let us know. Send your thoughts to [email protected]

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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