By DOTTY NIST
A new community garden in south Walton County may be on the horizon for residents in need of plots or those interested in volunteering to work on a communal garden.
Tracy Miller of the recently-formed local nonprofit group Cultivate Community Gardens, Inc., addressed the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at its Feb. 13 meeting at the South Walton Annex. She explained that the group, formed last year, was interested in starting its first community garden at Padgett Park on J.D. Miller Road in Santa Rosa Beach.
Miller spoke of much excitement in the community since the group had begun discussion of a potential community garden at Padgett Park. She anticipated that the garden would have the effect of “bringing neighbors together,” in the fast-growing community. Miller indicated that this is to be a non-GMO garden utilizing organic standards.
Miller said the group had identified an 80’x65’ area in the northernmost section of the park, between the soccer field and the property line adjacent to South Walton High School, as the ideal location for the garden.
She said that the group had learned that areas where people already congregate are good locations for community gardens. As additional advantages to the planned garden location she listed some of the infrastructure already in place at the park, including the parking lot, restrooms, and a paved path for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant access, along with an irrigation system that it would be possible to tap into for the community garden. The community building and kitchen space, Miller continued would be great assets for educational classes and meetings. She said the group hoped to put up signage within the garden to identify plants as an educational opportunity for visitors.
Goals for the garden, Miller commented, would be to provide 20 or more raised garden plots with drip irrigation, to be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis with a yearly fee. She said the group also anticipated setting aside areas for schools and civic groups and also a communal garden area in which people could volunteer to work.
Miller said the members of the nonprofit had been in contact with a number of other organizations who had expressed interest in participating and partnering in the community garden, among those the Walton County Extension Service, scout groups, the Boys & Girls Club, and South Walton High School. She was excited at the possibility of students from the Boys & Girls Club and the high school, which are close to the anticipated garden area, being able to walk to the park and engage in activities at the garden. She also voiced confidence that the community garden would enhance the beauty of Padgett Park.
Padgett Park, a Walton County park, is also a Florida Communities Trust Park. Through the Florida Communities Trust Park Program, the trust and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) assist local communities with grant funds to acquire land for parks and open spaces to make available recreational opportunities and nature experiences. In 2010, Walton County received $1,164,860 in grant funding the Florida Communities Trust to reimburse the county’s acquisition of Padgett Park.
Currently in place within Padgett Park’s 17-acre site are a picnic pavilion, playground, sports fields, observation platform, quarter-mile nature trail, bike rack, recreational center and bathrooms, park benches, stormwater improvement facility and parking. Required in connection with grant funding for Padgett Park through the Florida Communities Trust Park Program was a management plan and site plan.
Miller presented the officials with a letter from Florida Communities Trust planner Pam Lister indicating that the organization had found the draft plan for the community garden at Padgett Park to be consistent with the park management plan. In her letter, Listed noted that a revised management plan and site plan for the park with the addition of the community garden would be a requirement in order for Florida Communities Trust to furnish final review and approval for the community garden.
Miller said she was seeking formal approval from the commissioners in order for that revised management plan and site plan to be prepared.
Another requirement, she commented, would be a liability insurance policy, and one had been selected that is offered through the American Community Gardening Association.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander asked about the estimate provided by Miller as the cost to install the garden, $39,000, and what the source of those funds would be.
Miller responded that, while the group would be seeking some public funds, most of that funding would be provided through a combination of other sources, including fund raising and grants.
Comander was in agreement on the value of community gardens and commented on the “wonderful job” that had been done with other such gardens in the county. She said she was more than willing to support the identified location, but also noted that the BCC had not budgeted for costs associated with the community garden in the 2017-18 fiscal year budget.
In response to a question, Miller said Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson had been very helpful and had pledged support of the effort.
She told the commissioners that the next step would be for them to allow her to work with Melinda Gates of Walton County Public Works Environmental on the revised park management plan and site plan, which would be brought before them once completed.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson suggested that the BCC direct Gates to proceed in working with Miller on those plans and asked that they keep him updated on that effort.
In response to a question from BCC Chairman Bill Chapman, Miller said the group, not the county, would take responsibility for resolving any conflicts among gardeners over ownership of equipment and similar disputes. She also explained that a draft gardener’s agreement had been created.
Chapman also asked about the source of water for the community garden.
Miller responded that it was her understanding that an irrigation system was in place that could be tapped into to provide water for the garden. She said she had also been told that it would be possible to put in a shallow well for irrigation in the event the latter were not possible or sufficient.
Camp Creek resident Bob Brooke requested that any funding for the garden coming from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office come from funds separate from those provided to the WCSO budget by the county.
There was consensus by the commissioners in favor of proceeding with efforts to locate the community garden at Padgett Park, including the revisions to the park management plan and site plan, with that information to be brought before the BCC at a later date.