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Belleair Bee
Two beach communities enjoy their gardens
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Indian Rocks Beach resident Larry King tends to his pepper crop at the city’s Community Garden.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – There is one way to make sure the food you eat is ecologically friendly – grow it yourself. In Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores, community gardens are in place to provide residents with the means to grow their own food and manage it themselves.

The two communities use an implement known as an Earthbox. It is as its name implies; a rectangular box that can be placed on the ground or in a stand and in which all manner of vegetables can be grown.

Indian Shores was the first of the municipalities to develop a community garden. Councilor Joan Herndon remembered the day she thought of creating a community garden.

“I walked my dog regularly past a vacant piece of land and one day I thought why not? Why not have a garden,” Herndon said. “I talked to the mayor, and he thought it was a good idea, so they did it all. We put in benches and brought in the Earthboxes. We found a good use for a lot we owned that wasn’t pretty, and now it is.”

Herndon says the community garden is as environmentally sound as it gets.

“We provide food and do not contaminate the environment in any way,” she said. “It is an efficient way to grow food and plants and put good things in the air, and we put a piece of land to use that was not doing any good otherwise.”

The response from the community has been good, Herndon said.

“The main thing is food. It is very important to grow your own food. Food is getting more expensive, and the boxes provide a more economical way to eat,” she said. “We haven’t had any negative comments; everyone thought it was a good idea.”

In neighboring Indian Rocks Beach, the reaction of the community seems to be the same. Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin was the driving force behind getting that garden established, and she did it with the help of the people in Indian Shores just over two years ago.

“The community has embraced it,” Hamilton-Wollin said. “Not everybody gardens, and right now in the heat of summer isn’t the best time, but lots of people ride their bikes by the garden and said we are doing the right thing.”

Hamilton-Wollin says it is important to be in control of what you are growing and ultimately eating.

“Ours is an organic garden; there are no pesticides,” she said. “You have complete control over what you grow and how you grow it. And you have control over what you eat.”

Knowing where your food comes from is also important to Hamilton-Wollin, especially in light of a near-tragic personal experience.

“My brother nearly died a few years ago from eating tainted spinach,” she said. “The garden now gives us choices that we don’t have when we buy our food from a grocery store. We just don’t know where it comes from.”

She added that the community garden is also a way to bring the community together.

“We go around and share with one another,” she said. “Perhaps someone with squash will trade with someone who has plenty of herbs. Nowadays tomatoes are a big favorite. They are a big hit, and everyone wants to grow tomatoes.”

Indian Rocks Beach resident Larry King is perhaps the biggest fan of the community garden. He’s grown tomatoes, and on a recent day was harvesting his crop of hot peppers. He admits this isn’t the best time for it.

“The hot summer is no time to begin a garden,” he said. “No matter how much water you put on most plants, they just won’t grow in this heat.”

Hamilton-Wollin admits that people could grow produce at their own homes, but she prefers the sense of togetherness that the garden brings.

“In a way it is spiritual and uplifting. If you stay at home, you don’t get the sense of community. It is something to do with neighbors and feel good about it. You miss out on all that if you do it at home,” she said.

Back in Indian Shores, Mayor Jim Lawrence is pleased with the way his community has supported their garden.

“At first, we had a strong response and we sold a lot of Earthboxes in the first six months,” he said. “Most people who are inclined to garden are already into it. We still have some boxes left, and new residents are the ones who are buying them now.”

The town sells the boxes to residents at cost, and Lawrence says the town does the rest.

“We supply the watering and taking care of the land,” he said. “There are about 34 boxes in use in the garden, and the people there are growing like crazy. The people who are involved are really enthusiastic. They really enjoy it.”
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