Community Gardens Flourish Thanks to Winter Park Health Foundation Grants

Kids and adults are tending to and learning from the growing Community Garden at Winter Park Presbyterian Church (WPPC).

And at Dommerich Elementary School, a student hoping to become an Eagle Scout is managing the establishment of the school garden as his Eagle Scout project.

Both garden projects received grant funding from Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) as part of its Think~Act~Be Healthy Communities initiative.

Operated by Our Whole Community, a collaborative of local churches dedicated to improving fitness and nutrition in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville, the Garden at WPPC now includes 26 beds.

Many beds are rented by gardeners from St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and Winter Park Presbyterian Church (WPPC), and about 40 percent are rented by members of the community-at-large.

In addition, the garden is being used as a learning opportunity by the WPPC day care center impacting 125 children each week.

The garden’s harvest also benefits the community. Community gardeners are required to donate a small percentage of what they grow to the Winter Park Family Emergency Services Center. Although donations slowed due to the cold weather last winter, they have recently increased and the group has donated cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, pole beans, bush beans, peppers, lettuce, spinach, collards, turnips, radishes, cucumbers and squash.

WPCC day care class instructors have created a variety of learning opportunities in the garden: they made clay garden plaques to identify class plots in the garden box, planted sunflowers as part of a lesson on Vincent Van Gogh, planted gourds that will harvest this fall and be used to make bird houses.  In addition, the students will be introduced to the topic of hunger and homelessness and will participate in the “Empty Bowls” project this fall using leaves, stems, and more from the garden to press into the clay bowl for designs. They will plant wheat as part of a lesson on how wheat turns into bread. 

The school-based garden at Dommerich Elementary was put on hold while the school completed its renovation.  However, David Rotenberger, a rising tenth-grader at Winter Park High School, undertook managing the establishment of the garden at Dommerich Elementary as the project that will qualify him to reach Eagle Scout and this project is now underway.   According to Lisa Rotenberger and Jason Lefevre, the Dommerich teachers who are coordinating the garden, plans call for seven beds, eight benches, a shed, outdoor sink and teaching table with irrigation for the garden.

In the fall, Dommerich teachers will incorporate the garden into their curriculum and use many of the techniques they learned at the WPHF-funded Gardening in Schools workshop last April, to instruct the students.

In addition, a variety of parent volunteers are assisting with the garden making it a true community project.