By Christy (Chick) Hughes
What do locals love more than the beach? Well, not much…but there is one thing. Eating! Almost everything in the South is planned around food. What will we eat? When will we eat? Will there be dessert? Here at the beach, it’s no different. We want to eat before, after, and sometimes during a trip to the beach. So, of course, we’re always on the lookout for healthy grub. The best way to eat clean is to grow it yourself. But while we may have the privilege of living near the ocean, most of us don’t have the available space for growing our own food.
Thanks to local Tracy Miller, that’s changing. Before becoming a South Walton local, Tracy spent her childhood playing in the dirt and running through the gardens of the organic farm she and her sisters grew up on in Iowa. Growing her own food is a no-brainer for her, but she quickly found that we simply don’t have the necessary outdoor space here in South Walton.
According to Tracy, “I don’t think I truly realized how important gardening was to my well-being until I moved to an area with limited options for gardening.”
Realizing that many local families either reside in rented spaces or in HOA-restricted neighborhoods and don’t necessarily have the option to grow their own gardens, Miller teamed up with a friend and fellow gardener to bring that opportunity to our community. Together they created the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Cultivate Community Gardens, and began making plans for South Walton’s very first community garden.
A dedicated location for families to grow their own food, Cultivate Community Gardens (CCG) was the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation, which will be used to begin construction of the garden.
Set to open in the summer of 2020, the garden will be located in Padgett Park on JD Miller road. CCG will open with approximately 20 raised bed garden plots, each with soil and drip-line irrigation, and the fenced location will also have room for future expansion.
Applications, which will soon become available, will outline the guidelines and are set to be approved on a first-come-first-serve basis with a nominal annual fee.
Green (and less than green) thumb gardeners can grow any non-GMO, organic plants they choose…as long as they are legal, non-invasive and don’t grow tall enough to shade their neighbors’ plots. As any savvy Southerner knows, good gardening etiquette does apply.
CCG plans to offer hands-on learning opportunities for plot holders, workshops on gardening, and community events in an attempt to bring locals together for some go-green team building and bonding. In a continued effort to raise environmental and healthy eating awareness to our community, the garden also plans to reserve a set number of beds (plots) for local schools and civic groups who are interested in having space to garden. The goal is to teach the benefits of gardening and its importance to our natural environment.
We asked Tracy to fast forward 5 years and tell us where she sees CCG. She is very enthusiastic about the future of gardening in South Walton.
“The fenced area at Padgett Park will include some room for future expansion, so we hope to add more garden beds in the coming years. We are eager to incorporate some examples of sustainable living practices at the garden, such as rainwater collection and seed saving. There are so many exciting possibilities for growth. CCG would love to add native fruit trees and expand heirloom plants, build a small outdoor kitchen to host local chefs and teach ‘cooking from the garden.’ Padgett Park is also within walking distance from the Boys and Girls Club, the Coastal Branch Library, and South Walton High School. We hope the gardening opportunities offered will build long-lasting relationships with these groups and other organizations in South Walton.” ~ Tracy Miller
Cultivate Community Gardens ultimately strives to cultivate not only gardens but also community ties in Walton County, while inspiring locals to value and nurture the symbiotic relationship between clean, healthy food and our natural environment. If you want to get a jump start on your summer garden here at the beach and start planning your healthy garden-to-table meal making, give Tracy a shout.
CHRISTY (CHICK) HUGHES is a freelance writer living in South Walton. She and her husband moved to the beach back in 2000. One sunset…and the couple never looked back. They’ve been 30A–lovin’ locals ever since.