Community Garden takes root in North Port St. Joe
There will be a butterfly garden in the far-left corner, then rows of garden plots, each maintained by a different community organization. To the right, there will be picnic tables and work benches, and front and center, a sturdy shed with a fresh coat of green paint.
Kim Miller, Jill Bebee and other organizers have had a vision for the Port St. Joe Community Garden since they first began trying to resurrect it three years ago.
Now, their vision is starting to take form.
“I feel like if we’ve overcome a hurricane – a category five hurricane, not just a typical hurricane – and a global pandemic, and we’re still here, and we still have the property, and we still have interest, we still have resources, then it’s time to get it going and make it work,” Miller said.
On Saturday afternoon, members from around the Port St. Joe community gathered for a blessing of the garden. It wasn’t quite a grand opening, Miller said, but it was a large step in the right direction.
The community garden was once a staple of Port St. Joe, but it fell into disrepair in the early 2000s. Eventually, with interest in the garden waning, it became unusable and was left to become weed-ridden and overgrown.
Bebee is certain that this time around the community’s growing need will allow the garden to prevail.
“It’s slow progress, and it’s sometimes frustratingly slow,” she said. “But it’s going forward, and the best thing is that people in the community really want to see this happen.”
Organizers are fueled by the community’s growing food insecurity. Earlier this year, Gulf County was found by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have a food insecurity rate of 14 percent, 28.4 percent higher than the national average.
The garden partnered with local organizations such as the Farmacy on Avenue A, which provides home grown produce from the community to those in need at free or greatly reduced prices.
In fact, and entire plot at the community garden will be reserved for stocking the Farmacy’s shelves.
However, Miller said that over the three years that she has been helping to get the garden back up and running, the effort has become about more than just providing food.
“We have a greater need here in the community for it,” she said. “But there’s also so many programs that we feel like it would be good for the community to have all these programs come together underneath the community garden, or work in conjunction with it anyway.”
On Saturday, those diverse members of the community gathered in folding white chairs facing a podium made of an old crate that Miller and her husband had built the night before.
For Miller and the rest of the organizers, the turnout was a clear indication of the garden’s potential.
“There’s been a long-time effort to bridge the community all together, because you’ve got North Port St. Joe, and you’ve got these other parts of the community,” she said. “This is kind of one of the things where we’re looking at bringing them all together. And this could be a common denominator for us.”
But while the end is in sight, Bebee expressed that there is still a lot of work to be done before the garden is finished.
“We want to get at least one bed up and growing, but we’re going to need hands on deck to go out and get those pipes in and get the irrigation going so we can plant the trees and this really starts coming together,” she said.
“And then people can see it as something real, because I think people are somewhat skeptical, you know, that it’s going to happen.”