Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.
CRESTVIEW — Colorful rows of cabbage, kale, swiss chard and carrot tops line a patch of land nestled downtown between Main Street and Ferdon Boulevard.
Common Ground Community Garden, as the name suggests, serves as an area to unite people of all gardening backgrounds. Since January 2013, the space has allowed residents to rent a garden bed and grow as they please using organic practices.
THE CROP LAYOUT
“Gardening together is fun and provides support for people of all gardening levels,” said Cathy Ward, director of the non-profit organization that operates Common Ground.
The garden has 36 plots measuring 4 feet in width and 12 feet in length. There’s also a pair of plots raised to waist level for people who have difficulty bending or stooping.
While most occupied plots are filled with vegetables, fruits and herbs, others are lined with ornamental flowers. One unoccupied plot houses nitrogen-rich plants intended to fertilize the soil; others sit waiting for a gardener to rent them.
Cutting through the middle of the two sections of plots are several rows of community-grown crops. These vegetables are maintained by everyone in the garden and, thus, available to be picked by anyone contributing to their growth.
“There’s almost always something available for members to take home,” Ward said, speaking of the row crops.
RESOURCES FOR NOVICES
Common Ground members and the garden’s website offer less-experienced gardeners resources on growing their own food.
Several members are master gardeners or have years of experience. Workdays are 9 a.m. to noon each Tuesday — new members or learners are encouraged to attend.
Tending one’s garden isn’t limited to Tuesday mornings. Plot owners can visit the garden at their leisure and keep whatever they grow, although it’s recommended to do so at least two or three times each week during the growing season.
Not sure when the growing season is for Crestview? Common Ground’s website, www.crestviewcommunitygarden.org, offers calendar and climate resources to aid new gardeners.
Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the website details average dates for freezes, a 10-day forecast and current radar.
Information for neighboring areas such as Destin, Laurel Hill, Escambia Farms, Niceville and several others is also available on the site.
With a readied plot and knowledge of area weather, planting is the next step.
The website breaks down monthly plans to use as guidelines for growers. During March, for example, begin planting melons, squash or cucumbers inside to prepare for an outside transplant. Certain leafy greens and peas can also be planted directly in the plot during this time.
The site also offers tips and advice for gardeners during each month. Additionally, links to information on several common fruits and vegetables can be found.
Similar information is available on the Common Ground Facebook page, one of the organization’s most active means of communication, according to Ward.
LESSONS IN THE GARDEN
Another chief goal of the garden is to serve as a place for outdoor mentorship to youth, Ward said.
She encourages parents, guardians and educators to bring children to the garden and teach them about the practice, or conduct other learning in a green environment.
“We want to see more kids coming in here and learning,” she said.
Interested parties can rent a plot for $50 per year and the money is recycled back into the garden for electricity, water and supplies.
Alternatively, individuals with financial need can exchange work in the garden for a rental plot.
“Most people also don’t realize you can purchase seeds using EBT,” Ward said. Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, is a form of welfare subsidy used for purchasing food.
That means anyone can become more self-sufficient — and that’s the point.
“We don’t want lack of funds to prevent anyone from having a part in the garden,” Ward said.