Sowing the Seeds of a New Era: Overtown Launches Community Garden

UM faculty, staff and students could be seen one evening last month building garden beds and digging in the dirt with community members, including a number of eager children, who gathered in Miami’s Gibson Park to establish Overtown’s largest community garden.

Intended to be a participatory, shared space that Overtown residents can cultivate together, the garden drew many on October 24, National Food Day, to sow the seeds of community engagement, healthy living, learning and growth. Children from the Overtown Optimist Club, one of the sponsors, provided the biggest support by scooping soil into each bed and planting a variety of fruits and vegetables. Other collaborators include The Jay Weiss Center for Social Medicine and Health Equity’s Community Wellness Coalition, the University’s Public Health Student Association, the UM chapter of the American Medical Student Association and Miami Kitchen Gardens.

Emanuel Washington, Sr., Executive Director of the Overtown Optimists, said the garden, along with books about growing fresh fruits and vegetables and the importance of making healthy food choices, will promote the Optimist Club’s “Grow to Grow” program.

“Our goal is to promote reading among youth and increase reading skills; to teach children how to nurture gardens, to nurture each other; and finally to promote healthy eating habits and healthy choices,” Washington said.

Added M.D./M.P.H. student Brigitte Frett, “Much of the garden vision revolves around engaging children in the growing process and providing them with opportunities to play outside and learn more about plants and nutrition.”

The concept for the garden began when many Miami-Dade County community members expressed an interest in building on the health and wellness programs of the Community Wellness Coalition (CWC). Medical and public health students expressed an equal interest and reached out to the CWC to discuss how they could get involved. Everyone came together in a joint effort to plan the garden. The collaborators identified the Overtown Optimist Club, which has worked with the CWC on a range of projects, as the garden sponsor because the project aligned with its core mission.

With permission from the City of Miami Department of Parks and Recreation, the Optimists agreed to house the garden at Overtown’s Gibson Park, a center of community activity at 350 N.W. 13th Street. Miami Kitchen Gardens and Urban Greenworks, two CWC partners, joined the effort and pledged to provide support via consulting and gardening supplies.

Then National Food Day, which celebrates the movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food, approached, it presented an ideal day to start planting.

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