LAND O' LAKES, Fla. -- The director of the University of Florida Pasco County Extension said concerns surrounding the coronavirus have helped highlight the role community gardens play in neighborhoods.
- Pasco County has six community gardens
- Gardens meant to allow for resiliency and sustainability in tough times
- Three more gardens in the works
- More Pasco County stories
"First of all, it's access to fresh fruits and vegetables that folks are growing on their own, so healthy eating habits is what we're always promoting," said Dr. Whitney Elmore. "What we're really seeing now, though, is the exact reason we wanted to start a community gardens program in Pasco County. It was to allow for that resiliency and sustainability, especially through tough times."
Elmore said the gardens have been popular for some time. All 40 free plots at the six sites in the county are leased.
"We're actually full. We have no more plots to lease out, which is a really good problem to have, but it also then tells us that the demand is so high, and the calls are coming in constantly to continue to spread into other parts of the county," Elmore said.
Nate Herrig had never gardened vegetables before leasing his plot in the newest Pasco garden, Heritage Park Community Garden.
"Actually, it was quite easy. Did not take much time at all. Not a lot of effort," Herrig said.
Herrig has grown four different kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, and onions. He recently planted beans to transition his plot to warm-weather crops. Although he said he gets a large yield from the small space, resiliency wasn't a consideration when he first planted back in November.
"Not at the start, and I tell you, with this coronavirus situation, it really showed me you can't always depend on grocery stores. It really helps to be self-sustainable," Herrig said.
"We don't have a food shortage with this current situation, but we do have that lag time in distribution because we had so much of it that was being bought up so very quickly," Elmore said of the bare store shelves being encountered by shoppers nationwide. "This is just another step to show folks that planning and having your own either community garden access or home gardens can allow you that extra, added feel of security."
Elmore said the extension is encouraging gardeners to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19. That includes using gardens one at a time and sanitizing any shared tools, although sharing those items isn't something that's being recommended at the moment.
According to Elmore, agreements for three more community gardens are in the works. To keep up to date on when and where they'll be opening or to find tips on gardening at home, visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/pasco/.