Oakland Community Garden Opens In Haines City
by James Coulter
Keva Harris has lived in Haines City all her life. She had served her community through her career in the Haines City Police Department, where she often volunteered for local community events.
Upon retiring, she wanted to continue serving her community. Growing up, she remembered how many neighbors would have their own gardens where they grew their own vegetables for their meals. She wanted people, especially children and older people, to have a similar shared experiences.
“We just always had this vision and dream to have a community garden where we can give back,” Harris said. “From my growing up in this community, I remember people had gardens to supplement their food. It was fresh food. It was good food. And when folks cooked, it was great family affair. We wanted to bring it back. We want the community to be involved and do something healthy and fun that supplements meals.”
On Saturday, Harris and several other community members, including students from local high school, provided that experience to the Northeast Oakland area in Haines City by officially opening their new community garden.
The garden is adjacent to the Dolphus Howard Complex, the building for the North Ridge Unit of the Polk County Boys and Girls Club, built upon the property where the former community pool resided. The old pool had since been decommissioned, with a new pool set to open later this week.
Once the pool was decommissioned last year, the pump and other pool equipment was removed, the cement was removed from the hole, and the hole was filled with sand. The vacant lot now contains wooden containers where vegetables, flowers, and other plants will be grown.
Assisting with the dedication of the new garden were several hundred volunteers from the local community, including students from Haines City High School and Ridge Community High School, as well as city and community members.
Martina Williams-White, a teacher from Haines City High School, attended the opening event on Saturday. Volunteers gathered around 7:30 a.m. and spent the remainder of the morning constructing more than a dozen wooden plant containers. Many of these containers were made from crates donated by Dundee Citrus.
As a local educator, Williams-White appreciates how the new space can be utilized to facilitate lessons on a diverse array of school subjects from math and science to even the literary and visual arts. Most importantly, it provides a public space where residents young and old can come together in unity to help facilitate local plant life.
“Whether we realize it or not, we depend on plants for every single thing,” she said. “We depend on them for food, to breath, for our nutrients, for clothing, shelter. Think about it: these gardens beds would not be able to be built without wood from the trees. They sustain us. So giving back to the plants is bringing people together. In a sense, it is bringing us back to our roots.”
Ashely Harris, daughter of Keva Harris, is excited for the project. Their family has long dreamed for a community garden such as this. She especially appreciates seeing both the local youth and elderly come together to enjoy and participate within the new public space.
“It is very refreshing to see we can bring our elderly and young community together as one,” she said. “They can see something from the future and the past together again so they can see each other in a new light and setting. So it will be really nice and awesome. We can get together as one and enjoy fellowship together.”
The Oakland Community Garden is a volunteer-led program being facilitated through the Haines City CRA and Parks and Recreation Department. Parks and Rec has helped to not only fill in the hole of the old pool, but install irrigation and replace fencing.
Janes Waters, CRA Project Manager, has spent her career through the county supervising the installation of seven community gardens. They are her favorite thing to implement within a local community. The hardest part, of course, is bringing together volunteers to create and sustain them, she said.
“We all love the idea of gardening, but it really takes someone with the heart and soul of growing things and teaching others, specifically children, how to grow a garden,” Waters said.
She loves being able to see a community come together to create something as beautiful and vibrant as a garden. Not only does it beautify the local landscape, but also helps locals appreciate where their food comes from.
“We live in a very microwave society,” she said. “Everything happens in a blink of an eye, and we often lose the lessons we learn in growing things. This will give students the opportunity to plan for a harvest and to plan for growth. It shares sustainability of life differently.”
The Oakland Community Garden is located at the North Ridge Unit of the Polk County Boys and Girls Club, at 704 Ave C, Haines City, FL 33844. For more information, contact the Haines City CRA at: 863-421-5572, Ext. 5572