Local Garden Inspires More Than One Way to Grow
This isn’t your typical garden. Sure, From the Ground Up Community Garden houses plants, but it also educates the public from grade school to adulthood, gives back to the community and offers entertainment under the stars with a unique and beautiful backdrop.
Located directly below the interstate underpass on North Hayne Street, in downtown Pensacola, this forward-looking greenery took root in 2015, as part of Innisfree Hotels’ corporate responsibility program, The Hive. The idea sprouted when Julian MacQueen, owner of Innisfree Hotels, toured a community farm in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“We decided this would be a great project and much needed in Pensacola,” says Jill Thomas, the company’s chief marketing officer. “So we reached out to Mayor Ashton Hayward and the City of Pensacola and asked if they had a property we could use.
"They offered us an abandoned community garden in this area, and we revived it.”
Growing Good Food
Since blossoming, the garden has hosted educational clinics; volunteer hours for children and adults; and poetry, music and movies in the evenings.
The ultimate goal of the garden is to build community, beautify the area and encourage adults and their children to grow their own food. The Innisfree team teaches them how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden in order to reduce their grocery bills, get more exercise, enhance their neighborhood and live healthier lives.
“Making the garden a consistent part of my life is one of the best decisions I have made,” says volunteer Jen Ehrhardt. “I learn something new about plants every time I come to the garden. It is humbling to admit such ignorance, but in turn I have gained a wealth of knowledge that has enriched my life in important ways.” Among them, she says, are gaining lifelong memories with her daughter; taking risks in the kitchen; making healthier choices; and helping bring fresh, local produce to others. She even went back to school to find other ways to teach people the benefits of healthy nutrition.
The garden also operates as a small CSA (community-supported agriculture). Friends of the Garden has six to eight members who pay a one-time fee to receive fresh produce and access to garden events. Volunteers help harvest and box the produce.
“It is great for someone who wants to eat fresh organic food and to support the garden but doesn’t have the time or desire to work in a garden,” says lead gardener Jennifer Eubanks. “Mainly I think our members love what we are doing and want to support us.”
Growing Good Students
This isn’t the first time Innisfree Hotels and The Hive grew something beautiful in Pensacola. In 2012, the company became a supportive partner to Dixon School of Arts & Sciences, a private school created to meet the needs of underserved children in Pensacola. In early 2016, a year shy of the opening of From the Ground Up, Eubanks began inviting Dixon students to work in the downtown garden every other week.
Depending on the season, Eubanks says, students and other volunteers may be prepping beds, sowing seeds, mixing soil, creating signs or harvesting. Some students have used the experience to do research, which they presented at the International Science Conference in San Francisco. From the Ground Up is currently raising money for students to travel to Washington D.C. to present garden-related research at the end of this year.
“Working in the garden gives me hope that I can help sustain plants of my own in the future," says volunteer Mälaren O'Leary, a local high school student.
Growing a Community
Eubanks says she enjoys building community through education, practice and the arts. “Innisfree Hotels supports us, and we then try to sustain ourselves. We do this by hosting music events, classes and donations at events.” Besides benefiting Dixon School of Arts & Sciences, the garden has also hosted fundraisers for Mana Food Pantries.
Garden assistant Andrew Hollingsworth says working in the garden gives community members a sense of belonging and wellness.
“It teaches me and hopefully others to develop an awareness and sensitivity for living beings, whether it be plant, animal or insect,” he says. “The community garden is a vehicle to share ideas based on a cultural tradition of agriculture. It exposes participants to an essential practice to life and can lead to building relationships and exchange with members of the community. Whether on an intergenerational or interracial level, it gives people an opportunity to work towards a common goal, no matter their cultural background, and to start something new and positive. The garden has the ability to serve as a model for society.”
Or, as Hollingsworth says, “Great things can come if we all pitch in and help one another live better lives.”
Location: 501 N. Hayne St., Pensacola, FL. For more information, including garden hours, how to volunteer and how to donate, visit InnisfreeHotels.com and click on The Hive. http://InnisfreeHotels.com