Growing the garden

Vision expands for local cultivation site
Feb. 22, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Crystal McIver's ideal garden is one that is of the community, by the community and for the community. And as she expands a garden in one of Sanford's rougher areas, she wants the site to embody all of those ideals.

McIver began a garden on Hudson Avenue, just off of Washington Avenue, last year as a way to give young people something constructive to do and healthy to eat. But now, as she's working to nearly double the number of plots on the site, she wants to help more people than the handful of groups and neighbors who work the site.

The local life coach, community college instructor and community organizer said that, starting in March, she plans to get the garden up and running once more and to change its mission slightly in order to give any excess food to the Christians United Outreach Center of Lee County.

The group runs a food pantry on Lee Avenue and distributed more than 13,500 pounds of food last year. But, said CUOC Executive Director Teresa Dew Kelly, most of that food is non-perishable because it's hard to find a steady source of vegetables and fruit. She and McIver said they would like this partnership to change that.

Volunteers from CUOC go around to local grocery stores in the morning and get donations of the less-than-great produce, Kelly said — mainly potatoes, tomatoes and carrots that are slightly overripe or don't look as good as the rest of the items in the bin. But while the garden will provide the group with fresh, locally grown produce, Kelly said, even the items from the grocery stores are better than many alternatives.

"Fresh food? It's healthier for everybody," she said. "People that are low income and are struggling and get quick 99-cent meals at the drive-thru, that is probably not the healthiest thing to do. Fresh produce is much better for you."

McIver said the garden, which last year was called the Garden of Peace and Unity, will now be the PUGG garden: Peace and Unity: Grow to Give.

"My vision last year was to feed the community," McIver said. "... This year, it's for the community to feed others."

People and groups with plots still get to keep as much of their harvest as they want, she said. But anything extra, she's encouraging them to give to the the food pantry. And while Kelly said CUOC itself can't spare any volunteers to man a plot or two, she is encouraging many of their partners and clients to sign up for one of the 25 spaces so the group will have a more steady flow of fruits and vegetables from the garden.

They've worked with various local farms in the past, Kelly said, usually just getting one type of food at a time. This could let them branch out and offer multiple types of produce to those who depend on them for food and often go away with dry or canned food only.

"That is something that, unless we partner with a local farmer or have someone drop something off, we don't get a lot of fresh vegetables," she said.

People who need food can visit CUOC's food pantry, at 2885 Lee Ave., on Mondays from 4-6 p.m. or on Wednesday and Fridays from 12-2 p.m. McIver said she's also looking for new or used equipment — from wheelbarrows to gardening tools and more — to help her and some volunteers get the new plots ready in the next few weeks. Anyone who wants to donate can contact her at (919) 718-0925 or mcivercrystal@gmail.com.